House Republicans are starting to realize just how under-represented women are in their party, and the gender gap is starting to worry them (just like underrepresentation of minorities has been “worrying” them since last November). Around the country, the GOP finds itself run primarily by men, with scant representation for women. Just 8 percent of House Republicans are women (19), and only four Senate Republicans are women. By contrast, 32 percent of House Democrats are women (62), and 16 of the Senate Democrats are women. Unlike the 2012 presidential election, the current list for 2016 has not a single woman on it. The low numbers forced the House recently to choose Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) to bring their abortion bill to the floor, as the House Judiciary Committee has 23 male members and no female members.
According to The National Journal, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is working hard on reaching out to women, creating what they call Project GROW to help with GOP messaging, in addition to recruiting more women for Congress and teaching the men how to better connect with women. Executive director Liesl Hickey believes that the reason Republicans haven’t had much political success with women as the Democrats is simple: The party simply hasn’t focused hard enough on it.
The problem is deeper than that, however, given the apparent goals of Project GROW. The GOP’s overall message is astonishingly anti-woman. Their actions are very anti-woman. Their ideals seem to focus on the idea that women are not equal to men. Focusing on recruiting women is all well and good, but when a party tries to tell women how to live, what they can and cannot do with their bodies, that they aren’t good enough for equal pay, and more, “connecting” with women gets difficult.
This isn’t limited to Congress. Red states have been passing anti-abortion measures left and right, and courts that lean to the right have been issuing certain rulings that can hurt women as well.
North Dakota, for instance, tried to ban abortions after six weeks gestation (the point at which women generally first become aware they’re pregnant) and close the state’s one remaining abortion clinic. That law was ruled unconstitutional back in April.
The 10th Circuit Court ruled that the secular business Hobby Lobby did not have to comply with the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is supposed to protect the religious liberties of its owners, but completely ignores all the employees they have that may not share those beliefs and infringes on those rights. For those who aren’t sure, the ACA does not require an employer to pay out of their own pockets for prescription contraception for all their female employees. It just requires that insurers cover it completely, and this kind of a ruling basically says that employers can tell their employees how they are and are not allowed to use their insurance policies, despite the fact that the employees themselves are contributing to those policies also.
Their issue with prescription contraception is especially puzzling, because it’s been shown that providing such free of charge dramatically reduces the abortion rate. That suggests that it’s not about the rights of unborn babies, nor is it about violating religious beliefs, but that it’s about controlling women’s sexuality, even that of married women.
To be sure, the GOP does have some outspoken women, like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Ann Coulter. These women are not especially looking out for women’s rights and women’s health, however, so much as they seem to be about bringing down the “liberal agenda” they seem to think is some type of tyranny.
Then there are people like Marsha Blackburn, who voted against the Violence Against Women Act (as did Michele Bachmann), and who doesn’t believe the government should continue to intervene when it comes to equal pay for women, because women don’t want mandated equal pay (even though the data shows that women are paid less even when they hold identical positions to men).
The National Journal piece says that one of the problems that recruiters for the GOP have encountered is that the women they’re looking at to recruit are worried about the amount of time they’d have to spend away from their families and communities. That is a legitimate concern, but if it were more universal, or the only stumbling block women were seeing, the Democrats would probably also have that problem. Instead, the Democrats seem to be more easily able to reach women. Of course, that could be because women who identify as Democrat may not see themselves held rigidly in specific roles the way Republican woman might.
For the GOP to have the same success, they need to change the message they’re sending to women entirely. What they are currently doing is talking the talk, but not walking the walk. To use another cliché, actions speak louder than words, and their actions show they don’t listen to women’s concerns when presented by women; at best, they listen more to men’s interpretations of women’s concerns. At best. As with their so-called “minority outreach” they need to start actually listening to the problems that women face, rather than continue to relegate women to lesser roles while loudly proclaiming that they’re trying to help and protect women.