Some Thoughts on Sandra Fluke and the DNC

Two nights ago I was watching football, having finished all the homework I had with me and really just wanting a distraction before bed. At halftime I had had as much of the commentators as I could stand for the time being, so I went to find a temporary distraction until the game began again. I settled on the Democratic National Convention. As it turns out I tuned in just in time to see Sandra Fluke’s speech. Until then, it was the only political speech I had seen this past year.1

Let me begin by saying that she was a very good speaker, with good cadence and emotion, and the audience responded. She also established a connection between her own plight and her audience.

Fluke rehashed her experience earlier in the year when she was barred from a hearing on contraception, silenced, and ridiculed for her comments at the time. She then offered that this election is a fork that will lead to radically different countries. An America under Mitt Romney, she says, “looks like an offensive, obsolete relic of our past…that future could be real.” In contrast, there is the America led by Barack Obama wherein “when [the president] hears a young woman has been verbally attacked, thinks of his daughters–not his delegates or donors–and stands with all women.”

To recap: men and Republicans (which may be the same set of people) are oppressing women as a means of accomplishing their political ends. Democrats (in this speech: women and Barack Obama) are the only group of people with humanity.

Whoever said that the Democratic Party is above fear-mongering?

I want comprehensive health care for all people. I believe that (at the least) birth-control should be covered by this health care (or, in our system, health insurance)…and Viagra should not. The only required procedures should be medically necessary. I believe that there should not be religious exemptions for this since it is a form of discrimination. Each person–male, female, or otherwise–should have control over his or her body. In much the same way, everyone should have equal access to education, government rights and services,2 etc. That reality is much closer to being realized for men than it is for women, I admit. So, I am sympathetic to the message presented here.

And yet I found myself offended by what I heard. The speech (as so often happens) felt disingenuous to me. The purpose was to fire up the Democratic base, rally women behind the perils of a Republican led country, and remind women of past insults. The problem is that (besides perhaps trying to anger conservative viewers) the target demographic of the speech was liberal and moderate women who have a personal stake in control of their bodies. Fluke repeatedly melded “our” problems with “my” experience and what “we” are. She also pointed out the work that “our foremothers” did. The dichotomy was conservative and oppressive men with liberal women.

Omitted were liberal men, and conservative women. In fact, as a liberal man who is also white I felt villainized by association. Men were the opponents, the people keeping the women down, etc. Sure. Historically that is accurate, but only in generalizations. There are many conservative women who oppose birth control, are pro-life, and believe that women should be subservient to their husbands. Moreover, the implication may be made that those folks have been duped or oppressed by men, but that is not always the case. If I were ever to persuade a female student of anything liberal or radical, then the same thing could be said about her.3 Conservative men, despite a recent track record for making bizarre statements about women, women’s anatomy, and health care, were not the most vitriolic opponents of Fluke’s speech. Those were the conservative women.

Omitted too were issues about the Democratic Party. Not everyone in the party toes the line, and the party is just as (or nearly) as beholden to corporations as Republican Party.4 Not every has always supported health care as a human right or that everyone should pay the same amount. Not everyone believes in birth control. And, in part, not every Democratic president has young daughters (and the partial implication that Mitt Romney could not possibly understand or care, perhaps because of his personality…or is it because he has sons rather than daughters?). Of course, they calculus was that if I had such a response to the speech, then those other white men who were oppressing Fluke will be apoplectic, and the tradeoff was reasonable. For my demographic within the Democratic Party they have other people to address. Then again, if I was a good follower, then I would be appropriately outraged not at Fluke, but at her oppressors. But I would rather be in a party–and population–of people who think for themselves.

In sum, I am on board. I support the platform Fluke laid out (though I have only a little love for the Democratic party). I just also felt insulted because the force of the speech lumped me in with the other side, the enemies. The only man identified in the speech and also praised was Barack Obama, for obvious reasons. So, I understand, but I found the entire display distasteful. There are plenty of men who are not oppressing women. But that was not the message Fluke gave.

1 In fairness, I saw two minutes of the speech before, have since seen clips of Clinton’s speech, and saw one of the speeches last night that I did not particularly like, but was not offended by.
2 See: Marriage.
3 I can also think of at least one man in the public sphere who has been duped by a woman.
4 The next speech I saw talked of the Republican efforts to disenfranchise minority voters and otherwise oppose race relations. True though it was, there was no mention of machine politics for the Democrats or simply finding new voters (such as graveyards and dogs). There was also no mention of the Romney family on race relations. The political history of the United States is spotty enough all around (with more than one election stolen or won in a backroom deal) that calling out the other guys on such issues without (at least) proof that you aren’t finding your own way to manipulate voters and voting is suspect.

Assorted Links

  1. The credit hour causes many of higher education’s problems-A report at Inside Higher Education that examines the concept of the credit hour (going back to Andrew Carnegie as a tool to evaluate teacher loads and compensation), and covers a new report that says that the credit hour is disingenuous to student learning, has a disconnect between in-class time and the amount of time spent outside the classroom (which, according to the article, limits innovation in online courses).
  2. Fantasy football costs employers-An article in the Denver Post notes the economic costs to people playing fantasy football at work. Nonetheless, it does not account for the business that fantasy football has become (thus stimulating the economy), or that 22.3 million Americans for one hour a week is dwarfed by other distractions plugged in Americans have at work (some of which are more or less approved of by companies, such as the minutes wasted every time there is a “ding” from an open email client). It is a fun note for the start of the football season, but I guess the point I am getting to is that in the grand scheme of dollars “wasted” by modern distractions, fantasy football isn’t really that substantial.
  3. The Plagiarism Perplex-A blog post at Inside Higher Ed about plagiarism and group work and the blurry lines. The author strikes on one of the big issues (at least to me) in that there is a disconnect between what you learn in school and the grade you earn. The emphasis, more so now than ever it seems, is on the grade rather than the learning. It is a disservice to the students, to the educators, and eventually to society to take this stance, though.
  4. How we Teach Students To Cheat-A blog post in the New York times that discusses the issues with cheating and suggests that we are in a society that encourages getting what we want or think that we need is more important than honesty and integrity. There is also a comment about the divide between being successful and appearing successful, with the latter taking precedence. I generally agree, though it is a bit moralizing. The author also side steps the purpose of education, which I think is the larger issue.
  5. Warrior Remains, 2,000 Years Old, Found in Denmark-I don’t particularly like the title from the piece in the New York Times, but it reports on ancient finds in Denmark from around the time of Augustus that some suggest could have been a battle with Romans. If so, it is an excellent discovery for debating how far north the Romans actually went. More likely, though, it is evidence of warfare between Germanic tribes displaced as a result of Roman expansion.
  6. As always, comments encouraged. What else is out there?