Last week, the House of Representatives held a hearing on access to contraception that included no women. Chairman Daryl Issa denied a Georgetown law student, Sandra Fluke, permission to speak on the absurd grounds that the hearing was about religious freedom, not birth control. After Democrats held their own hearing in which Fluke gave passionate, thoughtful testimony about a friend who lost an ovary because she couldn't afford the birth control pills that would have reduced her ovarian cysts, Rush Limbaugh apparently felt the need to weigh in and decided to do so in the shameful, loathsome way that only Rush could. As I could never improve upon the words themselves for a distillation of the soul of Rush Limbaugh, here they are:
"What does that make her (Fluke)? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute," he said. "She wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception." As if that wasn't enough, he had to insult the most powerful woman in the legislative branch and Sandra's parents:
"Can you imagine if you're her parents how proud of Sandra Fluke you would be?" he said. "Your daughter goes up to a congressional hearing conducted by the Botox-filled Nancy Pelosi and testifies she's having so much sex she can't afford her own birth control pills and she agrees that Obama should provide them, or the Pope."
Not satisfied with simple slander and name-calling, Limbaugh then doubled down on his attacks on Fluke and actually demanded that she post sex tapes online: "So Miss 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. We want you post the videos online so we can all watch."
So, here we are. If you are a woman who stands up for your rights, you are a slut and your parents should be ashamed of you and we should all have the right to view your sex tapes online. This type of despicable behavior is part and parcel of a time-worn tradition of Slut-Shaming. When women step out line, they are demeaned and degraded into silence. If you say Herman Cain sexually harassed you, you are a slut. If you say Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas sexually harassed you, you are a slut. If you are Congresswoman Janice Hahn running for election and you reach out to gang members in the community, you are a pole dancer getting your panties stuffed with $100 bills (no disrespect to pole dancers here, with a name like Krystal Ball I get likened to one all the time). In fact, I had my own interaction with Slut-Shaming during my 2010 campaign for Congress. I wrote about this experience in the Huffington Post in an article entitled The Next Glass Ceiling. Suffice it to say, GOP bloggers released goofy party photos of me from my early twenties with my then-husband. I suppose the implication was that I might have actually had sex with my husband, so clearly I was a slut.
Having sex doesn't make you a slut and speaking out for women's health care certainly doesn't. Standing up for your rights doesn't mean someone gets to rhetorically rip your top off in hopes to send you running from the public square in shamed humiliation, a cautionary tale for any woman who dares forget her place. Sandra Fluke is a private citizen who went to a hearing and testified. Look at what happened to her. How do you think this makes young women feel about the possibility of actually running for office?
My generation has taken for granted that we have control over our bodies. We have taken choice, access to birth control and respect for our intellect for granted in modern society. We thought we could have it all, be sexy if we wanted to be, intellectual when we wanted to be and respected consistently for who we are. Limbaugh's disgraceful words and tactics remind us that we can't take any of those things for granted. It's time to wake up. It's time to fight back. It's time to call these sexist, disgusting, bullying people out. Sandra Fluke is not alone. She's every mother, wife, sister and daughter who has ever tried to make a difference in civil society and been demeaned in order to terrorize her, shame her, silence her and punish her. No more. Never again.
Yesterday I watched Sandra Fluke defending herself on the Ed Show. She was graceful, thoughtful, sincere and brave. She is too kind, measured and dignified to raise her voice in the blistering, full-throated rage that should come from the way she's been treated. So it is up to us, the sisters, daughters, wives, mothers and the husbands, brothers and sons who love us, to voice that rage and make this the last time that ripping apart a young woman or any woman in a public shaming serves a political purpose and makes for good ratings. We will not allow this despicable behavior to stand.
Saul Alinsky said that no politician can afford to stand on an issue if you make it hot enough. Limbaugh is even more susceptible to public pressure than a politician. We don't have to wait until Election Day. We can take away the advertisers that give Limbaugh his platform right now. Already his sponsors are feeling the heat and some have decided to pull their ads. Spread the word. Stand up for women. Do not patronize any company that sponsors sexism. Boycott Rush.