Rush Limbaugh & Violent Speech Against Women
Freedom of speech is not something that is necessarily valued all around the world. Prisons are filled with dissidents, artists, thinkers, and everyday citizens who in desiring more from life expressed opposition to authoritarian regimes and governments. However, for those of us in the USA, we live in a nation that values the freedom of speech as evidenced in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which formalizes as a basic right of all citizens to freely speak without fear of governmental reprisal. There are of course limits to this – yelling “fire” in a theater, joking about bombs at the airport and such, and though there may be consequences for even those offenses one will not be tortured, sent to a work camp or a prison not meant for human occupation. The United States is much too sophisticated and developed a nation to resort to such “barbaric” practices.
Instead, when a woman, like Sandra Fluke, who exercised her right as a citizen, testified before Congress on an issue that she deeply cared about she was met with disagreement, most loudly from Rush Limbaugh, in the form of highly evolved and thoughtful engagement. Oh, wait. I’m thinking of what I wish would have happened, something different than what has far too often become the norm in public discourse, a return to the elementary school playground strategy to avoid true interaction with another by utilizing bullying and name-calling.
Though juvenile there is sophistication to Limbaugh’s tactics. To physically violate her, to actually set up a video camera to watch her having sex, as he said she should do in exchange for birth control being covered by her insurance, is too obvious a use of violence and abuse. Rather an urbane barbarism was utilized – violation and abuse came in the form of maligning her sexuality and woman-ness with words. Limbaugh exercised the same freedom of speech that applied to Ms. Fluke. The tragedy is not that he spoke, but that his attack bears no originality or imagination and it is one as old as time.
Limbaugh joins an army of others as he speaks “slut” and “prostitute” to describe Ms. Fluke. These slurs and their linguistic cousins (whore, cunt, etc…) and the spirit behind them, have been used for centuries to violate women. They have been the go to red herrings to justify the raping, killing, abusing, and silencing of women. Should a man have been sitting in Ms. Fluke’s seat before Congress advocating for the very things she was speaking for, none of those words would have been attributed to him for his position on the issue, and his sexuality would not have been attacked for exercising his freedom of speech. These words are labels that specifically make dirty and degrade that which makes a woman most a woman, that which reflects the glory of God, her body and her sexuality. For too long, these labels have been used as weapons of evil and justification of the evil committed against the mothers, grandmothers, sisters, cousins and aunts in our families, the women in our local communities, nation and world.
Limbaugh’s comments reflect more than the offensive insensitivities of a misogynistic radio host, but there is an all too well utilized vocabulary created specifically to do violence toward and destroy that which makes us as women uniquely beautiful. And unfortunate as it is that these words slide off the tongues of men like Rush Limbaugh so easily, it has been disheartening to hear and see women on various media outlets joining him. We live in a land where we are free to speak and yet the language we choose is so vile and violent toward women. It is not lack of freedom that limits our vocabulary but lack of honor. There is a disingenuous refusal to acknowledge the assault against the beauty of women and our sexuality and the concerted efforts to bond a woman’s sexuality with sleaze. Limbaugh with his own words confirms that the image of a “slutty” woman on a video having sex is much more acceptable an image of a woman for him than one who is advocating for her sexual health, and he is not alone in this. There continues to be a violent and disparaging fixation on a woman’s sexuality without honor as well as a blatant refusal to look at her face to engage her.
Our eyes are up here Mr. Limbaugh. Will you look up to contend with us?