Cross-posted by request.
Talking about the events surrounding Sandra Fluke’s experiences on Capitol Hill and Rush Limbaugh’s subsequent disparaging comments and complete mangling of the issues is difficult, indeed. It seems that the original issues–women’s reproductive health and the segregation of it, as well as religious liberty–have been all but forgotten as familiar tribes have lined up along their well-trod trenches. The arguments now are about which side is waging more war against the women of the other side. At least we’re getting close to some truth-telling, finally, but I doubt it will do any good. Feminism, progress for women, women’s rights, whatever name you call it by, is now just another set of boxing gloves with which to beat up the other side. Each side is unshakable, unwilling to accept the critiques of their own side while perfectly willing to hurl critiques at the other side, displaying what might in other words be called hypocrisy.
The problem with this is that there can be no consensus, even as both sides seem to be agreeing that calling women sexually charged names and digging into their personal lives to find discrediting information that is wholly unrelated to the issue(s) at hand is a terrible, sexist thing to do, that it’s meant to be intimidating. Meanwhile, the discussion has been happening at the most publicized levels by a group of largely male reporters and commentators, some of whom are themselves guilty of similar disparaging comments and acts. When you look at news aggregator sites like Memeorandum over the last several days, it’s not the articles the women are writing that are populating the top half of the page. And this line of stories has dominated for going on five days now. With the all around intractability of the political classes and their respective bases, can any good come from continuing to rehash it?
I don’t know. There may be something to be said for repeatability, something Cynthia Ruccia has been writing about lately. Maybe if both sides keep screaming at each other, if the likes of Rush Limbaugh keep calling women sluts while the likes of Jerry Brown keeps calling women whores, and we keep being forced into conversations about it, something will change. I’m a bit skeptical, if only because I know how insidious and manipulative the discourse over women’s rights and progress has been for decades. I have been an advocate of the emerging feminism on the right, largely because I believe the battle for women’s progress will necessarily involve women from all walks of life, and because I think that many conservative women model feminist ideals very well, balancing family and jobs, and political duties and activism, and that’s practical and valuable. I also think it has expanded the dialogue about what feminism should mean, specifically to include economic and national security issues, and that strengthens feminism. We can’t keep complaining forever that we are treated with respect to our biology if we continue to frame our progress solely on the basis of biology. But I don’t want a conservative brand of feminism to mirror what’s happened with the close-minded thinking and abusive/coercive verbal style of so many feminists and their orgs on the left (see Malkin’s article for a run-down of examples). And that is, quite frankly, what appears to be happening.
A slew of recent articles by conservative women or those who are sympathetic to conservative women have pointed out the gross hypocrisy of the outrage from a left that created and marketed products like “Bros before Hoes” and “Sarah Palin is a C*nt” t-shirts in 2008, as well as specific and recent examples of controversial comments made by some of the premier cultural contributors on the left, including old stand-bys like Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann, and Chris Matthews, as well as the acknowledged leadership of left-feminism such as Gloria Steinem, Patricia Ireland, and Naomi Wolf. And this is all good and well and worth pointing out, but where is the compassion? Why does only Malkin’s article start out with an acknowledgement that what Limbaugh said was wrong, which she promptly takes back by calling Fluke a “femme-a-gogue.” The points would be better made if the articles started out with the argument that, yes, it’s sexist to use verbiage and rhetoric like Rush Limbaugh did, and that’s WHY these examples should resonate with the folks on the left who do care about progress for women. And the lack of denunciation leaves one with a sick feeling that this may be a defense of Rush, instead of an indictment of our commonly accepted sexist discourse.
The left has not been any better. Most of the top articles by males on the left on those news aggregator sites are from sources like ThinkProgress, Media Matters, or Moveon.org. In other words, official representatives of the Obama 2012 Campaign. Their coverage dovetails nicely with commentary from leadership about the “GOP’s War on Women.” This is an unsurprising strategy given two facts: women cast way more votes than men do and have for decades, and the GOP experienced a 12-point swing of women voters to their party in 2010. This rightly has the Obama administration scared and paranoid, and wrongly has them employing similar tactics and worse than they did in 2008. The left’s model for progress for women is to tie a random woman to the train tracks of progress, in this case, Sandra Fluke, and then point and snicker at Republicans all the way until they rescue her at the last possible second. Sometimes the woman willingly lies down on the tracks and snickers along with them, and calls this “activism.” The point is, so much of it is theater. They don’t really care and this will not be an issue the next time Bill Maher calls Sarah Palin a tw*t or when this year’s latest sexist-meme t-shirt becomes all the rage. If they really cared, the most salient issue in this debate would be the one being discussed, and that’s the segregation of women’s reproductive healthcare.
But of course they can’t discuss that, because Obama made that segregation permanent. While at first blush it looks like this move by HHS to require free coverage of female-oriented birth control by the vast majority of insurance companies is a mea culpa to women over signing that executive order, it’s not for a couple of reason. First, the HHS change will not make it any easier or more affordable for working class and lower middle class women to gain insurance. Insurance premiums are not coming down any time soon. What good is a $25 a month freebie if the $200 a month premium is still unaffordable? And that’s the single premium, not the family one, which is what so many, especially single mothers, will require. Also, because of that executive order, this rule will only apply to private insurers. It will exclude Medicaid, which is the program that will be expanded to include some 15 million new people. Those women will still have to use Planned Parenthood for their birth control needs, and pay out of pocket. So another angle in this appears to be manipulating some women into supporting a healthcare bill they might actually oppose if they had the time and peace of mind to really consider it. Which is ironic considering how hard President Obama and the Democratic congress threw women under the bus in the healthcare debate.
There are a number of issues worth considering in this discussion over Sandra Fluke and Rush Limbaugh. Very few of them are being discussed even as powerful and misleading arguments are being advanced in the background. Taking a minute to examine all the arguments and to flesh out your own opinion is worth the effort. I’d love to hear what you think in comments, even if you, or perhaps especially if you disagree. I’ve been unsettled about the whole conversation happening around these events and I’ve articulated some of what is unsettling me, but there may be yet more to uncover. Still in thinking mode.