If you ask me Sandra Fluke, the 30-year-old Georgetown law school student who argued in favor of health care plans covering contraceptives before Congress, has more balls than Rush Limbaugh, the rotund radio host who smeared her.
In case you missed it, Limbaugh started off Women’s History Month by calling Fluke “a slut” and “a prostitute” in response to her testimony. Not that I think Limbaugh knows March is Women’s History Month, or much about women in general.
Stupidity might explain how Limbaugh managed to sexualize Fluke’s testimony, which, from what I’ve seen and read seemed to focus on the health benefits/preventive nature of contraceptives. Misogyny is the only explanation for the vileness he spewed at her, or the way he zeroed in on her.
Fluke kept her cool and dignity when she testified, after congressional Republicans had first come to the brilliant conclusion that if you’re going to hold hearings on birth control, you should have only men testifying. She showed poise and dignity after getting unfairly attacked by Limbaugh, a rich bully with millions of fans and a long line of elected bootlickers eager to get his support.
It’s among the ugliest and most unprovoked verbal attacks on a woman I’ve seen in my lifetime.
It’s also the most blatantly sexualized verbal attack I’ve ever seen in the public sphere. Limbaugh claimed Fluke said that “she’s having so much sex she can’t afford her own birth control pills” and said Fluke was having so much sex “it’s amazing she can still walk.”
He then followed up with this charming thought: “If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I’ll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”
While I would be happy to describe Limbaugh’s comments as an aberration, the fact that he said them at all, and the initially tepid repudiation of those comments from Republicans in Congress, sadly suggests there’s a boys’ bathroom culture that needs to go the way of the Communist Party.
Interestingly enough, the Fluke-Limbaugh flap came the same week the Judicial Conduct Board charged Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Willie Singletary for allegedly showing two pictures of his “erect penis” to a Philadelphia Parking Authority contractor. Singletary has since resigned.
As with Limbaugh, the Singletary allegations are gross, aggressive and highly sexual. While the allegations are shocking, the fact that Singletary got in trouble isn’t. The JCB charged Singletary before when a YouTube video surfaced of Singletary soliciting campaign funds from motorcycle riders while running for judge in 2007. The Court of Judicial Discipline, showing great foresight and character assessment, gave Singletary a reprimand and probation.
Singletary’s initial punishment from the CJD is only one of several instances where it seems Pennsylvania’s judicial conduct system has operated two forms of discipline: a tough one for women, and a more lenient one for men.
Former Luzerne County Judge Ann H. Lokuta was the first Pennsylvania judge not facing criminal charges to be removed from office, tossed out essentially for being rude to staff and litigants and having staff doing personal errands. Two of her tormentors, former Judges Michael T. Conahan and Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., both of whom are now serving lengthy prison sentences for their roles in the Luzerne County judicial scandal, were never even charged by the JCB, even though it was tipped off to their activities years before the feds closed in.
Contrast Lokuta’s fate with that of Philadelphia Judge Willis W. Berry, who was only suspended by the CJD for using judicial staff and resources to maintain his personal real estate properties.
Former Magisterial District Judge Maryesther S. Merlo was removed from the bench by the CJD in 2011 for being frequently late and absent from work.
But Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge James M. DeLeon was only suspended in 2008 for issuing a phony stay-away order without adding it to the record.
Those are just some examples. While I’m sure someone can find reasons to explain the different results, it’s understandable why some believe the system gives women a raw deal.
Then there’s the whole issue of women at law firms. We track law firm populations in Pennsylvania every year as part of our PaLaw Magazine. I compared the percentage of women at the 100 largest firms in the state in 2001 to the percentage in 2011, the last year we conducted the survey.
The results? Not much has changed.
Two firms in both 2001 and 2011 had 50 percent or more women attorneys. In 2001, 30 of the 100 largest firms in Pennsylvania were made up of at least 30 percent women attorneys.
In 2011, 34 firms were made up of at least 30 percent women attorneys.
A quick review of the number of female partners in Pennsylvania at those firms doesn’t reveal any significant changes. One can only hope there’s been progress in terms of leadership positions at those firms.
While women are likely to be angry at what I’ve detailed above, men should be ashamed. Do these things strike the men in the Pennsylvania legal community as evidence of a fair and just society?
Keep in mind, I don’t suffer from white male liberal guilt. With my football background and my “Animal House“ college fraternity days, I’d hardly ever be the poster boy for NOW. When my son was an infant, I’d get him to sleep by humming the James Bond theme. My son is now 3 1/2 and we’re regularly conducting tackling drills in my living room. We routinely walk around the house bellowing “Hulk smash!” and then hit things with our forearms. So I’m not the sensitive new age guy.
But I’m troubled by what I see and hear. Other men should be too. There’s prejudice, injustice and misogyny out there. We men shouldn’t be quiet about it. •
Hank Grezlak is the editor-in-chief of The Legal Intelligencer. He may be contacted at 215-557-2486 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.