I realize every well-dressed, ambitious young sophisticate cannot follow the War on Women as closely as I do. You are fabulously busy with exams, deadlines, appointments, and shoes to buy: I get it. You were probably more absorbed by March Madness and the iPad 3 release than the fallout from Sandra Fluke’s testimony before Congress.
What the media has dubbed the War on Women is not exactly new: women have been struggling to secure basic rights for centuries. Yet the recent backlash against gender equality is particularly disturbing. Even in the mudslinging climate of an election cycle, the ferocity of attacks on women stands out. Beyond the tone of the discussion, we are faced with an almost bewildering ignorance—Rush Limbaugh, for instance, was under the impression women had to pop a birth control pill each time they had sex.
In March, Limbaugh launched a personal crusade against Georgetown University student Sandra Fluke, calling her a “slut” and “prostitute.” Her crime? Arguing oral contraceptives should be covered by insurance plans. For the record, in a 2008 report by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 82 percent of women admitted to using oral contraceptives. Not to be outdone by political pundits, legislators around the country introduced regressive legislation and offered bizarre sound bites to horrified constituencies. The international community, puzzled, wondered why the United States had stumbled back into 1950.
And thus the War on Women became national news.
How many self-respecting urbanites tune into AM talk radio? I would venture to say not very many. It is safe to say most of us missed the vitriolic attacks of Limbaugh—a fossilized shock-jock from a bygone era, enjoying none of Jon Stewart’s witty charm. In the evolution of political commentary, Limbaugh occupies the awkward stage between the direct, dry commentary of Tom Brokaw and the sarcastic intellectualism of Colbert. We are a generation that can accept truth bending—as long as it makes us laugh. There is nothing amusing about demanding to see the “sex tapes” of a private citizen or asking who bought her condoms in the 6th grade. (Sorry, Limbaugh. That is not humorous: it’s just creepy.)
So, we missed Limbaugh, and we aren’t glued to our couches, watching Congressional testimony on CSPAN. Sifting through the proposed legislation of faceless elected officials is not exactly one of the top interests on Facebook. In case you missed it, here is a rundown of the most ridiculous anti-woman legislation of 2012:
1.In Arizona, the State Senate approved a bill (HB2036) that defines women as pregnant… two weeks prior to having sex.
2.In Georgia, State Rep. Terry England argued abortions (induced labor) of stillborn fetuses should be prohibited after 20 weeks… by comparing women to cows and pigs.
3.In the US Senate, Senator Roy Blunt proposed an amendment to a highway funding bill that would allow employers to choose which medication their employees could take… including oral contraceptives.
Whether we pay attention or not, these retrograde politicians are in the business of governing our lives and shaping the way future generations view women’s rights. Women are incubators… just like cows and pigs? That is quite the message to send to young girls.
We grew up in the era of the Spice Girls and girl power. We watched Mia Hamm argue with Michael Jordan over who was the better athlete, and it is these early memories that shape our perspectives. We admired Mia Hamm for being an athlete—not because she had a successful husband, was a domestic goddess, or designed a great dress.
Personally, I am a fan of great dresses—and the beauty of being a part of my generation is that I can define womanhood for myself. We’re a generation of choices—we can opt out of taking oral contraceptives, we can opt out of parenthood, we can even opt out of choosing a career at 18. We are awash in postmodernity. Definitions are broad, and we are allowed unprecedented leeway in choosing where we fit in. Feminism is no longer monolithic. Sexuality is not rigidly controlled by biological imperatives, or the values of our parents.
Taking a step back, I wonder: are Gen Y and Millennia’s out of touch with the generations that preceded them? Baby boomers grew up in a different World—women were limited to traditional household roles, civil rights and racial equality were new ideas, and men framed the public discourse. Naturally, members of this generation view public policy a bit differently than we do.
Bob Morris, an Indiana State Representative, protested the Girl Scouts for “radicalizing” young girls into homosexuality and supporting Planned Parenthood. In my hazy memories of the Girl Scouts, I remember sewing patches onto a brown jacket. I do not recall ever being indoctrinated into homosexuality, and I was not handed any brochures about Planned Parenthood. In the World of Bob Morris, organizing young girls and empowering them to be independent is radical enough—but to terrify his base, he needed to sensationalize his story with threats of “homosexuality” and abortion.
In the 1960s, women like Gloria Steinem had to fight for rights we all take for granted. As a journalist, Steinem attempted to schedule an interview at a hotel—she was asked to leave for being unescorted by a man. When the anti-woman brigade of Limbaugh and Morris discuss “radical” feminism, they are referring to women like Steinem. The retrograde policies being proposed in Arizona, Georgia and Indiana harken back to days of yore—days in which women were unable to attend college, work professional jobs, serve as justices on the Supreme Court, or say “no” to their husbands’ sexual advances. (No, seriously - the idea of marital rape is newfangled to ultra-conservatives.)
As we try to understand the vocalized minority opposed to women’s rights, it is important to keep their out-of-touch rhetoric in context. Most of the legislators perpetuating the War on Women are male, over 40 years old, and they have never watched an episode of Glee… the last sitcom they watched was Touched by an Angel, and now they limit their television time to The 500 Club and CSPAN.
Perhaps the best way to deal with the attacks on women is mobilize as a generation, a generation devoted to equality and choice. We do not need to attack the previous generation for its failings as much as we need to stand together, support each other, and let it be known that as the youth of this country: we take birth control pills, we are not staging a “moral decline,” and education is not brainwashing us—sorry, Santorum.
And if we want political satire? We’ll read The Onion and steer clear of Limbaugh.
War on Women: From the Perspective of Gen Y and Millennials