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Amanda Marcotte

The truth about GOP hypocrisy

Like many a professional opinion-haver who has been at it a long time, I grow weary of "Republicans are hypocrites" discourse. This has, of course, been a demonstrable truth for a very long time now, yet it never seems to move the needle. The party of "family values" is in the thrall of a thrice-divorced chronic adulterer who bragged about how he likes to "grab them by the pussy." Clearly, being seen as hypocrites doesn't bother the vast majority of Republican politicians or voters. If anything, they probably like how their bad faith "triggers" the liberals. 

And yet, I can't quite blow off two recent stories about the depraved depths of Republican hypocrisy: Right wing reality TV star Jessa Duggar Seewald terminating a pregnancy, and photos surfacing of anti-drag Republican politicians wearing women's clothes. In both cases, it's not just that the people involved are massive hypocrites. Republicans love to make noble claims about their intentions as if they care about "protecting life" or "protecting children." In reality, as these stories show, their main goal is policing people's personal lives and self-expression based on gender. 

The hypocrisy is annoying. The hate that the hypocrisy reveals, however, is what is truly terrifying. 

On Thursday, Republican Gov. Bill Lee of Tennessee signed a broad law meant to ban drag in public, claiming it's a threat to children. Critics argue that the law is so broad it could ban even banal drag performances at, say, a Pride parade. Still, the GOP governor signed the ban even though photos were recently published showing that Lee himself has performed in drag, in full view of underage people no less. 

Their drag doesn't count because they're straight.

Shortly thereafter, similar footage of Texas state Rep. Nate Schatzline, who has authored another bill criminalizing drag, was released. Again, his drag performance was outside, where children could see it, which is what Republicans say they are trying to prevent. 

In both cases, these Republicans have turned to gaslighting and word games to pretend that their turn in drag is somehow not drag. Lee called his drag performance "lighthearted" and contrasted it with supposedly "sexualized entertainment." Schatzline complained that he was just "wearing a dress as a joke back in school for a theatre project."

None of these arguments make a lick of sense. If you've ever seen an episode of "RuPaul's Drag Race" — or seen any drag queen, ever — you would know that "lighthearted" and "theater project" are qualities of most, if not all, drag performances. Moreover, Lee is being dishonest by pretending there's nothing "sexualized" about his drag performance. The "humor" of cross-dressing pranks only works under the assumption that "real" women are sexy and these dudes in dresses are not. Indeed, the caption on Lee's yearbook photo is "Hard Luck Woman," which may be mild in the realms of blue humor, but it doesn't work without the sexual implications. It's certainly a much dirtier joke than anything you'll hear at the Drag Queen Story Hours that Republicans are up in arms about. 

Republicans think drag is okay if it's misogynist — but if it's pro-woman and pro-queer, then they're calling the cops. 

It doesn't take Columbo to figure out what Lee and Schatzline are implying, even as they won't come right out and say it: Their drag doesn't count because they're straight. The point of Republicans' anti-trans laws is to create a pretext for law enforcement to harass queer people, not straight men like themselves. 

Digging in a little deeper, even, it's really about the Republican obsession with policing gender more broadly. The kind of drag that Lee and Schatzline are doing is about mocking women and mocking femininity. The "joke" is that being a woman is a debased position. The kind of drag they're trying to ban — the queer kind — is about the opposite message: Femininity is awesome. These two men were exaggerating how bad they are at looking like women, using humor to remind everyone of their maleness and therefore superior social status. But queer drag performers want to look good and go to great pains (literally, if you look up "tucking") to bury themselves in the feminine fantasy. Lee and Schatzline were trying to serve "man in a dress." Saying a professional drag queen looks like a man in a dress, however, is an insult to her skills. 

Or, to be less academic about it: Republicans think drag is okay if it's misogynist — but if it's pro-woman and pro-queer, then they're calling the cops. 

The Duggar case is similar and has caused quite a stir in pro-choice circles and defensiveness on the right. It's not just that Seewald's family, the Duggar clan of the "19 and Counting" franchise of TLC, is famously conservative or that they're outspoken against abortion rights. The Duggar family found fame by holding themselves out as living proof that women need no access to birth control or abortion, by presenting constant childbearing as "natural" and with no downsides. 

Abortion laws were always meant to be selectively enforced.

Things started when Seewald released a tearful video about having to abort a wanted pregnancy because she was miscarrying and letting the process carry through naturally was too risky for her health. It's likely she didn't realize the procedure she's describing in an abortion, as doctors often avoid using the A-word when terminating pregnancies in these circumstances. But as many people pointed out, medical intervention to terminate a pregnancy is the definition of abortion, which is why we're seeing so many horror stories of patients in similar situations to Seewald being denied medical care.

Seewald claims her procedure wasn't an abortion, because her embryo was already dead. That may have made it legal in Arkansas, but it doesn't mean it wasn't an abortion. As Jessica Valenti points out: "Abortion is not an 'intention', and it certainly doesn't have a debatable definition: It's a medical intervention to end pregnancy. That's it." Indeed, the medical term for a miscarriage that occurs naturally is "spontaneous abortion." 

Ultimately, the semantic tug-of-war is about trying to distract from what this is really about: Gender and power.

Republicans don't like abortion for the same reason they keep trying to cut off access to birth control: Pregnancy, to them, is an offer women have no right to refuse. Abortion and contraception free women to do all sorts of things the right disapproves of, from having career ambitions to being selective about who they marry, or if they marry at all. But Seewald presents herself not just as a member of the right-wing tribe, but as a woman who lives by their strict gender ideals that cast women as vessels for husbands and children instead of full humans who are equal to men. 

As pro-choicers have long pointed out, abortion laws were always meant to be selectively enforced. They're a pretext to punish women who live outside the strict gender rules that Republicans want to place on women. It's single women, women of color, perceived feminists, and poorer women who will find themselves suspected of illegal abortion. The law may ban the procedure, but the real purpose is penalizing women who don't fit the Duggar model of what women should be.

These situations are interesting from a legal perspective, because it shows the limitations of using the law the way Republicans want to, which is to force their narrow cultural prescriptions about gender onto everyone else. But these cases also do a great job in exposing the very intentions conservatives are trying to hide. The concern is never "life" or "children's innocence." It's always about restricting the ability of other people, mostly other adults, who want to make personal choices that Republicans don't like, from how they dress to how they identify to even when they give birth. Hypocrisy may not matter much to voters. This unwillingness to just leave other people alone, however? The polls show it's still politically toxic

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