At the New Republic, the inimitable Rebecca Traister notes that the recent, embarrassing GOP "Say Yes to the Dress" political ads are "one of the first instances in which conservatives have in any way embraced the idea that women now treat government as a stand-in for husbands."
The idea that a woman would rely upon the government, rather than on an implied male partner, has been lambasted for decades—Reagan's long-lasting, racist "Welfare Queen" fiction; Dan Quayle on Murphy Brown; Rush Limbaugh on Sandra Fluke—and it persists, showing up most recently in Jesse Watter's accidentally complimentary designation of "Beyoncé voters" who "depend on government because they're not depending on their husbands. They need contraception, health care, and they love to talk about equal pay."
It's true! Where once American women were forced to depend on husbands for economic stability and social and sexual sanctification, they now rely, to some degree, on the American government to protect the rights and benefits that make independent citizenship possible.
But what too often goes unacknowledged is that women aren't the only Americans who have relied on the government as a partner. Rather, it's a model of support and dependence that has bolstered the fortunes of American men throughout the nation's history.
What follows is a paragraph I'd like to put on tiny index cards and keep in my purse just to revisit on the train, tuck in people's pants pockets, or shower gently down from a rooftop from time to time.
It's hard to remember that guys did not rise to the top of business and political worlds passively, by dint of their hard-wired inclinations and the gravitational pull of their penises alone. Men too, even the rich, white married ones who vote Republican as reliably as single women vote Democrat—in fact, especially those men—have benefitted terrifically from government policies and practices. Call it "The Wifey State," and come to grips with the fact that white guys have been taking advantage of it since the founding.
This is an idea so clear that it has become invisible.
Traister goes on to lay it out clearly once more. Massively beneficial US government programs—"grants, loans, incentives and tax breaks"—long available for white men who wished to accrue capital through home and business, were unavailable until relatively recently to people of color and women: the latter of which continues to see economic prospects depressed by the GOP's deliberate denial of "equal pay protections, paid family leave, or subsidized day care." With advantages solidified by centuries of unpaid (a state that Traister reminds us is "Constitutionally-enforced") labor on the part of women and black Americans, rich and white and married men have enjoyed a remarkably uncontested rise to the top—and some, now, are acting exceedingly threatened by women who ask for the same state protections they've taken almost without seeing them for a long, long time.
So. Say yes to the bad metaphor if it means fair government, maybe; lotta men been dining out on the state for years.
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