Although it can be difficult for men to appreciate the many unique challenges that women face in their day to day lives, a lot of men in public office don't even seem to try. Despite the gains the feminist movement has made over the last several decades, it's still all too common for male politicians to minimize women's issues — to the extent that they don't address women's issues at all.
Sometimes, this is reflected in actions, such as when Senate Republicans formed a "working group" on health care that included no women in early May. Just as often, though, it's reflected in verbal arguments and off-the-cuff remarks. At best, these kinds of comments display a severe lack of understanding about women's issues; at worst, they suggest that some men in elected office simply don't care to understand.
This kind of ignorance is especially evident when it comes to matters of women's health and reproduction, but it extends to many other areas of policy as well. And when men in elected office fail to prioritize women's issues, there are serious consequences — such as the American Health Care Act, a disastrous piece of legislation essentially punishes women for being women in no fewer than seven ways. Here are but a few of the times male politicians have trivialized women's issues, and disrespected half of the world population in the process.
1. Ben Carson
In 2013, future presidential candidate Ben Carson declared that America needs to "re-educate the women" who "get all riled-up" about abortion access. In fact, it's the job of those women to be "the defenders" of the fetuses inside them.
There is no war on women. You think about it, when a women is pregnant, what happens? People get up and give her their seat. They get out of the way, they say you go first. There is great respect and love for pregnant women. There is no war on them, the war is on their babies ... What we need to do is re-educate the women to understand that they are the defenders of these babies.
Carson's remarks, like many others on this list, perpetuated the archaic and oppressive idea that women's individual freedom and autonomy is secondary to their obligation to become mothers.
2. Sam Brownback
While campaigning for president in 2007, then-Sen. Sam Brownback argued that while "rape is awful," it isn't "made any better by killing an innocent child." Therefore, the Kansas politician reasoned, women who have been raped shouldn't have the right to abortions, because terminating the pregnancy won't "solve the problem for the women that's been raped."
But of course, rape victims who seek abortions aren't trying to undo the experience of having been sexually assaulted. In many cases, they're trying to escape the horror of being forced to carry the child of their rapist inside of them for nine months. You might find this to be obvious, but evidently, Brownback didn't bother considering it.
3. Brian Greene
If a man has sex with a woman while she's unconscious, is that rape? Yes, it is. Ideally, this wouldn't even be a matter of debate, but that's exactly what it became during a meeting of the Utah legislature in 2015, when state Rep. Brian Greene suggested that maybe it's alright for a man to do this if he's married to the woman in question.
"If an individual has sex with their wife while she is unconscious," Greene said, "a prosecutor could then charge that spouse with rape, theoretically ... That makes sense in a first date scenario, but to me, not where people have a history of years of sexual activity."
Just to be clear: Sex without consent is rape, and consenting to sex with somebody in the past doesn't mean you're therefore consenting to all of their future sexual advances. That's not how it works.
4. Todd Akin
In an amazingly bone-headed comment that cost him an otherwise winnable election, Missouri Rep. Todd Akin suggested in 2012 that women can't get pregnant through rape, because "if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”
This is a factually incorrect statement, full stop. Moreover, the term "legitimate rape" is nonsensical and offensive, because rape is never "legitimate."
5. Recep Erdogan
It isn't only American politicians who minimize the importance of women's issues. In 2016, Turkish President Recep Erdogan denounced birth control and contraceptive availability, and said that women who decide to pursue careers instead of becoming mothers are "incomplete" and "deficient."
"A woman who says ‘because I am working I will not be a mother’ is actually denying her femininity," Erdogan said. "A women who rejects motherhood, who refrains from being around the house, however successful her working life is, is deficient, is incomplete."
Yeah, no. Women aren't obligated to be mothers, and it's not up to Erdogan to define what "femininity" means.
6. Marco Rubio
In 2015, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said that the existence of Planned Parenthood has "created an incentive for people not just to look forward to having more abortions but being able to sell that fetal tissue."
First of all, Planned Parenthood does not sell fetal tissue. Second of all, suggesting that there are women who "look forward to having more abortions" displays a gross lack of knowledge about abortions — they are often extremely painful on both an emotional and physical level, and most certainly not something to "look forward to."
7. Brian Kurcaba
West Virginia lawmaker Brian Kurcaba also minimized the impact of rape in an attempt to argue against abortion access. Like Brownback, he acknowledged that "obviously rape is awful,” but nevertheless concluded that “what is beautiful is the child that could come from this.”
Kurcaba's analysis completely ignores a crucial aspect of the equation: The woman's experience. He does not seem to have considered what it's like for a woman to be forced to carry her rapist's baby to term; her experience, in Kurcaba's view, isn't as important as the "beautiful" child that he assumes will result from that pregnancy.
8. Lawrence Lockman
In 1990, Maine Lawmaker Lawrence Lockman argued that maybe rape shouldn't be illegal after all.
"If a woman has [the right to abortion], why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman?" Lockman was quoted as saying during his time as head of the Pro-Life Education Association. "At least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t [in most cases] result in anyone’s death."
At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, trying to rape somebody is not a "pursuit of sexual freedom." It is a violation of somebody else's sexual freedom, and it's hard to imagine how anybody who sees women as flesh-and-blood human beings could conclude otherwise.
9. Mike Huckabee
Would this list be complete without a comment from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee? Of course it wouldn't. In 2015, Huckabee told Breitbart that "Planned Parenthood isn’t purely a ‘healthcare provider’ any more than a heroin dealer is a community pharmacist."
10. Jeb Bush
When former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was running for president (remember that?), he casually remarked that "I'm not sure we need half a billion dollars for women's health issues."
Half a billion dollars might sound like a lot. But according to the New York Times, it's only one half of one percent of the trillion dollars that the federal government spends on health care every year. It's a drop in the bucket, and there's no reason why it should be controversial. Bush later backtracked, insisting that he "misspoke."
11. Clayton Williams
In what must be one of the most ignorant things a politician has ever said, Texas gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams argued in 1990 that if rape is "inevitable," women should "just relax and enjoy it."
To say that this minimizes women's concerns is a drastic understatement. Williams comments amount to both a dangerous misunderstanding of how sexual assault works and a subtle form of victim-blaming. No, rape victims don't have the power to avoid being traumatized if they simply get into a positive mindset while being assaulted.
12. John McCain
During a 2008 presidential debate, Sen. John McCain criticized then-Sen. Barack Obama for saying that, while he opposes late-term abortions, he believes there should be "an exception for the mother's health and life." McCain was having none of that.
"[It's] an example of the eloquence of Senator Obama — his 'health of the mother,'" said McCain, placing air quotes around the term. "You know, that's been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything. That's the extreme pro-abortion position, quote 'health.'"
It isn't. Maternal mortality has been steadily rising in the United States over the last several decades, and according to the Scientific American, between 700 and 800 American women die every year during pregnancy.
13. Donald Trump
Last but not least, we have Donald Trump, who said in 2005 that when he sees a beautiful woman, he "just start[s] kissing them" without waiting for their permission.
"And when you're a star, they let you do it," he continued. "You can do anything. Grab 'em by the p*ssy."
This comment has been analyzed to death, but the point remains: Groping women without their consent is sexual assault, and sexual assault is an awful experience for any woman to have to endure. Trump was perpetuating the idea that men are entitled to women's bodies, which is is one of the oldest and most oppressive forms of sexism there is. It goes without saying that Trump probably didn't consider what it's like for a woman to have her genitals grabbed by a strange man uninvited.
Although America has made immense progress over the decades with regard to gender equality, many male politicians still seem to believe that female-specific concerns aren't legitimate issues. These politicians are wrong — and they need to be reminded of this as often as possible.