What are the weapons in this devastating and unjust war? How does it restrict and harm women? Can we mediate a cease-fire and restore and increase women’s civil and personal rights? In our book A Womb of Her Own (Routledge, 2017) Marilyn Metzl endeavors to examine these questions. She concludes that although the war is led by the right, leaders on all sides are guilty.
Identifying the Insidious War on Women
On December 3, 2015, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that women in the U.S. military could now serve in combat posts. Some may consider this a victory of equality for women—the announcement that officially authorizes women to fully participate in war. Yet for years, women have been forced into an escalating guerrilla war waged by conservative and right-wing politicians. Women have been thrust onto battlegrounds vaster than the Syrian Desert and more treacherous than the terrorist-riddled mountains of northern Afghanistan. Without the benefits of arms or armor, women have been relentlessly attacked in their most vulnerable arenas. The right wing’s insidious and intensifying “war on women” has been stealthily yet steadily gaining ground. While the wars waged by the United States Armed Forces receive rigorous visibility and heated national discussions, the war on women is often hushed and invisible, secretly plotted and waged by reigning conservative government officials.
According to the ACLU, the War on Women “describes the increasing aggressive legislative and rhetorical attacks on women and women’s rights taking place across the nation. It includes a wide-range of policy efforts designed to place restrictions on women’s health care and erode protections for women and their families.” The ACLU cites examples that include restricting contraception; mandating medically unnecessary ultrasounds; abortion taxes; forcing women to tell their employers why they want birth control, and prohibiting insurance companies from including abortion coverage in their policies.
American women reportedly are the envy of women in other cultures, having progressed over the past decades in domestic, economic, and political arenas. Yet while international organizations are collaborating on laws that advance gender equality and end the abuse and oppression of women and girls worldwide, a growing group of US right-wing politicians and governmental officials have been doggedly fighting to reverse the gains women have achieved over the past decades. While this battle is a personal, local, and universal conflict, the National Organization for Women (NOW) believes that the War on Women goes beyond our country’s borders. In 2011, they stated that the House of Representatives planned to “cut … international family planning assistance…. [to] include the elimination of all U.S. funds designated for the United Nations Population Fund.” (Statement from National Organization for Women (NOW) President Terry O’Neill 3/8/11)
Sadly enough, no one is going to fight our battles for us. There are and will continue to be men who care about justice but it is ours to lead the way. The erosion against women’s rights will continue until women are in positions of political, economic and religious authority. We must set aside our fears and step into the limelight—for ourselves, our daughters and the generations to come.