|I often feel genuine sympathy for the political consultants tasked with helping Republican party politicians appeal to women voters (and Latino voters and black voters and young voters and poor voters). How do you hold someone's hand and walk them, step by step, through the reasons why they should value women as moving, breathing, thinking agents with free will?
Here are a few suggestions for how I think that talk should go.
Do not call women "Barbies" because women are not dolls.
Dolls are nonliving objects designed to be playthings for their owners. Dolls cannot make decisions. Dolls cannot have feelings or experiences. Dolls cannot give or revoke their consent for what others do to their bodies. Dolls cannot experience the tragic consequences of an unforeseen event, and dolls cannot be faced with the harrowing burden of an unplanned pregnancy.
When people conceive of women as dolls, they are contributing to the widespread belief that women are objects who are incapable of making decisions. On an institutional scale, silencing women and making their decisions for them is an act that always ends in violence.
Do not call women "Barbies" because women are not playing dress-up with their careers.
When a woman has the opportunity to graduate at the top of her class, then attend Harvard Law, then run for office and become a state Senator, she is not putting on an "elected official" costume on over her apron and pearls.
I should note that when a woman in Alaska runs for office, she is not putting on her "Caribou Barbie" costume. Misogyny is not a single party's issue, even if a single party flaunts it more.
Do not call women "Barbies" because women should not be defined by their attractiveness, their hair color, or their accessories.
Because dolls don't have personalities, they are defined by their appearance: The color of their hair, the color of their shoes, their body size. Luckily, women have personalities, so they are defined by their identities rather than others' judgment of their bodies. Women in positions of power should not be forced to change their appearance or physical presentation to be acceptable for men.
Unfortunately, this "Abortion Barbie" rhetoric isn't some isolated instance of disrespect toward women in discussions about abortion. State Sen. Dan Patrick's comment during the final minutes of the omnibus abortion bill debate illustrate the same cavalier, insensitive attitude toward women. Claiming to be an ally with the unborn, he mimicked a woman's distressing decision process by saying, "You know, this just isn't really convenient to give birth to you right now. Do you mind dying?"
Individuals who disagree about the ethics of abortion can have productive conversations about the consequences of abortion policies, but only with mutual respect. The political status quo, which relies on denigrating women as thoughtless objects who must be managed and controlled, will never produce effective policies that reduce the need for abortions and keeps women safe -- a goal that (I hope) both parties can value.