Broadsheet's year-end roundup

Veil vitriol, lactivism, the Duke case and more!

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published December 22, 2006 8:24PM (EST)

Well, Broadsheeters, it's been one crazy year. As we gear up for our holiday vacation, we thought we'd bake up a batch of Broadsheet's biggest and most enduring stories from 2006, fashioned into bite-size nuggets for easy digestion.

Lactivists: Breasts always seem to loom large in national discourse. But they were an especially hot -- and yet exceedingly confusing -- topic in 2006. One woman recently filed a complaint against Delta Airlines and Freedom Airlines after being kicked off a flight for breast-feeding. In response, lactivists staged "nurse-ins" at more than 30 airports. Ironically, the hysteria over mothers breast-feeding in public coincided with mounting "breast is best" moralizing. The take-away message seemed to be: Breast-feeding is essential for the health of your baby. Just don't subject anyone else to the yuckiness!

Veil mania: It was all kicked off when British politician Jack Straw said that veiled women made him "uncomfortable" and suggested that they were just itching for permission to take off their veils when meeting with him. Soon enough, other notable figures -- including Prime Minister Tony Blair and author Salman Rushdie -- jumped into the fray, denouncing the veil. Without much delay, the veil debate spread to Italy (where one Muslim leader declared the full-face veil "against Italian law"), the Netherlands (where the Dutch Cabinet pushed for a burqa ban) and Egypt (where the culture minister deemed it regressive). For all the veil vitriol, there was also Australia's Sheik Taj El-Din Hamid Hilaly's nasty defense of it; the country's lead cleric suggested that unveiled women are akin to "uncovered meat" and responsible for rape.

The Duke case: From the start, we've covered the allegations of rape against members of Duke University's elite lacrosse team and the ensuing media circus. First surfaced reports of the university's slow response to the accusations, then in flooded allegations of misconduct on the part of police and prosecutors. Just today came news that the rape charges against the three lacrosse players had been dropped because the accuser couldn't remember whether she had been penetrated during the attack.

Madame Speaker: Nancy Pelosi was elected as the first-ever female speaker of the House and will head a chamber filled with more women than ever before. We were pleased as punch, of course. But what was almost everyone else talking about? Her clothes, makeup and femaleness. For his part, President Bush extended a warm welcome to Pelosi by kidding during a press conference that he'd "shared with her the names of some Republican interior decorators who can help her pick out the new drapes in her new offices."

Reproductive rights: This year we embarked on a stomach-dropping ride through the political battlefield of reproductive rights. To name just a few of the attacks on abortion rights: There was the attempt to revive an 11-year-old parental notification law in Illinois, and Texas' parental consent law was nudged along by the Texas Medical Board. Exploitative crisis pregnancy centers have thrived with the help of government funding. And, of course, there was Bush's appointment of abstinence-only zealot Eric Keroack to oversee Title X funds -- which still has us blinking in disbelief.

That's not to say we haven't won a few battles, too. This summer the FDA approved the HPV vaccine for girls as young as 9, in the hopes of preventing cervical cancer. Early this year the South Dakota abortion ban was signed into law by Gov. Michael Rounds but put on hold until voters could weigh in. They did and, thankfully, they shot it down. So too did voters in California and Oregon when considering state parental notification laws. There was also the approval of over-the-counter sales of Plan B to women 18 and older. (Reproductive rights groups are still working on having it approved for minors.) Most recently, the fetal pain bill was presented before the House and rejected.

Sad losses: Lastly, a roundup of this sort wouldn't be complete without a nod to the feminist icons who died this year. There was the surprising trifecta of loss in early February when Coretta Scott King, Betty Friedan and Wendy Wasserstein died within the same week. Just last month pro-sex feminist and proto-riot grrrl Ellen Willis died of lung cancer.

That's just a measly start -- there was far too much to amply round up here. So, feel free to chime in with your own favorite stories from '06. The Broadsheet crew is now officially headed out on vacation. Happy holidays, and we'll see you next year!

Tracy Clark-Flory

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