While the Republican War on Women continues to try to turn back the clock on women's rights by threatening to stop funding Planned Parenthood, supporting the Blunt Amendment, and attempting to enforce Trans Vaginal Ultrasounds on pregnant women, just to name a few, one can't help but wonder why we are the only minority group that is repeatedly targeted by others without fear of their losing their jobs, or of having their reputations ruined. Rather, some political candidates are actually adopting these prejudicial pledges as platforms to become our next President. So, why the continual backlash? The answer is quite simple, really. Women represent the only minority group that doesn't include any men as its members.
Think about it. Every other group classified as a minority in the U.S. -- African American, Hispanic, Asian, Jewish, homosexual, etc. -- includes men, and men hold the majority of power over women in this paternalistic society. That is why one can be branded a sexist without serious repercussions. For example, when Hillary Clinton was campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination four years ago, a man at a rally yelled out at her, 'Iron my shirts,' resulting in little denouncement from the mainstream media. Imagine if that same man yelled out to then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, 'Shine my shoes.' The media uproar would have been deafening, as well it should. But while a person verbalizing derogatory and inflammatory remarks against minority groups that include men would negatively brand them as everything from being a racist, to an anti-Semite, to a homophobe, etc., doing the same against women is often ignored, and even excused.
But instead of placing all, or even most, of the responsibility for sexism on men, women must bear the brunt of the blame as well. In taking a quote from the pre-eminent political leader Mahatma Ghandi, 'Nobody can hurt me without my permission,' women have allowed themselves to be spun into secondary status for far too long -- until, that is, today. Exerting our 'We're not going to take it anymore' attitude by admonishing Rush Limbaugh's recent sexist remarks aimed at Sandra Fluke, many of his supporters argued in defense of the right of Freedom of Speech protected under the First Amendment. But women refused to allow their own speech to be silenced this time, instead voicing their outrage over the telephone, on their keyboards, and through the airwaves petitioning companies to withdraw their advertising support of Limbaugh's show. And guess what... it worked.
As an increasing number of advertisers banded together to admonish Limbaugh's sexist remarks, women discovered a very basic truth, yet one that could have been found all along by simply turning to a page in the Dictionary. The word 'minority,' which has become synonymous with women's status, is not really what we are at all. Defined in Dictionary.com as: '1. A number, part, or amount forming less than half of the whole; 2. A smaller party or group opposed to a majority, as in voting or other action. 3. A group differing, especially in race, religion, or ethnic background, from the majority of a population,' women are clearly none of the above, since our population outnumbers men in this country, as well as throughout the world.
Finally, today, women are taking ownership of the fact that there is strength in numbers, and not only on our own soil, but throughout the world. In 2011, for example, Leymah Gbowee of Liberia was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for leading a women's peace movement that brought an end to the second Liberian civil war, which had lasted for 14 years. Further, just since the start of this year, female activists have spurred the following advances: Moroccans stepped up pressure to scrap laws that allow rapists to marry their victims after a 16-year-old rape victim committed suicide; hundreds of people marched around the Georgia capital protesting two pieces of legislation that threaten women's health; and as another backlash to Rush's infamous 'slut' insult, a public service campaign and web site has been launched entitled "Sluts Unite," which includes a social media drive to promote "healthy nookie."
But all of the above should only serve as a foundation upon which women must continue to build. While we are beginning to reflect our strength in numbers, it is important to remember that, as Mahatma Gandhi was also quoted as saying, 'Strength does not come from physical capacity, (but) from an indomitable will." And women have always had that, even when we still considered ourselves a minority.
Lori Sokol, Ph.D., is the founder and published of Work Life Matters magazine. She will be traveling to Ethiopia in May, 2012 to produce her first documentary on women's strength and empowerment.
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