Conservative political talk-show host Rush Limbaugh finally entered the debate about contraceptive coverage last week, when he targeted a female student who attempted to testify in the all-male congressional hearing about birth control. It is important to understand the implications of his comments, particularly today, the 103rd annual International Women’s Day.
Sandra Fluke, a law student from Georgetown University, wanted to speak at the hearing as a proponent of President Obama’s proposed birth-control mandate. She hoped to share a story about a friend who needed birth control to prevent the formation of ovarian cysts. Because she was not part of a religious clergy, she was rejected from the panel. Limbaugh addressed the situation on his talk show, declaring Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” as she is clearly calling on the government to pay her to have sex. He further went on to call her a “feminazi” and demand she “post the videos online so we can all watch,” according to The Huffington Post. Limbaugh has since half-heartedly apologized for the comments.
His remarks caused an outrage, and many companies pulled advertising from his show. Wisely, Republican presidential candidates Romney and Santorum distanced themselves from these remarks, as have many other figures on the right. However, some are defending Limbaugh’s vitriolic and sexist speech, citing instances when figures on the left have made inappropriate and sexist comments about Republicans, such as the infamous comments made by HBO show host Bill Maher about Sarah Palin, in which he referred to Palin with numerous misogynistic terms. Why have Limbaugh’s remarks caused such offense that Obama himself apologized to Fluke, while Maher suffered fewer consequences?
The difference is significant. Fluke is a law student, while Palin was a publicly elected figure. Fluke merely wished to share her personal opinion, not inadvertently become the spokeswoman for contraceptive coverage. Instead, Limbaugh singled her out, directly smearing her name and simultaneously making Fluke a symbol for women who use birth control — all 99 percent of them.
Students and citizens hoping to become involved in politics should be ensured that their right to speak their minds is protected from the slandering of political commentators. Political activism is one of the only forms of public voice that non-governmental officials have, and this voice should be safeguarded and guaranteed. Limbaugh’s comments disparage Fluke’s reputation and send a threatening message to other citizens who might have wanted to enter the debate: you may face public humiliation and discriminatory remarks from people in positions of power higher than you for voicing your opinion.
Though still considered the most politically apathetic demographic, American youth are becoming more politically mobilized. The public should be encouraging this mobilization as we are an essential part of public policy discussions and decisions.
Both Limbaugh and Maher made crude and misogynistic comments that do not deserve pardoning. Limbaugh’s equating birth control usage to promiscuity and prostitution is asinine and archaic. As Fluke’s personal story demonstrates, birth control is used for various health purposes, from responsible family planning to the prevention of ovarian cysts and other ailments.
Furthermore, both men use insulting and demeaning terms to describe women they just don’t like. Terms like these perpetuate misogyny and normalize the idea that women are inferior to men. This type of hateful language should be eliminated from our vocabulary, and a student should be able to express her support of a political issue without fearing public defamation. On this International Women’s Day, we should celebrate the victories that both genders have made on the path toward equality rather than travel back 100 years in history with Limbaugh and Maher.
Waliany is a Plan II and government senior.