I’ve been attempting to write about the progression of the women’s movement for weeks. Each time I sit to contemplate whether women are better off today than they were 30 years ago – something absurd happens in the media and I have to rewrite.
Initially I started to blog about the proliferation of new TV shows that I find demeaning to women. Pan Am & The Playboy Club were at the top of my list. Both network shows attempt to rewrite history by glamorizing institutionalized sexual harassment of women in service jobs during the 60’s. These are slickly shot shows (albeit poorly written), with highly stylized women being bullied and degraded into submission by “pimp and madam-like” characters, as if preparing them for their debut at the Mustang Ranch. They should not to be confused with the award winning show Mad Men on AMC – which also includes highly stylized women, but accurately depicts the sorry and depressing plight of women in the advertising business on Madison Avenue during the same era.
In the ending scene of The Playboy Club pilot, Hugh Hefner in voiceover makes a ludicrous attempt to romanticize his role in the women’s movement, explaining that in the 1960’s “Bunnies were some of the only women in the world who could be who they wanted to be.” Yeah, if you wanted to be a poorly paid waitress, pawed at by fat, drunk, cigar smoking married jerks, all while parading around in a humiliating bunny outfit complete with cotton tail and uncomfortable shoes. Thankfully The Playboy Club has been canceled and the rumor is that Pan Am is soon to follow.
I couldn’t help wonder if the impetus for these TV shows was related to the drivel we keep hearing from many white, male politicians wishing for “the way it used to be”. You know, the good “old America” they fondly remember, before those pesky women and minorities started to stand up and fight for their rights and compete with the status quo for the good jobs.
The fact is, there is no better time in history to be a woman, or any minority for that matter. We have more freedom, more opportunities, and more paths out of poverty than ever before, so let’s stop pining for the 50’s and 60’s!
But the important question now is; are we losing some hard won ground? Unfortunately, it would seem so. Much to everyone’s surprise, in the last few months the country has become embroiled in what we thought was an obsolete debate over women’s reproductive freedom. At center stage, right-wing Presidential candidates hell bent on bringing us back to the 13th century; jabbering about the evils of birth control, outraged by Obama’s insurance coverage mandate and its effects on freedom of religion. They’ve also made inroads into destroying organizations like Planned Parenthood that provide free healthcare to women in need. Ironically these are the same guys who are spouting off about the dangers of Islamic Law taking hold here in the US. Their hypocrisy is preposterous.
Hilary Clinton said it best this week; “Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me, but they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women. They want to control how we dress. They want to control how we act. They even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and bodies.”
It’s true. Can you imagine a national debate over the morality of a man using the drug Viagra, or a serious attempt to get insurance companies to drop its coverage?
While Republican Presidential hopefuls are itching for a fight over birth control, a major women’s breast cancer foundation announced its intention to defund its free women’s healthcare provider Planned Parenthood, and at the same time Virginia along with other States have passed laws that require a woman seeking a legal abortion to undergo an unnecessary vaginally invasive procedure (designed to humiliate and traumatize them). This of course has emboldened the right wing zealots to go further, with more States attempting to pass even more restrictive abortion laws, while also having great success in closing Planned Parenthood clinics in poor communities with no other affordable healthcare options. There are currently 26 states that are deemed hostile to abortion, with Arizona leading the pack. In Utah this week, a law passed that will outlaw sex education in schools, specifically banning any discussion about contraception (and homosexuality), and specifying that sexual education be limited to the teaching of abstinence.
Then, of course, there is the attempt to demean women further through name calling, with a popular right wing national radio host calling women who use birth control “prostitutes” and “sluts”. Is this really happening in America?
On the other side of the world Saudi Arabia just announced they will give women the right to vote – but not until 2015 (apparently they need time to prepare for the expansion of voting booths). Before you pass this off as Islamic extremism that has nothing to do with “we more fortunate western women”, let’s not forget it was only 91 years ago American women gained the right to vote, and 30 years ago the Equal Rights Amendment did not get ratified by the State’s Legislature.
Right now there are more laws being debated across the country aimed at restricting women’s reproductive freedom. Some of these laws will not only restrict abortion, but also restrict birth control and some types of fertility treatments. So while we’re busy working and wondering what to buy at Target this weekend, our women’s rights are being chipped away slowly but surely.
Should we be concerned? Yes! We must stand up and flex our feminine muscle in the form of supporting political candidates that will protect our rights (and yes donate money to their campaigns), to ensure we have enough fire power in Congress and in local government to protect these hard won basic rights. Pay attention to who you are electing as Governor of your state, because yours maybe the next to pass an intrusive and discriminatory law aimed right at your uterus. Do it, if not for yourself, for your daughters, granddaughters, nieces and their daughters to come.