Gender Slurs: Why What Rush Limbaugh Said Is So Damning to Women

"Gender Slur (noun) (def.): The use of sexually-based words or phrases for the sole purpose of objectifying, intimidating and/or demeaning the intended victim to gain superiority, advantage, power and/or control. (syn. "word rape")."
-- Author

Rush Limbaugh's on-air assault of Sandra Fluke was light years past reprehensible. And the reason it was so horrific had nothing to do with Mr. Limbaugh's politics or what he thought about Ms. Fluke's politics or a host of other arguments that have been expressed by news outlets, pundits and citizens. Rush Limbaugh's use of "slut" and "prostitute" was a textbook example of how horrifically damning gender slurs are, and why such forms of abuse deserve swift and serious action. Mr. Limbaugh "word raped" Ms. Fluke. He used heinous sexual terms designed to degrade her, not her politics or her actual conduct. Why? Because objectifying and shaming a woman's relationship to sexuality is the most intimate, callous, hurt-filled and shocking thing one can do.

The top acerbic words to demean any person have one thing in common: sexual references. Mother F_____er, B______d, Bi__h, C____, As____le, Fa__ot and a host of others. Such slurs slice us at our emotional core. (If there were more painful words out there, the low among us would have certainly found them by now.) The slang word for vagina, "p___y", is used on playgrounds by one boy to another to insinuate the victim is weak and filled with cowardice, "like a girl". Calling someone a "di_k", a term only used to describe males, simply means the victim is being a jerk, not less than.

When Rush Limbaugh sexually objectified Ms. Fluke, everyone from skilled legal pundits to average Joes and Janes like me debated what laws, if any, had been broken. When considering the effects of such words on our society's ethos, however, there was little room for argument. Mr. Limbaugh crossed the line of human decency, respect and equality. One attempts to degrade a woman's sexuality to harm her, not prove some higher point. In extension, Mr. Limbaugh objectified and sexualized female Americans -- mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, nieces, cousins, granddaughters, aunts, female friends, colleagues and lovers -- in large part by making others believe that such words can somehow be justified and used.

If you're a male and want to upset the average man, tell him you'd like to have sex with his daughter or his sister is "doable" or you think his mother would be great in the sack. Why would it bother him? Because men have to balance their own thoughts about sex with the feelings they have for female loved ones. As a male friend told me, "If anyone did to my daughter the kind of things I fantasized about in high school, I'd kill him." Regardless of political affiliation, I don't know a decent man on this planet who would want their daughter or sister or wife or mother called a slut to an audience of millions.

When we allow any person to get on our nation's public airwaves and objectify and demean women, we tacitly give our approval for others to do the same. In the case of gender slurs, we give people permission to objectify and sexualize women in particular for the purposes of advantage, power and control.

The government should take action against any on-air personality or station, regardless of political party or supposed justification, when any facet of our common welfare and decency is jeopardized on the nation's airwaves. Without intervention, the instances designed to defame, humiliate, incite, anger and demoralize will cause even more polarization within our once United of States.

Sarah O'Leary is an author, public speaker, an issues-based independent, a supporter of equal rights for all Americans, and relatively peace-filled American woman. She can be reached by email: