To put it mildly, I am a fan of New York Times Op-Ed columnist Gail Collins. While Collins, the first woman at the Old Grey Lady to bear the title of editorial page editor, is a brilliant thinker with journalistic credentials as long as my arm (which according to my personal trainer is rather orangutan-like in its breadth), it’s more than her pedigree that incites fervor. Collins’ style, so humble and approachable, bears at the same time a kind of sharpened common sense that can devastate the opposition. Combine these traits with the kind of natural wit that could have landed Collins a career in sketch comedy writing and you have a recipe for truly special work. It is a shame that she’s only contracted to publish twice a week while it seems like I am bored by the latest meditation on morality from David Brooks every other day. Zzzz.
Anyway, I am about two-thirds of the way through Collins’ 2009 non-fiction wonder, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women From 1960 to the Present. It is a truly enthralling tome that recounts “the astounding revolution in women’s lives over the past 50 years.” The book starts with the early stirrings of the Civil Rights Movement and the Sexual Revolution: two events in American history that changed the way U.S. women viewed their bodies, their work, their neighbors and their places in society. It is a must-read told in the engaging narrative style of a compelling novel.
The underlying argument of the book, while never explicitly stated, is that women have fought hard to break free of the patriarchal conventions that kept them locked inside the home, and beholden to the laws of men, for centuries. There’s no going back. Now remember this book was published in 2009 and Collins is no wide-eyed youth, and yet, viewed through the prism of the 2012 Republican primaries, the author’s certainty that certain freedoms can be taken for granted seems dangerously naive.
In a recent column dated February 8, 2012, Collins wandered into the fray between the White House and Catholic bishops over the administration’s proposed rule that would have required Catholic universities and hospitals to cover contraceptives in their health care plans. It’s almost as though the columnist can’t believe she has to write this:
“The church is not a democracy and majority opinion really doesn’t matter. Catholic dogma holds that artificial contraception is against the law of God. The bishops have the right — a right guaranteed under the First Amendment — to preach that doctrine to the faithful. They have a right to preach it to everybody. Take out ads. Pass out leaflets. Put up billboards in the front yard.
The problem here is that they’re trying to get the government to do their work for them. They’ve lost the war at home, and they’re now demanding help from the outside.”
Welcome to an alternative universe where women are in the position of having to fight for reproductive freedoms that have been assumed for the better part of 40 years.
It may come as no surprise that women who sit on the left side of the political spectrum have been horrified by recent events such as Susan G. Komen’s disingenuous plan to defund Planned Parenthood, or U.S. Rep. Darrel Issa’s convention of a hearing this past Thursday morning on the birth control benefit issue – with an all-male panel. But why aren’t more Republican women howling? Surely conservative male attempts to control our bodies without our input is an issue that ought to unite womankind of all political stripes?
Take this week’s philosophical waxing from Foster Friess, the 71 year-old multimillionaire Rick Santorum donor and colossal jackass, who was quoted as saying to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, “this contraceptive thing, my gosh, it’s such inexpensive. Back in my day, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.” Why weren’t Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin the first ones out of the gate, shooing the old coot back into the crypt from which he crawled?
After all, the careers of both women would never have been possible without the 20th century woman’s movement. The never-married, childless Coulter is a serial dater (and I am presuming sexually active) with the freedom to run her big mouth on any cable news program she chooses. And Palin with her five children would have been vilified a mere half-century ago for her public proclivities.
Yet women on the right have been curiously silent during an assault on life and liberty that shows no sign of abating. This, almost more so than the white male attempt to roll back decades of female empowerment, is a real shame.
I would argue that all this talk about birth control and abortion is yet another attempt by the GOP to use social issues as a distracting wedge, to prevent the poorer section of the party’s base from focusing on the increasingly disparate positions of the haves and have nots. After all it’s a lot easier to forget that you’re out of a job, have lost your home and retirement account when you have elected leaders yelping about the imminent annihilation of “family values.” But the party’s female caucus shouldn’t allow it. I am publicly calling on them to disavow this strategy. What say you Ann Coulter?