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Amy Siskind

Amy Siskind

Posted: June 23, 2009 02:39 PM

As We Exhale, How We Reached the "Letterman Limit"


Timing is everything. Throughout his illustrious career, David Letterman had a knack for timing the delivery of his words. Unfortunately for Letterman, his timing with the national psyche was not so fortuitous. Had he delivered those same jokes a year ago, the words would have simply vaporized into the air with roars of laughter at The Ed Sullivan Theater. Yet in June 2009, these same words will forever stain his legacy. For unbeknownst to Letterman and his "boy's club" of writers, our country was about to draw a line in the sand -- the "Letterman Limit."

The Letterman Limit is about crossing a threshold. By insulting, belittling, objectifying and jeopardizing our daughters, Letterman gave the final poke to our country's sexism slumber. And with the awakening of many, our country is embarking on a new way forward. And with this new way forward, the landscape has been forever altered.

Letterman, sadly, is the casualty of the new way forward. Sadly because before we reached the Letterman Limit, he would hardly be considered among the serial sexism offenders. Letterman's undoing came with the carefully penned words of his boy's club of writers. With the utterance of the writers' pre-scripted words, on two separate nights, Letterman began to descend in flames back down to earth. Who could imagine that his descent would unleash the tsunami of the Next Wave of "Feminism"?

While Letterman is descending, Governor Sarah Palin is seeing her star rise. Some may disagree with Governor Palin on political issues; but few will disagree that Palin is a gifted politician. And whether she had sensed the cultural shift underway, or just had incredible timing, the Letterman Limit has catapulted Palin to a new level. She somehow understood that the people of this country would have her back if she went to battle. When she spoke out to defend her daughters, millions of mothers and fathers heard their own voices.

At The New Agenda -- an organization considered by many to be the Next Wave of "feminism" -- we've been taking stock of how far the country has moved forward as we reach the Letterman Limit. Letterman's jokes would barely have registered on the "sexism richter scale" that Governor Palin and her family endured in 2008. Last fall, as a new non-partisan organization,The New Agenda spoke out, most often alone, for Governor Palin. We stood up for Palin while she or her likeness were hung in effigy, knocked unconscious, called the c-word and raped in words; and when the media questioned Palin's abilities as a mother, and launched endless attacks on her children. Back then, it would have been politically unwise for Palin to speak out. Back then, these same types of attacks were also routinely launched at Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Cindy McCain and Nancy Pelosi. Back then, this level of misogyny, sexism and double-standards were accepted practices in our culture.

But after the 2008 misogyny-fest, our culture started to shift. This cultural shift was hardly sudden nor unexpected. Many in our media speculated that a new movement was about to be born. And it was. But unlike rising stars and falling meteors, cultural shifts never occur at warp speed. Changes in our culture take root, spread slowly and grow sight unseen until something causes the roots to break through the surface.

And what caused the breakthrough was the collective outrage at these words. Our protective instincts for our daughters and granddaughters. They need our help. They are facing a crisis of being treated as sexual objects and we can no longer remain silent. Women and men from different political parties, religions, races and sexual orientations were able to join hands, unite and take collective action. Alliances were being formed all over the blogosphere.

Perhaps the most important take-away from the Letterman Limit is that the American people are no longer willing to remain silent: the Next Wave is upon us. The Next Wave is about unity and collective action and speaking out against all sexism -- be it targeted at women and girls of the right, left or center. This time the action is not on the streets where our media can conveniently film it and show it on the 5 o'clock news, which likely explains why many have such a limited understanding of the Next Wave and its impact. The Next Wave will be fought on the blogosphere with tens of thousands of protest emails and countless phone calls. Suffice it to say that major Letterman sponsors have dropped out. And Letterman apologized not once, but twice -- the second time with a message for all young women. And an entertainment executive took out a 2 page ad in the Hollywood Reporter to announce to Hollywood that Sexism Against Conservative Women is Still Sexism. The Next Wave revolution is officially underway.

We made good use of this teachable moment. Let's be ready for the next one and not wait to talk to our girls, support and protect them.

And advice to those in the national media who have become accustomed to incorporating sexism and misogyny in their daily routine -- you might want to consider finding a new line of work. Our county has officially reached the Letterman Limit!