Ever since the 112th Congress was sworn in last month, there's been a seemingly endless barrage of news about lawmakers trying to take away many of women's hard-fought rights, so much so that I feel like Mr. Peabody's WABAC machine
has deposited me on June Cleaver's 1950s doorstep.
Morning after morning, I hear reports about those who want to cut funds for access to contraception and screenings for breast and cervical cancer
that American women of all political persuasions get from Planned Parenthood. Conservatives protest the use of pre-tax dollars for breast pumps
, claiming it's an unnecessary tax break for working mothers who need to stay in the workplace to support their families and pump healthy breast milk
for their infants.
States like Minnesota are trying to repeal fair-pay laws
and local governments are cutting Head Start funds
, saying young children should be educated at home (which, by the way, would also help trim budget deficits).
And then there is HR 3, better known as the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act
," backed by over 200 members of Congress who wanted to limit the federal dollars available for rape
victims to only those who have been "forcibly raped," in essence taking us back to the days when teen boys talked about how girls really mean "yes"
when they say "no." The furor over such a proposal made some of the bill's proponents back down, saying they would remove that "forcible rape" language. But according to a variety of sources, including the office of Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), who heads the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, three weeks after that announcement, the language still hasn't yet been removed from HR 3. While some expect that to eventually happen, it doesn't change a subsequently introduced bill by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) that would allow hospitals to refuse to perform medically necessary abortions, even if the woman's life is at risk.
Put all those things together, and I can't help but sense an effort to re-create the June Cleaver era, when motherhood was a woman's prime directive and reproductive health issues were only whispered about in suburban neighborhoods over coffee cake and Maxwell House.
It's all making me see my life, and my daughter's, in the black-and-white retro world of the Cleavers' Mayfield
, USA, and not in an "Isn't nostalgia great?" way. Whether the effort is a coordinated one or not, it still feels like Republicans are seeking as many ways as possible to get women out of the workforce and back into a pre-"Feminine Mystique"
There are budgetary arguments to be made in opposition to many of the proposed cuts and changes in policy -- the resistance isn't just to a seeming conspiracy to turn back the clock. But certain comments can only be evaluated by the Duck Principle -- something that walks and talks like a duck is clearly a duck.
And so it's hard to ignore what happened recently in Frederick County, Md., where commissioners voted to cut over $2 million dollars in Head Start funds
. Head Start is a federally funded program that promotes school readiness for 3- and 4-year-old low-income children -- a program that would seem to be in our country's best interest, especially in light of other countries around the world that spare no expense on children's education. But two commissioners suggested that cutting those dollars was also an important statement about mothers' social priorities. Republican Commissioner C. Paul Smith
, who has 12 children, justified his vote this way:
"As many of you know, I had a lot of kids and my wife stayed home at a significant sacrifice in those early years, because she knew she had to be with those kids. I know everybody isn't able to survive doing that, but clearly if we can strengthen marriage, we can decrease the number of children we have to reach."
If all of these efforts pass in a perfect legislative storm, we could find ourselves in a 21st century version of that June Cleaver universe, one where women, like my own mother, had fewer reproductive rights
, fewer opportunities to work outside the home, were expected to be there when the kids got home from school, oversaw homework and made dinner, all with a smile and no complaints about their own ambitions or wishes to help support their families financially.
Conservatives sometimes invoke "Leave It to Beaver" as a pro-family image. But when I think about June -- chopping vegetables in the kitchen while Wally and the Beaver get into mild trouble and Ward handles the manly duties of going to the office and grilling
-- I don't think she would necessarily embrace today's Republican agenda.
Yes, she was focused on raising her children and getting dinner on the table, but within that construct, she wielded influence in her home, took a largely hands-off approach to raising two sons, and seemed to have a "live and let live" attitude rather than a doctrinaire approach to living. She was a common-sense, straightforward kind of gal who, if she lived in today's world, wouldn't buy into policies that give women less say about their bodies, their children, or their reproductive rights.
And if June disagreed with any of today's lawmakers on issues that impact women's lives, she -- or at least Barbara Billingsley, in her "Airplane" incarnation
-- just might take them on with some late-in-life bad-ass jive
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