On Thursday, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee went on a rampage during a speech at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting in downtown Washington DC. Huckabee – in a failed attempt to pose the Republican party as “pro-women” – said:
Our party stands for the recognition of the equality of women and the capacity of women. That’s not a war on them, it’s a war for them — and if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them each month a prescription for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.
While I fully believe that Huckabee sincerely thought that what he said was “pro-women” and a testament to how the Republican party believes in women’s independence, the true message of his statement is the polar opposite. Huckabee, as many of his fellow Republicans, believe that giving women access to affordable birth control and sexual and reproductive health services is a form of a government handout, “Uncle Sugar coming in” to provide them for free something they do not need – nor deserve. Therein lies the fundamental problem: The notion of need for birth control as proof of women’s “helplessness”, dependency on the government, inability to “control their libidos”. I am not sure what was taught to Mr. Huckabee in human anatomy, but I have yet to figure out a way to “control my reproductive system”. Maybe there’s something I just don’t know about my own body, that (male) Republicans are aware of – which seems to often be the case, at least according to them.
— Cecile Richards (@CecileRichards) January 24, 2014
I wonder if this narrative would remain the same if we could change bodies for just a few months. If men like Huckabee could see what it feels to take a hormone pill every day to prevent pregnancy for years and years, and deal with the weight gain, mood changes and increased risk of blood clots? If they could experience having an IUD inserted into their body, and deal with cramps and heavy period and spotting and god knows what else – or a capsule under their skin releasing hormones into their system. What would the narrative be, if these men would have to bear the responsibility of avoiding an unwanted pregnancy, and spend sleepless nights wondering what to do if they did accidentally get pregnant. What would the narrative be if they had to put their bodies, minds and sanity through all this – and pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for the joy of exposing their bodies to hormones and pap smears and OBGYN visits and pills and devices, that all place the responsibility of birth control on women and women alone. Would they still think that it’s about controlling our libidos? About dependency on the government? About Uncle Sugar and his handouts?
The Republican narrative about women, marriage, motherhood and sexual and reproductive health has one underlying premise: That women should not be having sex before marriage and that once we do get married (to men), we should no longer have a need for birth control. This message is not only fundamentally insulting, but it also promotes and maintains traditional and oppressive gender roles, in which women’s primary role is that of a wife and of a mother. It does not promote equality or women’s empowerment – quite the opposite.
Women need access to birth control, because that is the only way for us to have control over our reproductive decisions. Women need access to birth control, because it is – as stated by Sandra Fluke in her piece written jointly with Planned Parenthood – it’s a form of basic preventative health care. Access to birth control allows women – and men – to plan their families, to prepare for parenthood, and to have a child if and when they are ready. Women need access to birth control because birth control for men, with the exception of the condom, is non-existent. Huckabee’s statements about “Uncle Sugar” and “libido” is not a testament to women’s independence – it essentially sends the message that women who need birth control are slutty, promiscuous and dependent on government handouts. This, Mr. Huckabee, is not fighting a war for women – it is fighting a war against us.
Featured image courtesy of Adam Fagen, Flickr.