Why Republicans Keep Calling Women Sluts

As you've heard, yesterday Mike Huckabee stepped up to the plate and smacked a stand-up double in the GOP's ongoing effort to alienate every woman in America, when he said, "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 a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government then so be it! Let us take that discussion all across America because women are far more than the Democrats have played them to be."

As expected, Huckabee quickly explained to his supporters who the real victim is here ("I am apparently the worst conservative ever or at least the most annoying one according to the left wingers in Washington today"), but the question is, why do they keep doing this? After all, every Republican knows by now that their party has a problem with women; Mitt Romney lost their votes by 11 points. The simple answer is that they can't help themselves, but more specifically, it's a combination of ignorance, contempt, and Puritan morality that inevitably leads to these eruptions. And it's going to keep happening. Let's look at the particulars:

Ignorance: These kinds of statements tend to come from older conservative men who have no idea how ladyparts work, and really don't want to know. That extends to contraception, which as far as they're concerned is something that is women's responsibility and therefore there's no need to understand it. That accounts for the bizarrely widespread belief that all forms of contraception work like condoms: a one-use kind of thing that is employed whenever sex is desired. Which is why Rush Limbaugh said that Sandra Fluke was obviously a "slut" if she wanted contraception to be covered by the insurance she was paying for, because "She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception." And Huckabee believes that you only need birth control every month if you have a rampaging libido, while if you were more chaste, it would be something that would sit at the back of the cabinet, seldom brought out but there if necessary, like that little container of tumeric you once bought for a particularly exotic recipe and might some day use again.

Since Mike Huckabee doesn't have 18 kids, I'm guessing his wife has used contraception throughout their marriage. But a Baptist minister and his wife have a "don't ask, don't tell" arrangement when it comes to that sort of thing, just like millions of other couples, which enables him to continue believing that only a fallen woman would need to take a contraceptive pill every doggone day like she was some kind of insatiable sex machine who barely had time to cook his food and do his laundry in between all that rutting. Which brings us to...

Beliefs about sin: The morality clearly reflected in these statements is that sex is inherently sinful. It's a tiny bit sinful for the man—the kind of thing you might feel a little guilty about, but you can get over quickly—but it's hugely sinful for the woman. An unwanted pregnancy is the just punishment a woman receives for having sex, and a virtuous woman doesn't have sex except for those rare occasions when her husband wants to impregnate her. That's why Huckabee can say—sincerely, I'm sure—that it's an insult for Democrats to say women should have access to contraception, because that's the same as saying women lack virtue. Women who don't need contraception "are far more than the Democrats have played them to be."

The conception of sex as inherently sinful drives pretty much every conservative policy position that touches on sex, perhaps most notably the support for abstinence-only sex education. The fact that abstinence-only sex education has been shown over and over to fail is of only passing concern to them, because what they want out of sex education isn't so much practical things like a reduction in teen pregnancy and the spread of STDs, but a moral statement: sex is bad. If you talk to kids about sex without telling them it's bad, you've cooperated with immorality. Conservatives seem to be constitutionally unable to discuss anything that touches on sex without including some kind of moral condemnation in everything they say.

Tone-deafness: Huckabee's position is that saying "Democrats are treating women like dirty sluts by saying they should have access to birth control!" is very, very different from just saying women are dirty sluts. He feels he's been falsely accused of saying the latter, when he was really just saying the former. I'm sure that he thinks that if women just understood the full context of his statement, they'd realize he respects and honors them. What he doesn't get is that women actually want and need contraception, and 99 percent of women who have had sex have used some form of contraception at some point in their lives. So when he tells them that contraception is for sluts, what they hear isn't "Because I care for you, I don't want you to become a slut," what they hear is, "You're a slut."

This seems to come up again and again: Republicans think they're talking to a nation of nuns, when in reality they're talking to actual women whose lives and experiences are different from what Republicans imagine them to be. If you told them that, guess what, your wife uses contraception, and so does your sister, and so does your daughter, and not only that, so did your mom, they'd cry "Nuh-uh!" and stick their fingers in their ears.

Which is why this is going to keep happening. Maybe Republicans can be convinced to steer clear of saying appalling things about rape, but the subject of contraception is going to keep coming up because of the Affordable Care Act's mandate that it be included in insurance plans. And every time it does, they're going to keep pushing women away. They can't help themselves.

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