Rush Beyond the Pale

For some reason that defies logic, the Republican party has decided attacking women’s rights is the way to go in this election year. This leaves me in the uncomfortable predicament of having so very many things to say that my words trip over one another and tangle into knots, and then none of them make it to page or the screen. I’ve finally decided to try to tackle this hydra of misogyny one hateful head at a time, though it’s all the same monster. Republicans aren’t conservative anymore, they’re regressive. They want to roll back social change to 1950s, only without that pesky labor movement making sure the middle class could afford to live the American Dream….

Where to start? Obviously, with the loudest and most obnoxious misogynist (this week), Rush Limbaugh.

Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student who’s also president of Law Students for Reproductive Justice, testified before Congress about the impact of her Catholic university’s decision not to include birth control in insurance coverage for students. If you haven’t read her testimony, you might be surprised by it. She talked about the cost of prescription birth control, and about the dire consequences faced by women who need the pill for other medical reasons. She noted that Georgetown students themselves pay for this insurance, and overwhelmingly support a plan that would cover birth control. She pointed out that women’s health clinics cannot meet the demand, and that the same members of Congress who oppose requiring insurers to pay for birth control also oppose funding for clinics that might provide the services at an affordable cost. She never talked about her own sex life, and did not mention whether she herself used birth control, because this was not the issue. The issue is that women, and families, are being asked to shoulder a cost that the insurance they pay for should be covering.

Enter Rush Limbaugh, doing what Rush Limbaugh always does – slandering people who disagree with him, name calling, belittling, and jeering. Ms. Fluke, he informed us, wants us to pay for her to have sex. This makes her a slut, and a prostitute. He continually joked, over days of air time, that Ms. Fluke is “having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception” (as if the pill doesn’t cost exactly the same amount for a faithful wife who has passionless sex .75 times a month as it does for the Whore of Babylon). Lines down the block, Rush said, “sex-addict” numbers of partners, “having sex nearly three times a day for three years straight.” Ever the class act, he even asked, “Who bought your condoms in the sixth grade?”

I’m not an expert on feminist theory, but this pretty much a textbook example of “slut-shaming.” Never mind that Rush has no information at all about Ms. Fluke’s sex life; she is a confident woman who wants autonomy over her choices. She has the audacity to speak publicly about women’s reproductive health. Burn the witch! Rush attacked her – because attacking is what an “entertainer” like Rush always does – with the slur as old as time. Scarlet woman! Wanton whore! SLUT….

But this time it didn’t work. At least, not as it usually does. Rush’s advertisers are fleeing him. The backlash is swift, and organized. Maybe we as a society are finally past that. Maybe the sane majority is disgusted by the spectacle. Maybe Rush actually finally found the limits of our tolerance, and careened over them. My fondest hope is that the right is seriously overplaying its hand. The Republican party had big wins in 2010, due in large part to the Tea Party’s ability to rouse the rabble. This is their base now, and they keep leaning ever further right to appease it, seeming to forget that 2008 had lessons, too. Whether the right believes it or not, this country doesn’t want to be stuck in the 1950s. Racists can’t seem to understand that white Americans voted for Barack Obama, but we did. Homophobes cannot wrap their brain around the idea that straight people can support gay marriage, but most of us do. Misogynistic asshats like Rush Limbaugh can’t grasp that most Americans, even most men, don’t think it’s acceptable to try to discredit, demean, and slander a woman for standing up for reproductive rights. Maybe, just maybe, we aren’t that country anymore. Maybe we don’t want to be. Maybe we want to be – maybe we ARE – something better.

I hope.

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