WHO ARE YOU CALLING A SLUT? What the War on Women Really Means by Lisa Duggan

“It’s as if the racists, misogynists and anti-Semites woke up when Obama was elected and felt they were being left behind.” @CarolynEdgar
The news cycle moves so fast these days it’s all a woman can do to keep up with the latest outrage. (Just Google Romney, Ann.)  It’s only April, but in this year alone there’s been a string of attacks on state and federal reproductive policies, and on the medical sovereignty of women that makes the Salem Witch trials look like schoolyard bullying. Without conscious effort on my part the individual attacks often get combined in my psyche into one giant, ominous matzoh-ball aimed at my sanity and my civil liberties, and so I have to deliberately stop and focus on one story to make sense of what’s really happening.
Today, I’m thinking about Sandra Fluke. Remember her?
Way back on February 29, Rush Limbaugh used his pulpit to call Ms. Fluke a slut — for three consecutive days — because Sandra wanted to testify before Congress about the medical necessity of contraception, and to argue for its inclusion in all healthcare plans. When I was Sandra Fluke’s age, I doubt that I possessed the emotional fortitude necessary to withstand a nationally broadcast scrutiny of my sex life. I have the deepest admiration for her, and for any woman able to hold their ground so gracefully, under such heavy fire.
But I didn’t picket Rush Limbaugh’s studio, or the headquarters of his four remaining advertisers, after his three-day diatribe. Frankly, what Mr. Limbaugh thinks about who should pay for contraception is inconsequential. Talk show hosts do not set public policy.  However, who the United States Senate thinks should pay for contraception is most definitely my business and so I turned my attention to Washington DC, and to the legislation that prompted the hearing, The Respect for the Rights of Conscience Act. Sponsored in the House by Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (HR 1179) and in the Senate by Roy Blunt (S 1467), it became simply known as “The Blunt Amendment.”
When you read the amendment you quickly come to understand that Roy and his boys were not serious about their own proposal. The ridiculously broad and porous language used, especially in lines 20-24 (pasted here), ensured that this legislation would never pass:
“[T]o ensure that health care stakeholders retain the right to provide, purchase, or enroll in health coverage that is consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions, without fear of being penalized or discriminated against under PPACA*.”
*The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare.
Note the omission of a qualifier to identify the ‘health care stakeholders’. Religious institutions are not singled out, so the statement must be taken to mean everyone who provides, purchases, or enrolls. Do you really think that Mr. Blunt, et al, intended to give all ‘health care stakeholders’ —aka every employer in the country — broad license to interpret whether a health care plan was “consistent with their moral convictions”? Can you imagine the number of lawsuits this would inspire? As the Honorable Justice Scalia made clear, the Supreme Court simply doesn’t have that kind of time. More importantly, since the PPACA already allows for a conscience clause for employers of religious schools, hospitals, churches and synagogues, no additional amendment was needed to protect religious institutions.
So, what exactly was the purpose of the Blunt Amendment?
* * * * *

This is a critical election year and the GOP is in a sorry state. They struggled to produce one unifying and credible candidate that didn’t appear insane. Hence, Romney as the nominee, begrudgingly picked last for the GOP soccer team. The political and economic power in this country is shifting — has shifted — away from entitled, institutionalized white, male privilege. President Obama’s election was the most potent symbol of that change. Gays and minorities, including women, are enjoying greater and greater political voice and the administration in place, the one seeking a second term, is helping to further that shift. The only choice the GOP has is to dig their heels in deeper, to provoke and mobilize the only voters they know they can count on — the scared, increasingly marginalized and culturally and economically irrelevant demographic of white, 44-68 year-old Christian men.
The Blunt Amendment was not an attack on contraception, nor was it written in defense of religious institutions. The Blunt Amendment was a political stunt, designed to create this powerful image: one of an administration led by a secretly Muslim, socialist President, attacking the religious freedom of a decidedly Christian constituency (sorry Rabbi, but you were the token on that panel).  It’s called “engaging your base”, and the GOP are the frickin’ Masters of the Universe when it comes to doing it. We all thought it was ridiculous, and were rightfully enraged, when not a single woman was invited to speak at a hearing on birth control. But quite frankly, Sandra Fluke was not invited to that panel because she would have ruined the GOP’s ‘money shot’.

* * * * *

I don’t blame anyone for believing that the collective attacks on women and reproductive rights around the country, or the glaring omission of women at a congressional hearing on birth control, represents a GOP War on Women — but I think we’re all missing the point here. The true sentiment behind these attacks is more unsettling. The Republicans have made an important calculation in a critical election year and it is this: 

The political capital of women is so insignificant, that we will gladly risk losing the female vote in order to keep our base engaged, and increase their rank.

The Republicans don’t think you’re a dirty slut — the reality is that they don’t think you matter at all. If insulting their own wives will win back the White House, they’ll gladly eat out for a year.  If criminalizing miscarriage and attacking birth control is going to ensure votes, they’ll support those laws.  If questioning the sexual mores of a young college student angers women, but gains them more dollars and votes, they will go for it.  
After all, it’s not like women can, or will, do anything about it.
According to Emerge America, the US ranks 84th in the world for women in elected office. We lag behind Mexico, China, and Pakistan and 80 other countries. The most recent reporting counts 324 super PACs — and none of them are called “The Super -Duper Powerful Women’s PAC”. Women are not a feared voting block, they have no majority voice in the Senate or the House, and with only 3% of women reporting for duty in the c-Suites of the Fortune 500, no collective economic power to influence politics.
By the way, it appears as if the Democrats hold this view, too. If they believed otherwise they might have defended Ms. Fluke more vociferously. Or, at all. Or had spoken up, by now, against campaigns targeting reproductive rights currently happening in over a dozen states.  If the Democrats truly give a damn about women, families and the poor, as they have long claimed to do, they would be building their entire election platform around defending against these attacks.
Thanks to an often-repeated statistic — mostly in newspaper articles around major holidays — we know that women control 85% of the consumer dollars spent in this country.
When are we going to control 85% of the vote? 

3 thoughts on “WHO ARE YOU CALLING A SLUT? What the War on Women Really Means by Lisa Duggan

  • April 13, 2012 at 6:22 pm
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    Rush Limbaugh is a douche. Also, I fit into that irrelevant demographic and Obamacare sucks some major ass. Take it from someone who has shitty health coverage and has been turned away from an ER (twice) because it wasn't a life or death situation. You would think that with the number is congressional mistresses floating around that the lawmakers would be totally on board with contraception but seeing as how they think with the brain in their pants, I guess not. Kudos for using the term "money shot". That was all the way cool.

    Reply
  • April 13, 2012 at 6:28 pm
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    Thanks for the comment JR.

    For the record I'm married to that demographic. I don't think you're irrelevant, but you are slipping down from the #1 spot in our culture. Except for on Mad Men.

    Obamacare does suck — if he & the Dems had any commitment to universal healthcare they wouldn't have risked a constitutional dismissal of the idea. By the way, how about we insist that every Senator and Congressperson forfeits their federally-paid health coverage until we settle the matter? : )

    Money shot, indeed.

    Reply
  • May 11, 2012 at 2:53 pm
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    This post deserves a much wider readership – deserves to be required reading for any woman calling herself a progressive. You're absolutely right: the insults, the limitations, the policing of female bodies…we are, clearly, irrelevant. Maybe we should stop buying into the mommy-war battles (thank you Rosen/Romney/reporters) and instead turn our attention to the shit that matters: getting progressive women elected, getting childcare, healthcare, economic care that works for everyone and not just rich white guys in suits.

    Reply

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