Slut! Slut! Burn Her!

Rush Limbaugh got into deep trouble this week when he essentially stole an old Saturday Night Live sketch. “Sandra Fluke, you ignorant slut!

Fluke really should have thought twice before painting her face to disgrace herself before House Democrats. Indeed, she was supposed to appear at Darrell Issa’s sausage-fest hearing on women’s contraceptive-coverage, at which only men spoke. Several committee members walked out of the hearing in protest.

So who is this indecent woman — Sandra Fluke? Fluke is a protestant and a 3L at Georgetown Law Center, studying public interest law. She has two degrees from Cornell and spent time advocating for victims of domestic violence. During that time, she lobbied for a law that provides protective orders to unmarried victims of domestic abuse. She sure sounds slutty.

In her testimony, she did not actually talk about herself but about both real and hypothetical others. She noted that prescription birth control costs $1000 a year without insurance coverage. Limbaugh took this to mean that she — Sandra Fluke — spends $3000 a year (he was never really a numbers man) on birth control, which — after churning it around in his bloated skull for a bit — he concluded means that she has $3000 worth of sex annually. For over-the-counter birth control (like the sponge, for instance), that would be exorbitant. But we all know that prescription meds are expensive; it’s why healthcare costs are so damn high and why we needed healthcare reform in the first place. If she were spending $3000 a year on cheap contraceptives, I’d either assume she was super lucky or getting ripped off. Women are not sluts for having a lot of sex any more than men are “players” or “winners” for doing so.

But Fluke was actually hypothesizing about the costs. She then talked about a married student she knew who had to stop using birth control because of the cost. Another student needed birth control to stop cysts from growing on her ovaries. The insurance company then (like it did with 65% of women requesting the prescription) interrogated her and accused her of faking her symptoms. The student was ultimately denied coverage (much like 20% of women in her situation), despite her doctor’s verification of the illness. Her point really is that women should be treated just as men who can obtain Viagra, presumably so that they can achieve erections and then (insert euphemism). Women’s employers and schools should trust them and indeed help them make wise reproductive choices. Many would argue that employers should not even provide health coverage in the first place. And they most certainly shouldn’t tailor their plans in order to penalize employees for engaging in legal activity, basing the decision on a moral view that the students and employees — including a number of Catholic students and employees — do not share.

But those are both much larger arguments and my point here is really that women are not sluts when they use birth control. They are members of a modern society that recognizes their basic liberties, including their liberty to choose not to become pregnant or to treat their ovarian cysts. Indeed, the modern pro-choice movement started at a time when childbirth was extraordinarily deadly and feminism was in its infancy. It began in an era when marital rape was not really “rape” and was really a pro-life movement — for women. Women should not have to choose between chastity and childbirth any more than men should have to choose between chastity and, well… You can see how the outcomes are a bit uneven.

Moreover, Fluke was not talking about herself; she was advocating for others. Presumably, this is what her law school education is teaching her to do. She wasn’t begging the committee to fund her mommy-daddy-sheet-monster times, she was exhorting them to help end a small part of the unjust process by which men’s and women’s sex lives receive completely disparate treatment and scrutiny. But Limbaugh made his desires clear:

“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.”

Yes, Limbaugh would like some taxpayer-funded porn. Glorious. Republicans have criticized the comments, starting with John Boehner and Mitt Romney. But Darrell Issa refused to condemn Limbaugh until Democrats apologized for all of their mean comments. So begins the race to the bottom. Indeed, Boehner criticized Democrats for actually fundraising off of this incident. A desperate, if somewhat transparent, attempt to try distract attention from Limbaugh.

Indeed, Limbaugh seems to have long outlived his true usefulness to the Republican party. Sure, his comments may have riled up the base, but they gave an even bigger victory to Democrats. Limbaugh has finally succeeded in accomplishing the Democrats’ objective on the issue. It’s no longer a discussion about religious freedom, it’s a discussion about women’s rights, about modern notions of liberty, and about restrictive, moralistic, medieval attempts to control Americans’ behavior. It’s David — the young, intelligent, and brave Fluke — versus Goliath — the bloated talk-show host, oxycodone addict, and admirer of Joseph Kony.

It plays into an ongoing process in which President Obama and the Democrats are gaining the political upper-hand. The debt-ceiling debate and payroll tax cut both weakened Congressional Republicans, still riding the 2010 wave. And this process has allowed President Obama to start standing his ground. No matter how much Republicans members of Congress and presidential candidates try to drown Limbaugh’s comments out by talking about religious freedom, all that will remain is the cry of “slut!” heard ’round the world. Limbaugh’s misogyny and lust for porn has refocused the debate and neither his apology nor less-controversial attacks from Republican politicians can get it back.

 

About the author

A Criminology major and Philadelphia native, Michael Soyfer hopes to one day escape the city walls and run off to DC to work somewhere in this crazy, labyrinthine government of ours.

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