The French poet Charles Baudelaire once wrote, "The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist." Similarly, we as a nation are at a point where the greatest trick institutional misogyny ever pulled was convincing the world that it was defeated once and for all at the polls.
To be sure, after a 2012 full of ugly, anti-woman legislation and political statements, it was a relief to see Rep. Todd Akin and Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock lose their senatorial campaigns (and Delegate Bob Marshall, R-Loudoun County, never get to begin his) along with record numbers of female candidates pulling out wins. But to reduce the war on women to an electoral contest is to miss the real problem. People such as Akin may receive particular scrutiny for their backward views, but they don't develop in a vacuum. And all across the country we're getting demonstrations that the attitudes that fuel misogyny and actively hurt women run deeper than an election.
Look, for example, to the case of Steubenville, Ohio. Like a lot of small towns, Steubenville is very much defined by its high-school football team. So it was something of a local scandal when two players were charged with the sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl at a party in August. The victim didn't realize she'd been assaulted until pictures relating to the assault were distributed via social media.
Beyond its local relevance, the story largely was ignored until recently. The New York Times ran an article on the case, but it went largely unnoticed because of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., around the same time.
What's really disturbing is that the town's treatment of the victim has been less "Friday Night Lights" and more "The Lottery." Not only have locals referred to the victim as "the train whore" on Facebook, but also one of Steubenville High's football coaches told The New York Times that "she had to make up something. Now people are trying to blow up our football program because of it." Most disturbing of all, the hacker collective Anonymous released a video in early January of a former Steubenville High student describing the assault and laughing. Steubenville High's head coach didn't bench any of the accused players.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, in large part because of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's decision to block the reauthorization in December. According to The Huffington Post, Cantor insisted on the removal of a provision that would allow tribal authorities to prosecute non-Indians who commit sexual assault on reservations. According to the watchdog group Media Matters for America, all three major television networks failed to report on Congress' failure to reauthorize the law.
Closer to home, the Virginia General Assembly, which found itself in a public relations nightmare after attempting to pass sweeping, invasive, anti-abortion legislation in 2012, has introduced similar legislation for the 2013 session, as well as three separate bills by Marshall, of course, that would allow companies to deny their employees contraception coverage.
Ugly mob mentality in a small town, congressional gridlock, and a fringe conservative General Assembly fixture showing off might seem like tenuously related subjects, but under the surface, they're all symptomatic of a larger problem: Despite the post-mortems claiming the 2012 election was a referendum on misogynistic policies and ideology, the war on women simply takes too many forms, on too many levels, for it to be won in one fell swoop.
Repellent though they are, people such as Todd Akin or Rush Limbaugh actually are among the less dangerous members of the anti-woman fringe. As extreme as their views may be, they don't have the discretion or intelligence to make them palatable to the public. The truly dangerous are conservative lawmakers in the Virginia House of Delegates and the apologists for the accused in Steubenville. Rather than simply dishing out sound bites that appeal to the base and alienate the mainstream, these people are actively doing things that hurt women and society as a whole.
Often we don't recognize the threat as long as people refrain from spouting ridiculous things (think: "legitimate rape") even if they're on video laughing about sexual assault. One of the truly unfortunate things about our 24-hour news cycle is that a major story, no matter how important, is likely to vanish from mainstream coverage after just a few days. It's especially difficult for media to grasp that things such as misogyny aren't simply going to be won by one side during the course of a few months.
In the meantime, women are still being victimized, and the people doing it don't care whether or not that fits the narrative. S
Zack Budryk is a freelance writer living in Richmond.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.