The Republican Party knows it has a gender problem, and has for years. But conservative leaders just can’t seem to stop themselves from lobbing more salvos in the “war on women.”
Mike Huckabee was widely mocked for his mystifying comments on birth control and female libido during a gathering last month of the Republican National Committee.
“If Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing them 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,” Huckabee said.
The widely reported comments apparently weren’t a gaffe. Huckabee has repeated some variation of the same remarks several times, including similar comments a few days before the RNC meeting on his own Fox News program.
Raw Story wondered how Huckabee’s remarks played with women who considered themselves Republicans, Libertarians, and independents — precisely the women the GOP needs in order to overcome the gender gap.
Mary Spooner, 42, a paralegal and registered Republican from Fairfield Township, Ohio, said she was sympathetic to Huckabee’s message, but she thought it was outdated and clumsily phrased.
“I think he’s still living in the ‘Happy Days’ era and he’s reaching out to the conservatives of the 50s, not middle class Americans raising families today,” said Spooner, a married mother of two.
She said most conservatives her age don’t care about women’s sexual activity, but they are concerned with making sure everyone pays their own way.
“It’s more about, ‘Why do I have to pay for you when I’m barely able to keep myself and my family afloat?’” Spooner said. “Most birth control prescriptions do not cost a lot of money [so] why are you unable to take personal responsibility for yourself and pay for your own? Especially when you are carrying around the new Coach purse, latest iPhone, sporting a new tattoo and a $50 manicure? If you can afford these things, then you should be able to afford your birth control. If not, then you sacrifice. I go without. Why can’t you?”
Huckabee apparently struck a chord with some voters, because a poll conducted shortly after his “Uncle Sugar” remarks found him the GOP frontrunner nationwide for 2016, and he used the controversy in a fundraising e-mail.
Jennifer, a 40-year-old married mother of three from Nashville, expressed similar concerns about being required to pay for another person’s personal choices.
“There are some large groups of Americans who have a serious issue with birth control for religious reasons, and making it a mandate is not fair,” said Jennifer, who requested that her last name not be used in publication.
While she does not personally oppose the use of birth control, she does respect the views of those who broadly oppose their use on religious grounds.
“One of the issues is that the current administration is forcing their liberal agenda on all Americans, no matter our views,” said Jennifer, a Republican physician.
“Why can’t we just be independent minds who can choose or not choose to use contraception?” she added. “There are plenty of free or inexpensive options to get access to birth control, [so] it shouldn’t be something that is forced on all Americans who may not share the same views.”
She found Huckabee’s slang term “Uncle Sugar” to be strange, if not offensive, and said his phrasing had distracted from an overall message that she supported.
“I think just saying that it is demeaning to women, who strive for equality and independence, to imply that they need to be dependent on the government — Huckabee’s word, ‘Uncle Sugar — for birth control,” Jennifer said.
Julie Stockman, a 41-year-old who operates a small farm in Cross Plains, Indiana, also reflected on feminism in her reaction to Huckabee’s remarks.
“I think the original and valuable idea of feminism has been hijacked and marketed to women that the way to be free is to be more like men,” said Stockman, a divorced mother of three. “In reality, the way to be free is to be more like women. Be free to nurture your children and to enjoy your children, and to respect your fertility. So many moms don’t even have those basic freedoms anymore — you know, when they’re asked if they’re ‘just’ a stay-at-home mom.”
Stockman said she strongly opposes abortion on moral and sociological grounds, and she doesn’t trust pharmaceutical birth control methods.
“Birth control pills in particular are so damaging to a woman’s overall health and hormone balance, that when we talk about them, we should group them with our talk of pharmaceuticals and big-pharm issues, instead of grouping them with women’s rights issues,” said Stockman, a registered independent who favors immigration reform and stricter environmental regulations.
But poll numbers show that many women feel the Republican Party has moved away from them, and that could be bad news in the midterm election cycle – particularly for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who has fallen 4 points behind his Democratic challenger, and faces a primary battle against a Tea Party-backed Republican rival.
That poll deficit is in large part driven by women, who favor Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s Democratic Secretary of State, by a 12-point margin.
One of those Grimes supporters is Stacy Neurohr, a 41-year-old Democrat from Newport, Kentucky, who has attended a fundraiser for the Democratic Senate candidate and found Huckabee’s remarks “highly insulting and demeaning – particularly the ‘Uncle Sugar’ bit.”
“No man should have any opinion on what I do with my body, period, nor should he be concerned with how much sex I am having,” said Neurorhr, a married mother of two who said the government should offer access to birth control.
“Access to reliable birth control reduces unwanted pregnancies, which, in turn, reduces the number of women seeking abortion,” she said. “I would think Huckabee would be thrilled by that idea.”
Megan Carl, a 29-year-old corporate art consultant from Cincinnati, said it was “preposterous” for Huckabee to suggest that Democrats had insulted women by mandating birth control coverage health care plans.
“He is, with some ridiculously convoluted logic, trying to convince women that the Dems are the ones going after their lady-bits and their freedom, after all,” said Carl, who votes Libertarian. “It seems weird to me that this is even a point of discussion at this point, or that anyone is still giving him a soapbox to stand on.”
She thinks Huckabee’s comment were a cynical ploy to garner media attention for his faint presidential hopes.
“He apparently thinks women are so simple and small-brained that they will take him at his word and jump ship to his crazy camp, which is even more insulting than the actual comments,” Carl said.