(/sites/default/files/uploads/2012/03/139599644.jpg.CROP_.rectangle3-large.jpg)By now, you are no doubt familiar with the tearful tale of Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University Law School student who gained national attention and iconic feminist status last week for publicly protesting the fact that her school’s heath insurance policy does not cover her contraception. Firmly grasping the mantle of victimhood, Fluke lamented that “forty percent” of female students at Georgetown Law “struggl[ed] financially as a result of this policy.”
Fluke’s complaint earned her deserved mockery, most prominently from radio host Rush Limbaugh, who riffed that she was essentially asking to be paid for having sex, behavior that he likened to a “slut” and a “prostitute.” That in turn triggered howls of exaggerated outrage from feminists and the left, most prominently President Obama, who personally called Fluke to offer his support and to say that her parents should be proud of her.
It’s worth noting that Limbaugh’s comments were intended to be humorous, even if they came off more crass than comical. One needn’t credit the left’s labored claim that he was slandering an innocent private citizen – Fluke had willingly inserted herself into the public square to support the Obama administration’s new rule requiring employers to offer health plans that include birth control coverage – but it’s only fair to acknowledge, as Limbaugh himself did with a subsequent apology, that the remarks were out of line.
Yet it’s equally fair to point out that Fluke is hardly the model public-spirited citizen that President Obama suggests, nor is she the feminist hero that some on the left have anointed her. In many ways, indeed, Sandra Fluke exemplifies much of what is wrong with the modern feminist movement.
Start with her complaint that contraception is driving female law students into dire financial straits. “Without insurance coverage, contraception, as you know, can cost a woman over $3,000 during law school,” Fluke has said. Even discounting the obvious point that there are surely cheaper ways to obtain birth control – including but not limited to limiting one’s sexual activity – it’s hard to sympathize with this grievance. In another instance, she has sorrowfully recounted how one woman she knew felt “powerless” at a pharmacy counter when informed that contraceptives weren’t covered by the school’s health care plan. No doubt that was an unpleasant moment, but it trivializes female empowerment to an absurd degree to suggest that the woman’s experience is worthy of either public attention or private subsidy.
It’s true, of course, that law school imposes steep financial burdens on students, but primary among these is the exorbitant cost of attendance – $46,000 a year in tuition alone at Georgetown Law. Compounded over three years, that is a significant financial hardship. But of course it was Fluke herself who made the choice to attend such an expensive and elite school law school, rather than, say, accepting a scholarship from a less prestigious institution. Considering that she did make that choice, it takes a special kind of chutzpah for her to now demand that someone else has to pay for her contraceptive needs. Yet it is all too typical of a widespread entitlement mentality that demands financial protection – a bailout, as it were – from the costs of voluntarily made decisions. Special pleading for contraception coverage is not only a singularly poor example of public spiritedness and an affront to responsible citizenship, but it is selfish in the extreme.
The entitlement mentality is evident on another level, as well. For the left, contraception itself is a special female entitlement, and entitlements come without price tags. Notwithstanding the left’s claim that this debate is about women’s “health” and “reproductive freedom,” the real objective is free contraception for all women, at public expense, which is what ObamaCare has essentially achieved.
This was the purpose of Fluke’s initial testimony, which had very little to do with the actual cost of birth control, as is painfully evident by the exorbitant costs she cites. (There are, in fact, several taxpayer-funded Planned Parenthoods in D.C. if Fluke and her peers would ever deign visit one.) These histrionics are necessary, however, in order to frighten the public and to demonize Republicans working against the effort to force religious objectors to pay for contraceptives. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Fluke was compelled to testify not because of financial hardship, but because she views herself as an activist for female empowerment. In a generation of normalized promiscuity and disdain toward marriage, contraception and female empowerment are billed as one and the same.
Last week’s congressional hearing bespeaks the failure of this brand of feminism framing the 21st century. The great lengths the Democratic establishment has gone to champion universal, on-demand contraception as the feminist battle of our time reveals the centrality it enjoys in feminist dogma today. But while Fluke and Nancy Pelosi crusade for the right of every college co-ed to have free contraceptives, they give scant thought to the morally questionable and deeply sexist culture the widespread popularization of contraception has facilitated.
This is not to say that contraception itself is immoral, but there can be little doubt that it has had negative social consequences for women, about which the feminists leading the charge for “free” contraception care very little. There is nothing obviously “feminist” about living in a world in which men can have depersonalized sex with numberless women because they’re all on birth control. Nor is it a tribute to feminism that many women are enthusiastic partners in this culture of debasement.
So let us stop pretending, as Fluke and others do, that the quest for free birth control is a crusade for women’s “health.” Reasonable people can disagree on the merits of the pill in society, but a panacea for misogyny it is not. In many ways, it has engendered a culture that has less regard for women’s rights and sexuality.
Once upon a time, female empowerment meant the right to vote, to seek employment and distinction in a male-dominated world. In its corrupted modern version, it means having someone else pick the tab for one’s sexual indulgences. By this measure, Sandra Fluke is indeed a feminist hero. That is feminism’s shame, not Rush Limbaugh’s.
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