Sexist Bullying: What’s Behind the “War on Women?”

Women are being attacked for their accomplishments, which only shows we've got more work to do

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Left; Charles Dharapak / AP: George Gojkovich / Getty Images

Left; Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in Washington, Tuesday, March 6, 2012. Right; Radio talk show host and political commentator Rush Limbaugh looks on from the sideline before a National Football League game between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on November 6, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Perhaps Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum have done women a favor. We now have a clear picture of what we’re up against. We have full access to the perverted (and I use the word advisedly) logic of the radio head; only the sick-minded can continue to take Limbaugh seriously. And, during the reality TV series that is the Republican primary, a presidential contender’s vision for the future of women is clear: they should stay home, and, when not pressing aspirin between their knees, they should be pressing tea party science (which is to say, fable) into their children’s brains.

Limbaugh in particular seems obsessed with women who don’t know their places. His latest attack is on journalist Tracie McMillan, who went undercover to work on a farm, at Wal-Mart, and at Applebee’s, and wrote a book called The American Way of Eating. “What is with all of these young, single white women? Overeducated doesn’t mean intelligent,” spewed The Perv.  McMillan has a BA, but that makes her overeducated compared to Limbaugh, who dropped out of college after two semesters (“he flunked everything,” according to his mother.) Such is the stuff that makes a man a leader. Limbaugh probably shares Santorum’s view that a college education is elitist and unnecessary; women certainly don’t need it. And then there’s Limbaugh’s fascination with their marital status…best not to go there. Limbaugh’s contempt for women is astonishing—but even more stunning is that there is any company left to support his show with their advertising.

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Those of us who became teenaged feminists in the seventies are experiencing a sickened sense of déjà vu. We fought all those gender equality battles, but are wondering if we now find ourselves all the way back at the same front lines. Have we stalled out? Not entirely.

More women have joined the workplace. But women still earn less than men—80.2 cents for every male dollar, an improvement over the old 62.3 cents in 1979. Women are still going into lower-paying fields.

Women represent just 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs, and less than 15% of corporate executives at top companies worldwide.

Post MBA men start their careers at higher levels than do women—and the women never catch up. Those “first jobs set the stage for all the inequities that follow,” according to a devastating report published in the Harvard Business Review last year.

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Revolutions proceed in fits and starts. All the data coming in simply tells us that we’ve got much more work to do. But it should give us hope, as well. We are making our own choices. And the needle on our accomplishments has moved. Perhaps that’s why the attacks on women are coming on so strong.

What once seemed impossible—a woman POTUS?—is now probable. Feminism hasn’t been a galvanizing force on college campuses, but perhaps it will again become one, given the overheated anti-woman rhetoric we’ve been hearing lately. It is all a matter of time. Younger women will have to decide how much urgency they feel about their futures. In the meantime, we can think of a few places for certain men to balance aspirin, while they sit in time out and contemplate their bullying behavior.

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