A sexually suggestive play on words in the headline is merely the prelude to a harsh, taunting opinion piece disparaging a Heritage Foundation roundtable of conservative women who advocate an appeal to traditional marriage as a way to bring female voters into the Republican fold.
Washington Post writer Dana Milbank’s latest column references the "Lean In”
mantra of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, which she uses to encourage the advance of women in leadership positions.
The headline that accompanies Milbank’s column twists that phrase
, reading, "Conservatives to Women: Lean Back."
The headline evokes images of sexually submissive housewives walking around barefoot and pregnant.
The double entendre appears to be no accident, for what follows is an unabashed assault on the notion that supporting traditional marriage and the raising of children can help Republicans attract female voters.
"The conservative minds of the Heritage Foundation have found a way for Republicans to shrink the gender gap: They need to persuade more women to get their MRS degrees.," Milbank writes in his opening sentence.
"The advocacy group held a gathering of women of the right Monday afternoon to mark the final day of Women’s History Month — and the consensus was that women ought to go back in history. If Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg’s mantra is ‘lean in,’ these women were proposing that women lean back: get married, take care of kids and let men earn the wages."
Milbank quotes one of the panelists, writer Mona Charen, as saying that "feminism has done so much damage to happiness" and that "if we truly want women to thrive . . . we have to revive the marriage norm."
He dismissed that argument as flawed because it says "Republicans aren’t the ones who need to change — women are."
"There’s a running debate on the trade-offs of feminism, but this sort of traditional assault on the movement is unlikely to boost the GOP’s standing among women," Milbank wrote.
"If Republicans want to appeal to more unmarried women, they might reconsider the no-exception opposition to abortion and, increasingly, birth control that dominates the party.
"Otherwise, a throwback strategy of convincing unmarried women that they have been misled by feminism is tantamount to convincing Hispanics that they have been led astray by immigration advocates or telling young voters that they have been deceived by the gay-rights movement."
In a reply to the column posted on the Heritage Foundation’s website with the title "Dana Milbank’s War on Women," Katrina Trinko,
who says she "consider[s] myself a feminist," notes the mocking tone of the Post opinion piece before writing, "Let’s get to the crux of Milbank’s objection: Is it so terrible to promote marriage to women?"
"An unmarried woman with children is much more likely to be poor than her married counterpart," Trinko writes.
"According to the National Poverty Center, ‘Poverty rates are highest for families headed by single women, particularly if they are black or Hispanic. In 2010, 31.6 percent of households headed by single women were poor, while 15.8 percent of households headed by single men and 6.2 percent of married-couple households lived in poverty.’ Those aren’t numbers made up to scare women into voting Republican; they’re facts."
Trinko also notes that wanting women to have the opportunity to stay home with their children is not just a political talking point.
"Nor is it only conservatives who are pushing for women with kids to work part-time or not at all. In 2012, a whopping 67 percent of mothers of minor children surveyed by the Pew Research Center wanted to either work part-time or not work. That’s what women say they want, not what conservatives say women want," Trinko writes.
Trinko also cites a study that says women are less happy after 35 years of feminism before chiding Milbank once more for his dismissive tone toward those who would make traditional appeals to them:
"It’s easy to mock women. (Some might even suggest that it’s part and parcel of the ‘war on women.’) It’s harder to grapple honestly with the real pros and cons of the life decisions that all women have to make."
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