As of the last US Census, women accounted for just over 50% of the country’s population. Why then do women hold only 90 (16.8%) of the 535 seats in the current US Congress? Even more strikingly, why is it that out of the 90 women in Congress, over 2/3 are Democrats? One explanation for this discrepancy in representation is the pervasive sexism present in both political parties, which is particularly tolerated on the Right.
One news-making example of this rampant discrimination in the American Conservative culture is the recent commentary by professional xenophobe and repeat offender Rush Limbaugh. Although the Republican establishment is now distancing itself from Mr. Limbaugh, he has long been a mouthpiece for the Far Right and makes an estimated $50M a year in that role. Some of the famously offensive opinions that have helped make Rush so popular include but are not limited to: gay bullying victims are asking for it, Mexicans are only capable of unskilled labor and, of course, slavery was an excellent crime deterrent. So excuse me if I find it hard to believe that after all these years tolerating hateful, bigoted comments, the Right has now drawn the line with Rush for calling Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and suggesting that women who choose to use birth control be forced to post videos of themselves taking advantage of it.
Obviously the popularity of Rush Limbaugh is an extreme example of the sexist culture of the Right, but the sentiment is not limited to pundits. A few weeks ago at a Romney rally in New Hampshire, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie responded to a female heckler with “You know something may go down tonight, but it ain’t gonna be jobs, sweetheart.” This is just the most recent time the ever-witty governor of my home state has made blatantly sexist and lewd remarks and yet Republican candidates fervently seek his endorsement. Christie’s rising-star status in the Republican Party clearly suggests that the Party tolerates and condones his sexism.
These are just two of the multitude of recent examples of the accepted level of chauvinism in American politics (no women allowed to testify at a hearing on birth control, Senate-hopeful Marc Cenedella suggesting “Steak and Blow-Job Day” in his personal blog, etc.). Neither political party is innocent but the GOP’s track record of behavior toward women has been appalling. Stirred up by the current Republican Primary and debate over birth control, the legal repercussions of this inherent chauvinism will be felt full-force over the next few months.
I’d like to end this with a hopeful statement about moving forward as a society, but all I can say is: I hope there is nowhere to go but up.