Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University law student who testified before Congress this past week on the consequences faced by young women who can’t get contraception coverage in their student health plans at Catholic institutions, proved she is well named.
Fluke is indeed, as a definition of the word offers, “a stroke of good fortune.” With her eloquent testimony, she became just that overnight for millions of people concerned about the war against women and the war on sex that’s being waged by the right, including the mostly Republican members of Congress and the Republican presidential candidates, especially Rick Santorum.
It seems President Obama believes Fluke to be a stroke of good fortune as well, as he phoned her to compliment her on standing up for her principles and supporting his decision to require the coverage. He also told her that her “parents should be proud of her.”
Another part of the definition of “fluke,” ironically and quite nicely, applies to Rush Limbaugh, the popular radio commentator who took such exception to Fluke’s testimony that he called her a “whore” and a “prostitute.” Since a “fluke” can also be a “barbed head, as in an arrow,” I think this definition applies in spades to Limbaugh. Only someone with that sort of head could indulge in the crude and sexist names that he called her.
Fluke’s testimony is exceptionally thoughtful and dotted with specific examples of how female students’ health is affected when their contraception is not covered. For one, it endangers their desire to avoid unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.
She called the members of Congress’ attention to the fact that without insurance coverage, “contraception can cost a woman $3,000 during law school. …For a lot of students who, like me, are on public interest scholarships, that’s practically an entire summer’s salary.”
She explained that “one student had said that she knew that birth control wasn’t covered and she assumed that’s how Georgetown’s insurance handled all of women’s sexual health care, so when she was raped, she didn’t go to the doctor even to be examined for sexually transmitted infections, because she thought that insurance wasn’t going to cover something like that.”
At the end of her testimony, Fluke spoke movingly that her and other Catholic women’s efforts did not signify a “war against the church.” Rather it was “a struggle for the health care we need.”
I believe that Fluke’s careful, respectful and well-documented words were persuasive in the Senate’s defeat of the Blunt Amendment by a narrow, three-vote margin. The amendment would have permitted religious institutions to potentially deny women coverage on a wide range of sexual health needs.
Another young person—a male this time, I’m particularly pleased to say—also spoke up honestly this past week about the importance of contraception coverage, but perhaps of a different kind than Fluke had in mind.
Quite inadvertently, Zach Efron, a 24-year-old rising movie star, put in a plug for condoms during an appearance last week on The Today Show. Efron had recently suffered embarrassment when he dropped a condom from his pocket on the venerated red carpet at the premiere of his new film The Lorax.
He recovered his poise by the time he appeared on the Today Show the next day. Yet it was Lauer who blushed when he asked Zach to explain the incident. Without batting an eyelash, Efron assured the anchor that he “never really had a pocket-checking policy when I was going on the red carpet before, but now we’ve fully instated one.”
Then he made his pitch for condoms: “[It’s] …better to be safe than sorry,” adding it was “a great message to add to the many messages of the new film.” In that moment for me, he became a poster person for responsible condom use.
I didn’t hear Limbaugh cast any aspersions on Efron’s comments about protecting himself. Had he chosen to make a mildly derogatory remark, he could have called him “a stud,” but this is considered a compliment, not a criticism. Instead he spewed his venom on the female speaking up for contraception, rather than the male.
Why is it that female sexuality so often draws lightening while male sexuality is either ignored or even championed? Why are females “sluts” and males “studs”? One of the reasons, of course, is rampant sexism, especially in the media and politics.
But things might change if the youth who participate in a local New Jersey teen group HiTOPS grow up and take their places in the world, particularly in the media and politics. I saw a performance of its Teen Council last week and walked away with nothing but admiration for the 18 very diverse, high school seniors, who put on a workshop on adult-teen communication covering “privacy, trust, relationships and the issues surrounding sex and sexuality.”
HiTOPS stands for Health Interested Teens Own Program in Sexuality, and the teens who join the council represent both public and private high schools in the Princeton area. For the past 25 years, the teens who are selected train to be able to talk to their peers in other high schools and community agencies about many age-appropriate aspects of sexuality, adolescent relationships and such values as respect and responsibility.
I learned from discussions with the HiTOPS peer leaders that only a handful of parents, including their own, talk to their kids about sex; the kids are eager for more conversations. I am sure that the parents who participated in the Teen Council’s workshop learned that they had to do a better job talking to their own teens about this important aspect of life.
Had Matt Lauer been part of a teen council when he was in high school, perhaps he wouldn’t have blushed when asking Efron about dropping the condom on the red carpet.
As for Rush Limbaugh, his behavior was way beyond the reach of even the most worthy of sex education programs. I noted that he offered Ms. Fluke an apology but not without his own critical comments about “recreational sex,” in which he implied she and her fellow students engage. It’s none of his business.
At the end of the day, because of such arrogance, we may have to look to young women and men to help us better understand and protect our sexual health.
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