Women as Wallpaper


The brouhaha, the flap, over Rush Limbaugh’s latest demented diatribe is nothing more than half a century of Republican outrage that women might be as smart and capable as men.  If they are that smart, the male-dominated world—the patriarchal domain of the past—is utterly destroyed by the fact of equality between men and women.  And nothing renders that equality more visibly than the issue of by women’s reproductive rights—not their education.

I’m old enough to remember when contraceptive pills first became available in the early 1960s and the deadlock that immediately resulted: women felt liberated, men (especially white men, who still had all the power) felt threatened.  Give women access to the pill and they’ll become promiscuous—sluts, prostitutes.  Arguably, then, Limbaugh’s thinking hasn’t advanced in more than half a century.  Ditto for too many of his conservative supporters.

In the academy, white males were immediately threatened by the side-effects of the pill: the rise of feminism as discourse.  The result?  The same vile and disgusting attacks on women, fanned by homophobia.  Feminists were unattractive lesbians.  Watch out or they’ll take over America’s institutions of higher education and corrupt our children.

Well, to a certain extent, women did reach parity with men in many academic disciplines beginning in the 1970s, as they began to earn Ph.D.s in numbers equal to their male counterpoints.  And, then—horror!—these women with Ph.D.s were hired by universities and eventually received tenure.  An illustrative outcome: Sonia Sotomayer or and Ellen Kagan eventually rising to the ultimate seats of power: Supreme Court justices.

For a time during the first decade of this century, in both my undergraduate and graduate courses in literature, there were more female students enrolled than men.  That ratio has begun to turn around again, but the result has clearly been an American population with many more educated women then men.

The result?  Men who can’t think.  The neo-conservative backlash against women, most visibly demonstrated in the current Republican campaign for the President, the vile legislation against women’s reproductive rights by several state legislatures, and—during the past week—the darling of the right’s attack on Sandra Fluke, which is no fluke at all.

It isn’t even Limbaugh’s attack on Ms. Fluke that is the most emblematic example of current Conservative thinking.  Rather, it is the Congressional panel’s decision—composed exclusively of men—not to permit her testimony. Here we are with men (a phallocentric kangaroo court), once again, arbitrarily empowering themselves to make decisions about women’s reproductive rights.  It’s medieval, but that, of course, is precisely what I am arguing.

Why are we surprised that three of the remaining Republican candidates have been so wimpish in their response to Limbaugh’s attacks on Ms. Fluke?  Look at their lives.  Gingrich, the failed academic and serial adulterer, his current wife beaming at her man in silence, her own voice stifled; Romney, the Mormon breeder, also with a smiling and mostly silent spouse; Santorum, the Catholic stud and father of so many children that he’s had to open his own school at home to protect these children from any exposure to liberal ideas.  What’s he going to propose next?  Home colleging?

This past Sunday (March 4), Larry Flint, of Hustler fame, ran a full-page advertisement in The Washington Post, offering to pay $1 million to anyone supplying “information about infidelity, sexual impropriety or corruption concerning a current United States senator, congressperson or prominent government official.”  Perhaps Flint should widen his net and offer that million dollars to anyone who can provide evidence that any of the current and/or past spouses of the Republican candidates have ever used birth control or had an abortion.  For good measure, include Limbaugh’s four wives.

Where is Larry Flint when we most need him?

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C.  Email: clarson@american.edu.




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