Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Columns

March 8, 2012

Katie Brandenburg: Where's respect of women?: 3/9/12

ASHLAND — I’ve never been a single-issue voter. It seems to be the ultimate over-simplification of the complex political process. Having said that, I do have one big wish for the candidates in this year’s election. I’d like for both of them to be individuals who don’t hate women.

I don’t want to have to make a choice based on fear of a candidate’s feelings about women. I’d like to go into the voting booth on Election Day and know, without the slightest sense of hesitation, that whoever gets my vote and whoever eventually wins will regard female voters with, at the very least, respect.

It doesn’t seem a lot to ask, but simple respect has been sorely lacking from candidates on the GOP end of the political spectrum in recent weeks. Let’s leave aside the actual issue of free birth control that has created drama on both sides of the aisle. While I have a decided viewpoint on that subject, I can understand arguments in favor of and opposing such a policy. What I can’t respect is when women who support the policy are called derogatory names because of their beliefs.

I’m referring, of course, to talk radio host Rush Limbaugh’s tirade about Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student who spoke at a congressional hearing in favor of a government mandate most health insurance plans provide contraceptives with no extra cost. Over the course of a few shows, Limbaugh called Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” and suggested she and any other woman who receives free birth control post videos of their sexual encounters online. I find the fact that such language is acceptable to anyone living in the 21st century deeply appalling. The words he used were hateful and troubling, but we should probably expect no less from Limbaugh. He exists to shock and create scandals. What I do deplore is the reaction, or lack thereof, from GOP presidential candidates. GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney could muster only this reply: “I’ll just say this, which is, it’s not the language I would have used.”

I call that weak. Most of the other candidates’ reactions were equally lackluster, either deflecting the issue entirely or saying the insults were all part of Limbaugh’s absurdist shtick.

Maybe these men just really don’t understand the long and stinging history of such insults. Maybe they don’t realize that throughout history when a woman took a stand on an issue or dared to be progressive she was derided as morally deficient. “Slut” is a go-to insult for a woman who disagrees with a man. It serves to dehumanize the person in question and means their perspective isn’t worth considering. Let’s be clear: Limbaugh’s attack was not just on Sandra Fluke. It was an attack on all women. As such, the men who are vying for the Republican presidential nomination should condemn it.

I’m not saying this needs to be a big issue in the campaign, but at the very least it deserves strong counter statements. This was a chance for these politicians to show respect for female voters by standing up against misogynistic insults, and they failed to do so across the board.

In some cases, a disrespect for women seems to be inherent in the campaigns of candidates. It was one of the largest donors behind Rick Santorum’s Super PAC, after all, who suggested women put an aspirin between their knees to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

I’m not suggesting any of these candidates change their stances on reproductive issues. Agree or not, those are legitimate political stances. However, I don’t think it’s too much to ask they demonstrate, in the language they use and endorse, a basic respect for women. They will, after all, need at least a portion of the female vote to win.

I would love to have the comfort of knowing that, no matter which way the vote goes in November, our president will be a man with respect for his female constituents. The current rhetoric makes me extremely uncomfortable.

KATIE BRANDENBURG can be reached at kbrandenburg@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2653.

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