The recent controversy over Rush Limbaugh’s rant about Sandra Fluke would not be so important if Limbaugh were not the “voice” allowed to say things that Republican politicians cannot say in public. Republican politicians wish to appeal to men who would say exactly what Rush said, while watching Fox News or over a beer with their buddies.
The Virgin-Whore split is alive and well in our culture. Sandra Fluke finally did get to testify in a hearing called by Nancy Pelosi. She assumed a woman’s right to choose when and with whom we have sex and whether and when we will have children, but she did not focus on sexual freedom. One of her examples was a married woman who could not afford birth control and another was a woman who needed birth control pills for reasons having nothing to do with sex or sexual activity. She did not appear in Congress in a mini-skirt (though she should have had every right to do so) but in a business suit. Yet she was called a slut and a prostitute and asked to post porno films of herself on the internet.
What upsets me even more was the response of men in power who would never have said what Rush said, at least not in public. George Will criticized John Boehner for calling Limbaugh’s characterization of Sandra Fluke “inappropriate,” opining that it is more “appropriate” to use the word “inappropriate” when talking about a minor mistake in table manners. Yet White House spokesman Jay Carney also called Rush’s rant “inappropriate” when referring to the President’s telephone call to Fluke. Another spokesman called the comments “vile and inappropriate” which was an improvement. I am trying to think of what words would have been “more appropriate” to use in describing what Rush said. Slander? Libel? Hate speech? Interestingly enough even I hesitated over the obvious: sexist!
When it was revealed that Republican Presidential candidate Rick Perry’s family had owned a hunting camp called “Niggerhead” no one on the left hesitated to say that owning a ranch with that name is “racist.” So why couldn’t the President’s spokesman call Limbaugh “sexist”? Could it be that “sexism” is a term used only by “radical feminists” these days? Could it be that even the President’s spokesman is afraid of appearing to side with wild-eyed women? Even more worrying, could it be that in our culture to call something “sexist” is not equivalent to calling something “racist,” because though we have agreed as a culture that racism is wrong, we have yet to agree that sexism is wrong?
This brings me to Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, a program that helps me to negotiate the wacky (not funny so much as unbelievable) world of American politics.
Jon, why do you think it is funny to call people you don’t like “douche-bags”? I know part of your charm is boys-will-be-boys-locker-room humor. But you also try to reflect the voice of the progressive left. You made me laugh with your caricatures of the men who want to force women to undergo transvaginal ultrasounds. Has it never crossed your mind that “douche-bag” is a sexist epithet? I mean do you really think that the dirtiest thing imaginable has to do with a woman washing her vagina? Are vaginas inherently funny? Are they inherently dirty and smelly? Does it make you uneasy to think that some women clean their vaginas to remove “stinky smelly sperm”? Sorry Jon, but insulting another man by calling him the-smelly-stuff-that-came-out-of-a-vagina isn’t funny, it’s sexist! So please stop doing it.
Here are some alternatives, Jon. How about calling those with whom you disagree “used condoms”? You could even coin a new term: “sperm bag.” Or you could try the British insult: “you miserable little toe rag.” And if you don’t find those epithets as funny, then you had better ask yourself why.
Also see Amy Siskind’s “The Spring of Sexism.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-siskind/the-spring-of-sexism_b_1336224.html
Carol P. Christ is a founding mother in the study of women and religion, feminist theology, women’s spirituality, and the Goddess movement. She teaches online courses in the Women’s Spirituality program at CIIS. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions. One of her great joys is leading Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete through Ariadne Institute.