I’ve been thinking a lot about recent legislative and executive moves against the best interests of women. They are not good thoughts, but I can't help it. I want to know why these distractions are happening now, and how we might derail their forward movement. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1. It’s true, we’ve come a long way, baby, but women under the age of 50 don’t really know that deep in their souls, or maybe they just don’t know much about the past.

FYI, without belaboring the point, here are a few things I could not do as young woman between 18 and 30-something:
· Own a home in my name
· Have my own bank account
· Be admitted to any number of good schools, including all of the Ivies, UVA, Rutgers, Lehigh, Stanford or Georgia Tech
· Get a bank loan or mortgage without my husband or father as co-signer
· Have the final say on important decisions in my life—medical, legal, financial—without approval of a responsible male relative
· Get a legal, safe medical procedure to end a pregnancy
· Have my own health insurance policy
· Inherit property, without a legal guardian 
· Sign a lease on an apartment, myself

Obviously, these restrictions led to limited visions for the future and shut many doors for young women before they ever had a chance to shape their lives. 

2. Maybe it’s historical memory, maybe it’s laziness, but some of us continue to live as if these restrictions are still in force. Others yearn for the days when men were men, and women were women who were taken care of by men. 

3. Perhaps because the word “women” is so often lumped together with the word “minorities,” many women see themselves as part of a minority. A down-trodden, weak, poor, hopeless minority. 

4. I can't point to any specific research at the moment but feel safe saying both and women generally look to men for leadership, on just about any particular issue. Men have trouble accepting advice or direction from women, and so do many women. We can't blame men for this. It's just something that has been hard to change, even over 40 years of women's empowerment. Old habits die hard. 

It will benefit both men and women if we have more choices in the leadership field. Our perspective is important and, often, unique. But, in spite of lofty goals set by feminists, young women have precious few good role models to look up to. I'm not talking about Lady Gaga or Sarah Palin here. We need more Oprah Winfreys, more Kathleen Sibeliuses, more Olympia Snows and more Elizabeth Warrens. Money, brains and power count. 

Now, for the good news:

1. In case you had not noticed, restrictions regarding rights and ownership that were left over from the 19th Century and originally intended to help women, were lifted decades ago. 

2. It was not always the case, but women definitely are not a minority. Here are the numbers for 2011 (based on date in the CIA World Fact Book):
US males over the age of 18:  122,156,715
US females over 18:                 128,186,606
In 2011, women outnumbered men by 6,029,891*
*Note: These numbers include men and women over the age of 65. Some may argue, but I assure you being over 65 does not necessarily make a person too old to think or be useful.

Let’s see, using the 128,000,000 figure, if only 1% stood up for something and, say, gathered on the National Mall to show their strength, that would put about 1.3 million people on the ground between Pennsylvania/Constitution and Independence avenues on a Saturday afternoon. That should be enough!

And, if those people turned to the west and started walking, what could possibly stand in their way to leave an imprint on every inch of land between Washington DC and San Francisco? Like an army of locusts, just 1.3% of US women could physically trample every plant and eat every morsel of food from coast to coast. What a vision!  Who could stop 1.3 million anything?

3. We may not make as much money as men (on average, per person), but women now make up more than half the US workforce and that alone should give us a hell of a lot of clout. Let’s use it!

If only that measly 1% sat down on the job next week, they would shut down school districts, hospitals, office buildings, hotels and restaurants, casinos, and social service agencies from coast to coast.

Need gall bladder surgery? Sorry fellas. Looking for a fun weekend in Las Vegas? Think again. Your mother needs additional care at the nursing home? Too bad.

4. We may not have many women planted in positions of leadership in government or industry, but most of us do things that demand respect, as long as we demand to be respected. Think about that.

We shouldn’t need to have stars to follow. Those of us who have raised kids (some, alone), worked on marriages and jobs (often at the same time), participated in our religious organizations, schools and communities and generally been good eggs about it, already ARE stars. Even if we didn’t get paid what we should have, didn’t get the vote of confidence from our community to move into leadership positions, didn’t find our way to the top of the ladder in the corporate world, we have a lot to be proud of. And, we’re worth every bit of praise we get. Why don't we get it?  

We owe it to ourselves, our daughters, our granddaughters and generations to come after us to keep the light burning for women, ALL women. We have depended on men for everything at one point in history, but it looks like we cannot depend on them to help us fight off the possibility of restrictions on our lives, today.

It’s up to women to use the strength in numbers that has fallen into their laps, combined with the rights and privileges inherited from the hard work of women who came before. It was never more true than it is today: Women must take care of women, ALL women.  

Let’s not slip, no matter what our religion, our race, our politics. Let’s promise we will not elect people to office or go along with the appointment of leaders who do not respect our fundamental rights as human beings and as women.

Personally, I have no use for a candidate who is from the party I usually vote for, who is on the same page with me regarding foreign affairs and economic issues, but wants to forbid me from making decisions about how I use this body I was born into! What could be more fundamental than the right to control one's own body?  

Bottom line: Women voters must come together as women on the issue of birth control and health care issues related to femaleness. Race, religion, ethnicity, geographic region, economic class, occupation, marital status: None of that matters when it comes to issues regarding how an individual woman moves her own cells through life’s maze. Our bodies and our choice of life paths come first; all the rest is secondary.  

Related stories: 
Beware of sluts, women with brains and other real and present dangers
Birds on a Wire Blog 

Twenty years on, 'Year of the Woman' fades
The Washington Post

Slutty enough for you? Although unintended, sometimes my inner slut comes out, in spite of my normally prim persona. I’m told sluts can be quite dangerous. Oh well.

Every day, I get madder and madder. If the War on Women doesn’t stop soon, there will be hell to pay (and I’m sure it will be me who does the paying!). 

If Georgetown Law School student 
Sandra Fluke is a slut for speaking to a Congressional committee about the need for insurers to continue covering the cost of birth control pills, then we're all sluts. Each and every woman. Married. Single. Celibate. Half dead. Any woman who has had sex, wanted to have sex or was born as a result of someone else having sex, is a slut, in the mind of people like Rush Limbaugh. (Of course, you notice women are demonized, not men!) 

An early adapter to The Pill in 1963, I remember how uncomfortable I was asking Planned Parenthood for a prescription for birth control, even though I was a married woman. At the time, I don't think you could get it anywhere else and, besides, I didn't have health insurance or a primary care physician. I was just so embarrassed, so sure the truth was written all over my face: Here is a young woman who just wants to have sex with her young husband. The elderly doctor who examined me could not have been less threatening, but still…

I was 19, newly married and half way through college. My then-husband was 21, occasionally marginally employed but mostly hanging on to sanity by a loose thread. Bring a baby into this picture? No way. I wasn’t too smart in those days, but at least I knew enough to keep another human being out of harm’s way.

Some of the circumstances may have been different, but the end product of my situation was the same as it is for millions of US women today. I was young, poor, uninsured and under educated in the art of  taking care of myself and others. In other words, I was ripe for making an irreversibly lousy decision in the heat of perfectly normal human passion, one that could ruin at least three lives, or keep them living in poverty and misery for decades.

I thought those risks were behind us. Today, women have access to birth control (and so do men, if they are responsible partners), so no one is forced to worry about having babies they don't want or can't take care of. (They're not forced to use birth control, either, but that's another story.)

In  2012, I thought we were past arguments over the morality of having sex for reasons other than the production of offspring. (That argument would have to include the morality of bringing unwanted children into the world.) Over the years, birth control had become a staple in every young woman’s medicine cabinet,  married or not, much to the delight of young men. Lucky for guys, for 50 years, women have been willing to take the risk for blood clots, stroke, cancer and other ugly things to keep both sexual partners free of the burden of parenthood. In my book, women deserve awards, not derision.   

But no, this year something happened: Obama. In a desperate effort to prevent the re-election of this country’s first (but not last) black president, the right wing pulled a tired old rabbit out of a beat up old hat it must have found in a dirty attic.

Suddenly, contraception is sinful! Nay, evil! And, all women – past, present or future – who protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy are sluts. No exceptions!

Frankly, I’m more mad than shocked. Mad at the men who have nothing to say, and even madder at those with recurrent zipper problems who consider themselves free of responsibility for the consequences of sex. I'm mad at young women who don't take the time to read the newspaper or watch the news, which leaves them in the dark about proposals that can devastate their plans for the future. I'm mad at the women past child-bearing years who must have lost their bearings, if not their minds, to go along with this crap. And, mad at religious hypocrites with no tolerance for anyone who disagrees with them, especially old men who protect a church rife with sexual molestation and abuse. In a New York minute, some have taken the heat off their own church’s offenses and put it on ALL WOMEN of child bearing age. ( And, I thought it took two to have sex. Silly me.) Amazing!  

Look around you. Look at the television shows you love to watch—Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, Two and a Half Men. How would any of these scripts hold up without the implicit use of birth control as part of the foundation of story lines?

Listen to the music you and your kids listen to, and the videos that go along with the hits. What’s the predominate message? Sex is great. Any mention of babies?

Look at the teetering economy. Q: Where are the new jobs? A: In industries dominated by female workers—healthcare, hospitality, back office. 

Are men dying to work in nursing homes and change hotel sheets? Did I miss something here? 

Pull women out of the workforce, and you pull the bottom out of a wobbly economy. Not only will women not be there to provide important services, they will not have paychecks to pour back into the economy for household items, clothes and other things women like to buy when they have money. 

Do men really want women to give up a chance for an education to stay home and raise the babies? Tell that to the women who make up more than half of the student body in US medical and law schools. 

Get real! The US economy would collapse without female participation, since they now make up more than half the workforce (see the recent Time Magazine cover story). 

I never realized how many men there must be who want more mouths to feed. Before you vote against access to birth control, read current law regarding parental responsibility, because it may have changed somewhat from the early 19th century. Paternity=responsibility, married to a child's mother or not.

Then, imagine what will happen to the average family when it goes from two paychecks to one, and at the same time increases from 1-2 children to God-knows-how-many.

How will men make up that lost paycheck? Are they ready to work two or three jobs? Will they willingly give up their Harleys, fishing boats, snowmobiles, pick-ups and other toys in order to cover the cost of health insurance  and sneakers and other expenses that go hand in hand with raising children? That’s what it would take, have no mistake.

We’re not even talking about illicit or marginally illegal sex here which, more and more, is glorified by media as a God-given right to any “player“ with the desire and means to participate. Think Las Vegas, Phuket, almost anyplace where prostitution is accepted. Sorry, fellas, babies are babies and you’ll still be responsible, no matter how superficial your relationship with the mom.

No birth control, remember? In case you don’t understand, guys, that goes for you, too – no condoms, no vasectomies and certainly no Viagra for unmarried men.

If the GOP succeeds at eliminating birth control, will it go under cover (pardon the pun)? 

Why should women who protect themselves from pregnancy be called sluts by the pious right wing? In fact, they should be praised for being responsible adults, which is obvious to anyone who spends more than a few seconds thinking about the consequences of state and federal laws proposed to limit women’s access to birth control. Women who plan pregnancies (or no pregnancies) should be honored with awards and statues for having the social conscience and common sense to not bring unwanted children into the world. 

For those who see all babies as God's cuddly, irresistible little angels, I can tell you -- as an unplanned, unwanted child -- that a woman does no one any favors by getting pregnant by accident. I probably was luckier than most but still carry the legacy of my mother's so-called mistake.  

PS: I’ll go any place, any time to add my feet to the march to protect all women the way I was protected. Just say the word.  

Related stories:
Son of "Beware of sluts"
Birds on a Wire Blog

A life without contraception
Dr. Jen Gunter, Wielding the Lasso of Truth

No Retreat: 101 Assaults in the War on Women

Hat tip to Birds reader nancydrewed for recommending the two pieces above. 

Here are some shots I took last week on Hutchinson Island near Stuart, Florida, where I fell in love with the sea, the pelicans and the tropical plants. 

Photo from the cover of Attacks on the Press in 2011: A Worldwide Survey by CPJ
In a recent post about reporters, dress and culture (see Covering the News, But Not Much Else), I talked about Lara Logan and her near miss with death in a riot in Cairo, Egypt last year. Logan was lucky to survive, and might not have if a woman in the crowd had not come forward to protect her.

Not all reporters in dangerous situations are as lucky.

We are barely into the new year but, since the first of January, 18 journalists have been killed on the job, somewhere. Eleven of those deaths are confirmed as work-related, but seven are yet to be confirmed. Seven of the confirmed deaths occurred in Syria, with one each in Somalia, Nigeria, Thailand, Brazil and Pakistan.

I should note that these numbers do not reflect death by accident or illness, unless a “crash was caused by aggressive human action." The death of New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid, for example, is not counted among them. He died from asthma, while covering aerial attacks on the city of Homs, Syria. (See http://nyti.ms/z61XiK)

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 904 journalists have been killed on the job worldwide in the last 20 years, and 179 are currently in prison for the crime of doing their job.

The CPJ keeps track of journalists killed on duty “as part of its mission of defending press freedom worldwide.”

Reporters and those who facilitate the gathering and delivery of news have always faced danger, often head on. In fact, in the news world, the more dangerous the assignment, the more coveted the job. Only the best (or the most dispensable) are chosen. if you can get assigned to combat anywhere, you are all but guaranteed your pick of assignments when you get back, if you get back.

In recent years, war reporting catapulted some familiar television journalists into anchor desks. At least, that was the case for Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, Wolf Blitzer and Christiane Amanpour. Then there’s Bob Woodruff of ABC News, who replaced Peter Jennings as anchor, but one month into his assignment was hit by an IED in Iraq. Fortunately, Woodruff is back on the job, but in New York.

For more on risks involved in gathering news, go to the CPJ page at 


UPDATE: March 3, 2012  See below for news of journalists killed and injured in Syria. http://wapo.st/w3GoW2