On Feb. 29, Rush Limbaugh called Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke both a “slut” and a “prostitute” for arguing that Georgetown students’ contraception should be covered by student health insurance. As a woman, I was offended. Women’s activist groups across the country were infuriated, as they should have been. President Obama offered a personal apology to Fluke, drawing upon a hope that his daughters can someday vocally support their own causes, without fear of vicious, personal attacks from the media. And he’s right: They shouldn’t be afraid.
But neither should Laura Ingraham, called a “right-wing slut” by MSNBC commentator Ed Schultz. Or S.E. Cupp, who Keith Olbermann, a frequent guest of the White House, said should have been aborted. Or Deneen Borelli, who’s been attacked on air as a “washed-up Oreo” for being a black conservative. After tallying off her attacks from the liberal media, Borelli remarked, “I didn’t get a call from President Obama.”
Most disheartening is to hear liberal women engaging in these same attacks against conservative women. It was feminist Gloria Steinem who called Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison a “female impersonator,” and Naomi Wolf who denounced the late Jeane Kirkpatrick as being “uninflected by the experiences of the female body.” It’s a shame that feminists neglect to include all women under their umbrella of advocacy.
Sadly, “slut” is among the nicer things conservative women have been called throughout the years. The Democratic Party, infamous for championing its support of all women, seems to only adopt this stance when it suits them, or when the woman in question carries opinions that align with its platform. It’s not hard to see the glaring double standard of liberals when it comes to women.
But there’s no sense in fueling a competition about which side has proven more victimized. While slut-shaming and name-calling are unacceptable for those in the public sphere, to keep it at the forefront of national dialogue three weeks after the fact, post-apology, is ridiculous. Were there an actual war on women in the United States, we would do well to cease centering it on the remarks of one historically offensive radio host or others like him. Put simply, it’s not helping our cause. If you believe abortion’s immorality to be irrelevant, if you think contraception is a medical necessity for all women and only if you believe there’s no room for right-minded, intelligent discourse on these issues, then yes, Republicans are waging a war on women.
March 8 was International Women’s Day. On what was suposed to be a celebration of the brilliance, beauty and achievement of the female sex, we were complaining about our entitlement to insurance coverage for contraception. We let our newly anointed spokesperson Sandra Fluke tell the world that there is a malicious war on women in the United States of America.
In Saudi Arabia, women are forbidden to drive or use public facilities when men are present. If their bodies are not completely covered, they face verbal and physical harassment from the religious police. Jordanian women live in fear of honor killings from their husbands. In Egypt today, women wonder if they will see their hard-fought rights removed when the new constitution is drafted by an Islamist-majority parliament.
On International Women’s Day, these people were victims of the real war on women. Any misogynistic filth pervading our national dialogue is indeed inexcusable, and it should rightly be exposed and its perpetrators reproached. But the comments of people like Limbaugh and Olbermann should not take on the formal title of a War on Women. In giving them that name, we only fuel the perception that Americans remain ignorant of their standing relative to today’s global landscape.
Ann Romney recently said, “Women care about jobs. Women care about the economy. They care about their children, and they care about the debt.” I hope she’s right. In light of the excessive attention surrounding rhetoric and contraception, I have to wonder where women’s priorities will lie in this next election. If we are bound by the narrow set of women’s interests as defined by the Democratic Party, a shift in those priorities is long overdue. Across the globe, there are countless battles for women’s rights to be fought; it’s time we chose them more wisely.
Elaina Plott is a freshman in Silliman College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.