Recently, several people have told me that women’s rights aren’t really being attacked and that the whole birth control thing is a diversion, not a real issue.
Actually, it is an issue, and a very real one at that.
A lot of people have misrepresented Sandra Fluke’s testimony. She was not asking for taxpayers to pay for her contraception; she was only saying it needs to be covered by insurance so low-income women like students can have access. She did not testify before Darryl Issa’s committee; she spoke before an informal committee of Democrats after she was refused permission to testify before Issa’s committee.
In Texas, women’s clinics are closing because funding has been cut. This means fewer women will have access to care and to contraception. They will have more babies and become even more mired in poverty.
Across the country, Planned Parenthood and other organizations that offer affordable health care to women are being attacked under the guise of being “abortion clinics.” Just because I sit in my office and occasionally print something out doesn’t make me a printer. Women’s health clinics offer contraception, breast cancer screening and sometimes well-baby clinics. They address issues such as domestic violence. They often are a woman’s only access to care, and they save lives.
Yes, this is an attack on women.
I’ll turn 60 this year, and as a child I had a direct connection to women’s suffrage: my grandmother couldn’t vote as a young woman. She was born in 1888 and was married with a child before women had the vote. Her father controlled her every move until she was married. When skirts went above the ankle and she cut all hers off and hemmed them, her father made her sew ruffles onto the bottom of every skirt because he thought men were staring at her ankles.
I came of age in the 1960s and my grandmother and I talked a lot about how far women had come — and how far we still needed to go to gain equality.
My mother’s generation could vote, but women still could be fired when they got married or got pregnant. My mother actually advised me to take typing in 1966 because I should have something to fall back on if my husband should die. I refused. I wasn’t going to make my living fetching coffee, taking notes and typing someone else’s crap.
My mother was a brilliant woman, but she couldn’t share that brilliance beyond her home because women’s place was in the home. She was depressed and frustrated, but she stayed home until I was in high school. She became a self-taught marine biologist who lectured PhDs on the effects of PCBs on fish eggs in the Chesapeake Bay.
My generation was the one that was able to make headway because we didn’t have to become pregnant unless we planned it — as long as we were married. Even into the 1970s in Massachusetts, women weren’t allowed to make their own decisions about their bodies. Doctors weren’t allowed to offer contraception — or even information about it — to unmarried women. They, not we, could be arrested because we weren’t trusted with our own bodies.
We fought those laws and we fought for equality in the workplace. We had to work twice as hard as men to get half the recognition. I was paid less than a man who did my same job at my first newspaper. I complained to the publisher and got a raise, but then the man who was doing the job comparable to mine got a raise, too. I was, after all, only a woman. I was just working for spending money in their eyes. It didn’t matter that I was supporting two children and this man lived with his mother; he was a man and I was a woman. This was in the 1980s.
The attacks on our access to contraceptives are very real. Women are losing the gains we made in the 20th century because too few of us remember what it was like to not have options. If a husband was abusive, we could leave because we could get work. If a husband lost his job, the woman’s income still was there in most families.
If women hadn’t entered the workplace beginning in the 1960s, our national economy would be about one-third of what it is now.
This is not a distraction; this is a real issue. Those five aging white men on Darryl Issa’s birth control panel want us back in the early 1900s, make no mistake about it. Rick Santorum’s supporter who joked that women could use an aspirin held firmly between the knees is among those who want to set back the clock.
I won’t even go into what Rush Limbaugh said because too much has been said already. But he is dangerous because some people do take him seriously.
We need to recognize all this for what it is: a coordinated attack from the right on all the gains women have made.