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.
Has Jon Stewart become a flaming feminist? After a week of watching his killer segments skewering the GOP’s “War on Women,” I’m wondering if his seeming conversion is indicative of a larger turning point, if the Republicans, after a full year of assaults on reproductive rights, have finally crossed the line that gets people on the sidelines to speak up.
When I was just starting to write feminist blog posts, I wrote one complaining about the lack of genuine, women-focused discussion of reproductive rights in “dude” political culture, particularly on “The Daily Show.” While Stewart’s and similar shows tackled war and torture, gay rights and religion, I felt there was a squeamishness which curtailed discussion of abortion and women’s sexuality — and too much fawning respect for male authority figures who oppose women’s rights. Stewart’s weak interview with Mike Huckabee, in which he failed to effectively refute Huckabee’s points on abortion, exemplified this.
Then 2010 Irin Carmon, in an epic moment of reporting, blew the lid off the guy-centric culture at the beloved late night comedy news show. Her piece in Jezebel contained interviews with former employees who revealed that the onscreen “bro” culture was reflective of the shows inner workers: “behind the scenes, numerous former female staffers tell us that working there was often a frustrating and alienating experience.”
Last night Rachel Maddow interviewed Michael Moore at that stalwart Jewish cultural institution, the 92 street Y. Maddow had been under tremendous pressure from the feminist community to bring up the issue of Julian Assange’s rape charges — Moore’s overly flip dismissal of which I wrote about here last week.
Since then, the movement to get Moore to re-address the rape allegations has swelled on twitter under the #mooreandme hashtag and even spawned an intense intra-Jewish feminist smackdown between Naomi Wolf and Jaclyn Friedman on the Democracy Now! program.
So when Maddow and Moore took the stage last night, there was a maelstrom swirling around them, and they both sat under a spotlight of “don’t screw up” scrutiny. Maddow, to her credit, came out of the gate swinging — asking Moore to address the allegations, and getting him to make this statement.