Often, I celebrate women in leadership – and at a themed mini-conference this week, I had a chance to do so with like-minded global women. I couldn’t help but think that Ms Fluke, as a 30 year old law student, were she a NYC student as we are, could have well been in our midst at the meetings this week. I choose to celebrates a woman speaking up and what that potentially means for women like Ms Fluke everywhere.
This post is not about the meat of the testimony, or the rejection and ridicule by the media personality, although I certainly take issue with the Limbaugh response. In case you have not been following the news this week, she testified to Congress about the necessity of birth control for women, and was greeted with the spiteful backlash of Limbaugh, a popular conservative talk show host, who called her several unprintable names and, by welcome contrast, the support of the Head of State, who personally placed a call to encourage her following these disparaging comments.
Speaking up for one’s beliefs always exposes one to criticism, however, with the polarized debates recently about the right to abortion and birth control funding over the last few weeks, the testimony and the controversial response showed the ugly side of the stormy politics around women and reproductive health in America.
Ms Fluke has the right to her perspective, and indeed many healthcare experts could also testify to the multiple applications of birth control. The radio host also has a right to make his own views known. However, in a genuine debate, shouldn’t we create an allowance for dissent and welcome comments of dissenting others? His wholesale disposal of her comments and his personal attacks on her person using his influential platform surely laid aside any chance of good debate. Certainly, his response was neither dignified nor warranted. Women should learn from this week, and understand the media and politics behind expressing one’s opinion especially as we engage fully in the public domain.
As we walk towards the March 8th – International Women’s Day – it seems especially apt to include some thoughts on leadership we can take from Ms Fluke.
1) Your voice is powerful – Many women wait to be asked to speak, and then we speak. When we do speak, many of us have gentle opinions, rarely polemic and rather timidly expressed. By the time some women find their voice, and use it to defend their health choices or to propose a course of action, it is the final round where they have been pushed beyond politeness, and prodded to persuade others what ought to happen. Ms Fluke, your participation at a relatively young age made headlines and somewhere, there is a young girl following the news who is cementing her plans to address the classroom and speak up for herself, and perhaps one day run for a local or national office. Thank you for stepping into the limelight, and encouraging that kind of expression.
2) You are forging a path – Women who speak up literally are digging a path through a frozen-over walkway, heavy with iced over soil, jagged shards of snow and upsetting the balance of conversation. Or so it seems from those who try to shout you down, cut you off or dismiss your participation as unnecessary and quite enough.Those who have followed women’s political aspirations around the world, especially in countries with low numbers of incumbent elected women, can attest to the difficulty of addressing heckling mobs, standing up to fellow candidates personal attacks and getting their policies out into the media. In this country, one can find forums to address the public, yet not nearly enough women do so, or want to start.
3) You never walk alone – Ms Fluke has shown women, particularly under 30 – a fresh example of do-ing, rather than waiting for things to happen. This week, I learned from young women from all over the world preparing to travel to lead corporations, start nonprofits, become journalists, practice medicine, pioneer new education initiatives, and revolutionize international relations. Women under 30 and over 30 at every level are surveying the tracks already laid out for leadership, they are taking over the mantle from previous generations and they are creating new ways to make women’s voices heard. For every one woman like Ms Fluke, there are thousands in the wings who are going to make their voices heard in the elections coming this year across the world. I hope she and they know that they do not walk alone.
Oh, and “Hinamatsuri” (Girls’ Day) today to all the girls in Japan and all around the world!
As of the time of this posting the NYT reports:
March 3, 2012, 11:26 PM
As Brian Stelter reports on The Caucus blog: In an about-face, the conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh said Saturday that he was sorry for denouncing as a “prostitute” aGeorgetown University law student who had spoken publicly in favor of the Obama administration’s birth control policy.
On Saturday, a day after President Obama telephoned the student, Sandra Fluke, to say he stood by her in the face of personal attacks on right-wing radio, Mr. Limbaugh published the apology on his Web site.