In the last several years we’ve talked about a “War on Women,” and were told—repeatedly, endlessly, largely by men but also some women—that such a thing did not exist. And then we saw Hillary Clinton’s campaign (for all its foibles) eviscerated by the press, who refused to condemn the lies of the now-president while running huge headlines about Clinton’s email. And lo, we were then told not to worry so much, because you know, 45 wasn’t really a Republican. He totally believed at one point in abortion rights. Don’t mind his near-fundamentalist vice president. There is no war on women. Then yesterday, he appointed Charmaine Yoest to run the Health and Human Services (HHS) department.
This is some peak wiliness in the War on Women, which clearly still exists.
Yoest doesn’t believe in scientific research. She does believe, however, for reasons unexplained, that IUDs cause deaths. She refers to pro-choice people as the “Abortion Lobby.” She suggests the relationship between birth control availability and abortion is a false one, promoted as a media narrative but a “red herring” the “abortion lobby” uses somehow for nefarious reasons. Oh, and she says abortion causes breast cancer, but has no evidence.
Let’s parse out how all of this stuff works.
First, 45 can claim he is not anti-woman or participating in any kind of war on women because he named a woman to the post. They’ll chuckle at us for even asking. It’s a political tool but a point that many no doubt actually believe: that simply having women present is synonymous with working on behalf of women. While the two can indeed correlate, they do not always, and the correlation is more often than not a political ploy. You see, when we resist—when we call out the appointment of someone like Yoest—politicians can then tut-tut at us for failing to support our fellow women in office. Wily.
The role of the Health and Human Services Department is like an enormous version of the health department where you live, with far more clout. Its job is to maintain and promote the health of its citizens—all of its citizens. It’s also responsible for some service provision, as per the title. The National Institute for Health, a major player in science research, is part of the HHS.
When someone like Yoest—who questions scientific findings based on no rebutting science but on, evidently, her desires—runs the NIH, we have a problem, generally speaking.
Furthermore, her job is to assist all citizens.
Reproductive health care and easy access to contraception is a major part of women’s lives so that they might control their own fertility. Only by controlling one’s own fertility does a woman truly control her life’s potential paths. Charmaine Yoest does not believe in ready access to contraception, and her statements about the IUD suggest a deliberate scare tactic to keep women from long-form contraception. Yoest, it seems, is pro-pregnancy, but not pro-women.
When the government puts women like Yoest in charge of the HHS, it’s a form of gaslighting the rest of us, women who call out the government for its patriarchal chauvinism. Such a move implies (wait for it—it’s coming. No doubt it’s in article comments already) that when we critique her appointment, we are fighting against ourselves. The War on Women hits a new low with such moves, as we fear for both our bodily autonomy and control while also running the risk of descending into infighting over Yoest’s appointment. We will not be cowed.