Friday, February 18, 2011

The Patriarchs Strike Back

After three hours of mind-numbing debate, and on the eve of the President's Day holiday weekend, the House passed an amendment sponsored by an Indiana Republican congressman, Mike Pence, which effectively cuts off all federal funding to Planned Parenthood. As Politico reports, the measure won by a comfortable margin of 240-185, with 11 Democrats voting in favor.

Rep. Pence has reportedly been involved in the movement to stop legal abortion for years, and contends that Planned Parenthood has been too invested in facilitating a procedure that gives women control over their reproductive destiny.

Some Democrats took to the House floor, and lambasted the bill calling it "a war on women." Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler, from New York, asserted that the Pence measure is unconstitutional in that it discriminates by targeting a specific group, or organization.

Meanwhile, from out of so-called left field, California Congresswoman, Jack Speier, made a public confession, on the House floor, that she ended her pregnancy twenty years ago, before she was in Congress. It was courageous of her to speak up, and she is right that having an abortion is about the most difficult decision any woman can make.

But, in a press release, according to the Associated Press, Rep. Speier walked back her emotional disclosure by saying she didn't want to have an abortion, that "the fetus slipped' from her uterus," and "could not survive," thus distancing herself from women who end their pregnancies as a matter of choice. Sounding more like Sarah Palin than a congresswoman from San Francisco, Ms. Speier then said, "I lost the baby."

It's precisely that kind of talk, and that kind of thinking that emboldens mostly scared middle-aged white males to try to roll the clock back to the days when the true mark of manhood was keeping their women barefoot and pregnant.

Ms. Speier is certainly smart and educated enough to recognize the difference between a fetus, and a "baby," so why all the pandering to the center? Engaging in even casual relations with the kind of thinking that blurs boundaries between those two entities is setting the table for the lack of social consciousness that would produce an amendment like this in the first place.

Wannabe blue dog Democrats are, in the end, more dangerous than conservative Republicans. They engender the illusion of being progressive when the only thing they "progress" is the centrist, right-leaning agenda of their opposition.

Make no mistake, defunding Planned Parenthood isn't about reducing the number of legal abortions, or a return to family values at all, but is instead about the usual neo-con suspects, and their enabling spouses, trying to return to the good old days when men held the purse strings, as well as the keys to the bankruptcy gate.

This measure which is part of the 2012 federal budget, and would divest Planned Parenthood of federal funds, isn't about limiting access to legal abortion; it's about limiting access to the boardroom where women's presence is now being felt.

As the New York Times noted last February, women now represent nearly half of the workforce while fully 60% of college enrollment is female, and has been for at least a decade. Women tend to have higher grades, and men tend to "drop out in disproportionate numbers."

While there are now more working women than men, we are a far cry from gender equity when it comes to pay which may go a long way toward explaining why there are more women in the work place. Just one year before President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, legislation that calls for equal pay, women reportedly earned 22% less than men. Not only do women work for less, but women are still willing to do jobs that men would never consider doing. Know any male nannies, for example?

Obviously, it never occurred to Mr. Pence, or his patriarch friends, that the college degrees they covet, and the jobs they think they're losing to women are not Planned Parenthood's responsibility, but instead that of big business which continues to rake in greater profit by underpaying women, as well as "downsizing" the jobs formerly held by white collar males.

Maybe those who voted in favor of the Pence amendment don't have daughters because if they did they'd also realize that what Planned Parenthood has done for nearly a century is to supply women with the information, and the tools, necessary to make responsible reproductive choices, as well as avert unwanted pregnancies. To make an organization founded in 1916, long before Roe v. Wade, synonymous with legal abortion is to take ignorance to a whole new level.

The Pence amendment isn't really about patriarchy any more than it's about Planned Parenthood. It's about economic empowerment, and reifying an infrastructure of domination that has as much to do with empire building as anything else. The vote in the House is a chain reaction that has mostly affected rich white males, a concern that the pendulum is swinging, and that they will no longer be the ones holding the reins.

The defunding bill now goes to the Senate where, hopefully, it will be stopped, but it's scary that a measure like this would even see the light of day, or late night in Congress.

The president has taken a major step toward solving the problem of putting more men back to work by giving women equal pay, but there are those who want instead to put us flat on our backs and ensure that the only kind of "labor" we know about is the kind that lasts a matter of hours.