As a mom, there is nothing more important to me than my two daughters. I do my best to instill them with strong moral beliefs, a set of values to guide their life and the strength to stand up for their convictions. One of the earliest lessons that mothers across the country tell our children is that basic decency dictates we treat everyone with the level of respect that we ourselves would expect in return. Starting with the playground, and hoping that lesson carries forward throughout their lives, we teach our children that personal attacks are simply out of bounds.
Unfortunately, the comments made by political commentators and elected officials at both the local and national level have undermined that lesson of decency, and the recent Republican war on women has shifted that dialogue for the worse. It wasn't long ago that Condoleeza Rice and Karen Hughes proudly spoke up against their own Republican administration and stopped a proposed change to Title IX that would have severely harmed women's college athletics, yet today, strong voices like theirs seem to be silenced.
Indeed, any attempt by women to defend their rights is now being met with hateful personal attacks as the men of the Republican Party are seeking to eliminate all opposing views. Making matters worse, too many women in their party seem content to idly watch it happen.
The issue of birth control, for example, should be noncontroversial, and indeed has sparked little debate over the last four decades. But in today's public arena, the Republican party, the one that admonishes government for being too big and invading our personal lives, is making every attempt to violate the most private medical decisions made by a woman.
When one female Georgetown law student dared to advocate for contraception coverage, Rush Limbaugh threw the merits of the debate to the side and resorted to schoolyard name calling. As if calling the courageous young women a "slut" wasn't enough, Limbaugh's chauvinism took it to the next level by suggesting this woman make sex tapes for public consumption.
These comments have rightfully stirred a firestorm of national debate in which Mr. Limbaugh reluctantly admitted to using some "poorly chosen words." To women in Michigan, however, these "poorly chosen words" resemble to growing pattern rather than a one-time slip of the tongue.
Recently, when a leading female public relations executive here in Michigan's capital made comments critical of the actions of a Republican State Senator, he responded by calling her a "hooker" to the local media. When I, as the Senate Democratic Leader spoke up and asked that my Republican colleagues rebuke those offensive comments, an operative of the Michigan Republican Party instead referred to me by the same insulting term.
While some tried to argue that these were merely political attacks, if it had been a male law school student advocating for the use of condoms, would he have been called a slut? Would Mr. Limbaugh have demanded the male student release a sex tape for his viewing pleasure? Was Bob Dole a "gigolo" for advertising Viagra? The obvious answer is no. So when terms like hooker and slut suddenly become part of the political lexicon, we cannot merely brush them off as "poorly chosen words."
The Republican war on women goes far beyond merely using derogatory and sexualized terms. From the recent attacks on contraception and women's healthcare, to eliminating tax credits for single mothers right here in Michigan, treating women as second class citizens has somehow become a policy platform for their party once again.
As a responsible adult, I am proud to say that I have used birth control. As a mom, I want my daughters to be able to hold their heads high and be proud of the decisions they have made and will continue to make throughout their lives.
Men like Mr. Limbuagh and our Republican elected officials need to understand that they have an important voice, and every time our daughters hear it, it has an impact. Just as we cannot allow our daughters to be impacted by this hate speech and have it affect their self-worth, we also cannot have our sons thinking it is okay to devalue and degrade women. For children across Michigan, and across the nation, they deserve leaders that encourage those same values.
It's time for us, as a nation, to say enough is enough. It's time for us to say that personal attacks designed to degrade women as individuals and as a whole are not acceptable. Women make up more than half of the population, and if we use our vote this year to send a strong message back against those who are waging this war against us, we will have the power to stop this uncivil discourse right in its tracks. We owe it to our daughters and sons to do just that.
Senator Gretchen Whitmer is the top ranking Democrat in Michigan's state government. She is the first woman to lead a caucus in the Michigan Senate.