The woebegone tale of radical right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh has hung around long enough to coincide with International Women's Day. That's more than serendipitous to some, considering Limbaugh has successfully fanned the flames over the past week on what is shaping up to be an all-out conservative-based war on American women. It defies reality that nearly 50 years since the Griswold v. Connecticut case that ruled using birth control was okay, especially in the privacy of your own home, and almost 40 years since Roe v. Wade, American women are still having to demand "U.S. out of my uterus!"...and then some.
The 1970s were a great time to be a girl. Title IX, Ms. magazine, serious talk about women truly having equal rights via a constitutional amendment called the E.R.A. Happy days were on the horizon, from Billie Jean King beating Bobby Riggs on the tennis court to girls getting the right to play on all-boys' Little League teams or enter the military on more equal footing. If you don't believe me, rent two movies: The Bad News Bears and Private Benjamin. (A third made in 2001, covers the the famed Billie v. Bobby battle of the sexes tennis showdown.) All are comedies. We'd come so far so fast.
In middle school we didn't talk about Roe v. Wade in Social Studies, but we did talk around it with one of those hip teachers who grew his hair a little long and dressed like Mike Brady. We talked about freedom and what that meant in a "free" country (as opposed to those behind that foreboding Iron Curtain). We talked about freedom of speech. One snippet from these lessons firmly embedded in my memory, besides that teacher's bell bottoms and paisley patterned polyester shirts, was the example he gave for when it wasn't okay to say every ridiculous thought that came into your head. "You don't yell 'Fire!' in a crowded theater." Unless of course there is one.
Maybe this sunk in especially quick and set hard and fast because it was the days of the disaster movie, and fires and panic were coming at us in Sensurround - Earthquake, The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure. Or maybe it just actually made sense. As a writer and editor, I've explained my position on the First Amendment using the fire in the theater example whenever pressed. I know there's more to it than that, but sometimes you've got to break things down for big, bad adults in 7th grade Social Studies speak.
Rush Limbaugh and his conservative cohorts are some especially big, bad adults. Last week, on his radio show, Limbaugh called a woman a "slut" and a "prostitute" and implied she was having so much sex on the government dime that she should video it and post it on YouTube (the one allusion Limbaugh made that clues you in that this tirade was occurring in the 21st century). The woman, Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, did nothing to directly provoke Limbaugh (i.e., she didn't start the um...fire...by first calling him a fat, bigoted misogynist pig). Instead, she expressed her belief that health care, government funded or otherwise, should include covering all aspects of women's reproductive health. Limbaugh's attack against Fluke and her fellow "feminazis" (as Limbaugh calls smart, "overeducated" white women) is shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater when there isn't one.
Limbaugh's verbal abuse was intended to inflame the right-wing, hyper-conservative, Obama-hating GOP base in an election year. There is no fire in this crowded theater. There are simply women going about their private business, taking daily birth control pills that can cost $50 per month. If health insurance plans cover men's specific health needs like Viagra and vasectomies, it stands to reason that they should cover women's specific health issues, which can include if and when a woman would like to become pregnant and terminating an unwanted pregnancy. But to men like Limbaugh, that type of reasoning isn't common sense, it's taking away freedom. The freedom to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater when there isn't one.
On that note, Happy International Women's Day. This day, March 8, meant to recognize women for our achievements was another good thing about being a girl in the 1970s. The first International Women's Day celebrated in America was in 1978. If you could even imagine 2012 back then, surely you would not have thought it involved men like Rush Limbaugh. They were meant to have been extinguished in that fake fire in the theater around the time the final credits to Private Benjamin were rolling.