Sisterhood Blog

2012: The Year in Gender

By Sarah Seltzer

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An election, a superstorm, and high-profile battles over women’s health marked 2012 — not to mention a whole lot of Lena Dunham.

In January and February, the birth control wars raged. The year began with a major kerfuffle: Planned Parenthood got dropped as a funding partner by the Susan G. Komen Foundation — an intra-nonprofit war which felt like the inevitable result of 2011’s long political campaign to [demonize Planned Parenthood’s services] (http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/150685/how-planned-parenthood-became-a-liability/). But then something strange happened: the entire Internet revolted and Susan G. Komen had to bow and scrape its way back into the fold, but not before damaging its reputation perhaps irrecoverably.

Very soon thereafter, as if underscoring the point that standing up for women’s health shouldn’t be a political liability, the Obama administration took a bold but necessary stance: mandating no co-pay (not free!) birth control coverage under Obamacare. Needless to say, conservatives (looking at you, Catholic bishops!) were not pleased. The battle over this provision provided some memorable images: the testosterone-rife congressional panel, featuring stern-looking men in religious garb moralizing about women’s health, and the excluded activist Sandra Fluke, who was called a “slut” by Rush Limbaugh and was even attacked by some right-wingers for having a Jewish boyfriend.

The high-profile tenor of these battles had some interesting consequences. Besides giving Fluke a huge platform, they brought unlikely allies out of the woodwork, including not necessarily feminist-friendly pundits like Jon Stewart, encouraging more neutral parties to stand up for women’s rights.

We debated race and gender in the media in the spring. With the springtime return of “Mad Men” and the hype over Lena Dunham’s new show “Girls,” writers began to parse race, gender and religion as portrayed on the small screen. Were TV auteurs like Matthew Weiner and Lena Dunham visionary, regressive or a little bit of both? The debate over “Girls” was almost as heated as the Komen vs. Planned Parenthood one. But Dunham’s painfully awkward show about young twentysomethings of privilege in Brooklyn got renewed for a second season and cemented its place in the cultural zeitgeist, love it or hate it or love to hate it.

The work-life balance question hit the headlines over the summer. All year, the media continued its distracting fixation on celebrity motherhood and parenting “trends” like attachment parenting. But the discussion of women’s ability to parent and progress in the workplace really exploded over the summer when Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” piece in The Atlantic prompted debate and soul-searching about motherhood, careers, and gender equality in the workplace. The Forward’s recently-released annual study of women’s salaries in Jewish organizations revealed that there’s still a lot of work to be done to achieve workplace parity.

Election season brought feminist stars to the fore — and “team Rape” got defeated at the polls. During the political conventions, Michelle Obama and Sandra Fluke’s speeches wowed audiences, while Mike Huckabee’s nasty diss of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz set the tone for an autumn of continuing outrageous GOP misogyny, particularly a litany of out-of-left field rape comments that, on election day, ended up resulting in a giant backlash at the polls: it was “revenge of the ladyparts.”

Everyone from “team rape” lost his election, gay marriage won popular votes all over the country, and women stormed the Senate. Maybe the tide was turning, or maybe the unprecendented victory for women at the voting booth was because Lena Dunham compared voting for Obama to losing her virginity, or because Sarah Silverman was willing to make a very indecent proposal to protect her President from Republican billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

Either way, Election Day felt briefly but powerfully euphoric for feminists, and it helped balance out a sober end-of-year season marred by the tragedy of the war in Gaza and, closer to the Forward’s home, Hurricane Sandy — not to mention and the latter’s revelations about the income gap and the reality of climate change. Fortunately, 2012 also saw the solidification of the place of feminist and women’s spaces in the media like the Sisterhood, providing coverage of previously-overlooked issues that is voraciously consumed by people of all gender backgrounds.

Here at the Sisterhood, we ended the year blogging about our own Christmas and Hanukkah(http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/167289/whats-with-the-lame-hanukkah-parodies/) traditions and looking forward to a fresh start in 2013, a year which hopefully will feature very few high-profile political scandals involving the word “rape.”


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