Sisterhood Blog

Limbaugh and the 'Slut'-Shaming Epidemic

By Sarah Seltzer

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The latest salvo in the war on women came from the microphone of the notoriously crass and offensive talk radio host Rush Limbaugh. Even for someone who offends as regularly as Limbaugh, his latest comments were beyond the pale.

Limbaugh has launched an attack on Sandra Fluke — the young Georgetown law student whose testimony about contraception coverage was encouraged by Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi. After being rejected by Rep. Darrell Issa as “unqualified” — Issa notoriously assembled an all-male panel to discuss the issue— Fluke spoke simply and straightforwardly to Democrats on the Hill about the problems caused by a lack of contraceptive access and coverage on campus, including severe repercussions for those who needed the pills to address medical conditions.

For this, she’s been called a “slut” and a “prostitute” by Limbaugh.

The host then doubled down on his insult by saying the following: “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.”

I should point out that even though his attacks on this young white college student have broken through the media bubble, he’s been trafficking in racially loaded to straight-up racists attacks on the Obamas and other figures for many years.

As a result of the high-profile slurring of Fluke, everyone from the Georgetown administration to House Speaker John Boehner have condemned Limbaugh, and women’s groups are trying to get his advertisers to abandon him. This morning the President himself called Fluke to offer her support.

But Limbaugh’s comments, ugly and cruel as they are, reveal an even uglier truth behind the policy that started this fight. The birth control backlash, the forced ultrasound provisions — whether transvaginal or abdominal — before abortions, the mandatory waiting periods and paternalistic “counseling” requirements, the sidewalk protests and picketers, all come down to one word: shame.

Last week the Senate almost passed the execrable Blunt Amendment, which would have allowed any employer with a moral objection to a certain kind of health care to deny employees insurance coverage of that care. It failed by three votes.

All this is throwing down a humiliating gauntlet for women who want reproductive health caree. The message: You are undeserving, you can be convinced to change your mind, and even if you don’t you will have to suffer for this.

Suffer for what, exactly? Well, again, the connecting thread from Limbaugh’s comments to the ultrasounds and waiting periods is slut-shaming, taking that demeaning label and extending its demeaning properties to any woman who is sexually active or has ever used contraception.

The insult is to all of us.


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