Does anybody remember the Hillary Clinton/Barbara Bush Cookie Bake-Off of 1992? If so, do you feel the shock, the outrage, like this blogger? Or are you rather entertained and curious for more First Lady Cookie Recipes? But the cookie bake-off controversy is just the tip of the iceberg of how conservatives -- and a complacent, sensationalist media -- have reshaped the feminist landscape.
As Laura Flanders shows in her book: The W Effect: Bush's War on Women, the conservatives took the helm in the '80s and largely did away with what the feminists of yore have achieved. Not even the supposedly liberal Clinton years could undo the damage; in many ways, Clinton's fiscal conservatism hurt the feminist agenda just as much as Reagan's. But with George W. Bush, an onslaught of anti-feminist policies came to finish the job and wage a virtual war on women's rights.
The book is a collection of essays, interviews, and blog posts by investigative journalists, social critics, scholars and activists. It is divided to chapters with titles beginning with the letter W: World; War; Wages and Well-Being. Especially illustrative is the title of the chapter on the Bush Administration's incessant attempt to control women's bodies and reproductive choices: "Weddings, Wombs, and Whoopee."
The essays range from lightweight to heavy-duty, the authors from Gail Sheehan to Gloria Steinem. The range of emotion it provoked in me oscillated between desperation to outrage, including astonishment and vigorous head-shaking. For example, I was surprised to find out that in 2003(!) we were already talking about this "current" Recession. (After living through 2008, your memories of the recession of 2003 aren't that bad, are they?) I was also jolted by the number of ultra-right wing, incompetent cronies Bush has placed in powerful positions, like naming John Klink, formerly the Vatican's representative to the U.N., as leader of our country's delegation to U.N. conferences on children's rights, population, and development. (Mr. Klink went on to oppose emergency contraception and abortion even for victims of troop rape in the former Yugoslavia.) Or the infamous appointment of anti-contraceptive crusader Dr. Hager to lead the FDA's commission on reproductive health, another fox to guard the hen house, in a very literal sense.
Don't misunderestimate me: I am well aware that Barack Obama is now in the White House. It seems the raging wildfire of anti-women's-rights policies is extinguished. But I also know that it will take at least several years for President Obama to undo this damage. It was all the more fitting that the first legislation he signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. I am looking forward to many more similar initiatives, policies, and signings of progressive legislation, in the years to come.