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Feminism & John McCain

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Feminism & John McCain

John McCain Tours GM and listens to a question from a woman on July 17, 2008

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
A spate of e-mails, articles and columns has emerged recently blasting McCain for a speech he made in 1986, which reportedly contained an off-color joke about rape. According to a 1986 copy of the Tucson Citizen, and the journalist who covered the event, the reports are apparently true.

Another report emerged about a jest he made in the 1990s about the appearance of Hillary and Bill Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea. While never publicly documented, McCain is rumored to have apologized to the Clintons for his comment.

Obviously, any comments McCain has made in the past are fodder for the vetting process to become president. Certainly, they’re worthy of inspection. So is his record. There are not many people who have never inadvertently told a bad joke or made a comment he or she would love to take back, and McCain is no exception. Twenty years later, there are still people who remain shocked and offended by the remarks he is alleged to have made and the joke he undoubtedly made, and they are now using these cases as their evidence that McCain is an “antifeminist.”

McCain’s record on women’s rights doesn't help. On the surface, it shows a recalcitrant attitude toward the plight of feminists. Besides his poor taste in jokes, McCain’s detractors say he’s an antifeminist because he:
  • Opposed the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
  • Attempted to weaken the Family Medical Leave Act
  • Opposed women serving in combat roles in the military
  • Supported a full ban on abortion
  • Has not made any real attempt to expand or protect access to birth control
  • Opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, and presumably has not changed his mind
A closer look, however, reveals a reluctance to simply ratify legislation because it's outward appearance is politically appealing. At first blush, his votes may seem repugnant to feminists, but there are some understandable explanations behind his positions:
  • McCain’s chief opposition to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was its potential ramifications for eliminating statutes of limitations for other legal precedents.

    “If you eliminate the statutes of limitations, and you make it unending, you may be violating the rights of the individuals who are being sued, whether they’re a man or a woman,” McCain was quoted as saying after the vote.
  • Regardless of what he wanted to do to improve the Family Medical Leave Act – ultimately, McCain voted in favor of it and it passed.
  • McCain’s alleged “long-standing” opposition to women in combat was “revived” in May by this LA Times story that painted McCain as a chauvinist because of comments he reportedly made about women flying combat missions. Nevertheless, during a Dec. 13, 1999 Republican presidential debate, McCain was asked “Do you think it’s a good idea to prohibit women from combat?”

    “No, I don’t,” McCain answered, “and it’s already been proven in the Persian Gulf War that women performed extraordinarily with heroism and skill and courage including in a POW experience.”
  • The feminist movement is not defined by the issue of abortion, as the group “Feminists For Life” have proven. Regardless, McCain has remained committed to preserving a woman’s right to choose in cases of rape or incest, which has gotten him into trouble with many religious conservatives and is one reason why he’s had trouble shoring up his conservative base.
  • By now, everyone’s seen the McCain video in which McCain hesitates, then falters when he’s asked his thoughts about insurance plans that cover Viagra, but not birth control pills. There is also a rumor that McCain had an opportunity to vote against a measure that would guarantee health insurance plans cover birth control. The fact is that McCain voted against a bill that would have prevented women from having the option to choose a plan with that type of coverage or a plan without birth control coverage. This might also explain why McCain wavered and stumbled when asked that now-famous question aboard the “Straight-Talk Express.”
  • On the surface, it seems egregious that anyone would vote against equal rights for men and women? To do so would be political suicide. But, like most legislation with nice-sounding names, the devil is in the details. Perhaps the best argument against the Equal Rights Amendment is outlined by Concerned Women for America, but Phyllis Schlafly also has an excellent historical outline and rebuttal to the legislation. From Schlafly’s article:
    While claiming to benefit women, the ERA would actually have taken away some of women’s rights. We based our arguments on the writings of pro-ERA law professors, among them current Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The amendment would require women to be drafted into military combat any time men were conscripted, abolish the presumption that the husband should support his wife and take away Social Security benefits for wives and widows. It would also give federal courts and the federal government enormous new powers to reinterpret every law that makes a distinction based on gender, such as those related to marriage, divorce and alimony.
    McCain understands these issues and plans to find legitimate solutions to the gender gap.

It’s worth mentioning in all this antifeminist talk, McCain has quietly hired more women and paid them better in this campaign than Obama has. In fact, Obama has said repeatedly that he’s the candidate who women can count on to raise their pay, but McCain is the one who is actually doing it -- not Obama. Here’s a quote from CNSNews.com:
While Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has vowed to make pay equity for women a top priority if elected president, an analysis of his Senate staff shows that women are outnumbered and out-paid by men. That is in contrast to Republican presidential candidate John McCain's Senate office, where women, for the most part, out-rank and are paid more than men.

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