Recently, Rush Limbaugh (finally) caught some flack for what he says on air.
The story is all over the Net and readily available at Google News – just search for Limbaugh and apology – but the short of it is he referred to a female law student as a slut and a prostitute because she speaks out for women’s access to birth control.
I was under the impression that the “you must be a slut because you want contraception” argument had been won 35-40 years ago. Doctors used to refuse prescriptions to women who wanted the pill because the medical establishment in many areas claimed it would lead to loose morals; there is even a story line to this effect in the AMC hit show, Mad Men. Roe vs. Wade was passed in 1972, allowing women to terminate a pregnancy without criminal prosecution. Loretta Lynn, who’d had 4 children by the time she was 19 years old, released her hit song, The Pill, in 1975, much to the chagrin of the old patriarchy. My own mother, after NINE pregnancies and FIVE live births (four surviving), had to fight her doctor to get on the pill in the mid-70s.
The 1980s were quite different. When I was 16, I went to the free clinic and got the pill. It was easy, free, and helped me from becoming another teen pregnancy statistic. Nearly all my friends were on it – we were still young and invincible and none of us had yet heard of AIDS – so it was the contraception of choice. Once I was gainfully employed and therefore no longer qualified to receive services at the free clinic, I sometimes opted to eat bologna sandwiches and ramen noodles to afford my prescription each month. It was important to me, as a healthy, sexually active young woman, not to bring an unwanted child into the world.
Now, however, we seem to be fighting the battles of the 60s and 70s all over again. What the hell happened?
I can tell you: The religious right took over sex education. More specifically, schools removed the usual health classes and media which taught kids about where babies come from, instead choosing to teach something called “abstinence-only” sex education.
In other words, they launched another “Just Say No” campaign. Why not? The first one worked so well to keep kids away from drugs, am I right?
The day I knew this decision had come around to bite us on the collective ass was when I found myself arguing online with a very misinformed 20-something about whether condoms prevented STDs. He insisted they do not, even in the face of scientific evidence which proves otherwise.
In short, the religious right managed, over the course of about 20 years, to convince a generation of kids that sex is wrong outside of marriage. Further, even in marriage, it’s wrong when it’s not solely for the purposes of procreating.
What happens after that? Well, you end up with young adults who assume anyone who uses condoms or the pill is morally bankrupt. That’s how Limbaugh thought it was okay to call a woman who promotes access to birth control a prostitute.
He “apologized” – and I place this firmly in quotes because his apology wasn’t sincere in the least – only after people started writing complaint letters to his advertisers and several of them pulled their money from his show.
That’s simple capitalism, folks. Limbaugh and people like him will continue to spew their brand of hatred, fear, and bigotry as long as it remains a lucrative proposition to do so. Further, Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, O’Reilly, et al. are indeed free to say what they like – that is the promise of the First Amendment, after all – and as long as people listen, companies advertise, and the bills are paid, this brand of hatred, fear, and bigotry will remain on the air.
In this particular case, the boycott more-or-less worked, in that Limbaugh had to publicly “apologize” for his comments. However, he will continue to spew his hatred, fear, and bigotry the very moment the public stops the fight. All will be business as usual come Monday morning, unless everyone who threatened to boycott this time around continues to boycott.
Yet that still doesn’t solve the overall problem: A lot of people are so wholly misinformed about the subject matter that, to them, Limbaugh seems to know what he’s talking about. And try explaining to any of his rabid fans that Limbaugh’s brand of “humor” is not satire, but poorly-disguised vitriol. I dare you.
This is not a matter of censorship. I do not and would never promote telling anyone they can’t voice their opinion on any subject. However, it’s never wrong to require the people who use words for a living to take responsibility for what escapes their pie-hole. Slut shaming is never acceptable – even 13 year olds know that – and every on-air personality needs to know such personalized name-calling will be met with the thunderous sound of millions of wallets slamming shut.
A little accountability now and then is quite refreshing, don’t you think?
The good news is some people have figured out abstinence-only sex education simply doesn’t work. I dare not hope, but maybe what’s happening now – the continuous Congressional fights over women’s reproductive rights that have been in the news since the Republicans took over the House in 2010 – is merely the last, desperate gasp of old, white men who fear change.
The world changed around you, fellas. Evolve or die.
One man’s slut is another man’s dream girl.