by Elisebeth VanderWeil, Ph.D.
President Obama called Sandra Fluke to offer his support and encouragement after being vilified by Rush Limbaugh for her Senate hearing testimony. When asked by reporters why he made that call, the President said that he was thinking of his daughters and how he wanted them to be able to participate in public discourse and the democratic process without fear of being called horrible names.
The Republican Party – for which Rush Limbaugh has been touted as an unofficial spokesperson – has been profiled as having declared a "war on women." This label is the result of Republican supported rhetoric and legislation that limits women's access to not just health care, but also public discourse and democratic participation, as exemplified by the arrests on the Virginia capital steps of peaceful protestors calling attention to these issues. The protestors were charged with trespassing – on public property during the day – when they sat on the capitol steps.
All this at the start of Women's History month in the U.S.
Though rarely part of primary education, the U.S. has a rich history of women leaders – from artists like Anne Bradstreet, to emancipationists like Sojourner Truth, to suffragists like Alice Paul, to world leaders like Eleanor Roosevelt. These women engaged at various levels of public discourse and democratic process as was mandated by white men at various times per their gender, race, and class. Still, regardless of what was expected or allowed, women have consistently "crossed the line" and taken leadership roles in shaping this nation. For their efforts to make the world a better place for their children – which would necessarily include all of us – they have been reviled, stripped of property, tortured, and relegated to social and historical oblivion.
So that's some of the history from which we could not learn because it has been hidden. These are some of the models of leadership which are not part of our popular press or consciousness; yet, they have influenced our country's values and agendas for longer than we have been a nation.
So what is our U.S. future to be?
As their forebears would predict, our daughters will do what is unexpected and, likely, what is not allowed by those who wish to remain in power and privilege. With our daughters in mind, we must protect, not just their right, but their ability to participate in public discourse and democratic process – especially if we do not agree with what they have to say. We must open spaces and venues for our daughters to participate fully in keeping our democracy vital and valid in an interconnected world. If we fail in this, if we succumb to division and suppression, we risk losing a better world for all of us.
VanderWeil works as the Director of Organizational Leadership at Mountain State University and holds a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies from Gonzaga University. Her seemingly disconnected yet thematic work experience has provided her with the skills and experience to remain curious, flexible, decisive, and knowledgeable in many realms.