by Libby Sternberg
Even though it's been weeks since conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh called a reproductive rights activist a "slut" and then apologized, the "war on women" has not subsided.
Sure, they've turned to an even more aggressive offensive stance (more on that in a bit), but at the outset, they were whipsawed by the reaction of conservative women who, after suffering through years of grotesque, highly misogynistic comments from liberal celebrity pundits, finally had the opportunity to present a litany of these offensive louts' language for all to see, saying, "Yeah, these filth-spewing commentators deserve the world's opprobrium--we're so glad you agree with us at last." Ahem.
(A quick aside: Politics ain't beanbag, and when I, and other women I know, speak of "offensive language," we're not talking about strong metaphors. We're talking about language that diminishes women to their sexual natures alone, language that is a variation on either "forget her ideas, she's one hot fox," or, "she's no more than a c***, so why take her seriously?")
The reaction to conservative women's pushback during L'Affaire Limbaugh has been amusing, to say the least. The standard liberal meme has been resurrected: liberal commentators, regardless of their offenses, aren't equal to Rush because of his huge audience and, oh, yeah, he is the titular head of the Republican Party anyway, you know. (Tell that to the various GOP presidential candidates who won the party's nomination despite harsh criticism from Rush.)
So, now that the hypocrisy has been exposed in the Rush brouhaha, the left has loaded other missiles in their Outrage Artillery to keep the "War on Women" battle alive to their benefit. They've been firing off shots about how conservative men want to control women's bodies (abortion, contraception, etc.). They are dragging out a list of state bills sponsored by conservatives that seek to either limit access to contraception or force women to undergo "invasive" testing before having abortions.
As to the contraception bills, from my knowledge these are a reaction to the HHS mandate dictating that all health plans must cover contraception and abortifacients, regardless whether the coverage violates the religious beliefs of the employers. So they are attempts, perhaps clumsy and (pardon the pun) ill-conceived, to protect First Amendment rights of free conscience. If the White House made a real accommodation with religious entities concerning these mandates, the reactionary bills would probably disappear in a snap. (And, no, the WH has made no accommodation--the same mandate language HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius advanced prior to announcing accommodations is still in the law.)
On to the ultrasound bills--there's been one in Virginia, but they're popping up elsewhere--proposed laws to force women seeking abortions to have ultrasounds first. I'm not keen on legislating medical practice, but I am sympathetic to the pro-life point of view, even if I don't entirely share it.
Pro-life advocates believe that abortion is murder. And just as activists such as George Clooney can't stand idly by while watching people be massacred in Africa, pro-life champions believe they, too, must do everything in their power to stop what they see as the slaughter of innocents.
I admire George Clooney, even without agreeing with him on all his stances, and would never disparage his well-intentioned efforts. Similarly, I admire pro-life activists, even if I don't agree with all their approaches. Can most liberals say the same?
In fact, the left's barrage of attacks on ultrasound bills has incensed at least one pro-choice supporter, who argues, quite persuasively, that using inflammatory language (such as "rape") to describe pre-abortion ultrasounds is harmful to women. Since the vast majority of abortion providers do these ultrasounds anyway prior to abortions, liberals are unnecessarily alarming women about their invasiveness and diminishing their value.
But that's the real problem with this whole "war on women" the left is using to try to score points against the right. It ignores the reality of women's opinions and lives just to trounce political opponents. It hides behind the skirts of women, in other words, to fire shots at adversaries, seeking to damage them in women's eyes.
The reality is that women are not of one mind on reproductive issues. Gallup polls show women fairly evenly divided on abortion, in fact, with 48 percent identifying themselves as "pro-life" and large majorities supporting some restrictions on abortions that liberals traditionally fight tooth and nail-- things like parental consent laws for abortions for minor girls, for example. Ironically, I'm sure mothers who hold these beliefs would look at liberal opposition as something of a "war" on them.
But you rarely hear of these divided opinions when the High Dudgeon Industry has fired its first shots. In my cynical view, that's because those fueling the battle aren't really all that interested in listening to what women have to say after all...unless it can be used to defeat political opponents.
So, David Axelrod can blithely criticize Rush Limbaugh in one breath, while stammering sophistry about why Bill Maher's one-million-dollar donation to the president's SuperPac is okay because....well, because it's just too darn silly to even repeat here.
Don't be fooled, sisters. There might be a "war on women" out there, but it's coming as much from the left who want to silence the half of American women who don't agree with liberals on abortion policy. According to their "rules of engagement," these women--pro-lifers or their admirers-- deserve to be called any name in the misogynist's lexicon.
Libby Sternberg is a novelist and a past member of the Vermont Commission on Women.