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Posts Tagged ‘Joan Walsh’

When 30 year-old Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke tried to testify in favor of health insurance-covered contraception at a Congressional hearing (and, after being blocked by Rep. Darrell Issa R-CA, then had to issue her extremely articulate testimony via YouTube), Rush Limbaugh had this to say in return:

[She] goes before a Congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex, what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps. The johns.

Maureen Dowd – herself a past target of Limbaugh’s name-calling — took him down in the New York Times Sunday Review, point by point, starting with the fact that he implies that birth control is a “welfare entitlement,” when, of course, it’s not: employers and insurance companies would cover contraception, not tax dollars. And

Mother Jones pointed out that Rush, a Viagra fan, might be confusing the little blue pill and birth control, since “when and how much sex you have is unrelated to the amount of birth control you need.”

But let’s assume he wasn’t confusing the two little pills. Let’s assume he was well aware that his “welfare entitlement” remark was factually inaccurate. Let’s assume he knew exactly how wrong he was. No, wait! Let’s assume he really believed he was right – and still, rather than laying out a rational argument — he instead took the desperate-for-attention, cowardly bully’s way out. Slut! Neener neener.

Pretty much every single time we write about feminism on the HuffingtonPost, at least one or two commenters will appear, calling us ugly. Fat. Man-hating. Feminazis. Yet rarely do these haters bother to address the issue at hand, whatever we happened to be writing about on that particular day. That’s because it’s not about the issues. Tossing Pee-Wee Herman-caliber barbs is easy. Ridiculous as they may be, taking them is a little harder. I mean, I don’t think I’m ugly (calling all haters, here’s your chance to disagree!), but that doesn’t really matter. It still stings. And Limbaugh and Internet commenters and schoolyard bullies and others like them count on that: if a woman knows that standing up for, say insurance-covered birth control will have her publicly labeled a slut, she’s probably that much more likely to keep mum (and to continue shelling out for it, out of her own pocket).

It all reminds me of something I wrote about a while back, about a conversation I’d come across between journalists Joan Walsh and Gail Collins, ahead of the release of Collins’ book “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women From 1960 to the Present.”

I was struck by some of what Collins said in the final clip, when Walsh asked her about Billy Jean King, who Collins frames in the book as a real-life feminist hero. Talking about the much-hyped “Battle of the Sexes,” in which King wiped the court with a not-at-the-top-of-his-game Bobby Riggs (who, even when he was at the top of his game, wasn’t all that threatening), Collins said the following:

The importance of it to me was that women who fought for women’s rights in the 60s and 70s did not get hosed down, or attacked by snarling dogs, or thrown in jail; they got laughed at. And humiliation and embarrassment was the great huge club that people used to keep women in line.

How much has really changed?

Some of Rush’s advertisers have dropped off, and President Obama himself gave Fluke a call, telling her that her parents should be proud. The Senate (barely) voted down a bill that would allow insurers and employers to deny contraception coverage based on any “religious or moral” objection. Rush “apologized.” So, that’s progress.

There are those who say Limbaugh’s whole schtick is to be outrageous. It’s about ratings, they argue. So I guess real progress will happen when grown-ups no longer choose to listen to grown men behaving like children, or defend grown men behaving like children on the grounds that it’s “entertaining.”

It’s not entertaining. It’s pathetic. And to those who may disagree, I’d love to hear it. And to those who may disagree but will instead insult me, I say: I know you are, but what am I?

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I write today of two strong women.  One recently deceased, one very much alive.   On the surface, they’ve got nothing whatsoever in common — I’m sure they’ve never been mentioned in the same article, much less the same sentence — except for the lesson they have to teach us.

It has to do with being real.  Despite being judged.

I once met the late Elizabeth Edwards at a fundraiser for George Mark House, a children’s hospice founded by a good friend.  Edwards, the keynote speaker, had left the stage and was heading off to her next engagement, when I jumped up to shake her hand.  Her husband had just begun his campaign for president, she had just announced that her breast cancer had returned, and I babbled on about how I hoped to see her in the White House.  (At that point, the primary campaign was pretty much a dead heat, with John Edwards espousing the most progressive positions.  Funny, that.)  Anyhow, we chatted for more time than I thought we would and here’s what happened:  I reached out for a handshake, she instead gave me a huge hug.  A real one.  Unrehearsed and warm.

Sold.

And so, like many of us, I was shocked and disappointed when her husband crashed and burned and, at least at first, she supported him.  Huh? Like Hillary, we castigated her for living in denial, for standing by her philandering man.  As if, when a powerful man has a fling with a silly woman half his age, it is the wife who looks like a fool.   She ultimately left him —  but not after getting raked over the coals despite the fact that it was her husband’s mistakes she was just trying to deal with.  And yet.  Most of us turned away.

I’ll get to Cher in a minute, here, but first:  One who didn’t turn away from Elizabeth Edwards was Salon’s Joan Walsh, a huge admirer of Edwards’ ever since she conducted a long interview with her back in 2007.  This week, Walsh wrote an elegant obituary, which she ended thus:

At the end of our 2007 interview, I asked [Edwards] whether she was bothered by critics who said she shouldn’t have continued to campaign after her cancer recurred; she should have stayed home with her young children. Her answer can stand as her last word, again:

“After all I’ve been through, I realize: You don’t know exactly what life lessons you taught your kids until much later. You don’t. And maybe the most important life lesson for them is for me to say, When bad things happen, you don’t let them take you down. If I hadn’t continued to campaign, I’d be sending the opposite message: When bad things happen, go hide. Do I know with absolute certainty we’re doing the right thing? I don’t. Having been through what I’ve been through, I hope people trust I wouldn’t risk my relationship with my children. I think this is the right choice.”

And this is what brings me to Cher, the cover girl for this month’s Vanity Fair.  Like Edwards, she’s been judged — for everything from her big hair to her tiny outfits, to her plastic surgeries and tabloid relationships to whether or not she’s been properly supportive of her daughter’s sex change.  And like Edwards, she willingly admits that life is complicated and that she sometimes gets it wrong.  That she has gotten it wrong.  From VF writer Krista Smith:

At 64, she has been up and down too many times to count. “I feel like a bumper car. If I hit a wall, I’m backing up and going in another direction,” [Cher] says, adding, “And I’ve hit plenty of fucking walls in my career. But I’m not stopping. I think maybe that’s my best quality: I just don’t stop.”

Now do you see it?  What the political wife and the Vegas diva have in common?  What they can teach us, and why, deep down, we love them both?  Let’s check how salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams calls it:

Underneath all the many layers of wigs and sparkles, what makes Cher so enduringly special is her realness, her willingness to say to the world that she gets confused and she gets it wrong sometimes, but she keeps trying anyway, because that’s the right thing to do. And that’s what makes the spangly, big-haired queen of Vegas a role model for us all.

And this is what we learn, from both Elizabeth Edwards and Cher:  Life is messy.  Whether or not we actually clean it up doesn’t much matter.  What makes us real is that we’re willing to try.

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Doncha just love campaign season? Phones aren’t hung up promptly; scandals ensue! As a Californian, I’m naturally thinking of Whore-Gate, or the instance of gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown calling the police union for an endorsement, and neglecting to hang up before an aide helpfully suggested “What about saying she’s a whore?” (The background is this: His opponent, Meg Whitman–the “she” in question–promised the police union that she’d exempt them from the pension caps she was proposing for “all” public emploees, whereas Brown is calling for cuts across the board, including police and fire. The police union endorsement had nothing to do with her being “tough on crime”; it had to do with dollars. Natch.) Anyway, back to Whore-Gate. Once that comment was leaked, Whitman was quick to pounce, calling it an “insult to the women of California.” The issue was brought up during Tuesday night’s debate, during which moderator Tom Brokaw put the issue to Brown, suggesting that the W-word is on par with the N-word. Brown disagreed with the comparison, but apologized. He was booed. Whitman retorted by saying it’s a “deeply offensive term to women,” then saying that when her campaign chairman, former CA governor Pete Wilson used the W-word in reference to Congress, “that is a completely different thing.” She was booed, too.

Wowee, right?! The fallout was equally salacious. The day after the news of the Brown-camp W-bomb was dropped, NOW announced its endorsement of him, which prompted right-wingers everywhere to proclaim that the National Organization for Women is a partisan operation. (Because, you know, men get to vote on the issues, but women can only vote for the similarly-chromosomed. Any hint of voting with something other than our vaginas suggests partisanship.) Others wrung their hands over whether the W-word is, in fact, as sexist as the N-word is racist. Some saying of course it is; others, like Salon.com’s Joan Walsh saying,

Like it or not, in the political realm the word has little sting anymore, and almost no tie to gender. Brokaw’s comparing it to the “N-word” for women was a rare misstep for the otherwise smart moderator.

I tend to agree that the word “whore” in such a context, while ugly, is not particularly sexist, but I do happen to think that ugly language deserves a comment or two at this particular moment in time. Because the thing is, words do hurt. Bullying is reportedly rampant, as are suicides of its victims. People can say and do really ugly things to each other. Look at the cases of Phoebe Prince or Tyler Clementi. Look at the ways in which Hillary Clinton has been talked about, for gods sake.

But that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re not talking about sexism; we’re talking about pottymouth. We’re talking about the ugliness of politics, of what happens when someone who’s demonstrated zero interest in politics for the bulk of her life comes into billions of dollars, runs out of toys to buy herself and decides to buy a public office instead, breaking records on campaign spending, and swapping endorsements for favors. (Oops, did I type that out loud?)

But seriously, to suggest that the W-word in question is on par with the N-word–or “deeply offensive to women” in one instance while “a completely different thing” in another–is, quite frankly, offensive in and of itself. Splitting hairs is an insult to voters’ intelligence–and it points to the disingenuousness of Whitman’s decision to play the woman card here, despite the fact that there is precious little in her platform or proposed policy that would benefit women. Even putting that aside, claiming offense in this instance cheapens what people go through when they are the victims of truly hateful language. Politics is ugly, but not as ugly as hate. And what we have here is a non-issue, played up for drama–and votes. There’s plenty of truly offensive instances of hateful language and sexist bullshit to get pissed off about, but this is not one of them. And if you ask me, the most offensive part of the whole thing is this: California is in one hell of a mess, and in desperate need of some quality leadership. And this is what we’re talking about instead.


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Something struck me  as I clicked on the salon.com daily newsletter in my inbox Wednesday and it totally pissed me off.

Now before I go on, let me assure you that I love salon.com, that I’ve been reading it ever since Dave Talbot started it before the idea of digital journalism had even hit the radar, and that I myself have written for it as well.  But here’s what got me going:  Salon’s daily newsletter lists the each day’s headlines, along with bylines, and what I noticed Wednesday was this:  Of the 30 stories linked, only 8 were written by women.  Not that bad, you say?  Well, that’s debatable.  But of those:

One was a personal essay by Laura Wagner on going back to Haiti to report on what we don’t know about what it’s like there now.  Okay, good.

Another was an editorial by Joan Walsh, salon’s editor-in chief.

One was by a freelance food writer, whose piece was about a layered Japanese cake made with coffee jelly.

And the other five were all corralled into the women’s neighborhood known as Broadsheet.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love Broadsheet as much as the next girl.  Read it every day in fact, and almost always agree with the feminist line.  But, if you were to be honest you’d have to admit, every column is thorougly predicatable:  we’re pissed about (fill in the blank) and we’re gonna riff about it.  Done.

I couldn’t help but wonder: on a cutting edge news site, run by a woman in fact, can’t you figure out something for smart women writers to do —  other than rant or rhapsodize over tea cakes?

So anyway, then I went over to jezebel.com.  More cranky pants.  They were talking shit about Elizabeth Gilbert.  Now, let me say again, as I’ve said before, that I am probably the only woman left in America who hasn’t finished Eat Pray Love.   But c’mon: “How Elizabeth Gilbert ruined Bali”?  Really?  They also talked a little trash about Julia Roberts.   Of course.

So then, what the hell, I checked out the New York Times Homepage.  Nine bylines and only one woman, whose byline was shared.  To be fair, Maureen Dowd’s column (no byline) was up in the corner.  And there’s no question, were I to have given the gray lady multiple clicks beyond the home page, I am sure I would have found a number of women.  Or on the blogs.  Like Lisa Belkin, who I read often and kinda like, who writes about parenting.

But. Way back when, there was a TV show, “Lou Grant”,  that had been a favorite — either in real time or on rerun channels — of just about everyone I knew in J. School.  And there was this one episode where the girl reporter followed a hot story that allowed her to get outside the walls of the traditional woman’s beat, the only place most women journalists were allowed.  You know, lightweight features, ladies lunches, that sort of stuff.  The girl ghetto.

Anyway, having run into all this stuff, on Wednesday,  I couldn’t help wondering.  Are we back there again?  The girl ghetto? Where’s the writing of substance?  The Reporting with the captial “R”?  Are smart women only capable of essays or riffs or recipes?  You gotta wonder if we’ve been sucked into a ghetto of our own making, where we do simply what’s expected of us:  We write about food,  we write about kids — or we put on the cranky pants and riff predictably about women’s issues..  It that’s all we want to be known for, great.  But seems to me, if we want to be taken seriously — as journalists, or even as women — we ought to break out of this self-imposed exile.

Right here, I should probably add a little backstory.  I’m still pissed off about the list of the “greatest magazine stories ever“, compiled by men, that only had ONE woman on the list’s first iteration: Susan Orlean, for “The Orchid Thief”, who initially earned one star out of a possible four.  What about Orlean’s award-winning “The American Man at Age 10″?  Or what, no Joan Didion?  No mention of one of the most critically acclaimed magazine pieces ever, her “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream”?

I’m happy to report that the list has been updated and, ahem, the above have been included.   But nonetheless.  I’ve been, you know, cranky ever since.

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Yesterday afternoon, with Barbara’s post simmering in my mind, I came across a piece that struck a chord: part written synopsis, part video Q&A (yay, Internet!) between Salon.com’s Joan Walsh and Gail Collins, author of the new book “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women From 1960 to the Present,” which Barbara wrote about a while back, it’s a must read (and watch).

And, given the gist of yesterday’s post–about the impossibility of shucking your seventh grade skin, and the eternal tyranny of the mean girls–I was struck by some of what Collins said in the final clip, when Walsh asked her about Billy Jean King, who Collins frames in the book as a real-life feminist hero. Talking about the much-hyped “Battle of the Sexes,” in which King wiped the court with a not-at-the-top-of-his-game Bobby Riggs (who, even when he was at the top of his game, wasn’t all that threatening), Collins said the following:

The importance of it to me was that women who fought for women’s rights in the 60s and 70s did not get hosed down, or attacked by snarling dogs, or thrown in jail; they got laughed at. And humiliation and embarrassment was the great huge club that people used to keep women in line.

And, right after that, stars clearly in full alignment, I came across this piece from the Cornell Daily Sun, called “Where’s My Post-Feminist Manifesto?” In it, Julie Block writes:

As an American, fairly privileged girl in this day and age, admitting that you are a feminist and that you believe it’s still necessary to fight for women’s rights even among other fairly privileged girls can sometimes leave you high and dry in the popularity department.

While Block’s talking about coming to own the label “feminist” (which I wrote about some moons ago), the fact remains: That club Collins talks about? It’s pretty powerful. No one wants to be laughed at. We care what other people think, whether we’re talking about being dissed by those who believe that to be a feminist is to be a man-and-razor-hating lesbian, or being snubbed by the mean girls from seventh grade we’ve reconnected with and hope will be impressed enough with the way we’ve chosen to live our life that they’ll want to be our friend this time around, or our real friends, who’ve made different choices–and might or might not be dropping some snark about our own when our backs are turned. Oh sure, we say we don’t care, but Collins has done her research. The woman has chronicled fifty years of womanity. And I daresay, when it comes down to our choices, the fear that, to quote the Jerky Boys, they’re all gonna laugh at you–well, it’s a lot more powerful than we’d care to admit.

But, it’s not all doom and gloom. Far from it. In fact, among the many rays of hope Collins offered, this bit caught my ear:

If you look back in our history, the times that women tended to do best in the sense that they had more opportunity and more room to maneuver are always the kind of chaotic times.

Why would that leave me hopeful? It seems to me, the current world is nothing if not chaotic. (In fact, I wrapped a birthday present today in newspaper and had my choice of headlines: War. Unemployment. Swine flu…. God bless you, Tiger Woods.) So here’s to a chaos loud enough to drown out the laughter, and the strength not to care, to pick up the racket and serve it up anyway–exactly the way we want to–even when we do hear it. And then we’ll see who’s laughing.

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