There is a rising hue and cry by the political left that conservatives are waging a war on women. With the increase in legislation on all levels toward controlling women’s access to healthcare, it would appear that there may be substance to the claims. However, if there is a war on women, it involves much more than just access to healthcare.
For the vast majority of my adult life I have been surrounded by girls and women. With one ex-wife, three daughters and a current wife, I’ve absorbed plenty of estrogen by the process of osmosis. This has had the net impact of sensitizing me to the state of being for the female of our species in our society. I don’t claim to be any Alan Alda, but I am fully aware of girls and women’s capabilities and their limitations.
If one looks to our species history, the majority of which has been spent as hunter-gatherer groups of 25 to 30 individuals, women have been the major contributors to the daily dietary needs. Women in the hunter-gatherer groups, as indicated by anthropologists, provided on average of 80 percent of the calories consumed. Approximately 11 to 12 thousand years ago, as humans transitioned from hunter-gatherer societies to agrarian sedentary societies, the social structure changed in response to changes in the physical environment and thus, changed women’s roles.
No longer were groups of humans dependent on her ability to gather, but agricultural production shifted much of the effort to cultivation and harvest of primarily cereal crops. This created the need for the male’s bigger and stronger bodies and left women with their only other primary functions of reproduction and child rearing. In addition, with sedentary existence and dependence of the available productive land and water, again the male’s bigger and stronger physiology made him the primary protector of the production resources. Over the course of 10 millennia; position and authority shifted from egalitarian or matrilineal control to patrilineal control and power. This did not bode well for the female of the species; she had been demoted to the status of chattel and remained in such a state until well into mid-twentieth century.
For millennia a woman’s worth was determined by her fecundity or potential fecundity. She was used to create alliances between families, tribes and nations along with being a means for retention, transference and redistribution of wealth. This is the primary rationale for maintaining a female’s sexual purity, whereas she would have no other sexual relationship with someone other than her selected mate. This is also the strong prohibition against adultery. The social structure was based on patrilineal hereditary and any question as to a male offspring’s parentage put the entire system at risk. Adultery was seen as a property crime and treated as such. It is no secret that adultery primarily impacted women. Husbands having coitus with someone other than his wife/wives or concubine/concubines was seen as normal and was accepted as a social norm, unless it was with another man’s female chattel.
The male-dominated society was based on three basic principles:
- His physical size and upper body strength;
- Control of women’s reproduction;
- The need for the female to perform as the primary caregiver to subsequent children. Over the course of the last 150 years the role of women has dramatically changed.
The advent of technology, for the most part, has freed women from the limitations of their lack of physical strength and size. Women are capable of performing the majority of jobs that only a short time ago was reserved strictly for men. With the vast majority of occupations now in the service sector, more and more vocations are now open. Just as in modern warfare; an M-16 rifle or F-15 fighter doesn’t care whether it’s a male or female pulling the trigger or flying the plane. However, freedom to pursue new careers still has not fully freed women.
The ultimate limitations on any women and especially in the U.S. are their fecundity and the role as primary caregiver. Women’s true liberation did not begin until they had access to inexpensive and universally effective birth control. Safe and effective birth control finally gave women the ability to control their own fecundity. A woman could now decide whether to abstain from sex or to engage in sex without the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. Two rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court opened the way for women’s right to privacy. With Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade rulings made it legal to not only practice birth control, but to terminate on demand any unintended pregnancy. The net effect was to free women from having to marry early to assure her financial security, going from dependency on a father to dependency on a husband.
Without the immediate need of marriage, women could then pursue their education and careers outside of the “pink collar” professions. It was now possible for women to create and maintain their own wealth without the need of a male partner or husband. However, ever since Roe v. Wade; conservative forces have worked diligently to either overturn the ruling or severely limit the practice of pregnancy termination on demand. Over the last 40 years, conservative forces have been able to restrict pregnancy terminations and are now working on restricting sexual education and birth control.
With women now free of unwanted pregnancy and the ability to choose when, where and with whom they would become pregnant, they are still confronted with the issue of being the primary caregiver. Women of greater means have more options for finding quality childcare, but women of limited means are placed into a dilemma; either quit working or find childcare of uncertain quality. In addition, with pregnancy, birth and childcare responsibilities; most women find their careers interrupted resulting in the inability to fully reach their career potential; creating a penalty based on fecundity. Other cultures and societies have addressed the problem with a number of successful solutions.
A good example of providing a rational solution is Denmark. Women are given up to 24 months of extended maternity leave at 60 percent of wages or salary. At age 3 the child can be enrolled in state-supported school and daycare. If women decide to go back to their careers before the 24-month limit, her partner can take her place as the primary care parent and is given the 60 percent benefit. This gives families additional options and does not subject them to forced economic distress.
In reviewing the original question: Is the conservative movement waging a war on women? It is clear that there is a focused and systematic program to roll back women’s rights with the ultimate goal to return women to the domestic kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. The conservative movement is male dominated and the rollback will assure male dominance, power and control. By attacking women’s healthcare and reproductive rights the conservative movement is forcing women back into the shackles of chattel.
With the short and long-term consequences of forcing women back to 1960 America, I can’t possibly understand why any woman, liberal or conservative would voluntarily return to subservience. Large numbers of conservative women, who I have spoken to about this, claim that it is the role that G-d placed upon their gender along with Eve’s curse for the original sin. Just as history is written by the winners, the Bible is no different.