News Politics

Misogynists Just Can’t Seem to Help Themselves: Cong. Joe Walsh Tells Sandra Fluke to “Get a Job”

Jodi Jacobson

Talking Points Memo reported today that Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh, already controversial for his demeaning and offensive comments, and his support for Congressman Todd Akin, attacked law student and women's health advocate Sandra Fluke.

 HT to Credo Mobile and our colleague Sarah Lane for alerting us to this story.

Talking Points Memo reported today that Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh, already controversial for his demeaning and offensive comments, and his support for Congressman Todd Akin, attacked law student and women’s health advocate Sandra Fluke for her support for the birth control benefit established under the Affordable Care Act, and telling her to “get a job.”

As TPM reports,

“So at the Democratic Convention Wednesday night their first prime time speaker was Sandra Fluke, whatever her name is,” Walsh said. “Think about this, a 31-32 year old law student who has been a student for life, who gets up there in front of a national audience and tells the American people, ‘I want America to pay for my contraceptives.’ You’re kidding me. Go get a job. Go get a job Sandra Fluke.”

“This a woman who feels entitled that we all should pay for her contraceptives,” he said. “This is what we are teaching Americans? That was embarrassing. That was embarrassing.”

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It may not surprise anyone that Walsh has his facts wrong: Insurance coverage of birth control–like every other covered service–is not taxpayer-fund, but the individuals who pay for their premiums out of pocket, earn coverage as part of their compensation package at work, or pay for part of their health care under their employer’s plan. It is no different than well-woman care, pre-natal care, or any other kind of covered benefit.

Credo’s new media staff captured a video of captured video of Walsh, and the transcript of his comments follows below.

The transcript:

How about this? This one kills me, then I’ll be done with my rant.

So at the Democratic Convention Wednesday night their first prime time speaker was Sandra Fluke — Fluke, Fluke, whatever her name is.

Think about this: a 31-32 year old law student who’s been a student for life, who gets up there in front of a national audience and tells the American people, “I want America to pay for my contraceptives.” You’re kidding me. Go get a job. Go get a job Sandra Fluke.

This is what, I was offended. We’ve got Americans who are struggling. We’ve got parents in this country who are struggling to buy sneakers that their kids can wear to school that just started. We’ve got parents up and down my district who are barely keeping their house. And, and, and, we have to be confronted by a woman, the Democratic Party this is what they stand for. Their going to put a woman in front of us who is complaining that the country — you, me and you — won’t pay the 9 dollars per month to pay for her contraceptives.

How crazy is this? In a way it’s not her fault, because we teach people this stuff. You go back to fairness, we teach young people this. Don’t worry, government will take care of you. You’re having trouble with your student loans? Don’t worry, government will be there for you.

We are raising the Sandra Flukes of the world. We’re raising Americans who don’t know how to take care of themselves, who feel entitled. This a woman who feels entitled that we all should pay for her contraceptives. This is what we are teaching Americans? That was embarrassing. That was embarrassing.

It’s a funny thing: Those who scream most loudly about our “freedoms” seem also to be the loudest to decry anyone who exercises those freedoms by advocating for an issue in which they believe or on behalf of others.

Culture & Conversation Human Rights

How One Couple Is Putting Bathroom Safety on the Map

Ryan Thomas

Like the Negro Motorist Green Book, the Safe Bathrooms map is not so much a novelty but a vital resource to protect the safety of its users at a time when history is repeating itself in a way that is marginalizing an already vulnerable population.

This piece was published in collaboration with Generation Progress.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) seems to think it’s a governor’s duty to classify which men and women are the “real” ones and which aren’t. Because of this, he has put the lives of all of North Carolina’s trans residents at risk by signing HB 2 into law.

Last week state legislators proposed changes to HB 2, but those changes do nothing to mitigate an unabashed blastoma of transphobia that is now lawfully spreading at a vicious pace.

In response to HB 2, droves of businesses and musicians have boycotted the state in hopes of stopping this unmitigated discrimination toward trans people from moving any further.

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People have banded together to show their support for the trans community, and businesses across the state and country have declared themselves safe havens for trans-identifying individuals by submitting to the Safe Bathrooms map.

The map’s creators—River William Luck, a trans community activist, and his partner (and as of recently, fiancée), web design specialist Emily Rae Waggoner—both live in Boston, but the fight to protect trans rights affects them on a deeply personal level: They’re both from North Carolina.

When HB 2 was signed into law, Luck says, “I was on guard, because I’ve been told I’m in the wrong bathroom my entire life as a masculine-presenting female for more than 30 years.”

Now his home state has become one big ”Do Not Enter” sign for him and his friends still there. Luck’s reaction, however, was not one of helplessness. His instinct, which he learned to follow after years of experiencing and bearing witness to bigotry, was to bind the community and help strengthen it through tangible acts of love and support.

One Reddit commenter likened the map to the Negro Motorist Green Book of the 1930s to 1960s, which was published to help Black travelers in the United States find safe passage in times when racial persecution was legal. Like the Negro Motorist Green Book, the bathrooms’ map is not so much a novelty but a vital resource to protect the safety of its users at a time when history is repeating itself in a way that is marginalizing an already vulnerable population.

Before the Safe Bathrooms map, Luck started mailing hundreds of buttons from the #IllGoWithYou campaign to friends and family back home. The #IllGoWithYou campaign was developed as a means for allies to offer solidarity and protection to transgender and non-binary individuals. By wearing a button, participants pledge to stand up and speak up during instances of harassment and physical endangerment.

“This is my way of paying it forward,” Luck says. “What I’ve done is buy a shit ton of buttons and if someone wants one, I send them one. If they can’t afford it, I send them one. If they want to know more about it, I write them a note and ask people to pick up more.”

His reasoning is simple: “I would have given anything to have seen one of these when I was in North Carolina.”

Luck’s meaningful gestures extends to the clothes he wears, as he frequently can be found sporting a t-shirt that says “No Hate in Our State” or a tank top with the words “Proud Transman” printed in bold. River models several lines of what he refers to as “activism wear,” as a product ambassador a variety of labels including a Greensboro, North Carolina-based company called Deconstructing Gender, and another called Proud Animals.

It’s actually the former that planted the seed for the Safe Bathrooms map, as Luck and Waggoner were inspired by the photos of gender-neutral bathrooms posted on the company’s Instagram account. While the two were talking to Deconstructing Gender’s founder and CEO Avery Dickerson, who was transitioning at the time, Waggoner said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a map of safe bathrooms where trans people could go without hassle?”

And so with Waggoner’s web design expertise and Luck’s social media skills, the Safe Bathrooms map came to life as a child of both necessity and wishful thinking. As they built it, the people came in droves: businesses, affected community members, and media alike.

With over 200 businesses included to date, the two have put together a functioning survival guide for trans residents and travelers who also possess bladders.

Waggoner shared one email with Rewire that she received from a man who owns an architecture firm in Maine, who requested to have his business be included on the map:

I, therefore this business, stand for equality, acceptance, and kindness to all. As a gay man, and one living with HIV for 30 years now, I know too well that indifference to discrimination, condoned cruelty, and legalized oppression are terminal illnesses. These behaviors killed the dreams, and injured the very souls of our young, and further darkened the roads the rest of us continue to travel. It must stop.

To be included on the Safe Bathrooms map, businesses need simply fill out this form and verify their trans-friendliness with a photo of a gender-neutral bathroom placard or other clear form of expression. Upon approval, businesses are represented on the map as a roll of toilet paper. For those lacking, the Safe Bathrooms website goes one step further and shows businesses where they can obtain gender-neutral bathroom signs for their private spaces.

Waggoner and Luck know personally how useful such a map can be. Waggoner says she’s had to stake out bathrooms to make sure the coast is clear, like a Secret Service member. One time, she says, “We were in a restaurant waiting to use the bathroom. We could feel the tension in the air and feel the stares. And it became very uncomfortable because people at the bar were openly just watching which bathroom River was going to go into. And we feared for his safety and our safety.”

Luck continues, “We ended up having to leave and go to a friend’s house so I could use the bathroom and detoured the whole evening plans so I could pee safe.”

Clearly the problem won’t end once HB 2 and other anti-trans laws like it are repealed. The attitudes that brought these policies into being still exist and must be dealt with. But, as Luck attests, there is a definite support system of love and acceptance in North Carolina. He found it in Greensboro as a music teacher at New Garden Friends School, a Quaker school. “They were so open and embraced diversity that I could be an out lesbian,” says Luck.

Greensboro has very distinct pockets of support, which is where a lot of the safe bathrooms appear on the map. But even in places less supportive deeper south, Waggoner notes there are still good friends to be found: “It’s been cool to see some of the small-business owners in some of the more rural towns popping up. Like in Salisbury, North Carolina. It’s really brave of them to do that—to be the first in their town to speak up and say something, and be the first on the map.”

The outpouring of support may be having an effect: University of North Carolina President Margaret Spellings recently gave a statement saying that she would not enforce HB 2 or change any of the school’s current provisions. Spellings did originally plan to enforce HB 2. It wasn’t until U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch declared the state in violation of civil rights and threatened to cut up to $4.8 billion in federal funding to the school that Spellings changed her position (and McCrory sued the federal government).

Before Spellings changed her decision, students from various on-campus alliance groups held loud protests outside of buildings in which she was attending meetings, in efforts to sway her judgment. Students at schools across the state affected by the law are making their opposition known.

On a K-12 level, there are organizational efforts through nonprofit Gay-Straight Alliance groups such as Time Out Youth, which offers resources and aid to LGBTQ minors living in inclusive North Carolina and South Carolina school districts. Its website lists student rights, including the rights to gender expression, confidentiality, and respective pronoun usage, as well the right to attend school functions and report on instances of bullying (which state public schools are required by law to deal with).

Luck has spent most of his life traveling against the grain of society’s intolerance–from a misunderstood kid living with his grandparents, to a determined and proud trans man working hard to end the ritual persecution of his fellow person.

Growing up in North Carolina in a conservative Baptist household, Luck remembers being called a “tomboy” and being told “not to act like a boy” as young as 3 years old. Luck attended and was eventually kicked out of a Christian high school for identifying as a “lesbian” (this was before he identified as trans). Luck says he’s been working steadily since he was 13, when his first job was at a Chick-fil-A.

In college, Luck had a psychology professor who taught that homosexuality was a disorder.

“I remember sitting in the class waiting for someone to say something, because I didn’t want to say anything,” Luck says.

After going to the head of the psych department, and then the head of the school, Luck managed to get the homophobic lesson pulled from the syllabus.

“That was a time in my life where I realized if I didn’t say something, no one would. And so I had to. That’s when my activism really started,” Luck says.

Coming to Boston for grad school, Luck found his new home to be much less critical of his outward gender appearance, and found true love in his partner. Luck says Waggoner accepted and supported his transition every step of the way—from coming out (a second time) as transgender, to life-affirming surgeries and ongoing treatments, to his sweeping romantic proposal involving a trip to New York City, a rare Harry Potter book, and a cleverly inserted engagement ring.

Luck and Waggoner hope to expand upon all the ground they’ve covered in North Carolina and take their Safe Bathrooms map to national and international levels.

Luck says he wants to ultimately see the whole state of North Carolina become “a giant roll of toilet paper.”

“We’d [also] love for it to grow to be an international thing, especially given all the anti-LGBT sentiments in other countries. Because we’re everywhere. And everybody needs to have that access,” he says.

The two do have an app in the works to accompany their Safe Bathrooms map, which they hope to give a Yelp-like interface to allow community members to find safe bathrooms on the go, and review and share their own individual bathroom experiences.

All of this work points to a very simple goal: to make it so trans people don’t have to endure daily humiliation exercises to find a toilet that comes with no strings attached.

“The bottom line is … I’m a human being who happens to be trans. But before I would label myself trans, I would say I’m an activist, an actor, a student, an artist, a musician, a good partner, a good relative … All these other qualities that define me that have so much more weight,” says Luck.

To show support for the trans community and be included on the Safe Bathrooms map, visit SafeBathrooms.club.

Culture & Conversation Media

Meet the Poet Who Inadvertently Took Down Gay Talese, and the Journalist Talese Insulted

Amy Littlefield

Gay Talese's comments at a recent journalism conference echoed decades of exclusion. That was what the men on stage didn't hear, but we did.

Editor’s note: On Wednesday, the New York Times published an article, titled “Gay Talese Goes Through the Twitter Wringer,” that referenced our reporting about Gay Talese’s comments to New York Times Magazine staff writer Nikole Hannah-Jones. In that article, Talese referred to Hannah-Jones as “duplicitous.” On Thursday, New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet released a statement, saying the Times‘ article “was flawed and Nikole was treated unfairly.” Baquet praised Hannah-Jones as “one of the most accomplished and prominent journalists of her generation.” He also wrote: “this incident is larger than the exchange between her and Gay Talese. Too often, we are clumsy in handling issues of race and gender and this story was another unfortunate example. We have made strides in our coverage and culture, but the best solution is to continue building a more diverse, inclusive newsroom.”

Verandah Porche didn’t grasp the full significance of what she had done until later.

At the time, sitting in an auditorium at Boston University (BU) at the Power of Narrative conference, she simply felt curious about something the keynote speaker, writer Gay Talese, seemed to have left out. Talese, 84, is a giant in the world of narrative journalism, best known for his 1966 Esquire profile “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” On Saturday, dressed in one of his immaculate suits, Talese regaled the roughly 550 attendees with tales of his childhood and reporting tips, including one that became a Twitter punchline because of what came next: “Journalism is avoiding, if you can avoid it, any kind of technology.”

Then Talese took questions from the audience. Porche’s question was first.

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“In addition to Nora Ephron, who are the women who write who have inspired you most?” she asked.

Later, I felt sure the questioner was someone deeply familiar with Talese’s history of sexism—familiar, for example, with the 1964 cab ride during which he leaned over Gloria Steinem to say to Saul Bellow, “You know how every year, there’s a pretty girl who comes to New York and pretends to be a writer? Well, Gloria is this year’s pretty girl.”

Perhaps the questioner knew enough to predict that after his keynote, Talese would insult a prominent Black woman journalist by asking her if she was headed to get her nails done. But I was wrong.

“I was just authentically curious, and being a woman of my generation, I’m very sensitive to exclusion and erasure and complacency,” Porche, who is 70, told me later by phone. “I was listening for his relationship with women, unconsciously, that’s just what I do, and so I heard him talk about the great Nora Ephron … and also obviously there was his mother, and then there was nobody.”

Porche was already an outsider at the conference attended by hundreds of journalists. An accomplished poet and educator, Porche lives in rural Vermont, on a former commune called Total Loss Farm. For her workshop at the conference, she created her first-ever PowerPoint presentation. And as she raised her hand that day, her experience of sexism over the decades was, perhaps unconsciously, with her.

In the mid-1970s, Porche flew out to the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa to address a class led by poet Sandra McPherson. After the talk, McPherson confronted Porche, saying she believed Porche’s poems were actually written by men. The accusation turned out to be based on a misunderstanding; McPherson had heard a group of men scheming about releasing a book of poems under a fake woman’s persona, and mistakenly connected that to Porche. Still, the encounter was a game changer for Porche, who at the time was reeling from her father’s recent death.

“I sort of went home to Vermont and decided, there’s got to be a better way to be a poet,” Porche told me. “I developed this outsider career that was very local.”

On Saturday, Porche’s question—if not her name—entered the national spotlight, not because of what she said, but because of how Talese responded.

“I’d say Mary McCarthy was one,” Talese began. His voice tapered off, and then he paused.

“Of my generation…” A 12-second pause. “None. I’ll tell you why.” Then Talese dug the hole out of which he’d spend days trying to climb. At first, he clearly confined his answer to the past, saying when he was young, women tended not to do the kind of journalism that interested him. But then he did something my former journalism professor would have slashed in red pen: He shifted tenses.

“I think women, educated women, writerly women don’t want to—or do not feel comfortable dealing with strangers, or people that I’m attracted to, sort of offbeat characters,” he said. “I didn’t know any women journalists that I loved.”

From the balcony, Sandy Tolan, an author and professor of narrative journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, shouted “Joan Didion?”

“I’m glad you reminded me,” Talese responded. “But she doesn’t deal with antisocial people. She’s an educated, beautiful writer.”

Two men were on stage with Talese: Tom Fiedler, the moderator and BU’s dean of the College of Communication, and Mitchell Zuckoff, a BU journalism professor. Neither challenged Talese.

Sitting in the audience, I felt erased. “What is he saying?” I remember exclaiming.

I wondered for a moment if I was the only one who noticed. But, of course, I wasn’t. It quickly became clear we were in the midst of a viral moment. On Twitter, women registered their disapproval. Some walked out. We’d been encouraged to tweet ahead of the keynote. So we did. As my friend and I turned to each other in shock, an older man whipped around and shushed us.

That evening, the Boston Globe hosted a cocktail party at a nearby hotel. By then, stories about Talese’s remarks had appeared in media outlets, including the New York Daily News, the Washington Post and Jezebel, all of which referenced the Twitter firestorm. But absent from that firestorm was the woman who started it all. At about 8:30 that night, Porche, aided by a BU student, finally posted a tweet identifying herself as the woman who asked the question.

Talese has since written to the Boston Globe (a sponsor for the conference) that he misunderstood Porche’s question, taking it to apply to women journalists who may have inspired him as a young man. He noted a number of “contemporary women” whom he admires but left out at the time: Susan Orlean, Larissa MacFarquhar, Lillian Ross, and Katie Roiphe.

Fiedler, the moderator, acknowledged to the Globe that he “may have been able to defuse the situation,” if he had “anticipated that [Talese’s] remark would create the stir that it did.”

It’s a twisted version of “Sorry, not sorry.”

But no clarification would have stopped what happened next. Immediately after his keynote, Talese walked over to attend a private luncheon for speakers. He met Nikole Hannah-Jones, who has won widespread acclaim for her coverage of racial segregation in schools and housing. Hannah-Jones delivered Friday’s keynote address, launching the conference. But when she was introduced to him as a New York Times Magazine staff writer, Talese was more curious about how she got her job.

“He asked again if I was actually a staff writer. And I said yes,” Hannah-Jones told me by phone on Monday. He asked her how she got hired for that job. “I said they called and offered me a job,” she recalled. “He asked me who hired me, why was I hired?”

Hannah-Jones said she was the only Black person in the room.

“I felt defensive,” Hannah-Jones recalled. “I feel like I’ve been explaining why I’m in a room where apparently people think I’m not supposed to be most of my life, so I know when someone is asking me that question.”

The conversation moved on to other topics. But at the end of the luncheon, Talese asked Hannah-Jones something else.

“I was talking with another woman journalist,” Hannah-Jones recalled. “We were trying to figure out what session we were going to go to next, and that’s when he asked me if I was going to get my nails done.”

Now, Hannah-Jones, like Talese, is an immaculate dresser, and that extends to her turquoise, baby blue, and glitter nails. But when Talese asked if she, an investigative reporter at one of the nation’s leading publications, planned to skip out on the journalism conference at which they were both keynote speakers to head to the salon, Hannah-Jones did not even know what to say.

“Part of it was, I mean, I just come from a family where respect for your elders is very ingrained, but part of it is feeling like, honestly, as a Black woman, that it would be very hard for me to say something without coming off looking like all the stereotypes that women and Black women get,” Hannah-Jones told me on Monday. “It was a hard moment for me to realize that even at this point in my career I could still be silenced.”

The conference, like many journalism gatherings, was overwhelmingly white, another reminder of how far the field of journalism has to go to address racism and sexism, not only in our coverage, but within our own ranks. For women like Porche and Hannah-Jones, Talese’s remarks cut in part because they felt familiar. Talese echoed decades of exclusion. That was what the men on stage didn’t hear, but we did.

As the conference concluded on Sunday, I approached Mitchell Zuckoff, the second man who had been on stage with Talese, to tell him I thought he had shirked a basic, journalistic responsibility: Ask a follow-up question. Zuckoff committed to asking one next time, telling me, “In the future, if I’m moderating a speaker or a panel, and something is said from the stage or the audience that I believe to be open to offense or misinterpretation, I will take a moment to seek clarity from the speaker.”

But Zuckoff has publicly defended Talese, saying he believes he was talking about his experiences as a young man.

I called Zuckoff on Monday and asked him about a particular moment in Hannah-Jones’ keynote from Friday that sticks with me. In response to a question from a white audience member, Hannah-Jones reminded us that race and segregation are not Black issues. Segregation exists because of white people. I asked Zuckoff if he thought he had failed in his responsibility, as a man, to confront Talese’s sexism.

“He answered it in a way that I understood completely at the time not as a sexist statement,” Zuckoff said. “If I had perceived it the way you did, perhaps I would have said something different. But I didn’t, and I don’t.”

For me, this conference has become one of those defining moments. It was a moment when an elderly man said something outrageous, and the men who had a platform to intervene failed to do so. It was also a moment when I banded together with other women, over pizza and in the hallways and classrooms between sessions. In slightly different words we told each other: I felt it too; I see you; I admire you; you belong.