“Au revoir, Mademoiselle.”
Pardon my French, but that’s not me talking. That’s me paraphrasing two men from a legion of men talking — some combusting — about women’s issues in recent weeks.
In February, France Prime Minister Francois Fillon declared his government was “no longer interested in the marital status of women” and ordered the removal of all such intrusive classifications– including “mademoiselle”– from official documents.
Hats off to the Frenchman!
Meanwhile, back in the states, talk radio’s Rush Limbaugh went on a three-hour barkfest of streaming trash talk about a young woman who dared to speak on the importance of affordable birth control for women.
In case you missed it, an all-male Congressional panel of clergy gathered in February to present testimony on women’s birth control under the narrow scope of, not medical science, but centuries-old religious doctrines.
“Where are the women?” demanded minority Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York.
In response, the committee chairman, having refused to seat the Democrats’ witness — a female law student — angrily argued that she was not a member of the clergy. One wonders who’s better equipped to testify to women’s reproductive issues — a 30-year-old woman who spent five years working for a nonprofit aiding victims of domestic violence or men who have their noses in scripture?
So, last Tuesday, House Democrats held their own “unofficial” hearing allowing the woman to testify to the importance of affordable and accessible contraception for woman.
On Wednesday, on the eve of International Women’s Day, unable to contain combustible gases created when “pontification” outweighs body mass, the talk-show host erupted in obscenities about the college coed, rationalizing that she must be a “slut “and a “prostitute” and demanded she post videos of her “sexual prowess” online so that he get his money back for evidently paying for her birth control.
These were not just “controversial comments.” This was English at its worst. This was abusive language, what Ms. Fluke described correctly as, “historically, the kind of language used to silence women.”
By the time International Women’s Day arrived on Thursday, it seemed as if French and American women had woken up in parallel universes: each other’s.
But, this isn’t a parallel universe. We just weren’t paying attention when the latest assault on women’s reproductive rights began full-steam as the 2010 elections swept Republicans into office and leadership roles.
Since then, over 1100 pieces of legislation have been introduced across 50 states aimed at blocking women’s access to affordable healthcare that might be related to contraception, and in many cases, not at all.
Some lawmakers believe women’s “private parts” must be policed and monitored, by such draconian methods as mandatory trans-vaginal exams by what the latest Doonesbury series aptly calls the “10-inch shaming wand.”
Some states now allow a licensed pharmacist to refuse dispensing contraception. Never mind that some 25,000 women in the U.S. become pregnant each year as a result of sexual assault.
Some states allow physicians to withhold medical information from female patients, protecting the high-minded physician from legal repercussions.
After centuries of blatant sexism, the French finally decided it’s time to treat their women with respect.
It’s a strange day when the nation that brought us the word “chauvinism,” Dominique Strauss-Kahn and generations of pinching, groping and pervasive sexual harassment, takes a gallant step into modern times, while here at home, a crop of mostly men take it upon themselves to herd women back into the Dark Ages.
Ever so smug in our assumed equality to men with our noncommittal “Ms” having deposed “Miss” and “Mrs” decades ago, we American women wondered what took the French so long.
Was the battle of the sexes lost in translation? When your language is bathed in romanticism, it might be hard to tell when you’re being insulted and when you are being wooed.
When a Frenchman breaks up with you, so disarming is the bouquet of his patois, that “Ce n’est pas vous, c’est moi,” may sound like a marriage proposal, when, in fact, it’s just that old go-to phrase of many a cad:
“It’s not you; it’s me.”
”With our stiff, Germanic language, there’s no tongue-curling accent, no flowery words that could be mistaken for a dozen roses. When Berger broke up with Carrie on a “Post-it Note,” Sex and the City fans fumed along with Ms. Bradshaw. But, secretly? We filed the sticky note under “sensible and safe methods of ending a relationship.”
A broken romance, we discovered, wouldn’t break us. Men calling us names couldn’t silence us. But, a handful of men changing our laws to keep us in check? That’s alarming.
Auvoir, Mademoiselle. Maybe, you weren’t so bad, after all.