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Sounds Crazy, But This Could Be Year of the Woman

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Olympia Snowe is bailing from her lonely GOP outpost and Republicans are trying to limit reproductive rights every which way they can. But Rita Henley Jensen is still mighty optimistic about women's prospects in November.

Rita Jensen(WOMENSENEWS)--It's the GOP's Super Tuesday today but last week's news that Olympia Snowe was bowing out of the Senate shows how un-super the Republican Party has become for a moderate woman like her.

And therein lies the source of my optimism about what will happen in November. The push-back movement is underway and growing.

Snowe, one of two pro-choice Republican senators, seems like a relic from an entirely different time in her party. She has been a reliably pro-woman voice in the national Republican Party for 34 years; 40 years if you toss in the years she spent in the Maine legislature.

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Two days after she announced she would not run again she was the sole Republican to vote against the Blunt amendment. Defeated in a 51-48 vote, it would have permitted any employer to refuse to provide insurance for contraceptive or other health care based on "moral objections."

Her decision comes on the heels of major supporters of the Republican presidential candidates demonstrating enormous contempt for women's health.

"Conservative" talk radio host Rush Limbaugh made repeated attacks on a Georgetown law school student last week, calling her a "slut," and a "prostitute," among a host of similar insults. When his advertisers began bailing, Limbaugh issued a statement over the weekend that he described as an apology and on Monday insisted he was sincere.

The advertisers used strong language on their way out. Not so for the candidates. Mitt Romney, often described as the most moderate in the pack, said Limbaugh's rant against Sandra Fluke did not include "the language I would have used." Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were even more tepid.

And Foster Friess, a key backer of Rick Santorum, got nostalgic during a mid-February national televised interview for the days when "they used Bayer Aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly." Santorum wrote it off as a joke.

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I completely agree. On one hand it is very disappointing that we still have to hear such backward comments as Rush Limbaugh calling the Georgetown University law student who testified about contraception a "slut" and a "prostitute", and us the tax payers her "pimps." These comments should not be acceptable at all. Hopefully in the future it will be completely unacceptable for someone to make these comments, and that it will result in more than the loss of some sponsors and a half handed apology from someone like Limbaugh. On the other hand we have to look at the positives. Comments like this, and powerful images like the one taken of the all male panel on contraception is also making women, and others in support of women’s issues, and women’s rights to pay closer attention, and realize that there is a need for more women representatives, and congresswomen. Even though these comments are an example of how women are more scrutinized under the public eye, I hope that they ultimately spark a political interest in our generation of women to run for office, so we can increase our numbers.
These negative comments on women, and on women’s right can serve to empower us to unite and mobilize in the same way that it did in 1992 after the Anita Hall’s hearings. However, the last time we celebrated the “year of the women” we expected it would become the “the decade of the women” and it never did. What makes this year, and decade different, I would argue, is the powerful tool of social media. Nancy Pelosi in fact using Facebook and Twitter to bring attention to the lack of women voices by posting “Right now at a House Oversight Committee hearing, House Republicans have called five men to testify on women’s health. My colleague Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) who is on the committee, looked at this panel (from which a woman who was the Democratic witness was excluded by the GOP) and asked: where are the women? That’s a good question.” Soon the picture of the all-male panel went viral by people posting and reposting it on the social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr), and speaking against this all male panel being the “experts” on birth control. It was an easy but powerful way to spread the drastic inequality of this issue. It was also through social media that the Susan G. Komen/Planned Parenthood Controversy unraveled. All over the world people women are reacting to the lack of inclusion of women. I hope this would make a difference and not make it just the year of the women, but the decade of the women.

The recent comment made by Rush Limbaugh last week set a wave of media coverage about his vulgar use of the words “slut” and a “prostitute” describing a Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke because she disagreed with him about the Obama administration’s regulation requiring employers to provide health-care plans that cover contraception.

Limbaugh's comments began an enormous controversy partly because of the way in which they fit into a larger political narrative currently unfolding, as primarily Republican legislators in multiple states push legislation targeting women's access to abortion and contraception. The women's vote was a huge part of Obama's win in 2008, and many have speculated that the politicization of contraception and other women's issues will give him the same voter boost in 2012.

Rush has since "apologized" for those remarks, and now we're supposed to move on. However, he never apologized to Fluke personally or for his not-so-subtle inference that any woman who wants birth control to be covered by health insurance is the same.

The larger issue is one that most news outlets are missing. By calling Fluke a slut and prostitute, Limbaugh called every woman in America who gets prescription birth control through her health insurance those same things. While my daughter isn't old enough (yet) to think about her reproductive years, my two stepdaughters are. And my nieces are. And loads of my friends still are. And that's where Limbaugh crossed the line.