The Problem With Our Sandra Fluke Moment
Are we approaching a new Anita Hill moment?
That is to say - another moment, like the watershed period in 1991 and 1992, when women’s issues, particularly those related to women’s dignity, and privacy, and their right to work and live and function in non-hostile environments - moved front and center in American politics. It was a period set off by a series of insults - the sight of Hill being interrogated by a panel of callous male senators on her experience of sexual harassment; the naming and shaming of William Kennedy Smith’s date-rape accuser; the molestation, sexual assault or harassment of more than 80 women by Navy and Marine Corps aviators at the annual Tailhook Association convention. All these were specific incidents involving individual women that nonetheless struck a chord deep within the collective female psyche - and led women to come together to elect a record number of their own sex to political office and put in the White House the first pro-choice president in a long 12 years.
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It would be nice to think that we’ve come to another such moment of empowered outrage. After all, recent weeks have served up a new series of insults - capped off by Rush Limbaugh’s attack on Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke as a “slut” and a “prostitute” because she attempted to tell a Congressional committee about the effects of her own religious institution’s refusal to provide its students with contraceptive services. Such events—including attempts to curb access to contraception in future insurance programs, gross cuts in budgets for female-specific forms of preventative medical care, and, of course, draconian new barriers to abortion services — have riled women up, in a widespread, visceral way, like no other political happenings in recent memory.
And yet, I am not sure that it is altogether sufficient to frame the insults currently targeting America’s women (and, let’s remember, their families) purely in terms of an assault on women’s rights. I’m not sure, either, if focusing too narrowly on the “war on women” gives those horrified by it adequate tools to fight back.
Rather, it seems to me that women are merely the frontline victims in a holy war. This faith-based assault is an affront on enlightened, and Enlightenment-derived, ideas of equality and human dignity, not to mention science, rationality, and the notion of the separation of church and state embraced by our own Founding Fathers. And, just like all fundamentalist movements around the globe, our home-grown variety takes modernity as its particular object of hate.