There was much drama earlier this year over the failure to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which has usually passed through Congress without a hitch since it’s such a self-evident piece of legislation. We’re talking about a law that provides support and funding to address concerns about violence against women in the United States. Voting for it seems obvious, because a vote against it smells an awful lot like a vote to freely abuse women, which isn’t something a politician would want to be seen doing, right?
Well, wrong, it would appear, because conservatives were so single-minded in their agenda of hatred that they voted VAWA down because they didn’t like some new clauses in the legislation. That decision really highlighted the absurdity of the Republican party. For those who hadn’t already seen the writing on the wall, their votes put the truth in bright flashing lights: Republicans hate women, and they hate women of colour, poor women, and gay women in particular. So much so that they’ll bite off their noses to spite their faces in order to ensure that very basic legislation designed to protect, support, and help women doesn’t pass, because if it did, some of that help and funding might reach ‘undesirables.’
One clause provided more support for Native women, a pretty critical move given the serious epidemic of violence against Native women. Across the US, indigenous women have a much higher risk of being sexually assaulted and experiencing other forms of violence, with white men being extremely common perpetrators. The clause in VAWA would have provided more funding and protections to combat this issue, allowing Native communities and organisers to cut to the heart of the problem and make the world a safer place for indigenous women. This, apparently, was objectionable to Republicans.
Another offered funding to address issues of violence against immigrant women, another significant issue in the US. Immigrants to the United States, especially women, are extremely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse and it’s clear that the systems we have in place now are not sufficient to meet their needs. Immigrant women are raped, beaten, and abused as virtual or actual slaves and easy targets for abuse in a variety of settings, vulnerable to their bosses, to supervisors, to the people who brought them into the country, to the people they marry. It is utterly foul and unjust that many endure such cruelty, and yet, Republicans didn’t like this clause either. Because protecting immigrant women also means protecting undocumented immigrants, and they felt that strongly about using government funds on people who are in the country without legal permissions.
Setting aside the fact that many undocumented immigrants actually do pay taxes (and overpay, because they can’t file for refunds), and despite the fact that many contribute to their communities. Despite the fact that no human being should have to live in fear, and no human being should endure unimaginable abuse on a regular basis. No, Republicans refused to support VAWA because they are so viciously anti-immigrant; and, let’s face it, their hatred for immigrants doesn’t just include those without legal documents. It also includes anyone who is new to the US, and that’s been made clear with anti-immigration policies across the US.
A third clause designated funding for the gay and lesbian community, where, yes, violence happens. Both within the community (lesbians are not exempt from domestic violence) and from outsiders who attack members of the community; corrective rape, queer bashing, and other crimes happen in the United States, and VAWA’s existing form wasn’t robust enough to offer the needed protections. The new clause was designed to compensate for this, making the country a safer place for gays and lesbians and ensuring better access to needed services and funding for vulnerable members of these communities.
In voting down VAWA, Republicans sent several clear messages. They were of course attempting to appeal to their base by ‘standing their ground’ on legislation that they claimed had unnecessary clauses, was bloated with funding, and would allow people to ‘work the system.’ By singling out these clauses as bones of contention, they positioned themselves as tough on immigration and reminded their base that people of colour and gay folks are the enemy, the people to hate. Clearly, that appeals to many members of the Republican base, who enthusiastically supported the decision to refuse to reauthorise VAWA and were delighted that their representatives voted against the interests of women in the US.
There are women in the Republican base too, though, and the party has been struggling with a ‘woman problem’ in recent years. It’s unclear whether it will be able to recover from the wave of anti-woman legislation it’s been passing, and its actions around legislation like VAWA. Some Republican women are fed up and have left the party, along with men who don’t want to be any part of an organisation that routinely screws women over. Others have remained with the party, which begs the question of what point it needs to reach for Republican women to realise that their party uniformly hates them and wants them all to fade from existence.
It’s not just about ‘desirable’ models of womanhood, although the Republicans definitely promote a specific type of woman as an aspirational goal. The party hates women overall, and I’m sure would prefer to live in a world without women; not just one where men controlled everything and women stayed at home being good wives and mothers, not participating in society or having opinions or taking up space, but a world where women were gone. Absent. This, not just utter control of women and their lives, seems to be the ultimate goal of the party.
And, of course, the Republican fixation on destroying women’s rights and keeping women out of society is also a clarion call to the left, which continues to allow Republicans to do as they please in government. What is it going to take for Democrats to start actually fighting back?