'Wake up,' women

Kanye, the CDC, Gloria Steinem: who else doesn't trust women to make decisions or their own success?

A bill proposed by Kentucky lawmaker Mary Lou Marzian would prevent doctors from prescribing erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra to anyone other than married men who have their partner's written consent. Ms. Marzian said she was trying to "wake up women" after her state passed a law requiring medical consultations for them 24 hours prior to having an abortion.

"I thought if we're going to insert ourselves into women's most private health care decisions, then we should insert ourselves into men's most private health care decisions, as well," she told The New York Times.

It seems a point, albeit tongue-in-cheek, that shouldn't have to be made today. But nearly 100 years after U.S. women gained the right to vote, we're often still not trusted to make our own decisions — even by other women — or credited with our own successes.

Look at aging feminists Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright. They've been fighting for gender equality for years, yet earlier this month, each roundly dismissed millennial women as brainless sets of ovaries too blind to recognize a duty to support Hillary Clinton for president. The fact that such condescension came from women's rights advocates doesn't make it any less insulting, and it takes away from a simple fact: Ms. Clinton may not be everyone's ideal candidate, but she is a credible one, and that's culturally significant whether we vote for her or not.

Then there was the CDC telling women they're basically just baby vessels and megalomaniac rapper Kanye West claiming in song lyrics that he might have sex with mega star Taylor Swift because he "made that bitch famous."

Ms. Swift, who outlined her own feminist awakening in 2014, set him straight during the Grammys this week, while accepting an award for album of the year — the first female ever to do so twice (and, take note Ms. Albright and Ms. Steinem: a millennial).

"I want to say to all the young women out there, there are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame. But if you just focus on the work, and you don't let those people sidetrack you, someday when you get where you're going, you'll look around and you will know that it was you and the people who love you who put you there," Ms. Swift said.

Kudos to her. That's not an easy speech to give, especially when she knows that a good portion of the audience cares more about what she's wearing than what she's saying.

Gender equality, like racial equality, is a fraught topic. Women don't want to be seen as weak, shrill or whining, so many adopt a grin-and-bear-it attitude toward the various indignities we may encounter — from lower pay to lower expectations. We're comfortable applauding toy maker Mattel for the marketing ploy of finally changing Barbie's body shape after years of dwindling sales, but we can't acknowledge fewer leadership opportunities in the workplace. Speaking up on serious topics puts a target on your back and invites labels, whether they're contained in song lyrics or on social media.

At a forum earlier this month that included first lady Michelle Obama as a panelist, actress and writer Lena Dunham — known for pushing the feminism envelope (she dressed as a Planned Parenthood doctor last Halloween) — said she was done monitoring Twitter until safeguards could be put in place to mitigate user threats and harassment toward her. Conservative media immediately attacked her as quashing free speech, conveniently forgetting that threats aren't protected.

Luckily for Ms. Dunham, she can afford to pay someone to deal with Twitter for her. And she's got the support of a solid, if relatively small, group of talented, powerful, awake women also willing to speak their minds (see Emma Watson's stirring speech on gender equality at United Nation's Headquarters).

Let's hope their example swells the ranks with other forward-thinkers, male and female. Because while it's true that many, many strides have been made in this country (and very, very few in others: Yemen, Pakistan, Syria, Chad, Iran...), there is obviously still a long way to go and a lot left to be said.

Tricia Bishop is The Sun's deputy editorial page editor. Her column runs every other Friday. Her email is tricia.bishop@baltsun.com; Twitter: @triciabishop.

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