My favorite sign at the War on Women rally last Saturday at the Capitol was a picture of the female reproductive system with the words "Doctor checked ... no jobs!"
Ever since Gov. Scott Walker's so-called jobs session in the state Legislature devolved into a prolonged attack on Planned Parenthood - closing clinics, eliminating funding for routine cancer screenings and making felons of abortion doctors whose patients won't jump through medically unnecessary hoops - our state has been on the leading edge of the national Republican anti-woman attack. Our GOP legislators also took the time to roll back equal pay protection for women. How cheering to see the whole crowd at the Capitol, fighting back.
Just like Walker's attacks on workers, our public school teachers, our environment, and our democracy, his attack on Wisconsin women is running into a big wall of citizen opposition. Despite rain and temperatures in the low 40s, Wisconsin women were fired up.
Edna Kunkel and Dorothy Mickleburgh put together the rally in a hurry, as part of a nationwide grassroots campaign organized by UniteWomen.org, which organized similar protests all over the country on April 28 in response to the Republican assault on women's rights. Nationally, in the next round of elections, the "war on women" may turn out to be a boon to Democrats, as the sheer audacity of Republican sexism opens up huge gender gaps between male and female candidates in all the states.
After all, it's one thing to drive a wedge among voters on issues like late-term abortion. It's something else again to go after birth control and equal pay.
As Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, told me in an interview for The Progressive recently, Republican women who support her organization, of whom there are quite a few, are shocked and bewildered by their party these days. They feel like it has abandoned them.
It turns out women don't like popular Republican spokesmen calling us sluts for seeking health-insurance coverage for birth control, or state legislators proposing intrusive and humiliating requirements designed to shame us out of seeking legal abortions, or our national leaders proposing that our bosses should decide whether they think we ought to be denied our birth control prescriptions.
Republicans are hoping women will forget about all of this because Democratic adviser Hillary Rosen made an impolitic comment about Ann Romney never working a day in her life on national TV. Nothing like a catfight between working mothers and stay-at-home moms in the right-wing playbook.
The sad thing is, so-called family-values conservatives have stoked the agonizing about work and family in this country while attacking union jobs that make it possible to support a family on a single income. They've also opposed the kinds of humane policies that make balancing work and family a no-brainer in Western Europe: universal, high-quality child care, ample parental leave for both sexes, and jobs that don't demand that people choose between a good income and a good life.
Romney messed up her martyrdom anyway, by chuckling about what a "gift" Rosen's comments were. Then she gave a speech saying, weirdly, "I love the fact that there are also women out there that don't have a choice and they must go to work and they still have to raise the kids."
But mostly, American women don't care about insults to the likes of Ann Romney because we are too busy leading our regular lives and holding down half the jobs in this country - and the vast majority of jobs that pay less than $8 an hour.
If, as Mitt Romney put it when he was governor of Massachusetts, work is a matter of "dignity" for poor women who have young children at home, the least the Romneys could do is agree to pay "the help" a fair day's wage.
Looking around at the women at that rally in Madison on Saturday, I saw a lot of moms who help each other out - carpooling, juggling school and work and all the joys and stresses of women's lives as members of our community. Right after the Raging Grannies sang, I saw my own mother, there with my three daughters, whom she spends a lot of time caring for since she retired. She dedicated her working life to establishing and maintaining high-quality, affordable child care for every working family in Madison.
It was overwhelmingly clear to me that women are not going to be duped into taking our eye off the ball.
We know what we are fighting for. We know who is on our side and what we want: high-quality health care that is respectful and medically appropriate; equal opportunities for ourselves and our daughters.
The Romneys can't divide us. Scott Walker can't divide us. We are fighting for our lives, for our children's lives, and for a decent society for all of us.
Rock on, Wisconsin women. Keep on fighting back!
Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive.