Just as we have Mad Men to thank for reminding us of how casually men in power exuded sexism, racism, classism, anti-semitism and homophobia fifty years ago, now we have Rush Limbaugh to thank for reminding us: we still have a lot of work to do. But I’m thankful to Limbaugh.  Really. Because that outrageous statement he made weeks ago—“If we’re gonna pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want you to post the videos online so we can all watch”—well, it’s just not going away. And that may be bad for his show’s ad revenues, but in terms of getting people talking? It is good. Tricky, risky, sometimes inflammatory. But good.

Have you seen that MoveOn ad in which five women repeat, simply and straight to the camera, Limbaugh’s notorious words, along with several statements by Rick Santorum and other conservatives regarding contraception? It’s in my email inbox and I expect it’ll show up a few more times, right along with the news about how our state’s proposed budget calls for cuts in funding for contraception and counseling.  Also in the in-box: my friend Liza Bean’s insightful blog post about why conservative women believe liberal women don’t like them.

There’s a conversation going on here. People are talking across the fence. The MoveOn ad is getting buzz not just on MSNBC, but on Fox News, where two Republican commentators, both women, tried in vain to explain to Bill O’Reilly why this all matters: why women across the political spectrum reacted with revulsion to, for example, Presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s statement that “a woman impregnated thru rape should accept that horribly created gift. The gift of human life.”

Meanwhile, liberal blogger Liza and her conservative mom are finally having that long-avoided conversation about Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin. Liza’s mom thinks liberal women only want to see liberal women succeed in politics, even though they pay lip service to the notion of diverse views. Liza concedes she may be on to something.

I have to agree. I will never forget the chill I felt when I saw Sarah Palin on TV for the first time, standing next to John McCain, commanding the stage with absolute confidence.

“She’s got the magic,” I thought. “My God, McCain’s going to win and then she’ll run and win and she’ll be our Margaret Thatcher!”

I’ve never been so relieved to be so wrong. And yet what stayed with me were the conversations I had with Republican women who were thrilled by her: by the thought of a woman whose views they shared zooming up the political ladder the way Palin did in 2008.

Ultimately, I believe Palin was a polarizer of women, not a uniter. She did not talk across the fence in 2008, nor has she since, in her role as a TV commentator.

What’s going on now is different. Limbaugh, Santorum and the Virginia and Texas state lawmakers who recently enacted mandatory pre-abortion ultrasounds went so far with their intrusive and offensive words that women, whether they call themselves pro-choice or pro-life, had to respond. Had to at least try to talk, like Liza and her mom.

Just as, fifty years ago, women began to look around the Mad Men world and say: excuse me, guys, but what about us? They didn’t all say it in the same way or for the same reasons. But the conversations began. At the water cooler, over martinis or milk and cookies.  Sometimes, across fences: still the hardest place for us to talk.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.