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March 6, 2012

Rush Limbaugh Thinks You're A Slut

March has been a red letter month for sluts thanks to everyone's favorite right-wing radio blowhard, Rush Limbaugh. If you somehow managed to miss it, last week Limbaugh got upset at Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student who testified at a congressional hearing about the importance of insurance coverage for birth control. Rush responded by attacking and slut-shaming Fluke for three days straight on his radio show. Here are the choice quotes:
What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke [sic] who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex -- what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.

Can you imagine if you're her parents how proud of Sandra Fluke you would be? Your daughter goes up to a congressional hearing conducted by the Botox-filled Nancy Pelosi and testifies she's having so much sex she can't afford her own birth control pills and she agrees that Obama should provide them, or the Pope.


Opening his show Thursday, Limbaugh characterized the criticism of his comments as "a conniption fit," which he called "hilarious." He offered what he said was a "compromise" to contraception coverage: purchasing "all the women at Georgetown University as much aspirin to put between their knees as possible."

Limbaugh later questioned why insurance should cover contraception and played a portion of Fluke's testimony laying out the problems many college-age women face paying for contraception. He asked, "Ms. Fluke, have you ever heard of not having sex? Have you ever heard of not having sex so often?"

After saying that the Washington, D.C., Department of Health "will send you free condoms and lube," Limbaugh said: "So, Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here's the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I'll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch."

After discussing outrage over his comments, Limbaugh again attacked Fluke, asking: "Who bought your condoms in junior high? Who bought your condoms in the sixth grade? Or your contraception. Who bought your contraceptive pills in high school?"

He described Fluke as "a woman who is happily presenting herself as an immoral, baseless, no-purpose-to-her life woman. She wants all the sex in the world whenever she wants it, all the time, no consequences. No responsibility for her behavior."


On Friday, Limbaugh defended his previous comments about Fluke and complained that "not one person says that, 'Well, did you ever think about maybe backing off the amount of sex that you have?'"

Later, Limbaugh said that requiring insurance companies to cover contraception is "no different than if somebody knocked on my door that I don't know and said, 'You know what? I'm out of money. I can't afford birth-control pills, and I'm supposed to have sex with three guys tonight.'"

After considering the meaning of feminism, Limbaugh offered a definition of his "misogynist": "a man who hates women almost as much as women hate women." He clarified: "I do not hate women." [via Media Matters: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday]
It hardly seems necessary given that the source is Rush Limbaugh, but quick fact check - Fluke's testimony wasn't about her sex life, and she certainly never said that she couldn't afford birth control because she was having too much sex (because that's not how birth control works and makes no sense). She did testify about the real consequences for women when they can't get insurance coverage for birth control, like a friend who lost an ovary due to PCOS and ovarian cysts (and who happened to be a lesbian so her reasons for needing BC also had nothing to do with how much sex she was having, not that there's anything wrong with needing BC solely because you're having tons of sex, because there's not). And finally, she was talking about private insurance coverage that she and other female students pay for, so none of it had anything to do with "forcing" the government or taxpayers to 'pay her to have sex'.

Now, Rush makes offensive comments all the time, so for him the initial rant was pretty much just a normal Wednesday. Sometimes there's a brief firestorm, but it usually dies down fairly quickly and Rush continues to grace our airwaves with his special brand of fuckery. But this time it was different. It turns out that there are a lot of people who use birth control or know someone who does or has, and that many of those people don't appreciate being told that we're all sluts and whores who should spend less time whining about the price of our birth control and more time mailing our sex tapes to Rush Limbaugh. The timing also wasn't the best for him, because in this current political climate many of us sluts are even more fed up than usual with the seemingly endless Republican attempts to crawl up our vaginas.

So this time, people are protesting. They're speaking out, signing petitions, and contacting the Limbaugh show's advertisers. And this time, it's working - so far more than 20 companies have pulled their ads from Rush's show, and more are likely to follow. Anyone who needed evidence that this advertiser boycott was having an effect got it in the form of an actual apology issued by Limbaugh on his website on Saturday. Naturally, the statement was of the 'I'm sorry you sluts were offended' variety - he apologized specifically just for his "insulting word choices", laughably claimed that it wasn't meant as a personal attack, and spent the majority of the statement explaining that he's actually right about the birth control issue. But the fact that the words "I apologize" appeared at all seems to indicate that Rush is feeling at least a little bit of heat from all of these lost sponsors.

Nobody actually bought Limbaugh's apology since he made no effort at all to even pretend to be sincere about it, so the protest continues. We've started and stopped writing about this a few times now because the story just keeps developing. It's been pretty interesting (and sometimes frustrating) to watch this discussion about slut-shaming and birth control play out on such a large scale, and we want to address some of the arguments that we've been reading and hearing this past week.


What about the First Amendment?! Free speech!!! You're trying to take Limbaugh's rights away!

We've seen a lot of this, and as a general rule we feel that while it's great to be passionate about defending the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, it's also helpful to actually understand what those rights are. The government isn't censoring Limbaugh or trying to shut his show down. He has the same free speech rights that the rest of us do, but nobody has the "right" to their own radio show and a bunch of corporate sponsors to support that show with advertising. Limbaugh has the right to speak out, we have the right to speak out against him, and companies have the right to decide whether supporting his speech is the best use of their advertising dollars. (Aren't conservatives supposed to be big fans of this kind of free market activity?) The only person in this equation who is actually interested in taking rights away from people is Limbaugh himself.


Limbaugh's comments were inappropriate, but he's just an entertainer!

This is the standard line that Republican politicians use when they want to walk the line between defending Limbaugh for saying something offensive and criticizing him for saying something offensive. They pretend that it doesn't really matter that much anyway because Limbaugh's just an entertainer and not one of the most influential figures in the GOP. That way they can avoid looking stupid for defending the indefensible while also avoiding pissing off Rush and drawing criticism on his show. Rick Santorum demonstrates this nicely:
"He's being absurd, but that's you know, an entertainer can be absurd," Santorum told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Friday. "He's in a very different business than I am."
What's apparently lost on them is the fact that classifying someone as an entertainer doesn't also give them some kind of magical free pass to say whatever they want with no repercussions. Anyone who uses the entertainer excuse for Rush's offensive remarks does nothing but demonstrate their own cowardice. Which reminds me, let's check in with GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, who will surely demonstrate leadership and character on this issue:
“I'll just say this which is it’s not the language I would have used," Romney said. "I’m focusing on the issues I think are significant in the country today and that’s why I’m here talking about jobs and Ohio.”
Congratulations, Mittens. This statement would need at least three upgrades to get to half-assed. Such courage. But we do wish you had been more specific and not left us hanging. What words would you have used? Harlot? Strumpet? Lady of the evening? You know what, we'll send you one of our Slut note cards and you can get back to us.

Were Rush's comments really harmful?

We actually only heard this argument in one place, but felt like it really earned a mention. Here's GQ and The Atlantic editor Marc Ambinder:


Back me up on this one, ladies. Isn't it always just so lovely when a man comes along to tell us women what's important and what's not? Sure, Sandra Fluke got her feelings hurt by big mean Rush, but it's not like it actually matters. At least, not enough for Marc Ambinder to dip into his "reservoir of time" to find a few minutes to address it. We'd love for Ambinder to talk to this mother of a teenage girl being shamed and teased at school for being on birth control - let him try to tell her that slut-shaming isn't harmful.


This is a double standard! What about when that one liberal said a bad thing about a conservative woman that one time?!

This one's been really popular. People have been dredging up everything Bill Maher ever said about Sarah Palin, David Letterman's offensive Palin joke from a few years ago, Ed Schultz calling Laura Ingraham a slut, and anything else they can find to "prove" that liberals are being hypocritical on this issue. Limbaugh himself complained about the alleged double standard on his show on Monday (after his very sincere and heartfelt apology), using the example of rappers, who "can say whatever they want about women...and they win awards!"

There are two problems with this. (Well, at least two.) The first is that this argument assumes that all liberals were totally okay with these other comments and that nobody on the left spoke out against them, which is demonstrably false. When sexist comments are made about conservative women, we always see liberal feminists speaking out and condemning the remarks. Personally, I know more liberals (particularly women) who would agree that Bill Maher makes offensive sexist comments than those who would argue it. I've read plenty of feminist defenses of Sarah Palin when she was the target of sexist comments. We've defended Michele Bachmann, and we're not alone. Many of us were offended by Ed Schultz's comment about Laura Ingraham, and we were glad that he was immediately suspended by MSNBC and that he issued an apology that took full responsibility for his comments and made no excuses for them (unlike Rush's "apology"), and that he called Ingraham personally to apologize and offered to stay off the air indefinitely with no pay. Maybe if Rush's comments weren't so difficult to defend on their own merits, his supporters wouldn't feel the need to try to shift the focus to other incidents that really aren't comparable.

The other thing about this argument is that it sort of implies that liberals somehow prevented conservatives from launching the same kind of protest against Maher or Schultz or anyone else that is currently being directed at Limbaugh. Anyone is free to speak out about what they see on TV or radio and to contact companies about where they choose to spend their advertising dollars. We even saw a few people suggesting that this protest is some kind of Obama administration conspiracy to help his reelection campaign, as if Obama somehow forced Limbaugh to go on a three-day long slut-shaming diatribe. I know it's too much to ask, but it would be nice if we could all try to stick to relevant and reality-based arguments.


Rush was being absurd and over-the-top to make a point!

This is another popular one, even used by Rush himself in his "apology":
For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.
It's an excellent argument if the point that Rush was trying to make was "Rush Limbaugh is an obnoxious judgmental misogynist douchebag". Otherwise it's nothing but a cousin to the equally pathetic "entertainer" argument. Limbaugh's comments reflected absolutely no understanding of what Sandra Fluke actually said in her testimony, or of birth control in general and how and why women use it. How can you say you're using "absurdity" to make an "analogy of the situation" when your comments literally have nothing to do with the situation? And if Fluke is so obviously wrong and Limbaugh is so obviously right, why does he need to reach for the very height of absurdity just to demonstrate that? Even if Fluke's arguments had actually been absurd, and Rush really wouldn't know because he clearly either didn't read them or consciously chose to misrepresent them, that still wouldn't be an excuse to go with 'hey you feminazi slut whore, send me your sex tape' as a response.


If she's having so much sex that she can't afford her birth control then she is a slut! If you can't afford birth control you should just stop having sex.

Unfortunately a lot of people ran with this one, because apparently they believed Rush when he claimed that Sandra Fluke actually testified that she couldn't afford her birth control because she was having too much sex. It's really sad to see arguments like this, not just because of the obvious slut-shaming but because it's revealing so much ignorance. Birth control is not Viagra - you don't pop a pill each time you have sex. There's no such thing as 'I was extra slutty this month so my birth control bill is really high'. Lots of women are on birth control for health reasons that have nothing to do with sex. I know I keep repeating this stuff but apparently it's very confusing for some people.

There's a flip side to this one too. A lot of people, us included, are defending Sandra Fluke by pointing out that her testimony wasn't about her sex life, it was about women who need birth control for health reasons. But it really shouldn't matter. Limbaugh's comments aren't offensive because Sandra Fluke isn't a slut, they're offensive because the word slut should not be used as a sexist weapon to shame us and silence us. They're not offensive because it's shameful to be a sex worker, they're offensive because Rush Limbaugh thinks it's shameful to be a sex worker and he was trying to shame Fluke by calling her a prostitute.

Women who use birth control to treat conditions like PCOS should not have to jump through hoops to prove to an insurance company that they need birth control for "good" reasons and not slutty reasons. But we shouldn't buy into the narrative that some uses for birth control are more legitimate than others. All reasons for using birth control are health reasons. If Fluke's testimony had focused more on the fact that many young women are sexually active and we need access to birth control because it's an important part of our health care, that would have been just as valid and Limbaugh would been just as wrong to shame her for it.


Limbaugh loves controversies like this and they never really hurt him, so let not give him the attention he wants

I can totally understand and appreciate this argument. Most days I'm perfectly content to pretend Ann Coulter doesn't exist, so I get it. But as I said at the beginning, this time seems to be different, so I'm going to wrap this up with some info on the ongoing protest of Rush Limbaugh and the results that we're seeing so far. Shortly after Limbaugh's initial attack on Sandra Fluke, people began contacting his show's sponsors to ask them to withdraw their support. As the outcry grew, more and more companies pulled their ads. The current number is over 25 - Think Progress is doing a good job of keeping track of the growing list. At least two radio stations have also dropped Limbaugh's show entirely:

“The most recent incident has crossed a line of decency and a standard that we expect of programming on KPUA whether it is locally produced or a syndicated program like the Rush Limbaugh show," KPUA president Chris Leonard said in a statement. "...Regardless of one's political views on the issue being discussed, we feel the delivery was degrading and the continued comments over several days to be egregious. As a result, we are discontinuing the Rush Limbaugh program on KPUA effective immediately.”

WBEC general manager Peter Barry told a local public radio station that Limbaugh had overstepped his boundaries. "The nature of Rush's programming has always presented challenges for us and he's always pushed the envelope," he said. "But this time he's taken it too far."

So far the protest shows no signs of slowing, so if you'd like to stay updated here are a few good places to start:

-Keep up on Twitter by checking the hashtags #StopRush and #BoycottRush and following people like Krystal Ball and StopRush (one of the masterminds of the successful Stop Beck effort).

-Check out Shoq's Stop Rush Limbaugh Project Tracker to see all of the current anti-Rush efforts at a glance.

-This Daily Kos diary offers some tips on how to take action against Limbaugh at the local level.

-If you're in the mood to sign some petitions, Left Action, CREDO Action, and Media Matters have you covered.

Oh yeah, and there's just one more thing...

2 comments:

Gretchen.Engle said...

"Women who use birth control to treat conditions like PCOS should not have to jump through hoops to prove to an insurance company that they need birth control for "good" reasons and not slutty reasons. But we shouldn't buy into the narrative that some uses for birth control are more legitimate than others. All reasons for using birth control are health reasons."

YES, SO MUCH THIS. I'm all for educating people that many women use oral contraceptives for reasons besides actual contraception, but constantly pointing it out creates an implicit negative value judgement on those of us who only use BC for not getting pregnant.

There are tons of reasons a woman could use birth control, and they're all equally valid.

minta said...

Very succinctly written!....bravo.....i am still so angry that I am unable to move beyond raising my voice...calling him names.. making faces...& becoming arguementative during the discussion...lol thank you for the links... I will be checking in on them to share my findings...