First seen at Discomfit Magazine.
When asked about the problem of women leaving the Republican Party in large numbers, Reinse Preiebus, the executive director of the party, said that, given enough press, the Democrats could accuse them of having a “caterpillar problem,”thus minimizing the idea that they even have a problem. They do have a problem and he may find that he chose an appropriate simile in his comparison.
For over a century, women could rightly feel like caterpillars, living perpetually in the cocoon of a home and family without being offered any choice in their lives. They did as they were told by a man who, they were told, has superior capacity for understanding things in business and politics. Until after the turn of the last century, they were denied even a right to vote, much less the right to accumulate anything of worth in their own right. They were required to sit, smiling as their husbands might nudge a neighbor as he made fun of wives and women in general.
The funniest new joke in the thirties was to ask, “Have you heard the definition of a wife?” The punch line was, “It’s a new appliance that you screw on the bed and it does all the house work.” Hilarious!
But, due to the efforts of a lot of long-suffering sisters who braved beatings and forced feedings, they did earn women’s suffrage. They could vote and they did!
In response to the interminable sufferings of poverty, they mostly and largely secretly, helped to elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The one thing that did the most to free the “little ladies” from this literal slavery was the onset of World War II. Every able-bodied man was needed in the war and there was a huge problem in manufacturing the arms and armaments which our nation so sorely lacked. It was decided that, perhaps, women could learn to do the work that was once reserved for men.
Young women turned out in droves for training in the operations of welders, rivet guns, and heavy manufacturing machinery. Children met “baby-sitter” for the first time as older women and young girls took over the child-rearing chores and none of them suffered any lasting negative effects. Soon we had the mightiest military machine in the world, the wars were won, and the men came home. For a time, women happily went back into the ever-more-expensive cocoons with an even-greater list of responsibilities.
Their daughters, however, had an entirely different outlook. No cocoon for them! They were aware of their capabilities and they wanted to fulfill them! Offices became full of secretaries and hospitals adequately staffed with nurses; schools were staffed with teachers, and there were other challenges to conquer.
Soon, they were writing for newspapers, writing for, and even publishing their own papers and magazines. Despite the fears of the old men, marriages still took place and the population continued to grow as women dropped out of working or took sabbaticals to rear young families.
But they had seen the world and they liked it! They chose to limit the size of their families so they could return to their respective professions. This, however was difficult and accidents did happen. Then the choice was dire; to again give up their dreams or to risk being butchered by an illegal back-alley abortionist.
This gave life to the pro-choice movement which took a couple of decades to accomplish. This movement also inspired the free-enterprise pharmaceuticals firms to develop other birth-control measures and they were a startling success. Some two generations of women relied upon these measures, from the messy diaphragm to the pills and the hormone shots, to allow them to juggle careers and child-bearing.
This is the real problem with caterpillars which the Republicans do not appear to understand. Caterpillars have a way of turning into butterflies! They flutter about, spreading pollen for the flowers and making the world a more beautiful place, at the same time, creating more caterpillars to carry on their work.
These butterflies cannot and will not return to their cocoons and no sane person would expect them to do so. You may stick pins through their heads and hang them on your walls but you can’t put them back in the cocoon once they have felt freedom and spread their wings.
Mr. Priebus was right. When the Republicans want to destroy women’s access to reproductive care and remove the availability of controlling their own fertility, then they may find that they have a “caterpillar problem.”