What does the word “feminism” mean to you? Webster defines it as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes; organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” Sounds like a well-balanced philosophy, right? No threat of a radical, socially unacceptable set of beliefs, correct? The definition of feminism, as described above, suggests that an equilibrium should exist between the two genders. And yet with the progression of time, the term “feminism” has evolved into an overtly negative ideal. If you ask a person, man or woman, if he or she is a feminist, many would associate the term with rebelliousness, or assume that it’s a “man-hating” club of bra-burning misfits, or even go so far as to link it to being gay. Because of these unprecedented stereotypes, people are hesitant to identify themselves as feminists, even though most of them probably agree with the premise of how it is defined. And because these stereotypes have managed to stick throughout the years, “feminism,” a once-empowering, dignified theory has now transformed into a repugnant, shameful ideology.
Baffling as it may sound, present-day public opinion indicates that feminism is no longer beheld with the respect it once had. So it comes as no great shock to learn that issues involving feminine issues face an enormous amount of opposition from the government and the community. Perhaps the most debated feminine issue to date is birth control, in any and all forms of the word. The controversy surrounding the legality and morality of abortion, contraceptives, and the morning-after pill has caused some of the most heated debate this country’s seen in decades. To add fuel to the fire, there are layers on top of layers that comprise the entire argument, including (but certainly not limited to) the following:
- Should a woman be able to terminate a pregnancy during her first trimester?
- Why is birth control inaccessible to those who need it most?
- Should a minor have access to free condoms?
- Is the cost of birth control covered by medical insurance suppliers?
- How prevalent is sex education in public and private high schools?
- Is rape a form of contraception?
These are just a few of the countless questions that have sprung up as a result of an issue that’s been tossed back and forth more times in the last couple of years than most people can keep track of. For women, it all boils down to one simple fact: females, no matter what age, race, or demographic, should have control over their bodies. Meanwhile, the group of policymakers discussing the ramifications of such decisions are, for the most part, men. This begs yet another question: Where is the voice of the woman? In 2012, the face of the feminine perspective became synonymous with the face of Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University Law Center student and women’s rights activist who stood up to the heat while everyone else searched for a seat in the back row.
After Republicans denied her (and every other female) the opportunity to testify to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the significance of requiring medical insurance plans to cover the cost of birth control, Fluke took her voice to the Democratic National Convention. There, she moved the masses with her powerful rhetoric and genuine approach to the issue at hand. She forced women to question the circumstances they live under and group together to implement changes across the board. She spoke to the post-grad without health coverage, the pregnant teenager who was raped, the millions of women who struggle every day to secure safe and affordable forms of contraception. She fought for every single one of us.
To think that the fight spiraled into a blatant attack on her character is shocking, even to this day. Of course, the controversy I’m referring to stems from comments made by Rush Limbaugh following her visit to DMC 2012. Unless you slept under a rock for most of 2012, you’ve probably heard of the scandal in question. Rush Limbaugh, a radio talk show host notorious for his exaggerated, Conservative views, attacked Fluke by dubbing her with labels such as “slut” and “prostitute,” and even requesting videos of her sex life. During his radio segment, Limbaugh compared Fluke’s argument — that insurance companies should fund the cost of birth control — with the act of prostitution, essentially claiming that they were one and the same. Going back to Webster, prostitution is defined as “the act or practice of engaging in promiscuous sexual relations, especially for money.” Now, if we take a look back at Fluke’s speech, there is not a single shred of evidence indicating that she encouraged or approved of another woman’s decision to enter into the practice of prostitution. In fact, I don’t believe the word “prostitution,” or the institution behind it, was mentioned even once. So for Rush Limbaugh to denounce her argument as nothing more than an ordinary slut’s testimony is not only appalling, but it’s also a defamation of character built upon mindless opinion and devoid of hard facts. And boiled down to its core, it’s a middle-aged talk radio giant insulting a third-year female law student for expressing an educated stance on a national issue that he happened to disagree with.
Immediately following Limbaugh’s commentary, video of his talk show went viral on the blogosphere and people across the country rose up in defense of Fluke. Even late-night talk show hosts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert weighed in on the scandal, neither of them able to understand what made Limbaugh spew such garbage. “[Rush Limbaugh] seems to believe that anyone using contraception is automatically having a ton of sex, and that contraception is something a woman has to pay for every time she has sex. And that the woman is, nevertheless, benefiting financially from having all that dirty, contracepted sex.” Though much of their coverage was skewed by humor and sarcasm, there was one common thread between the two: Rush Limbaugh had absolutely no right or reason to attack Sandra Fluke on such an inflammatory and sexist scale.
After weeks of public outrage, advertisers pulling out from his show, and networks threatening to throw him off the air, Limbaugh publicly apologized to Fluke for his comments against her. Once she received word of his apology, Fluke dubbed it as nothing more than an obligatory “white flag” that respective supervisors and head honchos forced him to hide behind. And even if Limbaugh wasn’t forced to apologize to Fluke, but rather, chose to clear his conscious on his own free will, the stench emitted from his hateful comments against her continued to hang in the air long after his halfhearted apology reached her ears.
The most important aspect of this story, in my eyes at least, is that Sandra Fluke stood for something bigger than herself. She was introduced to the media as a female law student who wanted to express her viewpoints to a roomful of government lawmakers, most of which didn’t want to hear from her at all. From that point on, she became a modern-day symbol of the very term that initiated this entire conversation: feminism; the idea that both genders are capable of reaching the same level of equality. When ignorant opposition arose and challenged her quality of character, she stuck to her guns and continued to rise above the standard. And when it came to Rush Limbaugh, we can only imagine that the candid humor provided by TV personalities like Jon Stewart helped her maintain her cool. I believe his exact words were, “Personally, I don’t get too worked up about what Rush Limbaugh says because he is, and has been for many years, a terrible person.”
All those who concur, say Fluke.