Commentary Contraception

Who, Me? Limbaugh Regrets Not Slurring American Women With a Better Euphemism for Slut

Amanda Marcotte

Rush Limbaugh "apologizes" for his tirades against Sandra Fluke by suggesting that the only real problem is that he didn't use better euphemisms when accusing 99 percent of American women of being sexually deviant because they use contraception.

After spending three days on his radio show calling Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student who testified in front of Congress about the importance of health insurance coverage, names like “slut” and “prostitute,” Rush Limbaugh did something unusual: he apologized.

Just kidding!

It’s being reported as an apology, but if you actually read it, it’s not.

In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.

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In other words, Limbaugh is saying that there’s nothing wrong with his belief that women who use contraception—that is, 99 percent of American women—are immoral, filthy sluts. He just wishes that he had chosen better euphemisms, perhaps “hussy” and “lady of the night” while arguing that the only proper course for women who don’t want to get pregnant is to abstain from sex completely. (Limbaugh very pointedly doesn’t suggest this to men. On the contrary, he demands that women provide sex tapes if they dare use contraception, so he can masturbate to them. While celibacy is required for women in Limbaugh’s world, he has no problem with male sexuality. Or Viagra coverage, for that matter.)

By the way, we’re already aware that he wasn’t just making a personal attack on Fluke. Since 99 percent of American women use contraception—and since contraception is already covered by insurance and subsidized by the government—Limbaugh was using Fluke as a stand-in to argue that every woman who has ever had sex for any other reason than procreation is a bad person. In other words, pretty much all women. Which is a way of saying that Limbaugh wasn’t attacking Fluke, but just using her for a punching bag to express his hatred of all women.

The non-apology involved him doubling down on this argument:

I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities.

Worth repeating that Limbaugh continues to only detest the “sexual recreational activities” of women; Viagra coverage continues to go without a whit of criticism.  But let’s break this argument apart. First of all, Limbaugh is acting like insurance coverage of contraception is a new idea; in fact, it’s been around for decades now, so his supposition that women who use it are prostitutes really is universal to women. Second of all is his claim that “American citizens” are the ones on the hook when we’re debating private insurance coverage of contraception. Well, I suppose American citizens ARE on the hook. After all, the women using the contraception are the ones paying for it and they are American citizens.

Conservatives keep arguing about this as if private health insurance were some monetary redistribution program. In fact, the health insurance women use to pay for these services is theirs, just as surely as their wages are theirs. Insurance you get through your employer is paid for by you through a combination of labor and money. Limbaugh’s claims that he’s paying for my contraception when I use my insurance to pay for it make as much sense as Limbaugh taking over my checking account and declaring it’s his money. It’s true that taxpayers subsidize access to contraception for low-income women through programs like Title X and Medicaid—rightly, since public health is a concern of the taxpayer—but that’s not actually the money in dispute here.

We can safely say therefore that money thing is just a distraction technique. This is just Limbaugh using the occasion of contraception being in the news to wage all-out war on women who have sex for pleasure, instead of grimly enduring it to make babies. The fact that he believes that more sex is more wicked confirms this, as did his assurance than any parent of a grown woman would be mortified to discover that their daughter acts like the vast majority of people her age and has sex.

Will Limbaugh get away with having this taken as an apology, even though he’s still arguing that all women are sluts (while just apologizing for the word, probably vowing to use “hussy” in the future instead)? Sadly, I have to guess so. Conservatives have become masters at playing the “who me?” game, insisting that you can’t label even the most egregious racism and sexism for what it is unless they manage to utter certain words. Unfortunately, the mainstream press has gone along with this.

Take, for instance, how conservative insistence that it can’t be racist unless you utter the infamous N-word works out so well for them. Limbaugh is a good example. But for his avoidance of the N-word, it would be easy to mistake Limbaugh’s show in recent months for speeches made at KKK rallies. On a near-daily basis, Limbaugh has been ginning up outrage that black people live in the White House, making it utterly clear that he believes their race should prevent them from having the nice things he himself enjoys. He argues that Obama’s race means that the President is trying to destroy this country, spinning paranoid conspiracy theories about how Obama is leading some kind of black takeover as an act of “revenge.” While Limbaugh miraculously avoids the N-word on a daily basis, however, he has played around with the racial epithet “Oreo,” and also describing Michelle Obama with the loaded word “uppity.” There hasn’t been a national outrage around this, because our discourse has lost all interest in nuance and context, and everything has been reduced to policing for certain words. Absent those words, apparently, any kind of racism or sexism is just fine.

The response of some politicians confronted with this speaks clearly to this problem. Mitt Romney, when asked about this, said, “I’ll just say this which is it’s not the language I would have used,” which sounds like he’s agreeing with the contention that all women who use birth control are sluts, but he just prefers to use euphemisms to advance the basic argument. Rick Santorum dismissed the whole thing as “absurd,” even though he’s made the same idea—that 99 percent of American women, including his own wife, are deviants who are bringing ruin to this country—a major talking point of his campaign. Regardless of what word you use to paint the whole of womanhood as disgusting creatures whose sexual desires make them monsters, it still should be treated as unacceptable. I don’t have much faith that will happen, however. 

News Politics

Zika Response ‘Sits Squarely With Congress’ After Administration’s Last-Ditch Effort

Christine Grimaldi

“Our nation’s ability to mount the type of Zika response that the American people deserve sits squarely with Congress," HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell wrote in a letter to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

The Obama administration’s decision to direct $81 million toward the development of a Zika vaccine pits congressional Republicans and Democrats against each other—and leaves the country no closer to a solution.

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives seized on the announcement Thursday afternoon to contend that federal agencies have funds at their disposal to fight Zika. The head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), however, dispelled that notion as she described shifting $34 million within the National Institutes of Health and transferring $47 million to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, both of which would have run out of Zika funds by the end of the month.

“With the actions described above, we have exhausted our ability to even provide short-term financing to help fight Zika,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell wrote in an August 11 letter to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). “Our nation’s ability to mount the type of Zika response that the American people deserve sits squarely with Congress.”

The administration in April pledged $589 million, the bulk of which came from funding to halt spread of the Ebola virus, for “immediate, time-critical activities” to combat the Zika virus. Those funds have been nearly exhausted, Burwell said in an August 3 letter to congressional Democrats on the appropriations committees.

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Congress returns September 6 after a seven-week recess in which Democrats in the House and U.S. Senate repeatedly called on lawmakers to return to Washington and get a Zika deal done. Republican leaders refused, blaming Senate Democrats for obstructing a GOP-engineered $1.1 billion plan prior to the recess. The plan underfunded the administration’s $1.9 billion target and included contraception restrictions for a virus that can be sexually transmitted.

Zika causes microcephaly, an incurable neurological disorder that impairs brain and skull growth in utero, as well as other severe fetal brain defects, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As of August 4, the CDC reported 510 cases in pregnant people living in the United States. Another 521 infections have occurred among pregnant people in U.S. territories.

Puerto Rico Faces Disproportionate Impact

Diagnoses are increasing by the day. As of August 10, the CDC reported 1,962 cases of Zika in the United States. All but seven of those cases are due to travel. That breakdown stands in sharp contrast to Puerto Rico, home to 6,475 locally acquired and just 30 travel-associated cases—in both instances, a few percentage points shy of all the Zika infections in U.S. territories.

The contraception restrictions in Republicans’ plan would hurt the people of Puerto Rico by limiting women to obtaining such services from public health departments, hospitals, and Medicaid Managed Care clinics. Such options are few and far between in the sprawling territory.

Republicans would also prohibit subgrants to outside groups “that could provide important services to hard-to-reach populations, especially hard-to-reach populations of women that want to access contraceptive services,” according to a Democratic summary Rewire obtained last month.

Nevertheless, Republicans continue to defend their plan amid criticism from Democrats and reproductive health-care groups that they’re again waging a war on Planned Parenthood. “[T]he words Planned Parenthood don’t appear anywhere in the law,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), referring to the plan, told Politico in an interview last week.

Rubio Targets Abortion Care

From the beginning, Rubio otherwise broke with his party, supporting the administration’s $1.9 billion plan without similar conditions in recognition that Zika would reach the shores of his home state. All six of the continental United States’ locally acquired Zika cases have occurred in Florida.

At the same time, Rubio had no problem with denying pregnant people infected with Zika access to abortion care.

“Obviously, microcephaly is a terrible prenatal condition that kids are born with. And when they are, it’s a lifetime of difficulties. So I get it,” he told Politico. “I believe all human life should be protected by our law, irrespective of the circumstances or condition of that life.”

Rubio’s comments put him in league with the Susan B. Anthony List, Americans United for Life, and other anti-choice groups that have framed abortion care in the context of Zika as eugenics. Anti-choice advocates have been increasingly using this argument, which hurts people with disabilities as much as pregnant people seeking abortion care, writer s.e. smith reported for Rewire.

Commentary Politics

No, Republicans, Porn Is Still Not a Public Health Crisis

Martha Kempner

The news of the last few weeks has been full of public health crises—gun violence, Zika virus, and the rise of syphilis, to name a few—and yet, on Monday, Republicans focused on the perceived dangers of pornography.

The news of the last few weeks has been full of public health crises—gun violence, the Zika virus, and the rise of syphilis, to name a few—and yet, on Monday, Republicans focused on the perceived dangers of pornography. Without much debate, a subcommittee of Republican delegates agreed to add to a draft of the party’s 2016 platform an amendment declaring pornography is endangering our children and destroying lives. As Rewire argued when Utah passed a resolution with similar language, pornography is neither dangerous nor a public health crisis.

According to CNN, the amendment to the platform reads:

The internet must not become a safe haven for predators. Pornography, with its harmful effects, especially on children, has become a public health crisis that is destroying the life [sic] of millions. We encourage states to continue to fight this public menace and pledge our commitment to children’s safety and well-being. We applaud the social networking sites that bar sex offenders from participation. We urge energetic prosecution of child pornography which [is] closely linked to human trafficking.

Mary Frances Forrester, a delegate from North Carolina, told Yahoo News in an interview that she had worked with conservative Christian group Concerned Women for America (CWA) on the amendment’s language. On its website, CWA explains that its mission is “to protect and promote Biblical values among all citizens—first through prayer, then education, and finally by influencing our society—thereby reversing the decline in moral values in our nation.”

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The amendment does not elaborate on the ways in which this internet monster is supposedly harmful to children. Forrester, however, told Yahoo News that she worries that pornography is addictive: “It’s such an insidious epidemic and there are no rules for our children. It seems … [young people] do not have the discernment and so they become addicted before they have the maturity to understand the consequences.”

“Biological” porn addiction was one of the 18 “points of fact” that were included in a Utah Senate resolution that was ultimately signed by Gov. Gary Herbert (R) in April. As Rewire explained when the resolution first passed out of committee in February, none of these “facts” are supported by scientific research.

The myth of porn addiction typically suggests that young people who view pornography and enjoy it will be hard-wired to need more and more pornography, in much the same way that a drug addict needs their next fix. The myth goes on to allege that porn addicts will not just need more porn but will need more explicit or violent porn in order to get off. This will prevent them from having healthy sexual relationships in real life, and might even lead them to become sexually violent as well.

This is a scary story, for sure, but it is not supported by research. Yes, porn does activate the same pleasure centers in the brain that are activated by, for example, cocaine or heroin. But as Nicole Prause, a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, told Rewire back in February, so does looking at pictures of “chocolate, cheese, or puppies playing.” Prause went on to explain: “Sex film viewing does not lead to loss of control, erectile dysfunction, enhanced cue (sex image) reactivity, or withdrawal.” Without these symptoms, she said, we can assume “sex films are not addicting.”

Though the GOP’s draft platform amendment is far less explicit about why porn is harmful than Utah’s resolution, the Republicans on the subcommittee clearly want to evoke fears of child pornography, sexual predators, and trafficking. It is as though they want us to believe that pornography on the internet is the exclusive domain of those wishing to molest or exploit our children.

Child pornography is certainly an issue, as are sexual predators and human trafficking. But conflating all those problems and treating all porn as if it worsens them across the board does nothing to solve them, and diverts attention from actual potential solutions.

David Ley, a clinical psychologist, told Rewire in a recent email that the majority of porn on the internet depicts adults. Equating all internet porn with child pornography and molestation is dangerous, Ley wrote, not just because it vilifies a perfectly healthy sexual behavior but because it takes focus away from the real dangers to children: “The modern dialogue about child porn is just a version of the stranger danger stories of men in trenchcoats in alleys—it tells kids to fear the unknown, the stranger, when in fact, 90 percent of sexual abuse of children occurs at hands of people known to the victim—relatives, wrestling coaches, teachers, pastors, and priests.” He added: “By blaming porn, they put the problem external, when in fact, it is something internal which we need to address.”

The Republican platform amendment, by using words like “public health crisis,” “public menace” “predators” and “destroying the life,” seems designed to make us afraid, but it does nothing to actually make us safer.

If Republicans were truly interested in making us safer and healthier, they could focus on real public health crises like the rise of STIs; the imminent threat of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea; the looming risk of the Zika virus; and, of course, the ever-present hazards of gun violence. But the GOP does not seem interested in solving real problems—it spearheaded the prohibition against research into gun violence that continues today, it has cut funding for the public health infrastructure to prevent and treat STIs, and it is working to cut Title X contraception funding despite the emergence of Zika, which can be sexually transmitted and causes birth defects that can only be prevented by preventing pregnancy.

This amendment is not about public health; it is about imposing conservative values on our sexual behavior, relationships, and gender expression. This is evident in other elements of the draft platform, which uphold that marriage is between a man and a women; ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its ruling affirming the right to same-sex marriage; declare dangerous the Obama administration’s rule that schools allow transgender students to use the bathroom and locker room of their gender identity; and support conversion therapy, a highly criticized practice that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation and has been deemed ineffective and harmful by the American Psychological Association.

Americans like porn. Happy, well-adjusted adults like porn. Republicans like porn. In 2015, there were 21.2 billion visits to the popular website PornHub. The site’s analytics suggest that visitors around the world spent a total of 4,392,486,580 hours watching the site’s adult entertainment. Remember, this is only one way that web users access internet porn—so it doesn’t capture all of the visits or hours spent on what may have trumped baseball as America’s favorite pastime.

As Rewire covered in February, porn is not a perfect art form for many reasons; it is not, however, an epidemic. And Concerned Women for America, Mary Frances Forrester, and the Republican subcommittee may not like how often Americans turn on their laptops and stick their hands down their pants, but that doesn’t make it a public health crisis.

Party platforms are often eclipsed by the rest of what happens at the convention, which will take place next week. Given the spectacle that a convention headlined by presumptive nominee (and seasoned reality television star) Donald Trump is bound to be, this amendment may not be discussed after next week. But that doesn’t mean that it is unimportant or will not have an effect on Republican lawmakers. Attempts to codify strict sexual mores are a dangerous part of our history—Anthony Comstock’s crusade against pornography ultimately extended to laws that made contraception illegal—that we cannot afford to repeat.

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