I’ve spent a long time trying to come up with a way to talk about Sandra Fluke’s speech at the DNC on Wednesday. The first thing reaction I read to her speech, before I had even heard it myself, was this Tweet by Ann Coulter. A slideshow assembled by the Huffington Post showcases equally vitriolic comments about Fluke, hammering home on her entitlement, her self-pity, and her alleged promiscuity — and there are plenty more to be found.
I was not surprised. Actually, really no one was surprised, perhaps least of all Democrats. But what did catch me off guard were comments made by conservatives to the effect that Sandra Fluke was, to quote one Tweet, a #GoodPuppet — that she expects other people (read: Democrats or Obama or both) to stand up for her, because she is not powerful enough to stand up for herself.
On Wednesday, Fluke told the audience at the DNC that if Romney was elected, “your new president could be a man who stands by when a public figure tries to silence a private citizen with hateful slurs. Who won't stand up to the slurs, or to any of the extreme, bigoted voices in his own party.”
Reacting to the speech, Charlotte Hays, a blogger at the Independent Women’s Forum wrote, “Yeah, it was pretty horrible that Mitt Romney didn’t drop everything and devote every waking minute to defending Ms. Fluke when radio host Rush Limbaugh made some unfortunate remarks about her. How shameful that the country just kept going, when Sandra needed comforting from big, strong men.”
“Glad Nikki Haley can take the heat and is more capable of defending herself!” Hays added.
Calling Fluke a puppet, or insinuating she was weak, couldn't defend herself, or needed protection as Hays and others did, made no sense to me. It is far from weak to call someone out on inappropriate comments. It is far from weak to demand that our politicians denounce these comments. It is weak to resort to tired sexist tropes to try to tear down the ideas of your opponents, especially when you yourself have been the victim of similar verbal assaults.
Beyond Limbaugh’s initial insults, Fluke has endured a non-stop barrage of insulting comments after becoming a public figure; her new national prominence is only likely to increase them. “Looking at my Twitter feed is like looking into the black hole of the earth, or something. It’s really ugly stuff,” Fluke told the Huffington Post.
As Feministing editor Chloe Angyal told me, "The idea that she's helpless to me is just amazing. She lived through all that crap, and still finished law school."
“The right casting her as a puppet for Obama fits perfectly in a worldview in which women are weak, malleable, and easily manipulated,” observed Angyal. “They can’t conceive of a woman standing up to demand access to health care because that’s what she truly wants and believes in.”
It should be noted that the phenomenon of being called a puppet, or otherwise assailed by sexist commentary for being vocal is not reserved only for liberal women — conservative women receive the same treatment. Take, for instance, Dana Loesch, an editor at Breitbart and a conservative radio host, who received a Tweet during the DNC telling her to “put a big fat d*ck in her mouth & shut the f*ck up kthxbi.” (Fun fact: in the wake of the DNC, Loesch has challenged Fluke to a debate on women’s issues.) Michelle Malkin has written about what she calls the “four stages of conservative female abuse.”
But at least according to Ann Coulter, conservative and liberal women have different reactions to these kinds of gendered insults and threats “We’re not pussies like them. We don’t care what names we’re called. We all stop whining and weeping and ‘Oh he called me a name.’”
Michelle Malkin agrees.
“I’m sorry the civility police now have an opening to demonize the entire right based on one radio comment — because it’s the progressive left in this country that has viciously and systematically slimed female conservatives for their beliefs. We have the well-worn battle scars to prove it. And no, we don’t need coddling phone calls from the pandering president of the United States to convince us to stand up and fight.”
Sandra Fluke didn’t need convincing to stand up and fight, or she wouldn’t have showed up at the Issa trials in the first place. She defended herself against Rush Limbaugh. She continues to defend herself by speaking up about the inappropriate comments that are leveled against her. She continues to advocate for the causes she believes in. Having the support of allies like Barack Obama in no way undermines her power or her credibility; it is sexist to suggest that it does.
Demanding that public figures stop making inappropriate, sexist comments about women is far from weak —it should be a demand made across the board. Conservative and liberal women should be able to speak their mind. Moreover, they should be able to disagree without resorting to offensive and tasteless verbal abuse.
If you want to critique a woman’s politics, critique away. Just don’t think that calling her a puppet or a slut is critique.