On Birth Control and Sluts: The Problem is Bigger than Rush

by | March 20, 2012
filed under Feminism

Rush Limbaughby Jasmine Peterson

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (which sometimes I think I do, yet I still managed to hear of this) you’ve likely heard about the reprehensible tirade Rush Limbaugh engaged in on air a couple of weeks ago. During his diatribe, he suggested that Sandra Fluke, a student of Georgetown University who cogently argued before Democratic members of the House of Representatives that contraceptives should be provided free of cost under university health plans was a “slut” or “prostitute” for asking to be “paid to have sex”.

As if that wasn’t derisive enough, he then went on to suggest that Ms. Fluke and other women who, you know, want to have control over their reproductive rights and their bodies (feminazis, according to Limbaugh – because how dare a woman demand autonomous control over her own body) ought to post videos of themselves having sex in payment for their publicly funded birth control.

Limbaugh’s apology following his offensive commentary, precipitated by the backlash and consequent loss of several corporate sponsors and advertisers and not any actual remorse, is specious at best. You can read a pretty adept critique of it here. In reaction to Limbaugh’s perpetual hate speech and his weak apology, VoteVets is demanding for Limbaugh to be pulled off the air.

VoteVets is a group of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are demanding the American Forces Network to remove Limbaugh from its programming, stating that “There simply can be no place on military airwaves for sentiments that would undermine respect.” It’s interesting that this position has been taken up only recently, given Rush’s long history of making denigrating, hateful, and misogynist remarks on air. I don’t see that this is anything worse than things he’s said in the past, to so suddenly garner such a reaction.

Now, I don’t much like Rush as an ‘entertainer’ or as a human being, even. However, I don’t think that censorship is the best reaction to this situation. This is only one (extreme and blatant) example of misogyny in media. Rush’s statements are only a symptom of a much larger problem of a culture steeped in misogyny. Taking him off the air doesn’t address the issue, and I don’t see it as any sort of solution.

Of course, leaving him on the air means he’s going to continue to engage in hateful rhetoric, but the things Rush says are reflective of a deeper cultural disdain of women, and particularly of autonomous female sexuality. As much as he may influence public discourse, he is also influenced by it. So while I don’t absolve Rush of responsibility for his offensive diatribe, taking him off the air is a futile exercise. In fact, leaving him on the air might actually be a good thing – the backlash he faced from his hateful attack on Sandra Fluke elicited a vociferous and vehement public response. If we continue to volubly resist this sort of sentiment, and corporate sponsors and advertisers continue to respond, perhaps this will shift what is acceptable in media and entertainment.

Although that’s a rather optimistic (and probably unrealistic) expectation, I do think the focus needs to be on addressing the culturally embedded misogyny, rather than on removing Limbaugh from the airwaves.

It’s a much larger task, but even if Limbaugh’s program no longer airs, it doesn’t effectually remove such sentiment from the media. It is everywhere. Its embededdness in our culture is evidenced in the fact that we even need to be having these conversations in the 21st century, and in the attacks we see on reproductive rights in the States. It is evidenced in the fact that those who are leading these conversations are predominantly wealthy middle-aged men. And it is evidenced in the fact that slut-shaming and victim-blaming are still effective tools in the silencing of women.

(photo via Wikimedia Commons)


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