President Obama Speaks Out For Women

“I thought about Malia and Sasha, and one of the things I want them to do as they get older is to engage in issues they care about; even ones I may not agree with them on. … And I don’t want them attacked or called horrible names because they’re being good citizens.”

Politics is supposed to be rational, logical, and intellectual. In reality, Republican politicians have gotten ahead in this election year by playing a dirty emotional game, conflating compassion with ‘socialism’ and equating equality with deviance. President Obama has chosen to take a different path. “Obama-care” is not focused on the effect it will have on lobbyists (one reason for the outcry) but on the needs of individuals. When his opponents see rising gas prices as a talking point, Obama’s comments refer to the economic pressure they put on the average American. And where Rick Santorum sees birth control as ‘harmful to women’ because “it’s harmful to our society to have a society that says sex outside of marriage is something that should be encouraged…,” Obama’s response moved away from politics and rested on two individuals who can’t yet vote: his daughters.

In his March 6th press conference President Obama spoke for girls everywhere, responding to Rush Limbaugh’s remarks about Sandra Fluke with a stinging rebuke stating that “all decent folks can agree that the remarks that were made don’t have any place in the public discourse.”

As a high school teacher, I think that Obama hit the nail on the head in his response to Rush Limbaugh. Whether or not he agrees with Sandra Fluke’s positions, Limbaugh’s comments about her should permanently remove him as a logic-based, intellectual pundit. Words like ‘slut’ and ‘prostitute’ don’t analyze; they simply insult. They aren’t meant to engage in discussion; they are meant to shame and silence. Apparently, Limbaugh was most upset with the fact that Sandra Fluke felt comfortable discussing birth control in public; his words were intended to shut down the discussion in the most egregious and painful way.

Have you ever noticed that powerful women often get this treatment? Hilary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice — any public woman risks being called either a ‘bitch’, ‘slut,’ or ‘lesbian’ due to her reluctance to keep her mouth shut, her head down, and her shoes off. Sandra Fluke is no exception. What makes her different from the others is that she is not a public figure — she is simply a woman with stories to tell of everyday women who deserve health care. Limbaugh’s remarks were meant not only for her, but for other American women desiring to tell their stories. His attempt at intimidation followed the usual path. However, in this war on women, the fight for free speech is not being given away.

Obama must have realized this, because his response to Limbaugh was focused not on his own beliefs, but on the effects that Limbaugh’s words might have on women. Understanding the nature of the attack, he stated: “I believe that Democrats have a better story to tell to women.” He also, unlike other politicians looking to make personal points out of the situation, took the time to call Ms. Fluke.

When I graduated from Mills College in 1983, I was lucky enough to have the writer Ursula LeGuin deliver the commencement address. Her words, mailed to me in the alumnae magazine and arriving at my house just a month after the death of my mother, comforted me as very little could. The phrase that most spoke to me then seems tailor-made for the dispute between Fluke and Limbaugh: “All that the Warrior denies and refuses is left to us and the men who share it with us…. so that is our country. The night side of our country. If there is a day side to it, high sierras, prairies of bright grass, we only know pioneers’ tales about it, we haven’t got there yet. We’re never going to get there by imitating Machoman. We are only going to get there by going our own way, by living there, by living through the night in our own country.” Sandra Fluke, in defiance of a Congress who believed that an all-male panel was appropriate for making decisions about women’s reproductive health, chose to go her own way. While Rush Limbaugh sought to chastise her for it, President Obama looked at her and saw not an uppity feminist, but the members of his family.

I want my students to feel they have a voice in our society. I want them to be able to join in the public discourse without fear of being attacked by older men who see them only as sex objects, as servants, as second-class citizens. Is there any question about why a feminist (and proud of it) would continue to vote for President Obama? Today’s press conference should surely remove all doubt.