Watching all the stupid fighting over Ann Romney posing as Saint of the Housewives, I finally realized why this whole thing has been so meaningful for Republicans. Ever since Democrats started calling bullshit on all the various attacks on women coming from the right, Republicans have been desperate to claim that this isn’t a war on women so much as a war on some women. You know, sluts. Bad girls. The problem is that their attempts to reframe the debate keep failing miserably. Trying to cast women who use birth control as the bad girls didn’t work, since pretty much all women use contraception. Trying to crown Sandra Fluke the Queen of the Sluts hasn’t really worked well, either. They haven’t even bothered to try to make equal pay a matter of bad girls vs. good girls, but instead try to ignore it in hopes people quit asking them about it.
By trying to turn Ann Romney into a martyr of motherhood, what they’re doing is trying to create a Good Girl that can stand in opposition to the Bad Girls they hate. Distract from actual policy, and make it about the same ol’ politics of resentment. Ever since they latched onto Hilary Rosen, the right’s narrative has been, “See? This isn’t about pay or birth control. It’s about those feminists running around having fun and being free while you’re stuck at home with your ungrateful husband and whining kids. Who do those bitches think they are, going out at night with their lipstick on, just seeing where adventure takes them? They should be at home like me. I’m so much more moral, more American than those sluts. Yeah, I use birth control, but man, I really do want to stick it to them. Especially the lesbians, who think they just get to go their whole lives without having to pick up a man’s underwear.”
I know that sounds a little harsh, but if you look at the chatter in right wing channels, that’s definitely the narrative that’s shaping up. It was always the narrative that they were pushing, but until they had Ann Romney as the symbol of a right-thinking patriarchal woman, it wasn’t taking.
But you know what? I still don’t think it’s taking. It’s allowing conservative women to resolve their cognitive dissonance between wanting to relate to the conservative, misogynist position but also wanting to be treated decently despite being female. Convincing themselves that their all-American goodness will save them is what they need for that. But I don’t see this message selling to moderate or swing voters. There are more single women than married women in this country, for one thing. More importantly, I don’t think the politics of resentment have that much hold over maried mothers. The same things that affect single women or childless women—equal pay, reproductive rights—affect most married women with children. I realize not all women see eye to eye on all issues, but in this case, I think the usual things that affect the female vote, especially a since of compassion and fairness, won’t be moved by the Good Housewives vs. Dirty Sluts narrative the Republicans are trying to establish.