"I do have concerns about women in front-line combat," presidential candidate Rick Santorum recently said. Substitute the word "woman" for any other demographic group -- Jews, African-Americans, Japanese -- and the sentence would be universally considered discriminatory.
But what happens when you utter it as originally quoted? You earn thousands of votes in an election campaign.
Disagree with Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, who champions mandatory health insurance coverage of contraception? Well, then, she's a slut, and a prostitute.
A major political candidate tours the nation criticizing working women and one of his biggest supporters advises women to keep their legs shut to avoid pregnancy.
It's open season on women. The bigots are armed and shooting.
Discrimination against women is nothing new, but the attacks on women have intensified this election season with politicians threatening evisceration of some of our most publicly accepted rights -- the rights of access to contraception and prenatal care. To top it off, public figures like Rush Limbaugh are fanning the flames with verbal harassment and character defamation of those who dare oppose their sexist views.
It's unfathomable that all this is occurring in 2012. How is it possible that a Congressional hearing on contraception would deliberately exclude women from testifying? How can states pass legislation that is tantamount to rape by requiring women seeking abortions to endure medically unnecessary and invasive vaginal ultrasounds?
This is a right-wing surrealist fantasy come true.
It is against this backdrop for Women's History Month that the Ms. Foundation is leading a coalition of 25 women's funds to increase attention to the issues affecting women and girls nationwide. The "Calling All Women: Send a Message of Strength" campaign is raising awareness of the inequality that exists and highlighting the change that local and national women's funds are advancing in communities around the country.
Today -- International Women's Day -- much of our attention is focused overseas. But let's not forget that the term "international" includes the U.S. too. When it comes to gender equality, we in the U.S. are far from being a beacon of light. Women in the U.S. continue to experience inequality. As this video demonstrates, equal opportunity for women in our nation has not yet been fully realized -- not even close. With women still earning only 77 percent of men's pay and disparities in access to health care and education pervasive, we cannot afford to take any steps backward.
The timing of the Calling All Women campaign couldn't be better. Women are mobilizing in droves to put an end to the recent surge of hostility. Sandra Fluke's Twitter followers have increased exponentially at the same time as Rush Limbaugh's radio sponsors have decreased significantly, with many publicly rebuking his offensive comments.
The American public is demonstrating that it is no longer willing to tolerate attacks on our daughters and sisters and mothers and wives. We demand respect and equal opportunity for all people. And we're harnessing our collective power for change. It's now -- when solutions are most urgently needed -- that we're raising awareness of the inequality that exists and working together to make a real difference for women across the country.
Turn your outrage into action! Send the message that discrimination against women is not acceptable. Join the Calling All Women campaign, and help us transform the lives of women, families and communities nationwide.
Here's how you can help:
Follow Anika Rahman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@AnikaRahman_