WASHINGTON -- By now most sentient Americans have heard about the war on women. That is, the so-called Republican war on women, which has been framed as a battle waged by stodgy old white guys who want to deny women reproductive freedom.
One can debate the validity of these claims, but for now, let's give equal time to the other war on women. This one is manned not by men but by a dwindling number of women whose understanding of equality is so narrowly defined that only a certain kind of woman can be recognized as having achieved anything of value.
Twenty-two such women recently wrote a letter to the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum protesting an award to be given to former first lady Laura Bush. The Alice Award, which honors a woman who has helped other women, previously has gone to Hillary Clinton, Katie Couric, Nancy Pelosi and Olympia Snowe.
Leading the charge of "The 22," as we shall call them, is Sonia Pressman Fuentes, co-founder of the National Organization for Women, who described her reaction upon reading that Bush was being honored as "a sudden onset of Alzheimer's."
Well, at least she didn't say the vapors.
"I couldn't believe my eyes," she said. "It's not partisan. I'm not complaining that she's a Republican." (Because Snowe, after all, is a Republican.) "I'm complaining that she's never done anything for women to get this award."
That sound you hear is the collective gasp of the many who have read a newspaper in the past 10 years or the countless women who, indeed, have been helped by Bush. To say that she has never done anything for women suggests either willful ignorance or malicious revisionism.
The soft-spoken former first lady may not have marched down Pennsylvania Avenue with her sisters to celebrate or protest this or that. But when you live at 1600, you don't have to. Being a first lady grants certain privileges, one of which is a bully pulpit. Mrs. Bush used hers to great effect, not just by advancing women's rights in far corners of the world but also by literally saving lives.
To assert anything less is disingenuous if not dishonest. It is also an insult to a woman of whom all Americans should be proud.
I have some personal knowledge of Mrs. Bush's significant efforts through the years. While most associate her with literacy programs, no small detail, she also has made important inroads for women's health. I was among three journalists, including Greta Van Susteren and Robin Roberts, who traveled with the first lady through the Middle East in 2007 to launch a breast cancer research and treatment initiative in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group