Tag Archives: Girl Scouts

Over the Top? Or Not?

I’ve never been one of those feminists who sees patriarchy in every corner of the culture, or a sexist leer in every male smile. While I certainly consider myself a feminist–defined as one who believes that men and women should be entitled to equal legal rights and judged on our individual abilities–I’ve always assumed that resistance to a fuller role for women in society is mostly a product of the more general resistance to change and nostalgia for a bygone (largely imaginary) past.

But I’m beginning to think that “the war on women” may not be hyperbole.

Yesterday, Slate Magazine had an article on the now infamous attack on Girl Scouts by Indiana Representative Morris. That article included the following paragraph:

“The escalating hysteria around modern Girl Scouts is due to the increasing polarization in this country around the concept of women’s equality. In an era where the right is putting contraception back on the table as a controversial topic, girls getting together to build self-esteem and learn skills that might make them competitive with boys and men in school and the workplace is bound to get the right wing freak-out treatment. We’re talking about the same movement perpetuating the argument that the purpose of sex education is to get teenagers and young adults “hooked” on sex so that the non-profit Planned Parenthood can rake in the big bucks. Of course they look at little girls gathered around the campfire and fill in lurid fantasies bordering on the Satanic. We’re watching the death throes of male dominance, and no one should expect such a thing to look pretty.”

Before this year, I would have dismissed this as an over-the-top reaction to an attack by one clearly disturbed lawmaker. But I have to concede that this bizarre incident can’t be viewed in a vacuum.

There’s the effort in Texas and Virginia to condition a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy on her submission to an invasive, medically unnecessary “transvaginal” probe.  In the twilight zone we currently inhabit, this requirement is being voted on at the same time that Republicans like Rick Santorum are on record opposing funding for prenatal testing. (They’re willing to invade my body to punish me for wanting an abortion, but ensuring the health of my fetus is too expensive??)

The assault on Planned Parenthood has been ferocious, and despite the predictable rhetoric, it can’t be attributed to abortions, which are 3% of what the organization does. Republicans have been vicious in their efforts to de-fund Planned Parenthood entirely, despite the fact that thousands of poor women depend upon it for reproductive health services, breast exams and family planning.

Irrational and improbable as it seems, it is now clear that “family planning” (aka birth control) is actually what they are attacking.

The so-called “Personhood” bills being introduced in several state legislatures would classify a fertilized egg as a “person,” making the most-used methods of contraception “abortions,” and thus illegal under most circumstances.  The manufactured hysteria about requiring insurance companies to cover contraception–portrayed as an affront to the “religious liberty” of employers–confirmed that there  really is a concerted effort to deny women the right to control their own reproduction. (I’ll admit to being stunned that there really are people living in the United States in the 21st century who believe that “religious liberty” means they have the right to impose their religious beliefs on women who do not share those beliefs. Shades of the Taliban…)

In 1971, I was one of a small handful of women in my law school class. I was the first woman hired by the law firm I joined, and thanks to a progressive mayor, the first woman to be Corporation Counsel of a major American city. I was the only skirt in the room more times than I can remember, for more years than I can now count. But during that time–despite the patronizing behavior of male colleagues, despite the female “friends” who warned me that children of working mothers all turn out to be drug addicts, despite snide remarks about castrating females or offensive suggestions that the only way I could have gotten these jobs was by “putting out” –I never doubted that women would continue to make progress. The old guys with the archaic attitudes would die off, the increasing participation of women in the workforce would make us less of an anomaly, and we would provide healthier, more capacious role models for our children, male and female.

Time and patience were our allies. Progress–however incremental–was inevitable.

I still believe in that progress. I still believe male privilege and domination are inevitably doomed. But I had no idea how hard the troglodytes would fight, and how ferocious the backlash would be.

Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney keep insisting that this year’s elections are about competing visions for America. They’re right. And one element of those competing visions is the role women will play. It’s becoming increasingly clear that when Romney and Santorum talk about “restoring” the future, they are talking about returning to a time when Father always knew best, and Mother played a decidedly second fiddle. (That retrograde vision is why so many male Republicans trash-talk Michelle Obama, while consigning their own wives to supporting roles as devoted and adoring props.)

I’ve been there and done that, and I’m not going back.




Those Commie Girl Scouts…

Yesterday, the media was filled with reports about Indiana Representative Bob Morris, who refused to sign a legislative resolution recognizing the 100th anniversary of the founding of Girl Scouts of America.

In case you missed it, the Associated Press report read in part as follows:

“… Morris said he found online allegations that the Girl Scouts are a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood, encourage sex and allow transgender females to join. He also wrote that the fact that first lady Michelle Obama is honorary president should give lawmakers pause before they endorse the Girl Scouts.”

Morris went on to say that Girl Scouts were being taught to be “feminists, lesbians and Communists.”

I’m going to resist the temptation to deconstruct this, or to note that using the terms feminist and lesbian to mean undesirable or unAmerican is itself unAmerican.

Instead, I want to talk about mental illness–as in genuine psychoses, not as in a snarky label to be thrown at someone with whom we disagree.

I know that we Americans have been going through some rough times. We’ve been involved in two unsettling, seemingly endless wars. The economy tanked, and people get more than a little destabilized in times of economic stress. There are unpredictable terrorist attacks around the world, and unthinkable as it is, some of those are right here in the USA. The pace of social and sexual and technological change continues to accelerate. If you are an older white guy (and this does seem to be the cohort most affected although it certainly isn’t the only one), you are trying to make sense of a world in which your wife is no longer submissive and dependent. Your unmarried daughter may be living with some guy–or worse (at least in your worldview) with another woman. There’s a black guy in the White House and a neighbor speaking Spanish. Your television showcases very different “lifestyles” from those you approve. Your grandchildren are playing with strange handheld devices, listening to rap music on their IPods, and texting their friends. It goes on and on.

It’s understandable that people who lack adequate resources to cope with stress and dramatic social change would be confused and even angry at finding themselves in such a strange new world. But a not-insignificant number of them have gone well beyond resentment and anger; they have responded by literally disconnecting from reality. And on Fox News, or the brave new world of the internet, it’s easy to find validation from someone who shares their worst fears and fantasies.

So Rep. Morris burrows into his conspiracy theories about Girl Scouts. Rick Santorum accuses Protestants who fail to share his religious zealotry of “leaving Christianity” and criticizes President Obama not for specific policies but for following a “false theology.” Republican Senators–men in powerful positions–find themselves pandering to a political base that rejects science and reason, demonizes the U.S. President and First Lady, and is terrified of the “socialists” who are conspiring to destroy the country by providing universal access to health care and raising the top marginal tax rate.

There are all sorts of websites and organizations trying to counter some of the more outrageous fantasies with logic and facts. The problem is, as a friend used to say, you can’t reason someone out of a position he didn’t reason himself into. Someone who believes that Adam saddled up his trusty dinosaur will not be amenable to learning about the science of global climate change. Someone who believes that God doesn’t want women to control their own bodies–who believes, like Rick Santorum, that contraception is morally wrong because it divorces sexuality from procreation, and allows people to do “wrong things”–is unlikely to read the research about the benefits of birth control or the dangers of overpopulation. Someone who believes that marriage has “always” been between one man and one woman, despite ample evidence to the contrary  (plural marriage, for example, remains legal in 50 countries right now) is simply not going to look at the evidence and support same-sex unions.

Withdrawal from reality–an insistent belief in things that are demonstrably untrue (think “death panels” and United Nations black helicopters and “Agenda 21”) is a sign of paranoia. I don’t know what psychiatrists call an irrational antipathy to people who are in some way different–gay people, immigrants, etc.–but as my mother would have put it, “a wellness it isn’t.”

The Girl Scouts aren’t learning to be lesbian communists. Sane people know that.

Barack Obama is not a Muslim Socialist who was born in Kenya. Sane people know that.

Teenagers will not become gay because the Indiana Youth Group gets to put a message on Indiana license plates. Sane people know that.

The Earth is more than 6000 years old and climate change is a fact. Sane people know that.

We need to do something about the not-sane people. But I don’t know what.