Last weekend, Representative Walsh said he was "offended" by me, a "life-time student," and that he wanted me to stop acting "entitled" and "get a job." He explained that it wasn't my fault because my generation has been raised this way and doesn't know how to take care of ourselves.
Over the last seven months, I hope I've made it clear that I won't let personal attacks (or lies about my professional history) stop me from fighting for the policies I believe in. But I also won't stand by when a U.S. Representative blatantly misrepresents a policy that benefits struggling women in this country, or when he disparages my generation.
I testified before members of Congress not because "I wanted the American people to pay for my contraception," but because I wanted the private insurance that women pay for themselves to cover the contraception they need. I was there to tell, not my own, but the story of a close friend who, despite paying her deductible, lost an ovary when she was unable to afford the contraception her insurance failed to cover, but that she needed to treat her polycystic ovarian syndrome.
My friend was not alone. Hart Research Associates found that 55% of young women ages 18-34 report having had difficulty affording the contraception they need to treat medical conditions or to prevent unintended pregnancies. That's no surprise when you realize that for some women contraception can cost as much as $960 per year ($1,210 with the doctor's appointment), according to the Center for American Progress.
But what if I had been there to ask that the government help fund contraception? Federal programs like Title X exist to guarantee the poorest women in our communities affordable access to birth control. Those programs are under attack in Congress and by Gov. Romney, but they're good public policy. They ensure that all American women can control the timing of when they start a family, not just more privileged women. That allows women to set the course of their lives, pursuing their educational dreams and career goals, and allowing the rest of us to benefit from all that they accomplish. Not only do those policies help us create a more equitable society, they prevent unintended pregnancies that can add to the strain on our society's safety nets.
Rep. Walsh and many conservative voices would reduce that sound public policy to evidence of my generation's "entitlement," our reliance on "government [to] take care of [us]."
But my generation doesn't deserve to be labeled 'The Entitlement Generation.' We've supported Title X and fought for the Affordable Care Act's contraception policy, not necessarily because we believe we are automatically entitled to them, but because our vision for the future doesn't leave our fellow citizens behind. We've stood against Representative Ryan's budget attacks on Pell Grants, food stamps, housing assistance and Medicaid because we believe in a future in which we come together as a society to help those who are struggling financially, not one in which we tell them that they're on their own. This isn't about not knowing how to take care of ourselves -- it's about knowing we should take care of each other.
Yet, we're not entirely altruistic either. By fighting to protect our nation's social safety net, we ensure that all members of society have a chance to contribute, producing a diversity of ideas that benefits society as a whole. We've seen that affordable access to contraception allows women to contribute their talents to our companies, and the same is true of the host of economic supports under attack. Without President Obama's investment in Pell Grants, over three million additional students (nearly ten million total) might not have been able to afford to attend college last year. The majority of Pell Grant recipients are students of color from economically depressed backgrounds, so we know exactly which perspectives and voices the rest of us would be deprived of.
So we agree that "we've got Americans who are struggling." Our question is why so many elected officials have only one answer for them: cutting their safety net while telling them to "go get a job." My generation is looking for better answers than that.
Sandra Fluke is an activist for women and women's health and a recent graduate of the Georgetown Law Center.