As a woman of color and a feminist, I have worked in politics and women’s rights activism for 14 years, and in my time as a candidate for office, campaign staffer, and political consultant, I have never seen such an upsurge of political effort on the part of women.
It’s no wonder that the new film Battle of the Sexes has resonated with audiences this year. Forty-four years after the legendary tennis match between openly sexist Bobby Riggs and feminist Billie Jean King, President Trump is showing the power of blatant sexism in a true battle against women.
In the last several weeks, Trump has fired several down the line shots in his game against women. Earlier this month, a White House memo leaked and obtained by Crooked Media, laid out the Trump administration playbook to roll back women’s rights. For example, one wish was to exchange the Title X grant program funding that provides family planning and prevention services to the poor, and divert the money into programs to promote “fertility awareness” methods. Also known as the “rhythm method,” it’s popular among many religious conservatives but fails annually for a quarter of couples.
Currently, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and other groups are suing the Trump administration. Because the Department of Health and Human Services rolled back mandates that employers include birth control in health plans, while the Department of Justice said workers, employers and organizations with religious objections can claim exemption from nondiscrimination laws. Also the administration prioritized the passing of a 20-week abortion ban in the House and allowed SChip, a health insurance program for children, to expire. Translation: If you are a lower income mother and you have a sick child, you are out of luck. Fittingly, the contraceptive access rollback transpired on the one-year anniversary of the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape, where Trump boasts of his sexual assaults on women.
Among these developments, the rollback on contraception coverage is arguably the move with the widest impact. Since the pill was introduced in the 1960s, women’s involvement in all facets of society, including the workplace, increased. Affordable access to contraception enables women to take better care of themselves and their families, support themselves financially, complete their education, and get or keep a job. Today, 99% of American women between the ages of 18-44 who have ever had sexual intercourse will use at least one contraceptive method at some point in their lifetime, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Despite Trump and the GOP’s attempts to promote the repeal of the contraceptive mandate as a “religious liberty” issue, even religious women need and use contraceptive services. Over 89% of Catholic women and 90% of Protestant women in their reproductive years use a contraceptive method. Contraception gives women freedom to have sex, married or unmarried, and the right to determine for themselves when and if they will have a child. And those who stand against that, stand against women’s liberty. Period.
These recent directives should not come as a surprise to anyone, of course. Trump has never hidden his view of women, which is often contemptuous, especially when he is challenged by one. It was on full display throughout his campaign against Hillary Clinton, where he was, unsurprisingly, most visibly irritated whenever Hillary bested him on policy discussions. (It was during just such a moment when he leaned into the mic and carefully pronounced her “a nasty woman.”) We saw his view of women as objects in the Access Hollywood tape and his bullying of a pageant contestant for her weight. We saw his expectation that his women serve him when he commented he expected dinner to be on the table when he comes home or “I go through the roof.” We saw his specific gendered attacks on female journalists who asked questions he didn’t like. And we’ve heard from at least 11 women about Trump’s sexual harassment.
Even those who defended his actions in the Access Hollywood tape as “locker room talk” or called him a “champion of women” because of his support for his daughter Ivanka or the women he hired, have had little to back up their claims since he took office. In just 10 months, the Trump administration and the GOP-led Congress have forged policy that attempts to limit women’s equality and question their value as people capable of making their own decisions.
Within his first 100 days in office, Trump pushed to defund Planned Parenthood—the sole healthcare provider for women in many states and counties across the nation. He appointed a Supreme Court justice who, he promised would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, and cut off U.S. aide for family-planning services globally. With the blessing of his ostensibly pro-woman advocate daughter, Trump rolled back Obama regulations on equal pay to address pay discrimination due to race or gender and revoked the Obama’s 2014 Fair Pay & Safe Workplaces, a critical order that helps working class women especially, from workplace abuse and transgressions. On restricting women’s health, reproductive rights and progress, so far Trump is easily winning this match.
How different from the outcome of Battle of the Sexes. When Billie Jean won her match 44 years ago, she made a statement for women’s equality, not just in sports. She showed that women can do anything men can, if given a fair shot. Hillary Clinton’s campaign reminded millions of women that far as we’ve come, our right to self-determination and our very equality as human beings must still be fought for—and that the outcome is not definite.
Fortunately, the game is beginning to change. As a woman of color and a feminist, I have worked in politics and women’s rights activism for 14 years, and in my time as a candidate for office, campaign staffer, and political consultant, I have never seen such an upsurge of political effort on the part of women.
Today, a record number of women are running or have signed up to run for office. Emily’s List, a pro-choice Democratic women’s PAC reported 13,000 women signed up with them indicating their plans to run for office by February of 2017. During the 2016 cycle, Emily’s List spoke with about 900 women interested in running for school board, state legislature, or Congress. Emerge America, a national organization that trains Democratic women to run for office, received reports from many of their state directors that applications for trainings were up 100% from last year. She Should Run, a non-partisan group, said 8,100 women had signed up for their “how to run” incubator program three months after the election—when usually just a few hundred women per month sign up. And all this is happening despite the fact that more women than ever realize that the political machine will likely label them “nasty women,” “difficult,” and “too ambitious” when they run. Having faced this myself, I know the courage it takes to step up and run all the same.
Through a collective effort of women activists, voters, candidates, and legislators along with male allies working together, we can still win this battle of the sexes. Trump may be winning this game, but the set and match will belong to us.
Atima Omara is a political strategist and advocate. She was President of the Young Democrats of America from 2013-15 where she was elected the first African American and fifth woman President in its 81 year history. She was a candidate for the Virginia General Assembly in 2014 where she ran in a special election. She has served on the board or worked for multiple women’s advocacy organizations specifically in the areas of reproductive rights & justice, domestic violence, and women’s political leadership. She is a Ford Foundation Public Voices Fellow of the OpEd Project.