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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.

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Republican Senate Women Dropping

Another Republican woman in the Senate, Kay Bailey Hutchison, has also decided to retire this year.

Thus, two out of a total of five Republican women and two out of the 17 female members of the 100-member club have called it quits. In the House, 17 percent of 435 members are female. Only 23 of those 78 women are Republican. For a global perspective on all this: The United States ranks 71st in the world for percentage of women in office.

For anyone keeping an anxious eye on the current religiously inspired attack on women's secular rights, Snowe's resignation could be considered harsh blow.

When I think of the upcoming election, I--like most Americans--worry about the economy and jobs.

For me, add the avalanche of anti-choice, anti-contraception legislative proposals.

Bills giving fertilized human eggs personhood status are popping up all over. True even though Mississippi voters nixed the idea in November. Other state legislatures are entertaining bills requiring pregnant women seeking abortions to submit to an invasive sonogram. True, despite the public uproar about a Virginia version of the bill. In the past year, 92 laws have been passed by the states to interfere with women's reproductive health decisions.

Now, Texas, is preparing to eliminate its state-run Women's Health Program. It provides reproductive-health care for more than 130,000 poor women annually who don't meet Texas's Medicaid eligibility requirements. Because federal law won't permit Texas to bar Planned Parenthood (or any other qualified provider) from the program, the state is ready to cut it, refusing $35 million from Washington.

Feeding the Countervailing Wave

But to each new insult, joke and legislative attack, I say "bring it on." Each one is feeding the huge countervailing wave of take-back, push-back energy and at this point--despite everything I have just said--I am actually feeling surprisingly optimistic about the fall elections.

I am not talking about the presidential race, but the all important battle for congressional seats and shooing away from power the anti-women bloc.

Data crunched by Deborah Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., suggests this year could be a second "year of the woman," Walsh said at January's launch in the nation's capital of the Political Parity Project, a coalition of 51 women's organizations dedicated to doubling the number of women at the highest levels of U.S. government.

"This presidential election year is the first time in a generation, that women have an opportunity to gain a large number of congressional seats," Walsh said.

At the same gathering, Siobhan Bennett, president of the Women's Campaign Fund, likened this election year at the same gathering to the 1848 meeting at Seneca Falls, N.Y., that was the beginning of the women's suffrage movement.

Walsh cited three factors: redistricting and retirements have left have left 50 open seats, the kind of races that are easier for newcomers to win and at least 63 women have filed or have indicated they will file to run in these races with filing deadlines in 36 states still to come.

Remember What Happened in 1992

The previous "year of the woman" was in 1992, when Anita Hill gave Senate testimony about sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas, a then-nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. He got the job, but the hearings, and the Senate's refusal to believe Hill, spurred female voters and propelled 24 women into House seats, the largest number elected in any single election. In the Senate, four women won, tripling those female ranks.

Other coalitions join the Parity Project in pushing for a Congress that is more female and female friendly.

HERVotes represents at least 50 groups focused on women's health and economic well-being. Members include the Feminist Majority Foundation in Arlington,Va.; the National Council of Negro Women in Washington and MomsRising.org, an online group with contact phone numbers in Washington, D.C.

In Philadelphia, Lynn Yeakel, director of Drexel University College of Medicine's Institute for Women's Health and Leadership, is convening national congresses of women focused on equal opportunity and respect for women and girls in all aspects of life.

Shortly after Snowe's announcement, MoveOn.org began to organize support for Maine's Democrat Congresswoman Chellie Pingree to replace her in the Senate.

The e-mailed announcement read: "2012 can truly can be the year of the strong progressive woman" and pointed out that if Pingree decides to run, she would be joining Elizabeth Warren (the Massachusetts champion of consumer protection from banks) and Tammy Baldwin (the first open lesbian to run for the Senate).

One way or another; I am totally convinced that women will be heard nationwide in November.

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Rita Henley Jensen is a prize-winning reporter who founded Women's eNews in 2000.

For more information:

Center for American Women in Politics:
http://www.cawp.rutgers.edu/

CAWP List of 2012 Possible Female Contenders:
http://www.cawp.rutgers.edu/fast_facts/elections/candidates_2012.php

HERVotes:
http://www.hervotes.us/about-hervotes/

Vision 20-20 at Drexel, Equality in Sight:
http://drexel.edu/vision2020/

Political Parity Project:
http://www.politicalparity.org/

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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.

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