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.