During this historically important week, the nation marks the half century anniversary of the March on Washington, punctuated by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s eternally inspirational “I Have a Dream” speech. This lofty, idealistic piece of rhetoric dared to imagine a future of peace and equality for all, no longer an exclusive privilege of white male ideology reproducers. The message was simple but stirring: let’s pretend that when the Founding Fathers asserted the equal creation of all men, they meant men of all races and means. Then let’s make it a reality.
But what about women? Where does this more than 50 percent of the American population stand in 2013? While it’s undeniable that female voters have made great strides in education and earning potential, with women having accrued an astonishing 10 million more college degrees than men since 1982, and a number of surveys reporting that women are now the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of American households, as Rodney Dangerfield might have quipped, in certain sociopolitical circles, the ladies still “get no respect.”
This is not simple argument or conjecture. Sadly, evidence abounds that 2013 looks an awful lot like 1950 when it comes to female reproductive rights, rape culture and other issues critical to our survival. I logged onto Politicus USA this morning and two of the first five stories in the newsfeed related to the continued discrimination against and subjugation of women. Writer Keith Brekus examines the case of a 50 year-old man sentenced to a mere month in jail after repeatedly raping a 14 year-old girl. Adalia Woodbury takes a chilling look at North Carolina’s female voter suppression tactics.
I love being a woman, and society’s oppressive attitudes notwithstanding, I wouldn’t trade genders for the world. But sometimes it’s hard to account for modern peonage imposed upon my sex, to myself as well as my young nieces. 15 years ago, the Spice Girls played a role in teaching my generation to celebrate “Girl Power,” but those messages are increasingly harder to filter against an appalling tide of backward looking policy and discourse.
The conservative media, as usual, plays its role. A disgusting July 2012 piece published by The Blaze illustrates my point. The forum quotes reactionary radio talk show host and frequent enemy of women, Rush Limbaugh, as saying: “I can do one better than that. When women got the right to vote’s when it all went downhill…Because that’s when votes started being cast with emotion and maternal instincts that government ought to reflect.” It is at this point you would respect any responsible, modern news outlet to repudiate these comments in an unqualified way. And you’d be wrong.
Uttered on the heels of Limbaugh’s now-infamous tirade against Sandra Fluke, and the resulting loss of sponsorship that accompanied it, The Blaze actually applauds the shock jock for his resilience and frames his continued hate speech as humorous liberal chum. Writer Mytheos Holt observes, “In fact, so great has Limbaugh’s recovery been that he is now openly taunting his former critics on his show by making obviously joking, but still highly controversial statements about gender politics, with the express intent of seeing which liberal critics will take the bait.”
What the hell is funny about blaming today’s deadlocked, hyperpartisan dialogue on hard-earned female suffrage?
Although corporate media can no longer be counted upon to keep the GOP honest, Rachel Maddow and others of her breed aside, things have gotten so bad that Sunday morning stalwarts like NBC’s Meet the Press feel compelled to interject questions of gender into a focused August 25 discussion of the 1963 march. Toward the end of the show’s roundtable segment, host David Gregory makes an astute observation to historian Doris Kearns Goodwin: “I don’t have to tell you, you look at that chasm among women, it’s also horrible 50 years later. And the feeling that there’s not as much opportunity to move out of that state of affairs.”
I do not mean to diminish the remembrance of the March on Washington as an important tool in taking the current temperature of race relations. As the Trayvon Martin case and the ongoing debate over New York City’s “Stop and Frisk” policy attest, there is much road left to travel before full racial equality is reached. But we must not become complacent toward a powerful and dogged section of conservative leaders that seems unable to accept women as full partners in society, government and the home.
I still remember a little girl in the 1980s, the denizen of a major metropolitan area, relegated to playing outfield on her otherwise all-male t-ball team, despite being one of its most capable members. The sneering, arrogant coach told this girl that she would best serve the team by “staying out of the way.” That young lady had a dream too. She was certain by the time she reached 35 years of age in 2013, the sort of blatant sexism that society tacitly accepted would be a relic of the past, just like Jim Crow laws.
We cannot and must not stay out of the way.