This morning I happened to be reading Deborah Tannen’s Talking from 9 to 5, the chapter on women bosses.
Tannen critiques a Newsweek review of Margaret Thatcher’s memoir for its handbag image: “The image of Thatcher ‘clobbering them with her metaphorical handbag’ undercuts the force of her actions, even as it gives her credit for attacking her opponents. A woman clobbering men with her handbag is an object of laughter, not fear or admiration.”
Thatcher died today, and this afternoon’s New York Times article about her life references the handbag metaphor, too: “Brisk and argumentative, she was rarely willing to concede a point and loath to compromise. Colleagues who disagreed with her were often deluged in a sea of facts, or what many referred to as being ‘handbagged.'”
Regardless of any reservations I might have about Thatcher’s policies, and these are subject to revision based on this piece by Andrew Sullivan, I have to admit that I admire her force, her commitment, her political will. I think for a moment that I wouldn’t mind having it said about me that I “handbagged” someone. I like a good handbag as much as anyone, and I have been known to resist conceding when my convictions are at stake.
But I’m thinking again. In between this morning’s coincidental reading of Tannen on handbagging and this afternoon’s reading of the Times on Thatcher, I had an intense conversation with a man about another man’s use of the word “rape” to suggest “plunder” in casual conversation. I believe with Tannen that words matter, and that “rape” is a very specific kind of sexualized violence and a word that should not be used lightly. The man I was talking with invoked dictionary definitions and said that I have a chip on my shoulder.
He’s right: I do have a chip on my shoulder about rape.
The law was first passed in 1994, and reauthorized without incident in 2000 and 2005. It worked. More women had access to more protection from violence and abuse.
When it was time to reauthorize VAWA in 2011, additional provisions were added to offer protection to groups who need it–LGBT people, Native Americans, and immigrants. All of these groups experience intimate traumas at equal or greater rates than the rest of the population. That’s when the trouble began. The law has become stuck in the mire of partisanship.
Even as I cheered the bill’s passage in the Senate on Tuesday, I fumed.
Do the 22 male senators who voted against it have no sisters, daughters, or mothers? Is protecting states’ rights to allocate funding and the rights of American-citizen men who commit rape or battering or sexual abuse on tribal lands more important than protecting the women who are or would be the victims of violent intimate crimes?
And I was frustrated with myself for my own supposed politeness and my unwillingness to write here about politics.
I went to the gym, and read the quote at the bottom of the white board:
I am angry enough to leave my polite no-overt-political-talk comfort zone.
Angry at the 22 Republican men of the Senate, including Florida’s Marco Rubio, who voted no. Angry at the news media that was too obsessed with a manhunt in California to give this issue any real coverage. Angry at the House which hasn’t even scheduled a vote.
Angry that one in three women on the planet will experience violence–sexual abuse, rape, domestic violence–in her lifetime.
This month we’re remembering and honoring and celebrating women who’ve gone before us by telling their stories.
Today’s Nest-Making post by Ann Wijkstrom takes a slightly different tack, thanking a man who reminds us that our mothers’ work is not yet done.
Would I like to honor someone during Women’s History Month?
Well of course!
I come from a family full of fabulous and strong women. And I have always been a feminist. Although, more of a feminine feminist than a bra burning, hairy-legged one. I figured my mother and her generation got that all out of the way back in 1968. My view on the subject has always been that I am pro-women as opposed to anti-men. A “Feminist Light,” so to speak.
As I tried to figure out whom I wanted to feature in a column about women, I got somewhat stumped. And confused. And the two conclusions I finally ended up with surprised me:
I think being a Feminist Light is naïve and that today’s debates require going back to our mothers’ fights; and,
I want to thank Rush Limbaugh and dedicate this column to him.
You see, Mr. Limbaugh actually managed to clear up a topic that had had me thoroughly confounded:
Ever since the debate regarding the requirement for religiously affiliated hospitals and colleges to offer insurance coverage for contraception for their employees started, it was constantly referred to as a question of freedom of religion. And I couldn’t understand the logic: surely it is up to the individual to, according to their religious beliefs, decide whether they will use contraception or not. Or did the new insurance rules state that every man and woman had to use contraception unless they were planning to have a baby?
I know, I know, the commonly agreed on definition of church vs. state is that it is the institution itself, not the individual, that receive the freedom when it comes to core values. But I still found it confusing, as I would have thought that the institutions in return would give the same kind of respect and religious freedom to their employees. Especially when receiving federal funding. Or does religious freedom supersede the separation between church and state?
Anyway, back to Mr. Limbaugh: it wasn’t until his rant and verbal abuse of the female Georgetown law student who testified to the congressional committee that the issue was brought to the plane where it should live: this is not a question of religious freedom. It is one of women’s rights. By calling Ms. Fluke names that I will not repeat, as it is not how I was raised, Mr. Limbaugh shone the spotlight right in the issue’s ugly face. The fact that he continued and said the poor woman, by simply asking for women’s health to be included in her insurance, owes the male population filmed documentation of her sex-life, distributed on-line, kind of signs the deal in my mind. Where in the Bible does it say that we should watch porn, Mr. Limbaugh? Don’t get me wrong: I think people should watch whatever makes them happy as long as it is within the law. But I’m not one who has built her reputation on claiming moral superiority the way so many of the men on this bandwagon has.
I could go much further here and explain how, even though it might seem like a highly domestic issue, this has implications on women all over the world as the Pope and the US are two of the biggest power-houses when it comes to the international arena. Just think of the effects it will have on women in the third world when women’s health and sexual education/contraception information become this political and the consequences it will have on its funding. Or wait: you don’t have to go overseas to see the implications. Just look at Texas and what happens to the women’s clinics, serving over 100,000 low-income women, when they lose its federal funding as a consequence of the state implementing a new law that cuts state funding to Planned Parenthood. But I understand: it is secondary that 100,000 women lose their (in many cases only) health care provider to prove a point.
Am I a hardcore feminist to think this is wrong?
Here’s what I do know: words matter. And the political debate that is going on right now is claiming to own morality when in reality it is rewinding the work done by so many women of my mother’s generation. We slipped up, girls. We got comfortable. I don’t care where you stand politically, but do we really want to go back to a time where women are the lesser sex and the head of the household is the strong man who can steer us, the immoral rib, on the right track? Where women are being called prostitutes when asking for adequate health care?
Here’s one thing I’ve never heard though: I have never heard a call to action, or even seen a badly produced PSA, from those men who presume to preach high morals telling young men to Man Up and not have sex until they are ready to be fathers. Because that’s one important factor that Mr. Limbaugh forgot to bring up in the midst of all that vitriol that he was spewing: if we stop having sex there won’t be any kids. And, if the sex thing were out of the picture, would it then be OK for women to receive their health care?
In a world without sex, no religion will risk losing its freedom. No one will have to call women derogatory names. And Mr. Limbaugh won’t have to explain how come, after all his marriages and all that subsidized Viagra, he still has no children.
Ann Wijkstrom is a freelance writer living in Miami.
Seeking comfort, I opened a book, only to find Thomas Merton asking, “Will there never be any peace on earth in our lifetime? Will they never do anything but kill, and then kill some more? Apparently they are caught in that impasse: the system is completely violent and involved in violence, and there is no way out but violence, and that leads only to more violence. Really–what is ahead but the apocalypse?”–January 26, 1968, VII.47 A Year with Thomas Merton
Really–what is ahead for women?
I found the comfort I sought when I walked into the room for today’s Domestic Violence Symposium to find purple table cloths, purple-ribboned cake, purple dresses, and purple-and white orchids.
I can’t stop thinking about journalist Marie Colvin, who died in Syria yesterday. You can read about her here and here and here.
She risked, and gave, her life to tell the story of people who are being oppressed, people whose government attempts to hide its violence by not allowing foreign reporters access for nearly a year, people whose story might not be told but for her and others like her.
In violent intimate relationships, as long as the victim is willing to be subject to the power and control of the batterer, she may well survive with intermittent violence. She faces the greatest level of danger when she breaks her silence to say “Enough.”
The Assad government’s response to its citizens’ quest for freedom, its citizens’ “Enough,” repeats the response of the batterer who says to his partner, “If I can’t have you, no one will,” and then inflicts brutality on the victim and everyone who tries to help her or give her voice.
It is up to all of us to take personal risks, great and small, to tell our stories and the stories of those who cannot tell their own, those who risk everything to gain freedom from their oppressors.
“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want — which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear — which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor– anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.
To that new order we oppose the greater conception — the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.
Since the beginning of our American history, we have been engaged in change — in a perpetual peaceful revolution — a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly adjusting itself to changing conditions — without the concentration camp or the quick-lime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.
This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women; and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.
To that high concept there can be no end save victory.”
From Congressional Record, 1941, Vol. 87, Pt. I.
I am privileged to enjoy these Four Essential Human Freedoms.
But if I forget, or fail to use them, every day, with consciousness, with every breath and every creative act, then I may well lose them, and any chance I have of helping others to gain them, too.