Why is it OK to insult women, our bodies, and our sexuality in ways that it is no longer OK to insult other groups?

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

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35 replies

  1. Very nicely done! I cheered all the way through! Thank you for each and every word. What a blessing to wake up and read today.


  2. Carol, hooray for you! This is a very perceptive essay. You’re certainly right about the virgin-whore split. And thanks for calling out John Stewart, too. I like him, but sometimes he gets a little too “boyish.” You’ve made some very salient points here.

    In the context of this current political “event,” I’m trying to figure out what’s going on in TV ads. We’ve got a law school student being called dirty names, women being generally slandered, and then on TV we’ve got ads for Viagra and Cialis all over the place. And now I’m seeing something called AndroGel in an ad full of (forgive me) balding boomer boys playing with construction equipment. Yes, obvious metaphor. I don’t even want to think about how those guys apply that gel.

    Is it time for another woman’s movement? Is there a petition online yet to castrate Rush?


  3. http://leftaction.com/action/boycott-rush
    not exactly what barbara asked for, but close enough.


  4. Thank you so much for posting this. I completely agree with you. Sandra Fluke statements were all very sanitized and spoken in a way to be the least offensive. And yet the backlash was extreme. What would have been the difference if she had multiple sexual partners it shouldn’t make a difference.

    I work in a very old school male atmosphere and it is obvious that women are held to a higher standard (both in appearance and in work duties) and yet they are the first ones to be criticized. I always wonder where the reasoning behind treating women differently comes from. It seems that if even the more liberal indviduals (Jon Stewart) support this blanket sexism.

    I also think of when these issues come up about how women are resistant to assert that was is happening is sexist behavior. For myself, I am always concerned about how it will damage my career, family relationships, friendships, etc. It is uncomfortable to be the one questioning the norm. Women are do are often seen as trouble makers, sluts (for making gender the central issue) or irrational. All of these reasonings are simply used by people like Rush to support their original accusation. Within the confines of societal perceptions and “norms” women have to be santizied and “safe” to even make an argument for their own rights.


  5. His name is spelled Jon Stewart.


  6. opps, thanks JB, I blame my slight dislexia for that, I read words as groups not for the spellings. we’ll fix it. sorry, Jon.


  7. Thank you, Carol, both for your perceptive words here (which desperately need to be widely read), and for the links concerning boycotting Rush.


  8. I read that 98% of Rush’s advertisers have jumped ship. There is also a petition to have Clear Channel remove his show from their listing. Hitting someone’s wallet is an excellent way to initiate change.


  9. I would also prefer for my tax dollars (since the Republicans rant included the inaccurate assumption that they would be paying for Georgetown students contraception)- to not support Rush Limbaugh’s show. He is currently aired on the Armed Forces Network, managed by the military and paid for with tax dollars, spewing his hate to our troops. I object.


  10. I thought I would share Sharon Old’s Douche Bag Ode. It seems so relevant in these discussions. Everythime I hear someone use the term Douche Bag, I think of this powerful reading she did. Thank you Carol for a great post. I could not agree more!


  11. wow laurie, what can we do about that?


  12. As I read this amazing and insightful post (thank you for sharing) I couldn’t help to wonder, why society always try shy away or deny to acknowledge sexism as a problem that is much alive today as 100 years ago. When I heard the comments made about Limbaugh’s characterization, sexism was never once mentioned as you point out in your post and I also believe that the main reason for this denial is the fact that we don’t see “sexism” as a problem. We do see racism as a problem for the very fact that it includes men of color or other minority group. But in patriarchal society, men can never and has never been oppressed because of their gender. This is why I think that sexism is not acknowledge; it only happens to women and therefore, nothing needs to be done for a group deemed subordinate in a patriarchal society. If anything, we should blame ourselves because we should control how we express our sexuality and control our bodies to fit the already devalued norms given to us. At the same time, it made me think about how we women,more often than not, tend to be as silent as those men who denies sexism. Margaret A. Farley made an interesting point in her article ‘Feminist Theology and Bioethics’ where she states that feminism, in its most fundamental sense, is opposed to discrimination on the basis of sex that is established by the social structure, patriarchy. Therefore, feminism is necessarily pro-woman with aim of equality among persons regardless of gender(194, Farley). Perhaps the fear of being seen as feminist is making the work against sexism in our society even a harder challenge. Again thanks Carol for sharing this post and I agree with every point you made….


  13. Mona, I am not sure why, but reading your post made tears come to my eyes.

    I think another difference between racism and sexism is the intimacy involved for most women. We are not accusing a distant other of sexism towards us, but our fathers, brothers, cousins, lovers and husbands (in some cases). Also somehow it seems easier for white people to “feel guilty” and even to take responsibiity to end racism, than it is for men to “feel” sexism from the inside and to take responsibility for ending it.

    You are also right that because it is not acceptable to speak about sexism, women just grin and bear it and try not to give offense. aaarrrggghhh


    • Carol,
      I am sorry if my respond made you sad. That was absolutely not my attention.
      I agree with you that its much harder to end sexism than racism because men dont feel “as much guilt” as whites did for racism. This is one of the main reasons why they don’t take the responsibility to end sexism, if not only for the sake of their mothers, sisters, daughters etc. I also think that the reason why more men wont fight with us to end sexism is because most of them don’t ‘consciously’ think about their role of reinforcing the social structure and thus make sexism a very much alive problem in our society. I am very firm believer in female bonding and how women should stand up together and fight these kind issue or no changes will be made. Men wont take responsibility to end sexism because it doesn’t affect them. The changes is going to come from us ( women) when we work together so we can create a better place for the next generation.


  14. Here is a great response to the controversy: Make me jump through all the hoops we have to jump through to get their Viagra.



  15. Great post! You make a good point about racism being seen as a heavier offense than sexism. I wonder if this is because being a woman is considered a secondary characteristic when compared to her race. There also seems to be a tendency to strictly separate the experiences of racism and sexism when in reality the two overlap, and both are equally harmful to the individual and society.


  16. This artcile was very eye opening and Russ Limbaugh was so out of place when he made those comments. People like him are very ignorant and do not realize the we live in a changing generation. Women should be able to decided whether or not they want to be on the pill. A woman should be able to have safe sex, decide when she wants to get pregnant, and have control over her body. How can a man call a woman a “slut” for taking control over her body. No man can decided what is best for a woman’s body because they are clearly not a woman. This article reminded me of an article I read for class by Lisa Parker on breast implantation. Many women are choosing to get breast implants because society has made the value of a woman’s breast dictate her beauty. Women feel that they have to live up to the expectations set to them by men, media, etc. How can a man or others dictate to a woman what makes her beautiful. This article really made me think of how Russ Limbaugh was calling this woman a slut, not knowing anything about her. His hurtful words are based off assumptions. Instead of calling her a slut, he should be praising her for the caution she takes in choosing to have saf sex and knowing when is the right and best time if she ever decided to have children.


  17. Thank you for such a revelent post, Carol!

    Although I completly agree with the post and most of the responses, lets face it sexism and racism are ugly and no one likes ugly or hate unless they are the active participants in it. I fully agree about the link or overlap of sexism and racism, and I think ageism should be added to the list. I mean it all boils down to intersectionality and hybridity…
    I do how ever I want to add that in some situtaions us womyn are the ones that project sexism onto eachother. Sometimes we are the first to call another women a “slut” because what she is has chose to wear or for how many sexual partners they choose to have. I am a sexual asault survivor (more than once) and I have been called a slut for what has happened to me. I was also told (mostly by older women), that because of what happened to me when I was younger that I would become a prostitute, a single welfare mom, or be on drugs to name a few of the accusations placed onto my head. I am here to say that none of this has happend because of my own personal choices. It saddens me where our freedom of speech has gone, and it saddens me how we especailly in America feel the need to overuse this “right” and to use it as a weapon against each other instead of a positive tool. This whole mess with the “douch bag” here in the states is even more a disgrace to our nation with what happened last month with Susan G. Komen pulling out of funding for Planned Parenthood for a stint then coming back. I feel like it just shows us even more how much women are devalued in our society. It makes me more torn on what to do…


    • Dear Ivory, I am so sorry for what happened to you, both the asaut and the reactions of the women. This is the internalized self-hatred coming out against another woman. It must have been so painful for you–not to be taken into their arms and comforted, and then helped to resist… Good for you that you survived and thrived without them, but how much easier it would have been if they had helped you. My heart goes out to you and other women in similar situations. Aunties, Mommies, and Grannies of the world–are you listening now?


  18. I really enjoyed your article about Rush Limbaugh and Jon Stewart’s commentary. I don’t know if the type-o on his Rush’s name at the top where it says “Russ” is on purpose. I know that he “accidentally” referred to Sandra Fluke as “Susan” and I think one other S name and I found that really annoying. I think he did it on purpose to show his complete disregard for her, and even though I don’t think Rush really deserves our respect, I still kind of hope it’s just a type-o.

    Besides that I really liked what you had to say about Jon using the word “douchebag” as an offensive term. Although it clearly is an insult connected to women I don’t really know where I stand on it. I think that I would feel differently if I saw “douchebags as a positive female thing, but the fact that douchebags don’t actually have any real health benefit for women, and are more harmful than good, the fact that it was invented to “clean” out the “gross” fluids that are naturally cleaning out our body already, the fact that it was invented by a man for a woman, changes that. In a way, douche bags are the epitome of this sexist nation, and Rush Limbaugh totally is one. However, I agree with you on the double standard aspect. No one would be as offended by being called a sperm filled condom, and main stream society doesn’t see the douchebag as anything besides a “vagina cleaner”, but I don’t think condoms and douches are even comparably defensive items considering their intended use.


    • I agree that there is no good reason to douche. I have never seen a douche-bag and I was surprised by the description of one in the video posted above. I guess they were once used as ineffective contraception, but now women are being made to feel dirty “down there.” Postfeminst world — uh huh.


  19. http://edition.cnn.com/2012/03/10/opinion/fonda-morgan-steinem-limbaugh/index.html
    Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan think hate speech is reason to take Limbaugh off the air.


  20. It’s a pretty easy answer. Racism affects men adversely. Any time you hear outrage over racism, it is pretty much outreage over the treatment of men. Look at South Africa and Saudi Arabia… that pretty much speaks for itself I think.


  21. I really enjoyed reading this article, because it makes us realize how certain things get overlooked especially in our “everyday” language. Like I probably wouldn’t have put much thought on Jon Stewart calling Rush Limbaugh a “douchebag” whether or not it was right or wrong. I think one of the points that Carol is trying to suggest is that within our language we use words that carry negative implications towards women and our bodies. Sexism is still very prevalent as well as many other “isms” but I do agree that it is widely ignored and not as much emphasis is put in trying to correct negative terms used to describe women. Women are constantly being subjugated and controlled by those in power and we are silenced through intimidation, verbal and physical assaults, etc. And it is interesting to see how some of these men who have shows and try to make jokes about these issues are also participating in shaming women whether they do it intentionally or not. I think it is important that we as individuals become conscientious about the type of language we use in order to describe what we like or don’t like.


  22. I really enjoyed your analysis on three points that deal with insult, offense, and issues surrounding commentary on being a woman. Pertaining to the last point, I personally find myself using the phrase, and I will stop using it. Things become so ingrained in mainstream culture that some may find themselves growing desensitized to their use. Words and phrases like “retarded”, or “gypped”, or something similar fall under the same category, and just because someone may not be offended when saying such things doesn’t mean it’s right that they are said at all. I don’t even have to bring up the phrase “that’s so gay”, but I will. And there you go.

    To me, it seems that the current view towards women — a view that, although having improved, is still a product of the most recent past — could benefit from an overall view through the lens of comparative worth. Although this view is largely towards work-related issues, it is one that looks to value women as much as men, and not value them less because of any differences. We reproduce, we clean a different way, we enjoy sex as much as the next person, as much if not more as the next male, and so on. This idea of “true worth” and “intrinsic worth” as highlighted by Carolyn H. Magid is a good launch pad towards many aspects of women that are undervalued, and can lead to a shift in thought processes and sensitivities.


  23. http://nymag.com/news/frank-rich/gop-women-problem-2012-4/
    Frank Rich’s essay on the stunning turn-around of the Republican party which once supported women’s rights.


  24. Thanks for this, Carol. I love Jon Stewart as well but he frustrates me to no end with all the “douche bag this,” “don’t be a pussy that.” So offensive! His books are extremely androcentric as well. It hurts because it hurts but also it hurts because I love him so much. Rush makes me angry. Jon hurts my feelings. The people that I like and admire are the ones that make me tired and weary of fighting. Thank you for addressing both.


  25. A fascinating discussion is definitely worth comment.
    There’s no doubt that that you need to write more on this subject, it might not be a taboo subject but usually people do not speak about these issues. To the next! Kind regards!!



  1. 1, 2, 3, 4: FEMINISTS DON’T WANT ANOTHER WAR by Carol P. Christ « Feminism and Religion

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