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Republicans Adopt Motherly Tone for SOTU Response

Kathleen Felli comments on Senator Britt's speech and its mixed messaging on women's issues.

 
 

On Thursday, March 7, more than 32 million people tuned into President Biden’s State of the Union Address to see him lay out his agenda for the rest of the year as he enters his electoral rematch against Donald Trump in November. He spoke on many issues, such as imploring Congress to implement a ban on assault weapons, denouncing the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade, and promising to reinstate abortion rights in America. 


As all recent SOTU speeches have gone, a member of the President’s opposing party is granted the opportunity to give a response. This year, Alabama senator Katie Britt was selected to represent the party and drum up support for the upcoming election. In theory, Sen. Britt was a perfect choice – her status as the youngest senator in the GOP and generally accomplished woman provided a stark contrast to Biden’s image as an aging career politician. In practice? Not so much. 


Just mere minutes after President Biden concluded his remarks, the American public was greeted with the image of Senator Britt standing in front of a kitchen, wearing a crucifix necklace. To say that it was a bit on-the-nose is a severe understatement. Before she opens her mouth, the audience is meant to see her as a traditional, dutiful mother who is gravely concerned about the state of our country. 


Motherhood is woven all throughout Senator Britt’s response. After listing her qualifications as an elected official, she states, “That’s not the job that matters the most. I’m a proud wife and mom of two school-aged kids… I am worried about their future — and the future of children in every corner of our nation. That’s why I invited you into our home tonight” At multiple points of her speech, she asserts that the Biden Administration’s handling of issues surrounding immigration, women’s choice, and the economy has had the biggest impact on  “kitchen table” families – working and middle-class families who need concrete solutions for their everyday problems. While this was seemingly said to deter pundits from criticizing the optics of literally putting a woman in the kitchen, the speech’s emphasis on motherhood makes it difficult to view the senator as the policymaker that she is.


Continuing this exploitation of her motherhood and womanhood to prop up the conservative agenda, Britt tells a story about a woman whom she met in Texas that had been sex trafficked by Mexican cartels at the age of twelve. Of course, it is always horrible to hear about a child being subjected to such brutal conditions. As a mother, Sen. Britt feels this more than anyone else. However, this cannot excuse the fact that following this speech, the woman who allegedly shared this story with the senator came forth publicly to clarify that this happened during the Bush administration, that it did not occur in America, and that she was trafficked by her family – not a cartel! In essence, Britt had manipulated the story she was told in order to fearmonger the American public into supporting dehumanizing immigration policy. But, I guess it is okay to fearmonger when the person doing it is a concerned mother. 


Let’s get to women’s issues. Recently, the Republican Party faced major backlash for its initial response to a court case in Alabama wherein the state’s supreme court declared that “frozen embryos created through in vitro fertilization are legally children and that people could be held liable for destroying them.” In the immediate aftermath of this decision, pro-lifers rejoiced that their campaign for fetal personhood had succeeded. However, once they looked closely at how restrictions on IVF would actually contradict the pro-life stance of wanting to create life, elected officials had to walk back their praise of the Alabama court ruling. Senator Britt did this on the national stage, stating, “We are the Party of hardworking parents and families. We want to give you and your children the opportunities to thrive — and we want families to grow. It’s why we strongly support continued nationwide access to in vitro fertilization.” 


In the aftermath of her speech, many social media users have referred to Senator Britt as “Serena Joy” – a character The Handmaid’s Tale who subjects the protagonist, Offred, to sexual abuse in order to expand her family. Much like Gilead, states across the U.S. are demonstrating their desire to completely strip women of their bodily autonomy by passing the strict abortion laws. As a  result, we have seen stories such as Katie Cox who, because of Texas law, was forced to cross state lines to terminate a pregnancy that would not have been viable anyway. Although Cox ultimately had the means to go elsewhere, the case has exposed the absurdity of pro-life laws that do not recognize the multitude of reasons why a fetus would be aborted apart from the carrier not wanting to give birth. Cox wanted to be pregnant, and yet, all that Texas law did was vilify her already distressing experience for political gain. Under a pro-life agenda, mothers such as Katie Britt do not see a problem with this.


At the end of the day, Senator Britt’s tone as a worried mother did not resonate with the American public because she utilized it to advance an agenda that is wholly anti-woman. She is a woman who has managed to balance her motherhood with one of the most influential jobs in the world, and yet uses that influence to pass legislation that will render her politically powerless in the end. How much sense does that make? Perhaps Republicans should go back to the drawing board and find other ways to demonstrate diversity and progress.

 

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