Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What if a Muslim Designed a 9/11 Memorial? A Writer Imagines American Hysteria

This week news that a woman from Iraq had been found in her home severely beaten revived fears of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment in the U.S. The woman later died from her injuries. The news of this attack was an unsettling reminder of American hysteria about Muslims in the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Yet the FBI reports that hate crimes against Muslims are "relatively rare" compared with attacks on Jews, gays, and Caucasians, although they have not yet dropped back to pre-9/11 levels.

Nonetheless 9/11 is beginning to feel like part of American history, rather than an event that dominated American fears of terrorism and the expectation that Al Qaeda would launch further attacks on Americans at home and abroad. The widespread fear of Muslims that erupted in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks has receded in the American consciousness, and even the more recent controversy over the building of a mosque and Islamic center near the site of “ground zero” has dropped out of the news cycle and public debate.

Amy Waldman’s novel, The Submission, offers a salutary reminder of those emotionally and politically charged times by offering a kind of "what if" narrative of events that could have taken place following America's worst terrorist attack.

Although the novel never explicitly names the terrorist attack whose effects pervade the story, the reader cannot help but name identify it with 9/11, that act of terrorism that forever changed Americans' sense that this kind of terrorism could never happen here.

The story begins with a jury’s selection of a memorial for the victims of this terrorist attack, a choice that becomes contentious when the anonymous artist selected turns out to be an American Muslim, whose name is Mohammed Khan, but who goes by the more anodyne nickname “Mo.”

The novel’s premise might seem to presage a thriller, but Waldman turns instead into a complex and riveting analysis of the relationship between the ways in which the public perceives the Muslim artist and how he comes to question the integrity of his own individual identity as both a secular American architect and a man raised in a Muslim faith and culture he has largely left behind.

Against the backdrop of the jury’s dismay at the identity of their chosen artist, Waldman shows Khan wondering if he has been passed over for a promotion he was expecting because he is a Muslim and facing questions by airport security agents in the days after the terrorist attack.

They asked about his travels in the past few months; asked where he was born.
“Virginia. Which is in America. Which means I’m a citizen.”
Didn’t say you weren’t.” Pinball popped his gun.
“Do you love this country, Mohammad?”
“As much as you do.” The answer appeared to displease them.
“What are your thoughts on jihad?
“I don’t have any.”
“Well, perhaps you could tell us what it means. My colleague here isn’t good with the foreign languages.”
“I don’t know what it means. I’ve never had cause to use that word.”

The interrogation continues, and Mohammad feels his anger rising as the agents ask him if he’s been to Afghanistan, if he believes he’ll go to heaven if he blows himself up, and other questions ranging from the incriminating to the insulting.

Already feeling under attack, Khan proves unwilling to take the jury chairman’s suggestion that he back out of the competition because of public reaction and his insistence that he show his concern for the larger purpose of the memorial. "Then you'll care about how important this memorial is to America,’ the [chairman tells] him, and with more urgency: ‘You won’t want to tear your country apart.’”

However, as the chairman and Khan soon come to realize, once the selection has leaked to the press, they have both already lost control of the public debate over the idea of a Muslim artist building a memorial to the victims of Islamic terrorists.

Khan finds himself caught between the political interests of the Muslim American Coordinating Council, which offers him legal representation, and the Save America from Islam protesters, whose inflammatory rhetoric leads to a rash of "head scarf pulling" incidents against Muslim women.

As rumors begin to circulate that the United Arab Emirates had purchased “rights to the memorial, that opponents of the memorial were going to blow it up and blame it on the Muslims,” and even more far-fetched suppositions, Mo finds himself in his apartment, standing before the bathroom mirror and trying to determine if he should get rid of his beard to make himself look less threatening at his next public appearance.

He had grown the beard to play with perceptions and misconceptions, to argue against the attempt to define him. If he shaved, would he be losing the argument or ending it? Was he betraying his religion? No, but it would look that way. Was he betraying himself? That question shook the hand holding the razor.

As the ramifications of the jury’s decision move beyond New York to gain national and even international attention, provoking attacks on women wearing head scarves, and in turn leading squads of Muslim young men to patrol the streets of their neighborhoods with baseball bats in hand, there seems to be no way to damp down the rising tide of anger, accusation and counter-accusation, fear and speculation.

The controversy sweeps up far more than Khan himself, as other characters, family members of the victims, a tabloid journalist, Khan's Muslim lawyer/lover, are also forced to confront their conflicting feelings about whether or not Khan should accept the commission or withdraw and what that decision will ultimately means. At the periphery of the novel, the widow of an undocumented Indonesian worker who perished in the attack, is also literally and ironically drawn into this increasingly hostile debate. When she turns up to speak on Khan’s behalf at a public inquiry, the terrible gaze of public scrutiny turns on her with tragic results.

The Submission offers no easy answers to the conundrums it poses: Can a member of the same ethnic, racial, or religious group that engaged in an act of terrorism become the agent of healing for its victims, or does that person's affiliation with such a group trump any individual intentions of redress? How do we as individuals sort out our multiple allegiances? Can we ever fully leave our religious and ethnic roots behind us?

Every day we participate in the news media’s shaping of our perceptions, whether of public figures, or private individuals who are suddenly thrust into the public spotlight.

Rarely does a nuanced portrait emerge from these stories. Instead, we are presented with a simplistic either/or dissection of character. Either villain or hero, victim or criminal perpetrator, in the public spotlight, people are constrained to fit whatever stereotypes their gender, race, religion, or political affiliation suggest.

Waldman’s novel goes beyond simple questions about how we view Muslims within our own country and beyond its borders after 9/11. She makes us think about the effects of stereotypical narratives on our own perceptions of the world and how the world might view us if we too were thrust into the limelight and forced to "account" for own identity.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Trayvon Martin - It's Not About the Hoodie

The recent press coverage of the death of Trayvon Martin has ripped the scab off an old wound that never seems to heal and reignited a long running debate about racial prejudices against young black men.

Whatever our intentions may be, many of us still experience an ingrained reaction to racial difference that can set off an emotional chain reaction that makes us react, rather than think.

I experienced this as a young child when a young black man drove up and parked by my house on afternoon. He was driving one of those large American automobiles they built back in the late 60’s and early 70’s– maybe a Chevy Impala or an old Cadillac. He stepped out of the car, dressed a bit like Richard Roundtree in the movie Shaft, and came over to ask me a question. I couldn’t understand his accent, and the one urgent thought that entered my head at the sight of a strange man, and a black man at that, was “Run!”

So I ran as fast as I could into the house, crying and calling for my mother. She came out, rather alarmed, only to suddenly shift into extreme embarrassment as she realized that the young man was only trying to figure out which was the house his mother worked in as a maid.

We all loved his mother, Rosa, who worked for our neighbors across the street but always had a kind word and a hug for all the kids in the neighborhood. So here was my mother, caught between the racial stereotypes she had passed on to me, and the “exception to the rule” category she placed people like Rosa into. “That’s Rosa’s son,” she told me, with no small hint of exasperation, as if that explained everything.

It didn’t explain anything to me. I stood there dumbfounded trying to figure out why I was suddenly in trouble for reacting the way my parents had taught me to act, if not explicitly, then through their own attitudes towards blacks. I felt embarrassed myself and stupid, as if I was suddenly playing a game whose rules I didn’t comprehend.

“But I couldn’t understand what he was saying,” I protested to my mother, as if that excused my total panic. “That’s because Rosa and her family are from the south,” my mother told.

When I think about the death of Trayvon Martin, I feel horror, sadness, and a little guilt that so many Americans still seem to be reacting to young black men based on the kind of stereotypes that I held, even as a small child.

It’s not hard to see where these come from. We see the images all the time, on TV news shows and Hollywood films, of young black men committing crimes and acts of violence. They show up in the grainy footage of convenience store cameras, hoodies pulled over their faces so you can scarcely see their skin. But the commentator always lets you know when the youth who was later apprehended was black or Latino.

We know from recent research into cognitive science that when we see something that frightens us, it is the most primitive part of the brain that reacts, what some refer to as the "amygdala hijack" that readies us for fight or flight, and literally shuts down (at least momentarily) the pre-fontal cortex that is the center of rational and reflective thinking.

So it’s not surprising, perhaps, that George Zimmerman never really saw Trayvon Martin as an individual but instead was totally focused on the stereotypical threat he felt from a young black man he assumed was up to no good. This is not to excuse Mr. Zimmerman’s actions in any way. He was told by the police not to follow Trayvon, and he was carrying a weapon, which made the situation all the more volatile. But when we act out of fear, we often stop thinking rationally, and that makes our actions doubly dangerous to ourselves and others.

I know what it’s like to be the mother of teen-aged boy and worry about him getting into a situation with the police or being with other teens in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was especially worried about my oldest son, who is gay, going to college in Texas; images of Matthew Shepard often haunted my thoughts from time to time during those years, even though I knew my fears weren't really warranted.

How much more difficult must it be then for the mothers of black sons who know that there is a very realistic chance that their fears might come true, whether their child is caught in the crossfire of gang violence, or shot by police, like the unarmed Oscar Grant, who was killed when a BART officer drew his gun instead of a Taser.

Whatever the facts of the Trayvon Martin case turn out to be, and they may well prove unknowable, since Trayvon can no longer give his version of events, a conversation about the subconscious triggers that racial stereotypes can set off is one that is long overdue.

For me, that confrontation with a young black man back on the streets of Detroit made me question the racial stereotypes my parents had passed on to me. I slowly moved from a state of bewilderment to skepticism to an outright rejection of the racism that was so prevalent in the white culture I grew up in.

But I know I cannot entirely escape the effects those stereotypes had on me. There are some situations – a neighborhood that doesn’t have a “safe” reputation, a parking lot late at night—where those anxious feelings are uppermost in my mind and the stereotypes remain just beneath the surface waiting to be triggered. At least, now as an adult, I can recognize and reject them. All we can hope for as a nation is that we continue to confront our deepest racial stereotypes and see them for what they are – the phantoms of our fears.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Getting Ready to go to College? Start Planning for Debt

It's that time of year when high school seniors obsessively check their email, knowing that
any day now, they'll know for sure where they've been accepted to college and where they've been rejected, or worse yet, waitlisted.

But there's another part of the college ritual that should be grabbing the attention of those getting ready to go to college and their parents: the cost of student loans.

Students now finish college with an average of $25,000 in student loans; in fact, student loan debt now outpaces credit card debt and is projected to reach $1 trillion this year.

Some argue that the cost is worth it because those four years of expenses are far outweighed by the increase in life-time earnings that a college degree makes possible. But for how much longer will that hold true?

It's not just for-profit colleges that are getting students into debt they can't afford for jobs that either don't materialize or don't pay enough to allow them to pay back their loans.

In the current anemic recovery, college students across the country are facing a difficult job market, and many will face years of indebtedness that will impede their ability to save for a car, a house, or retirement.

Some in Congress argue that extending the current rates will cost too much in an era of high deficits, but it seems difficult to make the case that keeping more students out of college because they can't afford will have any positive effect on American competitiveness or economic strength.
Each year thousands of college and graduate students from other countries come to U.S. colleges and universities because they know the value of an American education. Many have stayed and made impressive contributions to industry and academia.

So why are our own politicians hesitating to give students a break when they are were so quick to bail out Wall Street banks? Should we be asking students to pay nearly 8% interest on loans when mortgage rates and other loan rates are at historic lows?

Today college students delivered 130,000 letters to Congress asking their representatives to reconsider this rate hike. Parents, grandparents, and all of us who have taken out loans to fund our own college educations, should join them in petitioning Congress to make college more affordable and not put up more economic barriers to education.

So if you're still waiting for that acceptance letter, take a few minutes out to send your representative an email, and if you haven't yet registered to vote, do that too.

We shouldn't bail out Wall Street and then default on the future of our kids.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Out of the Nest and Ready to Fly

Yesterday, my son Alejandro arrived home from UT-Austin for the last college vacation he'll ever enjoy. In May, he graduates and then moves on to a new city and new job.

As his mom, this is my last opportunity to spend time with him at home while I can still claim him as a child, rather than the young man I know he already has become.

Like any kid living at home, he has chores to do (and complain about), and he feels okay about asking me to pay for the gas that will let him visit his friends in Santa Cruz. For this short period of time, he is economically dependent on his family and quite happy to take advantage of parental largesse.

But we're in the countdown phase of the transition to adulthood. He's already married (legally in New York) and even has a credit history. Soon enough he'll have a car and apartment and all the dubious trappings of adult independence like insurance and utility bills.

I know he's ready to take on all of this, and I can't honestly say I'm sorry not to have to worry about tuition bills. But I'm also not quite ready to face the fact that our relationship is undergoing a profound shift.

In future, visits home will be limited by how much vacation he has and what it costs to buy airline tickets (and let me say here that there will always be a parental subsidy for these).

He'll have to negotiate with two sets of parents on where to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas and whether or not he can join us on other trips. His grandparents will also want him to visit them in Chile, and his aunts will want to see him in Long Beach and San Diego.

And, of course, I would be ecstatic if he went to law school in the Bay Area (hint, hint).

But it's not just the prospect of not seeing him as much as I want that saddens me; it's the feeling that I've still not had enough time to enjoy watching him growing up.

As my husband remarked before we had children, "Kids only become interesting around age 18." While I disagree with him on the "interesting" part, it is true that just about the time your kids are willing to talk to you again and treat you like another human being instead of this incredibly irritating, embarrassing creature they call a parent, they're off to college, and someone else is enjoying all the fruits of your labors.

I distinctly remember feeling cheated when a family friend told me how much he had enjoyed a long car trip up to the Sierras with Alejandro when they drove up to join his best friend and the rest of the family at their cabin. "I thought he'd just listen to his iPod," the father of his friend told me, "but we had this great conversation about Fast Food Nation."

Needless to say, I didn't get many of those great conversations. In fact, for several of his teenage years, he kept a sign on his door that read: "Sarcasm Club: Like we'd want you as a member."

The message to parents was clear: 1) Stay out of my room. 2) Leave me alone. 3) And don't talk to me, unless you want a snarky rejoinder.

In fairness, his adolescence wasn't all that bad, despite our first year in Albuquerque, where he found it difficult to connect with kids at his new high school and therefore told me on a daily basis that I had "ruined his life."

We can laugh at that now, knowing that if he hadn't gone to Albuquerque, he wouldn't have met his husband, Nathan.

I look at him today, all grown up and even a bit scholarly when he wears his glasses, and I remember a curly-haired, blue-eyed toddler who had a mischievous sense of humor and the biggest smile I've ever seen. And I feel so much love and gratitude for the joy he has brought me and the gift of seeing him put his tremendous talents to work in so many ways.

My first fledging is out of the nest and ready to fly, and I'm going to love watching him soar away.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Reading Matters: How Education Turns us off to Reading

You have to love a book whose dedication reads: "Parents, teachers, librarians, please on no account use these pages as an instrument of torture."

I've just finished one of the most engaging and inspiring books on reading that I have ever come across. Originally published as Comme un roman, this book has recently been translated into English as The Rights of the Reader, with delightfully whimsical illustrations by Quentin Blake.

The author, Daniel Pennac, taught for many years in the lower-income areas of Paris, and his book is a passionate defense of reading for pleasure that takes both the child's perspective and the world-weary outlook of a teacher who is caught between state requirements and how he would really like to teach kids to read.

For the many teachers in the U.S. who increasingly find themselves having to "teach to the test," Pennac's ironic perspective on the institutional demands of teachers and students, and his disdain for easy answers to the problem of falling reading rates -- television, the Internet, consumerism-- makes this a particularly rewarding book to read.

Pennac sympathizes with the plight of the teacher, who often has little control over what books to teach or how to teach them. In one section, he describes the experience of grading papers on the topic: "What do you think of Flaubert's Advice to his Friend Louise Collett, "Read to Live"?

After making it through a few of these, he realizes that all the kids are only saying what they think he wants to hear.
The arguments have a habit of repeating themselves. He's getting annoyed now. His students keep parroting reading matters, reading matters, the endless litany of the educational establishment: reading matters. When every sentence proves they never read!
As a counter to this deadening dogma, Pennac offers his own subversive bill of rights for the reader, including:
  1. The Right Not to Read
  2. The Right to Skip
  3. The Right Not to Finish A Book
  4. The Right to Read it Again
  5. The Right to Read Anything
  6. The Right to Mistake a Book for Real Life (Viva Don Quixote!)
  7. The Right to Read Anywhere
  8. The Right to Dip In
  9. The Right to Read Out Loud
  10. The Right to be Quiet
In other words, Pennac wants to free readers from the tyranny of the English class, where the joy of reading is followed by the pain of analysis, and then by the anguish of having to construct an "argument" about the book's meaning, and finally the torture of putting it down on paper.

By the time kids become adults and no longer have to read, Pennac believes that most have either lost the desire to read on their own or find it hard to justify the time reading requires. "Time to read is always time stolen...from the tyranny of living."

Our educational systems, with their rigid curricula and standard tests, ensure that too many of us have lost the experience of reading for pleasure by the time we graduate from high school and replaced those warm memories of childhood bedtime stories with harrowing recollections of the drudgery of trying to get through 300+ pages before we had to take a test or turn in a paper.

Reading like this is like trying to concentrate on the page with the Sword of Damocles hanging over your head by a rapidly fraying rope.

But Pennac's book is far from pessimistic. He acknowledges that reading is an individual, paradoxical, often inexplicable experience:
We live in groups because we're sociable, but we read because we know we're alone. Reading offers a kind of companionship that takes no one's place, but that no one can replace either...Its tiny secret links remind us of how paradoxically happy we are to be alive, while illuminating how tragically absurd life is. So our reasons for reading are as strange as our reasons for living. And no one has a right to call that intimacy to account.
In Pennac's ideal world, children would have the time and the freedom to read whatever books they wanted without having to answer adult inquiries about them. That intimate bond between reader and author, mediated by text, would remain inviolate. And certainly, if we lessened the dreary hours of homework we impose on our children and rewarded them just for the act of reading (as opposed to spending all their free time with "media" of one sort or another, we could make headway towards this ideal.

So, read, Pennac tells us, but let no one tell you what, when, where, why, or how to do it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The War on Contraception: Death by a Thousand State Budget Cuts

While media attention has focused on the Congressional debate over a provision in the health care bill mandating that religiously-affiliated universities and hospitals provide access to birth control, there is another front in the war on contraception that is taking place in many states.

By defunding and even eliminating family planning programs, states are putting tens of thousands of poor women and teenagers at risk, and not just for unwanted pregnancies. Many family planning clinics also provide screening tests for diseases like diabetes and offer gynecological exams that can include tests for cervical cancer or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

But those options are rapidly shrinking for many women. New Jersey and Montana no longer have family planning programs, while New Hampshire cut funding for its program by 57%. The worst effects have been felt in Texas where massive state funding cuts caused half of state-supported family planning clinics to shut their doors.

A number of Texas representatives pointed to budget shortfalls as a reason to make these cuts, even though the state's budget office predicts that nearly 20,000 more births will result costing the state $98 million in prenatal, maternity and infant care, far more than the cuts are saving.

When these financial implications were brought to the attention of Representative Wayne Christian, a Texas Republican, he responded: "We value a human life more than just the cost."

Tell that to the hundreds of women who canceled appointments at the Parkland Health and Hospital System in Dallas which started charging a $25 co-pay to everyone. How can we expect women who can't afford $25 for a doctor's visit to care for a child?

In addition, Texas has excluded Planned Parenthood from participating in the Women's Health Program, an extension of the Medicaid program that provides $9 in federal funds for every $1 spent by the state of Texas. As a result, the feds have informed Texas that the state is violating federal guidelines, putting this funding at risk and further denying health care and family planning services to an additional 130,000 women.

Only Maryland and Washington expanded funding for family planning services to cover women at 200% of the federal poverty threshold.

Put this together with the fact that 2011 was a record for legislation restricting abortion or putting up roadblocks to the procedure (triple the number enacted in 2010), and it seems no exaggeration to say that a war on women's reproductive rights is heating up again in this country.

We are used to the controversy over abortion, which has raged every since the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. But these new attacks on contraception are even more worrisome. Conservatives are cloaking these funding cuts under the guise of fiscal responsibility, but how responsible is it to put the greatest burden of accessing and paying for birth control on the most vulnerable women in our society -- the poor and the young?

What purpose does it serve to increase the risk of unplanned pregnancies among the very women who are least financially equipped to raise a child? And why would any moral person want to increase the likelihood of women seeking abortions because they cannot access family planning services.

These are questions that need to be raised, particularly as we enter an election season where Republican candidates are attacking women's reproductive rights and calling this "family values." Valuing family means giving people the means to choose if and when to start a family in the first place.

As someone who has supported women's reproductive rights since I was a teenager, it is exhausting and disheartening to have to fight these battles over and over again, but we owe it to those women whose voices are not heard, either by politicians or by those members of society who have the means to plan their own families but are not willing to help others do the same.

If we allow any woman to lose her reproductive rights in this country, all of us suffer with her because these are the most fundamental rights a woman can have.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What Rush Limbaugh's Language Says About Women in our Culture

For days now the blogosphere and every media outlet has been raging with debate over the import of Rush Limbaugh's remarks on Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student, who was belatedly allowed to testify about the need for women to have access to contraception at Catholic institutions like hers.

For some this is a matter of "civil" versus "rude" discourse, and certainly Rush Limbaugh has tried to portray his remarks as a matter of "not the best" word choice. Now that's an understatement. But it is not a very convincing argument coming from a man who has been an agent provocateur for the far right ever since he went on the air, and who always chooses his words carefully for maximum shock value.

But this time, Rush's words have cost him far more than negative publicity; his loss of sponsors is at 34 and counting, and some stations have dropped his program altogether.

If he imagined that his vicious rhetoric would fire up his conservative (male) base and then blow over, he underestimated the reactions of women across the political spectrum.

Initially, Republican presidential candidates like Romney and Santorum rushed to play Pontius Pilate as they washed their hands of all responsibility for what Limbaugh said. Romney's response was characteristically faint-hearted: "Ill just say this, which is, it's not the language I would have used," while Santorum issued a blanket denial: "I don't believe it is my job as someone running for office to comment on every talk show host or any talk show host or anybody else out there on the right."

But women would have none of it. Petitions, emails, phone calls have all poured out on behalf of Ms. Fluke and against Mr. Limbaugh, and advertisers, pundits, and politicians paid attention.

The most disturbing aspect of Mr. Limbaugh's "speech" is that it underscores the tendency of our culture to sexualize women, particularly when they enter the public sphere. Women who appear in public fora are constantly scrutinized for what they wear, how they cut their hair, and whether or not their tone is too "strident," all signs of "femininity" that they are expected to comply with, whether they want to or not.

In Ms. Fluke's case, she could have been single and celibate, married, a lesbian, or a woman living with a male partner. None of this should have had the least bearing on the content of her testimony or how it was received.

But when a woman participates in public discourse, particularly when she is the sole woman testifying, her sexuality becomes part of the public exchange, and it is almost impossible for her to insulate herself or her words from this perception.

It's no accident that our culture still thinks of sexually active women as "sluts" and sexually active men as "studs." When an insurance plan covers Viagra, we don't say that as a society we are "paying" men to have sex, but it is all to easy to castigate the woman who uses birth control as a "prostitute," in part because female sexuality that is not directed towards reproduction still elicits a deep-seated anxiety in our culture.

Rick Santorum is more honest than many conservatives when he argues that sex should only take place within the institution of marriage, and with an intention to reproduce. From this perspective, women who have sex to become mothers are held up as icons, whereas women who have sex for pleasure are "sluts," "bitches," and "hos."

Whether or not they share Santorum's strict religious code, too many Americans still think it's okay for men to have sex without any moral opprobrium attached to it, while the simple idea of a sexuality active woman is morally suspect.

When the birth control pill first came on the market in the 1960s, many worried that it would free women to have sex with anyone without the fear of becoming pregnant, just like men.

Now fifty years later, as a culture, we still exhibit ambivalence and anxiety over the relationship between female sexuality and contraception. When women have access to contraception, they have a choice about if and when to become a mother, and that freedom evokes an almost atavistic cultural fear about the freedom this gives them.

The persistance of this cultural fantasy about contraception unleashing "girls gone wild" comes through loud and clear in Limbaugh's ranting. Having labeled Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute," he is off and running with his own pornographic fantasy, demanding that she post videos of herself having sex and claiming that "she's having so much sex it's amazing she can still walk." (A full list of Limbaugh's insults has been recorded by The Washington Post.)

The disgust and anger that so many women expressed over Limbaugh's speech demonstrates once and for all that women are determined to fight any attempt to turn back the clock on their reproductive rights. Nor will they be frightened off the public stage when men try to silence them with sexually demeaning labels.

But I'm still waiting for the day when a woman can engage in public discourse without fear of some guy trying to undermine her words by speculating about her sex life.

Other conservative pundits have tried to frame the controversy as a matter of "free speech" with about as much success as they had trying to spin the initial debate over contraceptive coverage as a matter of "religious liberty." When you have a well-known public figure with an audience numbering in the millions, it's difficult to argue that his words don't carry much louder than the testimony of a private citizen at a Congressional hearing.