Please, Enough With Sandra Fluke Already

Sandra Fluke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention (AP Photo, September 5, 2012)

A couple of days ago Sandra Fluke spoke in primetime at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. I made a point of not watching the Fluke in action. I admit it, I’m tired of seeing and hearing about her and from her.

I’ve taken to calling Fluke ‘Mary Magdalene‘ America’s latest reincarnation of special womanhood. She can do no wrong – she must be defended 24 hours of day, 7 days a week and 365 days of the year.

Yet, there is something strangely patronizing about the Fluke bandwagon. She’s treated like a young girl who requires knights (male and female) to protect her from the mean, bad men. Seriously, this woman is over 30 years and just graduated with a Georgetown University law degree! I’m sure that she is able to defend herself without her unofficial squires running to her assistance.

Fluke’s  infamous, remote dust-up via talk radio with that idiot RushLimbaugh (he called her a ‘slut’) galvanized American women in regards to their healthcare and the upcoming presidential election, which was a boon for the Democratic Party. Probably one of the few times a woman being called a “slut” is/was a good thing.

Margaret Sanger, Founder of Planned Parenthood and women’s reproductive rights activist (Photo, 1957, The Mike Wallace Interview)

However, the happenstance of her celebrity combined with her limited work as a “women’s activist” (as she’s been described) makes for a strange combination that I find bothersome.

It’s kind of like a reality television star with little to no acting experience who wants to be viewed as a serious actor or actress.

I’m not saying that she doesn’t care about women’s issues/reproductive rights, but let’s wait a bit before we call her the next Margaret Sanger, Gloria Steinem or Rosa Parks.

Also, let’s be honest about the real issue surrounding Fluke’s celebrity. If Fluke was Black, blonde, had acne or big tits or looked like a cheerleader (god-forbid) we wouldn’t know who the hell she is. Limbaugh could’ve called her a host of names (feminazi anyone?) and that would’ve been it. The public and the media are very fickle over the types of women whom they hand out the ‘deserve to be defended’ crown.

Rosa Parks, civil rights activist (AP Photo, 2005)

I’m sure Fluke’s flunkies (as I sometimes call them) would say that I’m being mean, jealous or hateful towards such a ‘strong, dedicated woman.’ But the fact is women are viewed and treated differently based on their looks and ethnicity.

We can’t be ugly or no one wants you. Can’t be too attractive or no one will take you seriously. Fluke falls right in the middle, which has made for a perfect media and political confluence. Mary Magdalene indeed.

I just wish the media, politicians and others would keep in mind that Fluke is just one woman and that she doesn’t represent ALL women – though my cynical, pessimistic side sarcastically tells me “Good luck with that!”

Sigh – I guess we’re stuck with Fluke. Thanks a lot Limbaugh.

Maternity Leave For Working Women? In the U.S. That Does Not Compute

Pregnant woman at work. (Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock, May 16, 2011)

As I was reading the umpteenth article on the political “War on Women” I came across an article discussing the perils of maternity leave on The Nation‘s website.

In “Too Often, A New Baby Brings Big Debt” the author, Bryce Covert criticizes, rightfully, the United States’ woeful policy on parental leave and worker protection in the advent of a pregnancy, all of which can result in financial hardship for working moms. Interestingly, was the author’s mention of Sonya Underwood, a hospital worker, to make her case.

Here is Covert describing what happened to Sonya Underwood:

When it comes to taking time off for a new baby, the best-laid plans often go awry. Sonya Underwood had worked at a hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, for eleven years before getting pregnant with her third son. As a single mother, she prepared to cover the income she would lose during her unpaid leave, hoarding paid time off and taking out disability insurance. And then real life intervened. Doctors told Underwood that she had an incompetent cervix and put her on bed rest three weeks ahead of schedule. Then her son arrived at twenty-six weeks. The twelve weeks of leave she is guaranteed by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) soon ran out, as did the insurance, even though her son remained in the NICU. “I didn’t have any money left,” Underwood said. So she went back to work and visited him at the hospital every day. But once her son came home, Underwood’s situation quickly became untenable. Daycare centers wouldn’t take a medically fragile baby. Her human resources department informed her that her only choice was more unpaid leave. “It didn’t help out my situation because I still had rent due, my car note due, utilities, everything else,” she said. After she exhausted that leave, she was let go from her job, lost her car and couldn’t qualify for unemployment insurance because of her role as her son’s caretaker. The only places left to turn were Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and a loan she already knew would be difficult to pay back. “I’m a victim of FMLA because it didn’t help my family,” she concluded.

Though I felt empathy for Underwood’s situation, one question stuck in my head throughout the article. Why did Underwood, a single mother of two, decide to have a third child? Though Covert mentioned Underwood had been working at the hospital for eleven years before deciding to have a third child and that she had “prepared” for the pregnancy – my initial thought did not go away. Some would argue that her decision to have a third child led to her economic hardship.

I’m not stating that Covert should have selected a more appealing individual (i.e. married, first time becoming pregnant, white-collar worker, etc.) to augment her argument. Maybe Covert didn’t want to use a perfect mom example, because then the reader wouldn’t feel the perfect mom’s pain or understand her hardship. There is a strong possibility that the reader would equate the perfect mom’s despair with just being whiny, then she would be told to “suck it up.”

Nevertheless, Covert’s argument about the unfairness of parental leave for working new mothers is inadvertently undermined and obscured by her use of Ms. Underwood as an example.

Yet, whatever readers may feel about Underwood and/or her situation shouldn’t dilute the fact U.S. policy concerning parental leave for working new mothers and parents is abysmal. Pregnant women only have the option of hoarding their vacation/sick leave in order to have paid maternity leave with the option of using FMLA (which is unpaid) to extend their maternity leave. This is ridiculous when, according to the Center For Economic Policy and Research’s “Parental Leave Policy in 21 Countries” 2008 report countries such as Austria, Canada, Cuba, France and the U.K. offering 18-52 weeks of paid maternity leave and sometimes paid paternity leave.

Not every potential mom is married, has a dream pregnancy where she didn’t get sick and has a child born completely healthy while working for a family-friendly employer, which fortunately was the case for me. Complications–medical, financial and otherwise–happen, yet America’s parental leave policy doesn’t take such matters into consideration for moms. In some instances, pregnant women have to deal with on-the-job pregnancy discrimination which can result in decreased work hours, job loss, failure to hire or promote and forced unpaid leave as reported in 2011 by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Also, The fear of debt has caused many potential moms/parents to delay having children and limit the number of children they would like to have. Why more Americans haven’t opted out of the parent route is truly a testament of nature over logic.

The fact is, hoping that the latest “War On Women” round will push the federal government to resolve this issue (along with other concerns that primarily affect women) is the same as expecting to win the Mega Millions lottery.

In other words women, don’t hold your breath or you might end up like Sonya Underwood.