In August, back when people were not yet tired of hearing about the election, I posted twice on the current climate to legitimize women, their lives, their opinions, and attacks against their bodies. I think that perhaps August has become ancient history in light of people’s fatigue over other election topics, and thus we need to remind ourselves of some of what has happened, in order to talk about where we are going. Women, you are second class citizens to some people running for office: please learn about their belief systems and how they affect you and your rights.
If you remember (how could you not), Representative Todd Akin made a comment about the ability for legitimate rape to prevent pregnancy, and thus be a null-and-void argument for abortion. His statement was meant to focus on abortion, and instead focused on rape, and, subsequently, women’s bodies, and who is out there determining what is legitimate when it comes to attacks against women.
There was plenty of backlash around the time of this statement, covered in my first post about this topic, Legitimacy (Part I). The second post, Legitimacy (Part II), reviewed continued anger re-focused into logical thinking and creative videos. Let us remember that this happened, that this frame of mind is not far from one of the current presidential candidate’s thinking, and is legitimized by few people in that same party standing against what was said. In fact, frighteningly, Representative Akin could very well win the Missouri Senate election. Definitely visit that Huffington Post link to read his frightening quote about abortionists as terrorists, and lack of awareness of what illegalization of abortion will do to its safety for women. Do you know people in Missouri? Do you know women in Missouri? Please call them and talk about this. His election to the Senate would truly be frightening, regardless of the outcome of the Presidential election.
Additionally, there has been a re-framing of the abortion argument, which Both Jeffrey Toobin and Judith Thurman covered at The New Yorker. Those who are pro-woman, pro-family, and pro-choice still struggle with advocacy of abortion rights in the context of all women, especially when the plight of a certain group of women becomes under attack. “Indeed, the focus on rape victims creates a malevolent dynamic. Abortion becomes something that women can only earn by hardship, rather than something they can freely choose.” Jeffery Toobin summarizes this argument perfectly: “But as framed by Democrats and the President, the current debate about abortion—centered as it is around rape victims and the health exception—put women in the position of supplicants, seeking permission to end their pregnancies. Most people, fortunately, think there are circumstances where that permission should be granted. But true freedom is not freedom to ask permission—it’s freedom to make a decision. That’s what pro-choice really means, and it would be healthy for abortion-rights supporters to say so clearly and often.” This argument extends not only to abortion coverage, but access to contraception based on one’s sexual activities, individual provider beliefs about method provision, and continued research into new methods.
In further thinking about this topic of legitimacy, it most absolutely relates to the overall thinking about women as legitimate, and I mean every part of women: their bodies, their beliefs, their opinions, their work, their choices, and their participation in matters which involve them. In those half-hearted arguments to advertise that feminism no longer exists and is no longer necessary, one need only examine the language used against women by the men of power who ever-outnumber us at the tables that matter. And what tables might I be referring to at this very moment?
Todd Akin’s remarks occurred in an environment of many recent anti-woman comments by men in public eye. And, in a more indirect but still obvious way, occur in ways not anti-woman but rather with topics specific to women without including women’s voices. Have we forgotten the story of Sandra Fluke? Let us remember. Verbal attacks, as I have written about before, are, in my opinion, on the spectrum of physical violence, and igniting a level of hatred toward women’s opinions that leads to degradation of women as a whole is reprehensible. Rush Limbaugh’s comments were as follows:
Fluke beautifully turned the argument on its ass, and re-ignited sex-positivity in the world of feminism. Though sex-positivity is not a new idea, as it was a divisive argument in the Gloria Steinem era, any woman can get behind not calling other women sluts in a derogatory way. In its direct relationship to the word “slut” and its use in the current generation of adult women, Fluke and others focused these comments in a way to emphasize women’s sexual rights. A timeline of events and links to coverage is available here.
Sandra Fluke was invited to speak at the Democratic National Convention (DNC), where she reminded voters of the political climate in which we are continuing to fight for the rights of women to be considered legitimate parts of society. Where our biological ability to conceive through certain acts of intercourse somehow invites others to piecemeal access to healthcare resources. Where our advocacy for healthcare for ourselves, our sisters and mothers, our friends, our daughters, unintentionally opens a door for others to comment on our personal sex lives and family planning intentions. Where our female reproductive rights opinions allows others to also assume our belief systems. Where this continued inequality breeds competition and degrading fodder, instead of starting from a place of equality and speaking with each other like educated adults. Where men and women do not determine the legitimacy of each other.
And I quote Sandra Fluke, as she references the potential political environment that looms before us, depending on the outcome of this election:
“In that America, your new President could be a man who stands by when a public figure tries to silence a private citizen with hateful slurs… An America in which access to birth control is controlled by people who will never use it. An America in which politicians redefine rape, and victims are victimized all over again. In which someone decides which domestic violence victims deserve access to services, and which don’t… A country that honors our foremothers by moving us forward or one that forces our generation to refight battles that they already won. A country where we mean it when we talk about personal freedom. Or one where that freedom doesn’t apply to our bodies or to our voices. We talk often about choice. Well ladies, and gentlemen, it’s now time to choose.”
Lilly Ledbetter also spoke at the DNC, reminding us that only a few short years ago was she still fighting for her, and for others, equal pay for equal work.
“The first bill that President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. I think it says something about his priorities, that the first bill he would put his name on has my name on it, too. As he said that day, with me by his side, making our economy work means making sure it works for everybody. The President signed the bill for his grandmother whose dreams hit the glass ceiling, and for his daughters so that theirs never will. Because of his leadership, women who faced pay discrimination like I did now can get their day in court. That was the first step, but it can’t be the last. Because women still earn just 77 cents for every dollar men make. Those pennies add up to real money.”
Does that sound like someone is still deciding whether women’s work is legitimately as worthy as men’s? Does it sound like women’s control over their sex lives and their reproduction is legitimate if men are deciding it for them, and then judging them? Does it sound like women are yet equal in the eyes of our society?
I will not use the word legitimate to describe myself or other women, because it already starts from a place of arguing our right to be considered so. As I live and breathe, as I walk down the street hoping to not be cat-called, as I drive to my job and expect equal pay for equal work, as I consider how and when to start my family, as I choose my life partner and our entry into marriage, as I care for all women who are world citizens regardless of their documentation, as I speak with women about their right to choose as they consider contraception and whether or not to continue an unexpected pregnancy, I am a woman. I fight battles similar to and different from others, and respect everyone’s battle as I hope to have mine respected. We are individuals, we are people, and we are equal. Our voices, our choices, and our work matter. I am woman, hear me roar. Watch me vote.