The Takeaway: To inaugurate MurnPost’s “Voices of Baby Boomers” section, Rosalie Hudnut Wright writes about the “disconnect” in our Presidential primary campaign between women’s well-being and social and economic sustainability. Recent rhetoric on birth control provides a cynical example of our impoverished politics, and reinforces power imbalances affecting the sexual and reproductive lives of women—which can lead to deepened inequality and even violence.
The other day I became aware of dangerous disconnects that seem to characterize the state of our contemporary politics these days, a reminder of how untrustworthy are those claiming to serve the public interest at a time when economic and environmental problems dwarf all others. I was watching Foster Friess, a major financial supporter of Republican Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, say during an interview on MSNBC that in the good old days, a gal’s best and only necessary form of contraception was an aspirin held tightly between her legs.
The interviewer, Andrea Mitchell, experienced such a profound disconnect that she had to change the subject. Mr. Friess’s disconnect from women’s reality was painfully obvious—as was the conversation from what really matters these days.
The next day on CBS Morning News a furious Santorum slammed co-host Charlie Rose and the media for asking him for his thoughts on the matter. Santorum said that Freiss’s remarks were a “bad off-color joke” and that he, Rose, was practicing “gotcha” journalism for bringing it up because it had nothing to do with him or his campaign—another smiling disconnect. I thought, That’s like saying I take this man’s money, but I have no responsibility for his speech or actions. I want to be President, but I will take no responsibility for the blunders of my administration.
Friess later apologized for the “joke,” stating that “many didn’t recognize it as a joke but thought it was my prescription for today’s birth control practices.”
Sitting in my tiny living room above Main Street, I, too, intended to disconnect, remaining calm and detached from these comments, but instead I felt numb and then nauseous.
I wanted to believe that my consideration of whom to support for President in 2012 was above so-called “social” or “wedge issue” politics. But I failed. I thought, Maybe the fundamentalists are right after all. It’s ALL about social issue politics.
Before coming to my senses, the last thought that passed through my mind was a violent one involving a gun.
Power Politics, Social Inequality, and Violence
The image of a rifle was connected to a memory: the Eve Ensler and University of Michigan student performance of The Vagina Monologues at Ann Arbor’s Power Center for the Performing Arts a few years ago. I silently sobbed in the dark – and couldn’t seem to stop – at the words describing one woman’s story: “Vagina songs, vagina home songs. Not since the soldiers put a long, thick rifle inside me. So cold, the steel rod canceling my heart. Don’t know whether they’re gonna fire it or shove it through my spinning brain.”
Sitting years later, at age 65 in front of my computer and watching the smiling faces that accompanied the Foster Friess / Rick Santorum comments, I realize I am long past the need for contraception. I thought, Why didn’t she just keep her thighs together? I was crying again, outraged at the presumption of these men.
I know. I know.
Perhaps it’s a long way from a man telling me to keep my knees together to thwart his advances, to some guy raping a young woman with a rifle – but maybe not.
Violence against the Other begins with the certainty that you have the right and the power and the means, and the Other doesn’t. It’s an abdication of personal responsibility. It’s a dangerous disconnect from reality.
Who is this Foster Friess to dare to tell a woman how to defend her body against unwanted pregnancy? (I would have nominated him for sainthood if he had suggested that the best contraceptive was a man keeping his pants up and zipped).
And who was that soldier who destroyed that young woman’s vagina just because he could?
Both men started with the same thought: I have the right to do what I want to a woman. I am not responsible for the consequences to her.
The Politics of Disconnect and Low Expectations
Santorum likes to point out, with great gusto, his political record on contraceptives when, years ago, he voted for Title X, the Family Planning program that supports groups like Planned Parenthood. Nowadays he expresses his “personal” view that contraception “harms women”—that it promotes promiscuity and breaks down the nation’s moral fiber.
I’m quite sure I don’t want a President whose personal views on something as important to me as women’s reproductive health are in direct conflict with how he chooses to use his public influence in government. Santorum suggests his support for Title X was the “public” Santorum six years ago, and that this is the “personal” Santorum today. He has no problem with that.
Moreover, Santorum says that pregnancy resulting from rape is no excuse for next-day contraception or abortion. (Lucky for that young woman in The Vagina Monologues that it was just a rifle. disappointing for those folks who might prefer a penis, so that at least a baby could have been brought into this world).
There I go again.
I have nothing against babies. But I am for women, and their choice to be mothers when they are ready to be mothers, or not to be mothers, ever.
I will not go into the obvious sound economic justifications for women exercising their right under law to full reproductive health services. Every child, a wanted child is a pillar of a healthy society—spiritually, psychologically, socially, and economically.
I just want to acknowledge the danger of the disconnect from reality that men AND women experience when they deny women the right and necessity of controlling their own sexual and reproductive lives. It’s an insidious form of power politics, bordering on violence, that has no place in modern life, and distracts us from the real work we need to do to build a better, more sustainable, prosperous, and just world.
Rosalie Hudnut Wright grew up in Lansing, Michigan and now lives in Michigan. As a teen, Rosie was a honors student, a student leader, and active in the Greater Lansing Youth Council. A longtime tennis enthusiast and now retired baby boomer, she taught high school students for 16 years, secretarial skills to women for 4 years, and continues to enjoy customer service work. She spent a couple of years in Latin America and speaks Spanish well. Rosie’s the proud mother of two good human beings. She was invited to offer her thoughts from time to time on social sustainability, particularly in regard to social justice issues. Rosie has a Masters in educational counseling from the University of Michigan and an undergraduate degree in Spanish from Hope College in Holland, Michigan.