What’s March 8th?

Several weeks ago, I was asking someone dear to me for blog entry suggestions when the following conversation ensued:

“You should write something for March 8th.”

“March 8th?”

“Yes, March 8th.”

“Um, what’s March 8th?”

“You don’t know what March 8th is??”

Sheepish, I turned to the trusty Internet, where a quick search for “March 8” abated my ignorance:

International Women’s Day.

But of course. How could I have forgotten (or not known)?

Further research revealed that the month of March is celebrated as Women’s History Month. And here I thought it was just March Madness. Ignorance not wholly abated.

As this post has evidenced so far, I’m far from an expert on women’s history, women’s rights, or women’s issues. In fact, for all my supposed progressiveness, I’m ignorant of most of these. Moreover, I’m often guilty of sexism and the objectification of women, conscious and subconscious, a fact of which I’m not proud. I’m often blind to the privileges I enjoy as a male, and I don’t always acknowledge the unseen benefits I reap in a male-dominated society. Sure, I can complain about not being white or Republican rich, but being a male on this planet and in this country is a pretty good gig.

Especially in light of the recent Sandra Fluke saga that’s been blowing up my RSS feeds.

It’s pretty astounding and more than a little disheartening to me that, in the year 2012, contraceptives are still a matter of controversy. For the uninformed, here’s a quick summary of recent events:

1. The Obama administration mandates that health insurance plans need to cover all methods of contraception.
2. Catholic bishops and Republicans argue that Obama is infringing on religious freedoms; Democrats view the mandate as a matter of women’s health.
3. Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) holds a hearing on the mandate. No women witnesses were present to speak on contraception.
4. Sandra Fluke, a 30-year old law student, testifies in front of House Democratic members. She argues in favor of requiring private insurance plans to cover contraception. She argues that birth control could cost $3,000 over a law student’s career and describes the impact this would have on low-income students.

Got all that? Good. Commence shitstorm.

Rush Limbaugh, rightwing radio personality and professional blowhard, calls Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute,” equating her desire for contraception coverage with wanting to be “paid to have sex.” He says “she’s having so much sex she can’t afford her own birth control pills”; she’s “having so much sex, it’s amazing she can still walk”; and asks her, “Who bought your condoms in sixth grade?” He then offers the following deal: “If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I’ll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”

All this is on the air on a nationally syndicated radio show. The highest-rated talk-radio program in United States, I might add.

Disgusting. Despicable. Appalling.

Fortunately, the backlash was swift and the outcry furious. Rush offered up a hollow apology, and advertisers have been fleeing his show in droves.

This whole controversy has me riled, for several reasons. First, Rush’s use of such hateful, denigrating, and misogynistic language is absolutely uncalled for and unacceptable, under any circumstance. Unfortunately, it’s not so surprising coming from him. Second, the absolute lack of logic in equating the usage of birth control with promiscuity baffles me. As one of my students pointed out when we discussed this matter earlier in the week, plenty of married people and couples in serious relationships use contraceptives. Finally, there’s the whole unspoken sexist double standard around the very use of contraceptives.

When it comes to birth control, let’s be real: the primary responsibility falls on women. For guys, there are two options (three if you count withdrawal): condoms and vasectomies. Now, I don’t know many guys my age with vasectomies, and most guys in serious relationships stop using condoms. Why? Because women are the ones expected to be on birth control. Sure, there may be other forms of male contraception being concocted in R&D labs, but they’re not out, are they? Why not? Simple economics: no demand.

Imagine a girl asking a guy the following: “Hey, I don’t want to get pregnant. Can you either stick something up your pee hole and/or take some hormones that might give you headache, dizziness, nausea, decreased libido, and/or mood swings? Don’t worry, the side effects go away after a while.” Sound fun? How many guys would sign up for that? But that’s not only asked of women, it’s expected of them.

So that’s what makes me head-shake and face-palm about this supposed “debate” around contraception and, tangentially, abortion. While they are women’s rights issues and women’s health issues, they also make life more convenient for men, and to attack women over this while letting men off the hook is an egregious double standard and just downright… mean. And at the end of the day, who benefits? Men. As in everything else in our society.

I don’t want to sully International Women’s Day by shifting the conversation away from women’s issues. Like I said, I’m no expert, and I have a lot of work to do in that regard. But to the guys: we need to step our game up. And when I say that, I mean that we need to be more reflective of our privilege and really critically examine how we benefit from a sexist society. We need to see the sacrifices that women make, willingly or not, and realize that there are sacrifices we ourselves have to make to make this a fairer and more just world. We need to recognize that women’s issues have to be our issues. We need to remember that the fight for women’s rights isn’t just a fight fought by women. As the political pendulum swings ever rightward, both here and abroad, we need to remind ourselves that this is still a fight that needs fighting, both politically and, at least for myself, personally.

Women may need men as much as fish need bicycles, but here’s one bicycle that’s grateful for the fish in his life.

Happy International Women’s Day.

4 Comments on “What’s March 8th?”

  1. Diana says:

    A revealing thought experiment: If men were capable of getting pregnant, what would be different about our health care system? What would change about the way we think about birth control, abortion, and child care? And how would public officials legislate (or not) about it then?

    If you need something to make you feel better, here’s a list of all of the businesses that pulled its ads from Rush Limbaugh’s show.

    And for the record, I had no idea March 8th was International Women’s Day. Thanks for letting us all know.

  2. Diana says:

    I also forgot how hilarious that Louis CK clip is. “It’s lovely here in the year two.”

  3. Jonathan H. says:

    Imagine this contraceptive: no latex, no pill, no hormones, 100% effective. Who’s in?

    Guy: “But wait, I need to poke a little hole in my wee-wee?!”


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