Texas Republicans Attempt to Reach Women Voters by Appropriating Feminist Successes

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Commentary Politics

Texas Republicans Attempt to Reach Women Voters by Appropriating Feminist Successes

Andrea Grimes

Red State Women's new initiative, "The Female Fact(Her)," relies on a few context-free statistics to try to convince female voters that the GOP is the party for them.

This week, the Texas Republican Party’s Red State Women—which, according to its website, is “committed to engaging, empowering, and inspiring all Texas women” to join up with the GOP—launched a new initiative for fans of context-free statistics and right-wing politics: “The Female Fact(Her).

Get it? Fact-her.

The website is a laughable attempt to appropriate some selected successes of feminism—for example, better educational opportunities for women, and workplace advancements that have allowed a very few of them to rise to the highest echelons of the business world—and attribute them to the Republican politicians who have dominated Texas politics over the last 20 years. In doing so, the campaign is apparently trying to unite all the Texas womenfolk who’ve been oppressed by Obamacare’s affordable birth control, who long to carry their assault rifles to Target:

It is important to showcase the Female Fact[hers] to challenge the Democrats deceptive campaign aimed at defining women as victims. Republicans seek to shatter the glass ceiling by promoting policies that give women more economic opportunities, better educational options and freedom from burdensome regulations.

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Sweet, sweet freedom! From burdensome regulations that would have, you know, allowed women to sue discriminatory employers for equal pay, or denied their children the once-in-a-lifetime educational opportunity to attend school near a fertilizer factory full of unregistered explosive chemicals.

The site, which is littered with seemingly random statistics (“57 percent of college students are women,” “70 percent of all mothers with children under 18 work”) is a weird mix of hilarious, absurd, and pathetic. The desperation wafts from the screen: No, really, believe us, the GOP loves the ladies, we’re totally telling you the truth, swear to goodness, honest-Abe, Republicans think women are just the very bestest! (Boy) Scout’s honor!

In a press release announcing the Female Fact(Her)’s launch, state Sen. Jane Nelson (R)—who cast the very first “no” vote against creating the state’s Medicaid Women’s Health Program back in 2005—said that “the facts show women in Texas are far better off under Republican leadership than they were during a century of Democrat control.”

Who are “women in Texas,” anyway? A monolith, apparently, when it comes to the Female Fact(Her), which is essentially devoid of racial analyses or breakdowns by immigration status. Lesbian women, queer folks, and trans people are nowhere to be found contributing to this magical Female Fact(Her), which seems to be geared specifically to appeal to white, cisgender, middle-class married mothers, people with the privilege of never not imagining themselves as the default “woman.”

That does make sense—it’s hard to talk about how great Texas women have it when the Republican Party is systematically disenfranchising women of color with racist voter ID laws, or when trans and gender non-conforming Texans live in poverty at more than twice the rate of the general population—but it belies Red State Women’s claim that all “women” are thriving under Republican leadership.

And dagnabbit, correlation just ain’t causation. It is true that, in general, Texas women probably are more politically and economically empowered than they were 100 years ago, when they didn’t have the right to vote and couldn’t even charge their husbands with rape. However, it would be absurd to argue that, for example, the dearth of female CEOs in 1950—let’s just go with the Republicans’ hyper-capitalistic claim that women in the boardroom are a de facto sign of definitive forward progress—had anything to do with which political party held power at the time. There are so many other social, cultural, and economic factors at play that have contributed to the overall improvement of (some) women’s lives that it would be difficult to name them all. What we can say is that in spite of conservative politicians’ best efforts at maintaining the status quo, women have managed to forge ahead.

Still, that hasn’t stopped the GOP. “The facts are on our side,” said Sen. Nelson in the release. “We are the party for women.”

The party for women that has overseen the quadrupling of Texas’ maternal mortality rate? The party for women that has so far shuttered more than half of Texas’ legal abortion providers? The party for women that championed steep cuts to children’s Medicaid? The party for women that opposed a Texas version of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act? The party for women that voted to dismantle a money-saving program that provided free contraception and cancer screenings to tens of thousands of low-income Texans?

That party for women?

The Female Fact(Her) is just Texas Republicans’ latest attempt to make something true that is demonstrably false simply by willing it to be so.

As a piece of propaganda, the site probably appeals to Republicans the way a “Just Say No!” campaign really speaks to kids who would never have said “yes” in the first place.

The site is full of little tidbits—how many women are enrolled in college, how many women fended off a rapist with a gun, how many women are the “primary shoppers” in their households—as if the numbers themselves prove anything about how great Texas women have it. In fact, the Female Fact(Her) mixes and matches Texas-specific stats with broad nationwide numbers, as if Texas Republicans, in their lady-loving majesty, have had a direct impact on the betterment of women’s lives in, say, Boise.

But there is one glaring omission: the words “despite this.”

“Women comprised 56.8 percent of all college students, equaling 11.3 million women enrolled in 2012,” but despite this, only about a quarter of America’s full professors are women.

“82 percent of elementary and middle school teachers are female,” but despite this, Texas Republicans cut $4 billion from the state’s education budget in 2011.

“In 2012, Texas females represented 55 percent of the state electorate and outnumbered registered male voters by 795,000 voters,” but despite this, just 21 percent of the members of the Texas legislature are women.

I could go on. And I have no doubt that if I did, I’d be accused of perpetuating the idea that liberals love to situate women as victims—an idea that the Female Fact(Her) is expressly intended to counter, as if observing the reality of systemic gender oppression is what really keeps women down, rather than thousands of years of patriarchal rule. As if Democrats simply announced that women were oppressed, and did nothing to empower them. Considering the reality that Democrats have backed some of Texas’ most pro-woman legislation, such as the state fair pay act and a federal Medicaid expansion, this is a patently false proposition.

Of course Red State Women opposes the idea of women as “victims,” because victimhood presumes an aggressor—an aggressor that has, all too often, had the letter (R) next to his name. To do so would be to acknowledge that the kinds of policies Red State Women espouses (though none of those policies are actually laid out on the Female Fact(Her); it’s purely an aggregation of factoids from sources both reliable and specious) have done a great deal to ensure that women do not have the resources they need—like mandated parental leave, affordable child care, a living minimum wage—to succeed.

The Female Fact(Her) has to walk a delicate line: show how strong and influential women can be without making them look too intimidating to the cadre of middle-aged white guys who dominate the Texas GOP at its highest ranks. Those behind the site, after all, don’t want women to seem so powerful that they might, for example, demand equal work for equal pay, or so powerful that their rape kits are processed in a timely manner, or so powerful that they are legally able to decide whether to carry their pregnancies to term.

Or, perhaps, so powerful the party might allow a lady to run for a statewide office this year.