Sluts, Whores & More Ongoing Insanity

Educated whore“I am an educated, independent woman. Or in Rush Limbaugh’s words, a whore.”

So says the cartoon that is being widely circulated on feminist pages, blogs, and sites in the ongoing brouhaha around Limbaugh’s misogynist slurs directed at law student Sandra Fluke.

Ooops! Slow down fellow feminists. I think we need to step back and look at the misogynist myths perpetuated by the cartoon itself before jumping on the reactionary bandwagon…

Last week US conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who dubs himself “America’s Anchorman,” stepped over his own show’s thin line of impropriety when he called Georgetown university law school student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute.”

According to The Christian Science Monitor, he went on to further “disparage” Fluke by naming her “one of his personal favorites – a “feminazi,” and also suggesting that she make sex tapes and post them online “so we can all watch.”

Law student Fluke recently gained notoriety when her  request to speak in front of this panel was denied by Republican House committee chairman Darrell Issa, and satirized here.

On March 3, Limbaugh posted an apology on his website, which read in part: 

“For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week.  In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.

My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.”

Limbaugh’s Facebook page, where the link to his website apology generated 11,461 comments and more than 950 shares, has 1 million + followers. It’s worth a visit to see the comments…

The Christian Science Monitor also reports that some of Limbaugh’s major advertisers have pulled their ads from his show. It quotes David Friend, CEO of online backup company Carbonite as saying :

“No one with daughters the age of Sandra Fluke, and I have two, could possibly abide the insult and abuse heaped upon this courageous and well-intentioned young lady. Mr. Limbaugh, with his highly personal attacks on Miss Fluke, overstepped any reasonable bounds of decency. Even though Mr. Limbaugh has now issued an apology, we have nonetheless decided to withdraw our advertising from his show. We hope that our action, along with the other advertisers who have already withdrawn their ads, will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse.”

With major advertisers jumping ship, it’s clear Limbaugh has inserted his right-wing foot in his over-sized mouth.

No Shame In A Name

However, there are deeper and more troubling issues at the core of this name-calling brouhaha. Equally problematic is the fact that we (women in particular) should find the words slut, whore and prostitute so emotionally charged, offensive and insulting.

These pejorative labels describe women who have taken control of their own bodies and sexuality, which in my view is a powerful, liberating step in the right direction. 

I have long been a proponent for the legalization of prostitution. If a woman chooses to be a sex worker, that’s up to her. (If she is trafficked or forced into prostitution, that’s a completely different kettle of fish – I am 100% against human trafficking of any kind, anywhere for any purpose.)

My online friend and former prostitute Maggie McNeill has plumbed the depths of prostitution from every possible political angle for more than year on her blog The Honest Courtesan on which she describes herself thus: 

“I’m a retired call girl and madam born in 1966, now retired to my country estate and blogging about prostitutes, our rights and experiences and the way society oppresses the world’s only female-dominated profession while self-proclaimed “feminists” support the outrage.”

Not surprisingly, I don’t always agree with what McNeill has to say. She and I have had some heated debates on feminism, feminists and pigeonholing people. But we are united in the belief that there is no shame in freely choosing to express one’s sexuality in the manner one wishes, and that includes getting paid for it, if that is one’s choice.

The travesty and tragedy of the cartoon above is that it perpetuates dangerous myths and misperceptions which are so deeply ingrained in our collective psyche that we hardly notice they’re there.

Take a moment to consider some of the inferences:

  • Being a woman who takes control of her body and sexuality is a bad thing
  • Being a whore, slut and/or prostitute is denigrating
  • Whores are not educated and independent
  • Being educated and independent AND in control of one’s sexuality are mutually exclusive 
  • “Good” girls are not sexually promiscuous

A cursory read of The Honest Courtesan is enough to prove the fourth statement false. McNeill’s blog is superbly written and well researched. Her points are masterfully made, thoroughly supported and logically presented.

While I often feel her attacks against those she calls “neo feminists” offensive and out of line, I also can’t help but find many of her arguments compelling. I also appreciate McNeill’s poetic eloquence. She’s an excellent writer, undoubtedly educated as well as unabashedly independent and ALSO a whore.

Undeserved Vilification

I am insulted on behalf of intelligent, independent “working” women around the world that the self-righteous among us look down on them and on their chosen profession with such contempt. In no way do sex workers deserve the vilification that is heaped on them by the holier-than-thou hoards.

While Carbonite CEO Friend’s comments are surely well intentioned, and it’s heartening to see advertisers taking what they believe to be a stance in support or women by withdrawing their ads, I wonder if there will ever come a day when their supportive messages will read more along these lines:

“People such as myself, with daughters the age of Sandra Fluke, fully support women’s reproductive and sexual rights, as well as the right for women to pursue and practice their choice of profession, including that of sex worker, without judgment, recrimination or persecution…”

With misogynists like Limbaugh seemingly growing in popularity (His March 2 “Pearl of Wisdom”? “That was one aspect of feminism I liked, that women were going to pull themselves up by their bra straps.”), I’m not holding my breath.

FINAL efw1Rather than holding it, I’m using my breath to help make the voice of women worldwide heard, and to ensure that one day all of our rights and choices, not only those that are most widely socially accepted, will be respected.

When the voice of ordinary women worldwide is loud, clear and heard in the way it should be, it will drown out the likes of Limbaugh and others whose agenda includes keeping women silent, enslaved and powerless….

Speak up for women, look down on none. It’s high time we used our collective femininity, regardless of how we express it individually, to stop this ongoing insanity.