“If Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote …” Donald Trump asserted back in April, adding: “The only thing she’s got going is the woman’s card.”
Sadly, his remark did not only reflect his own sexist views. Apparently, there are plenty of Americans who believe that womanhood is an advantage when it comes to running for the highest office in the country.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll published Monday found that the ridiculous notion that women are more privileged than men has serious traction—among men, of course. And white men at that. Thirty-eight percent of all men, and 34 percent of all white Americans—in other words, those representing the most privileged demographics—believe that a candidate’s femaleness is a trump card (no pun intended).
One can rebut this belief endlessly, by pointing to: women’s unequal pay; the lack of paid maternity leave in the United States; and women’s disproportionately low representation in political office, employment and media, etc. Women of color suffer even worse statistical biases than white women do.
But perhaps nowhere does the disdain for women as human beings become clearer than in the arena of reproductive rights. In 2009, when President Obama launched his plan to reform the nation’s health care system, conservatives invented the bizarre and wholly dishonest concept of “death panels,” invoking mass fear of government overreach into health care-related decisions. Yet Republicans have had no qualms about reaching deep into the intimate details of women’s health care, especially when they want to restrict the right to contraception and abortion.
Reps. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., have even convened their very own panel to examine the practices of health care provider Planned Parenthood. Despite being legally exonerated of accusations of selling fetal tissue, Planned Parenthood remains under siege from Republicans intent on government interference in women’s health care.
Purvi Patel did not get to play her so-called woman’s card when she was sentenced last year to 20 years in prison for the “crime” of having a miscarriage. Patel is the only woman in the U.S. serving a sentence for such a crime, but there are laws in a majority of states that could be marshaled to criminalize women who dare to try to control their own bodies. Patel’s lawyers just filed an appeal of her sentence this week. It remains to be seen how well her female privilege will work.
In state after state, Republican (mostly) men have restricted the constitutional right to an abortion. Oklahoma is the latest example of an overzealous Legislature attempting to criminalize doctors for performing abortions; Gov. Mary Fallin, one of only five women to hold such an office in the entire nation, made rare use of her “woman card” to promptly veto the bill. Is it a coincidence that a majority of states restrict abortion access in a nation with male-dominated state legislatures and male-dominated governorships?
If men faced similar restrictions to their health care and intimate bodily decisions, there would be an uproar of epic proportions. No, wait—our patriarchal world would never allow such a state of affairs to be realized, which is why it is so outside the realm of our imagination. But let us try for a moment to fathom just how welcome government intrusion into men’s personal health care decisions would be. Donald Trump would be half the braggadocio he is. Rep. Paul Ryan would be lecturing us on the evils of big government rather than convening his “death-to-women’s-rights” panel. In other words, we would be living in a world where a “woman’s card” might actually be a thing.
On the upside, women are working hard to assert that reproductive rights are women’s rights and that women’s rights are human rights. In Northern Ireland, where a case similar to Patel’s elicited public outrage, some women are engaging in creative civil disobedience to protest the illegality of abortion. They have acquired and ingested illegal abortion pills and offered themselves up for arrest as an act of protest.
Here in the U.S., hundreds of women are running for political office this November—many of them progressive women such as Lucy Flores, who is running for Congress in Nevada. Some years ago, Flores shared the personal story that she had an abortion at the age of 16, and she has made women’s right to reproductive health care an important part of her campaign platform. It remains to be seen how well her female privilege works to get her elected to office.
I am no fan of Hillary Clinton, simply because she is a neoliberal centrist wolf cloaked in progressive sheep’s clothing. However, she has many advantages propelling her toward the Democratic nomination, including the support of her party’s establishment, Wall Street executives and even Republicans.
Although the “woman card” is her burden, too, the idea that being female is an advantage is not as dangerous for wealthy, powerful white women like Clinton as it is for the rest of us. As a woman in science—I have three degrees in astronomy and physics—I was constantly undermined by male students and professors. As an immigrant woman, I have encountered many verbal assaults by racist men. As a brown-skinned woman with a hard-to-pronounce name and a slight accent, I have lost professional opportunities to men (and white women) throughout my career. As a working mother, I have seen my career set back months or years for taking maternity leave. As a woman taking early morning walks for exercise, I have felt the fear that only a woman feels of encountering men on secluded streets.
My experiences are better than what impoverished women or female victims of sexual assault and physical violence live through; or what women living in Indiana or Texas and needing an abortion have to go through; or what black, indigenous or undocumented women endure. In fact, my experiences are better than those of most women the world over who live in far more dangerous circumstances than I do. Women have to be exceptional in order to be seen as equal to mediocre men. If the “woman card” exists, it is a liability. Forget Trump—we need ordinary Americans to understand that injustice and rectify it.