Republicans are expected to make huge gains in the Senate and House of Representatives today, and this could be very damaging for women's rights, says feminist icon Gloria Steinem. Gone is the old Republican party of Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller, two prominent conservatives from the 1960s and 70s who were pro-choice and supported the Equal Rights Amendment, she tells Big Think. In its place is a party that has shifted toward an "extreme" position on women's rights—one whose policies would "nationalize" women's bodies.
"The party platform includes a constitutional amendment to the U.S. Constitution which would make a direct relationship between the law and a fertilized egg, which is when they say life begins," Steinem warns. "What that would do in real life is nationalize women’s bodies. You could legally search a women’s womb to see if she was pregnant. You could forcibly restrain her for all nine months of her pregnancy." Though voters may be frustrated with the Democrats, they should take a hard look at these proposed Republican policies, she says. "It’s important that we recognize how extreme the Republicans are in almost every case and how against our self interest it is to vote for them whether or not we are disappointed with the current crew."
Women are nonetheless expected to desert the Democratic party in droves today, despite Steinem's claim that Republican policies oppose women's interests. The explanation, she says, is that many right-wing women have internalized their own inferiority: "Any group of people that has been subordinate absorbs the idea of our own subordination and that it is natural and comes to think that the only way to survive is to identify with the powerful."
Once the dust clears from today's election, commentators will no doubt shift their gaze to 2012 and to the question on everyone's minds: will former Alaska governor Sarah Palin vie for the GOP nomination to challenge President Obama? Steinem didn't comment on Palin's presidential ambitions, but she told us that Palin's choice of "mama grizzlies" as the unofficial mascot for right-wing, pro-life women is supremely ironic.
Grizzly bears are "famous for their exertion of reproductive control in their lives," Steinem says. Not only do they mate later than other bears and have fewer cubs, they also are able to abort their own pregnancies if conditions are not ideal. "Once they’re pregnant if they see that it’s going to be a really hard winter, they themselves are not in good health or the food supply is low they reabsorb, their bodies reabsorb the fetus," she says. "If you wanted to have a totem for reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right the mama grizzlies would be up there."