“Feminism” with a capital “F” is making a roaring comeback, thanks to the Republican War On Women: misogyny on steroids. It’s time we demand a new women’s rights agenda.
As a young girl growing up in basketball-crazed Indiana, I used to go to bed often crying myself to sleep as I was explicitly prohibited from playing on my school’s basketball team because I was a girl.
This was an enraging situation, indeed intolerable and I took action to level the playing field in a number of creative ways: I challenged every boy in the neighborhood — among them were Rocky Hollingsworth, Shorty Miller and John Patty ( real names) – to a game of “21.” I beat them methodically, recording their humiliating defeats for posterity in my first “little black book” of life.
It was 1966 — only two years after the Civil Rights Act became law and included sex as a protected class of Americans — when I ceremoniously confronted Mr. Willen, the principal of Lincoln Junior High School in Indianapolis, by thrusting my little black book into his face as prima facie evidence, arguing that if I can beat the boys, why can’t I join them too and proudly wear the uniform of the Lincoln Junior High basketball team? Why can’t I too feel the thrill of sinking a 15-foot jump shot from the corner before a cheering crowd?
In retrospect, the Willen encounter turned out to be my first lobbying experience (which has become a life-long avocation) and he compromised by inviting me to participate in an intramural sports wrestling program, an odious prospect I imagine he calculated to offer, thinking I would be dissuaded from pursuing my “ridiculous” goal of playing on the basketball team. But I leapt at the chance to demonstrate that I could play with the big boys, although it took me on a temporarily circuitous path away from my immediate goal of playing basketball.
My experience with Willen and the neighborhood boys taught me very early in life that girls were always a step down and you had to fight like hell to push against the invisible wall of sex discrimination. I experienced the searing taunts of “why do you want to be a boy?” and felt the loud silence of disapproval from my tongue-clucking teachers and classmates, who were horrified at my behavior and physically turned away from me because I sought to dribble and shoot a ball!
I did not ultimately benefit from the passage of the Title IX law that passed in 1972, the year I graduated from high school, but I have witnessed the thrilling transformation of women’s sports in America that has given girls the experience of physical discipline along with the special bonding with women teammates while playing for high school and NCAA titles and competing for Olympic medals in a multitude of sports.
There has been push back by the right wing on Title IX too, and who is surprised by it? Those of us who are the women of the “Baby Boomer” generation, who knew life before Title IX and were denied graduate school education via quotas which admitted minuscule numbers of women; who dodged and managed unplanned pregnancies before the Supreme Court decided in Griswold v. Connecticut which provided that women possessed the constitutionally-protected right of privacy to seek birth control for themselves and their families in 1965; and who were forced to seek illegal, back-alley abortions, while many died from botched abortions, before Roe v. Wade was decided by the Supreme Court in 1973, agreeing that women had the right to safe, legal abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy.
Consequently, these overt, sustained and outrageous attacks by elected officials of the Republican Party and their supporters—in Congress and state legislatures–on these hard fought gains is enraging and frightening for women’s rights advocates and has all the tell-tale signs of radicalizing a new generation of women, and some men, waking them up to the reality that misogyny has been openly tolerated by American society and its culture, writ large for a very long time.
A third, significant advance was achieved in 1994 when the domestic violence movement achieved passage of the first Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that was made federal law, marking 30 years of sustained advances on behalf of American women. Now Republicans in the Senate are blocking a floor vote on reauthorization of VAWA that extends protections to same-sex couples and illegal immigrants who may have been victimized by violent partners.
One of the first setbacks to women’s access to legal abortion was dealt by President Reagan in 1983 when he ordered military hospitals to no longer offer abortions to women service members or family members, effectively denying a constitutionally protected medical procedure to women who are serving our country, arguably putting them at great risk if forced to seek an illegal abortion, because medical privacy in the military is more permeable with real possibilities of misconduct charges for pregnancy out of wedlock, as an example.
These legal advances have taken decades to manifest which now reflect equal access for women in education, who have higher enrollments in colleges than men and have achieved parity in professional and graduate schools, save hard sciences; had achieved women’s access to birth control and safe, legal abortion procedures that was private and negotiated between a woman and her doctor and advances that have provided some protection and legal advocacy, albeit imperfectly, to women and some men, who are survivors of domestic violence.
Consequently, the overt, sustained and outrageous attacks by elected officials of the Republican Party and their supporters—in Congress and in state legislatures–on these hard fought gains is enraging and frightening for women’s rights advocates and has all the tell-tale signs of radicalizing a new generation of women, and some men, waking them up to the reality that misogyny has been openly tolerated by American society and its culture, writ large for a very long time.
“Feminism” with a capital “F” is making a roaring comeback, thanks to Republican misogyny on steroids.
Right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh’s over-the-top attacks on Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student, labeling her a “slut” and “prostitute” for her advocacy before Congress calling for universities, including religion-affiliated ones, to provide insurance covered contraceptives for women’s health, may mark a turning point in American social and cultural history.
Limbaugh’s sustained efforts to paint Fluke as a modern-day Hester Prynne, the fictionally created “Scarlet Letter” adulteress of the 18th century, backfired against him, causing a firestorm and uprising by women and their supporters who effectively pressured more than 100 advertisers to drop Limbaugh’s show in less than two weeks. This could be a watershed moment in America, which has marked a momentary wholesale rejection of misogyny and sexism in the Fluke example. I hope it is such and time will tell if my supposition is true.
But a focus on Republican transgressions does not give Democrats a pass, which are not exempt from infection by this disease and should not get a pass when it is warranted. Bill Maher, a so-called comedian who appears regularly on HBO, customarily refers to women as “twats” and c_ _nts, contributed $1 million to the Obama Super PAC. Maher waded into the Limbaugh firestorm by defending his lame apology to Fluke. Since then, David Axelrod, the Obama campaign manager who was scheduled to appear on Maher’s show has since indicated he will not be appearing for the time being. Nonetheless, the Obama Super PAC has accepted the money and does not appear it will be returning it anytime soon.
Women still earn less than men in America–making 78 percent of what men earn on average, according to the 2010 census.
The Senate has yet to ratify the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). We share this sad exception with countries such as Iran, Somalia and Sudan (and two small Pacific island countries).
The United States also has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the Western Hemisphere and the only modern democracy that has not ratified CEDAW.
The U.S. is ranked 78th by the International Parliamentary Union (tied with Turkmenistan) in women’s elected representation in Congress—16.8 percent are women (73) in the House of Representatives and 17 percent (17) in the Senate.
We are one of the lowest ranking Western democracies in the world with respect to women holding elected office.
With every challenge, there is opportunity and in this moment, we need to fight like hell. The state-by-state efforts to roll back access to legal abortion and now incredulously, these new obstructions to birth control medication too, reminds of the virulent attacks against the LGBT community who has been forced to fight these vigilantes similarly in a protracted battle to protect gains or fend off anti-homosexual measures on a state-by-state basis for years.
These tactics are not new strategies, but in the moment, there is an energized new coterie of right wing legislators who are initiating these rollbacks from Arizona to Pennsylvania. They must be stopped and turned out of office now and should be replaced with pro-choice women and men, who are across the board the most progressive lawmakers in support of policies and programs that uplift “others” in our society– those who have been left out of the American political compact–like the LGBT community, for example. Now more than ever, we need to elect many more pro-choice women to elective office. It’s as if the Republic hangs in the balance amid this craziness that feels run-amuk and out-of-control. We don’t have another second to waste.
So in this election year it’s time to pull out our little black books, tell our stories and bring to bear not only the law, but also our votes. Civil disobedience actions have to be put on the table as a strategy that goes into the mix. It was effectively used in Virginia recently when demonstrators forced Gov. Bob McConnell to withdraw his support of state-sanctioned rape that would have required women to undergo a transvaginal sonogram prior to exercising their legal right to an abortion.
Grounding out a strategic women’s rights agenda in America must be sought with elevated efforts led by the president of the United States in view of these recalcitrant and calculated attacks on women’s lives and their bodies.
No one could be more proud of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s paradigm-shifting women and girls global agenda-setting at the State Department intended for the world, beyond America’s shores. And even though then-First Lady Hillary Clinton electrified the world’s women in Beijing in 1995 when she uttered “women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights,” America does not measure up to international human rights standards when it comes to women’s rights, where we decidedly lag behind Northern Europe and a number of Western European countries, in everything from political elected leadership to family medical leave and child care support.
Women still earn less than men in America–making 78 percent of what men earn on average, according to the 2010 census. And although women live longer than men in America, they are charged more for health insurance, which is to be remedied within two years by the Obama healthcare act. The Senate has yet to ratify the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). We share this sad exception with countries such as Iran, Somalia and Sudan (and two small Pacific island countries). The United States also has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the Western Hemisphere and the only modern democracy that has not ratified CEDAW.
The U.S. is ranked 78th by the International Parliamentary Union (tied with Turkmenistan) in women’s elected representation in Congress—16.8 percent are women (73) in the House of Representation and 17 percent (17) in the Senate. We are one of the lowest ranking Western democracies in the world with respect to women holding elected office.
All of us–women, people of color and LGBT people are intertwined in this struggle–those of us who seek to tangibly manifest the pursuit of happiness; the promise of America’s Declaration of Independence is to seek civil rights and human rights predicated on America’s political compact that it has carried out during the past 235 years–to bend toward freedom and the arc of justice and to flourish in all our diversity–to this we strain and struggle toward and shall not yield.
Tanya L. Domi is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University who teaches about human rights in Eurasia and is a Harriman Institute affiliated faculty member. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi worked internationally for more than a decade on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights, gender issues, sex trafficking, and media freedom.
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