Commentary Media

The Bigger They Are the Harder They Fall? Will Advertisers “Commit to Quit” Rush?

Jodi Jacobson

Nine sponsors have now dropped Rush Limbaugh after a spontaneous campaign aimed at his advertisers. But it's not enough to "suspend" advertising on the program, as some suggest they are doing. Limbaugh's advertisers need to commit to quit for good. And each of us needs to monitor these companies and commit to quit buying from them if they renew their support of Limbaugh.

Last week, on the heels of Rush Limbaugh’s multiple-day verbal assaults on Georgetown University law student, Sandra Fluke, I began to tweet the names of several of Limbaugh’s sponsors, asking them to cut their ties with his program. Fluke is the woman originally denied a spot as a witness at a hearing on the birth control mandate called by House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA). She ultimately made her case since then not only on Capitol Hill but in countless television and radio interviews.  Her advocacy in support of the clearly outrageous tenet that health insurance should cover women’s primary health care apparently further enraged the already-apoplectic right to the point where Limbaugh called her a “slut” and a “prostitute,” and suggested she post sex videos on line.

Then the avalanche began.

On the advice of a colleague, I started my first petition on act.ly, beginning with a focus on ProFlowers, one of Limbaugh’s leading advertisers. I posted it on Twitter as well as to Facebook and Redditt. With the help of many people and through the magic of social media, that petition quickly went to the top of the list on act.ly. Others immediately began to weigh in with their own actions, including UltraViolet, MoveOn, and DailyKos, all groups with major lists and all calling on various Limbaugh sponsors to quit paying for his misogynistic and misleading attacks on women (and here I refrain from even attempting to summarize the ways in which he has misrepresented other people and issues in the past).

As of this morning, a mere five days later, and due to the collective action of many groups, nine sponsors have stopped advertising on Limbaugh’s shows, at least for now.

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Advertisers continued to bail even after Limbaugh tried to staunch the initial exodus with what he called an “apology.” Major sponsors that have said they were terminating or suspending their advertising support for Limbaugh’s show include SleepTrain, SleepNumber, Carbonite, Quicken Loans, Citrix Online, eHarmony, Legal Zoom, Proflowers, and, as of this morning, AOL. Joan McCarter has a good piece at DailyKos listing all of the sponsors, and including screenshots of their statements, as well as an update as of today.

The strongest statement and the one, in my opinion, with the greatest clarity, came from Carbonite CEO David Friend, who after first stating that he was concerned and would confront Limbaugh, was as offended by the “apology” Limbaugh offered as were millions of women.  In his final statement, Friend wrote:

“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.”

Friend does not use the term “permanently withdraw” in this statement, so it is not clear whether this is a temporary action or not.  But others were even more iffy.  A number of sponsors included the words “suspend” in their statements, which leaves the impression that this is in fact a temporary decision until things die down.

ProFlowers, for example, hung on for several days despite widespread pressure online, and through phone calls and canceled orders.  It turns out that ProFlowers is owned by Liberty Media, a well-known right-wing media company, which in turn has strong ties to the Koch brothers. Perhaps because so many other advertisers were dropping or perhaps because the number of flower orders dropped precipitously, ProFlowers finally suspended their advertising.  As McCarter notes, others such as TaxResolution and AOL also used the language of “suspension.”

But this is not enough. For one thing, Limbaugh’s comments were not just directed at Sandra Fluke, but at all American women who use birth control, have sex and want to prevent pregnancy or have medical needs for contraceptive methods. The level of sheer misogyny and hatred he promotes is galling on an average day; this one topped the charts. And he would not have a platform for misinformation at the level he does if not for advertisers that support him and the Republican party for which he speaks, and which seems, as someone on Twitter put it, to want to bomb Iran but be afraid of Rush Limbaugh. He is, if nothing else, a well-compensated hate-monger.

It’s not enough to “suspend.” Limbaugh’s advertisers need to commit to quit.  They each need to permanently commit to quit advertising on his show permanently.  And each of us needs to monitor these companies and commit to quit buying from them if they renew their support of Limbaugh.

Last week taught me personally the sheer power of “one-plus” in the age of social media. I never imagined that the first petition would get the response it did, nor that so many would band together so quickly to hold advertisers accountable for a show so clearly based on hatred.  But for the longer term, this only works if we each keep ourselves and each other accountable. I commit to quit using any service by companies advertising with Rush Limbaugh now and in the future.

Commentary Sexuality

Anti-Choicers Drop the ‘Life’ Pretense, Increasingly Admit They’re Angry About Sex

Amanda Marcotte

The Family Research Council recently presented a paper positing that the problem with abortion is that women are just having too much sex. It's part of a trend: Increasingly, anti-choicers are dropping the pretense that they're motivated by "life" and admitting that their efforts are about controlling women's sexuality.

Is the anti-choice movement giving up the pretense that it has no interest in policing women’s sexuality and only opposes abortion rights because of fetal life? While the rote use of the word “life” as a code word to describe a series of anti-woman and anti-sex beliefs is probably going nowhere, there does seem to be a bit more willingness among anti-choicers lately to admit that what really offends them is that women are having sex without their permission.

A report examining the demographics of women who have abortions, using self-reported numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics, was recently presented at a Family Research Council conference. Their conclusion? “OMG sluts!”

The researchers—a term that needs to be used somewhat loosely, due to the extensive statistical distortion employed in this paper—were incredibly intent on portraying abortion as a product of sexually loose women on the prowl. They mostly succeed in portraying themselves as remarkably prudish and out of step with mainstream realities. “Almost 90 percent of reported abortions are procured by women who have had three or more (male) sexual partners,” the researchers write, clearly expecting the audience to reel in terror at the idea that a woman might not marry the first boy she kisses. Which means that most women having abortions are … average. Women generally report having had about four male sexual partners, but social scientists are inclined to think the number is probably higher than that, because men report having a much higher average number of partners, and that discrepancy is mathematically impossible. Indeed, one study showed that by telling women that they’re hooked up to a lie detector, the number of sex partners they will cop to goes up. Slut-shaming, such as the kind produced by this report, causes women to round down.

“The fraction of women reporting abortions is far larger among women with multiple sexual partners than among monogamous women,” the study authors write. It’s a classic example of how this paper, which is supposed to be a study, is actually full of misrepresentations and dishonest number-massaging. After all, “monogamous” and “has had multiple partners” are not mutually exclusive groups. No doubt the study authors mean “has only had one partner ever” as their definition of monogamous, a strange and sloppy definition that would mean that a woman who lost her virginity during a one-night stand yesterday is more “monogamous” that a woman whose second marriage has lasted 30 years.

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“Eighty-three percent of women who report having an abortion have cohabited at some time,” they write, clearly expecting the audience to find cohabitation to be a shockingly risqué behavior. Again, this makes women who have abortions average. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “[M]ost young couples live together first before entering marriage.” By the time they turn 30, three-quarters of women have cohabitated.

It’s almost comical how out-of-touch the authors are with their ready assumption that extremely normal and even boring sexual behavior is scandalous. But, more importantly, this report is indicative of a willingness on the part of anti-choice activists to be open about their hostility to female sexuality, an openness that was, just a few years ago, angrily denied.

Don’t get me wrong; some people are still devoted to the notion that the anti-choice movement has nothing to do with sex or gender. Recently, in Slate, Will Saletan insisted that being “pro-life” had nothing to do with negative attitudes about female sexuality, because the majority of people who tell a pollster that they’re “pro-life” also support legal contraception. What he neglected to mention is that the majority of people who say they’re “pro-life” also support legal abortion, suggesting that the label “pro-life” is a meaningless term that people just adopt because it sounds good.

To know what the actual anti-choice movement is about, you need to look at what its members do, not what some random people say about how they label themselves. And, increasingly, anti-choice activists are free about their larger objections to women being able to choose non-procreative sex. Indeed, when I first started writing on the topic of reproductive health care, even the slightest intimation that anti-choicers have a problem with female sexuality was enough to cause conservatives to cry foul and howl about how they don’t care what you do in bed, it’s about “life,” and blah blah blah.

Now we have Mike Huckabee shamelessly ascribing the desire to have insurance cover birth controlsomething that it has always done, by the way—to women’s inability to “control our libido.” Now anti-contraception protesters are a major part of the March for Life, making it undeniable that “life” is just a code word for efforts to punish and control women by taking away their ability to manage their fertility. Far from denying the anti-sex motivations of their movement, anti-choicers are beginning to own it loudly and proudly.

Why now? Probably because they think they’re winning. The massive shutdown of abortion clinics across the country because of medically unnecessary red tape is a major victory. A big win like that will make anyone cocky, so they’re less afraid of losing ground by admitting that the real agenda is to attack women’s sexuality. But it’s also because the attacks on abortion rights have been so successful that the only way to build on them is to go after contraception. Unlike with abortion, however, attacks on contraception pretty much have to be framed in terms of restricting women’s sexual choices.

Sure, a lot of anti-choicers are still cautious and are looking for ways to attack contraception without coming right out and saying it’s about sex. “Religious freedom” is one gambit being toss around a lot. But honestly, the sense you get lately is that conservatives generally have decided to stop pretending and just come out with it. Rush Limbaugh’s throwing caution to the wind and using Sandra Fluke’s congressional testimony to characterize women who use contraception as sluts was clearly taken as a battle cry to stop self-censoring by the right. And, frankly, it doesn’t seem to have hurt them very much. The attacks on abortion and contraception seem to be getting more, not less, successful in the wake of conservatives gradually admitting that the anti-choice philosophy was about sex all along.

Commentary Religion

Purity Culture as Rape Culture: Why the Theological Is Political

Dianna Anderson

By failing to equip women to understand their own agency and bodily autonomy, the evangelical purity movement creates an environment that is ripe for rape.

When I was 14 years old, I stood in front of my 800-member Baptist congregation with my parents as they handed me a small diamond ring we’d bought together at Walmart. Before the church body and before God, I pledged that no man shall touch my special places until after we had said “I do.” I pledged to keep pure.

Thirteen years later, I still wear the ring on my right hand, but now it is simply out of habit. It doesn’t mean anything to me anymore besides being the nicest piece of jewelry I own. I grew up in evangelical purity culture, and like many of my fellow millennial Christians, I’ve left it behind.

In evangelical America, a woman’s potential relationships and sexual choices are of paramount importance. Relationship guides and purity pledges are a cottage industry in evangelicalism, but the influence reaches far beyond just evangelicals. During the recent government shutdown and the ongoing battle over the Affordable Care Act, we’re seeing the far-reaching effects of a theology in which a woman’s purity is the most important part of her life.

Purity culture kicked off in response to two events in the mid-20th century: the sexual revolution that characterized much of second-wave feminism, and the 1973 ruling of Roe v. Wade. The return to conservatism in the 1980s saw the beginnings of a resurgence of interest in womanly purity and “biblical” gender roles. With the set roles of the 1950s forever upended, many conservative evangelicals scrambled for a foothold—and they found it in the concept of purity pledges and balls.

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The first purity ball was held in 1998 in Colorado. Today, such balls are a staple of a conservative evangelical girl’s life. Fathers and daughters dress up in their nicest outfits, and the daughters make a pledge of purity to their father and to God. In the most extreme examples, the daughter is considered under the authority of her father until the day she marries, at which point she transfers that authority to her husband.

If she remains invested in the purity movement throughout her teen years—which would mean regularly attending a typical evangelical youth service—she will be exposed to an abundance of narratives about how keeping oneself pure is a fight that must be won, that it is what God wants, and, most importantly, that her body does not belong to her, but rather to her future husband, and a lapse in purity is a betrayal of her future relationship.

That last part is an extremely important one, and one that many secular students of evangelical purity culture miss—it’s the backbone to the entire concept of purity, the theological underpinning that makes conservative evangelicals such a unique breed. Until we understand just how deeply this “You are not your own” theology is intertwined within purity culture, we will not be able to truly understand the politicians who discuss rape in horrific terms, or the reasons Christian employers see fit to interfere with their employees’ access to birth control.

Purity culture, in the evangelical world, is nothing more than an elaborate form of rape culture. But it is rape culture embedded so deeply that rooting it out requires challenging the very forms of Christology upon which many evangelicals have built their beliefs. In other words, making the change to believe in bodily autonomy and unassailable agency of the individual means changing how one views all aspects of faith. This conflict, naturally, is why traditional feminism and Christian evangelicalism are often so at odds. The challenge of bodily autonomy is, for many conservative evangelicals, anathema to their very belief structure.

To understand purity culture as rape culture, we must understand why bodily autonomy is such an issue. For the evangelical, “dying to self”—or sacrificing one’s selfishness for the greater good of the Gospel—is one of the highest honors one can have. This is often interpreted as subsuming one’s desires, one’s individuality, into the will of God. Cobbling together ideas like “God’s ways are higher than our ways,” and the Apostle Paul’s assertion that what looks like foolishness to the world is wisdom for the Christian, evangelicals lay claim to life in an “upside-down kingdom,” where being last means they’re really first.

In response to what is seen as a sex-saturated world in which women are asserting their sexual agency and exploring their sexual identities through their experiences, evangelical purity theology seeks to remind people that self-sacrifice—giving up one’s selfhood—is a Christian duty. Unfortunately, they take this so far as to believe that a wife’s body is not her own, that a woman cannot say no to her husband, and that it is sin to withhold sexual gratification from one’s partner.

You can see where this comes into conflict with a feminism that preaches enthusiastic and continued consent.

Purity culture and rape culture are two sides of the same coin. Prior to marriage, women are instructed that they must say no to sex at every turn, and if they do not they are responsible for the consequences. This method of approach—“always no”—creates situations in which women are not equipped to fully understand what consent looks like or what a healthy sexual encounter is. When the only tool you’re given is a “no,” shame over rape or assault becomes compounded—because you don’t necessarily understand or grasp that “giving in” to coercion or “not saying no” isn’t a “yes.”

In Dateable, a Christian dating guide, authors Justin Lookadoo and Hayley DiMarco reinforce the idea of women as sexual gatekeepers. Throughout the book, we read that “guys will lie to you to get what they want,” and that all guys ever want is to have sex. So it is up to the girl—as discussed in faux-feminist “girl power” terms—to say no. Which is all well and good, until you realize that, in the authors’ estimation, a girl has the power to say no up until the moment she sends the wrong signals, because men are animals who can’t control themselves. Yes, the guide literally says that:

Don’t tease the animals. Have I mentioned that guys are visual? They get turned on by what they see. … So listen: please, PLEASE don’t tease us. To show us your hot little body and then tell us we can’t touch is being a tease. You can’t look that sexy and then tell us to be on our best behavior. Check yourself – if you’re advertising sex, you’re going to get propositions. … A guy will have a tendency to treat you like you are dressed. If you are dressed like a flesh buffet, don’t be surprised when he treats you like a piece of meat.

I was raised with the idea that I didn’t have a right to my own body, and that I didn’t have the right to say yes until I was married, at which point I didn’t have the right to say no. My body was never my own, but rather the property of whatever man happened to ask me to marry him. My virginity was the most precious thing I had to offer, and it was my responsibility to protect it, and if I was coerced into “giving it away,” I would have to repent.

The purity movement not only robs women of their agency by not allowing them to say yes, it robs them of the ability to understand what it means when a “no” is not respected. By failing to equip women to understand their own agency and bodily autonomy, the evangelical purity movement creates an environment that is ripe for rape.

Sarah Moon, a blogger at the Patheos spirituality channel, has written extensively about the acceptance and promotion of rape within conservative evangelical relationship guides. She studied four different Christian dating guides, examining their treatment of consent and rape while promoting purity. She published her findings on her blog (which are being turned into an article for the Journal of Integrated Social Sciences this spring). She writes that Christian dating guides often claim to be against rape while promoting concepts and ideas that contradict this stance (emphasis hers):

the lack of consent in these books isn’t outrightly stated [sic]. It’s subtle and mixed in with language that gives the illusion that a full range of options is available to people. The book Real Marriage shocked me by including (what? no way!) some relatively healthy discussion of the issue of marital rape. The Driscolls condemn marital rape strongly (pg. 202), state that any intercourse forced on someone without consent is rape (pg. 121), and tell husbands that they should never coerce their wives into having sex (pg. 163).

There’s a catch, though.

Husbands, maybe you can’t coerce your wives into sex, but Mark Driscoll, Cage Fighting Jesus, and the Bible sure can! Women can say no to marital sex, sure. You can. But according to Real Marriage, that doesn’t mean you should or that it’s really okay for you to do so.”

A woman asserting her right to say no after the bonds of marriage have been fixed is viewed as an affront to a solid marriage. Within the evangelical church, women who assert any bodily autonomy outside what is ascribed to them by gendered theological roles are to be avoided. If they say yes before marriage, they are tempting Jezebels, luring men off the path of glory; if they saying no after marriage, they are frigid, selfish wives who will be at fault if their husband strays.

This is what many of our elected Republican officials believe. This is why we get statements about “honest rape,” or arguments that women who use birth control are sluts. This is the motivation behind several Protestant Christian colleges and Catholic hospitals suing the government in order not to provide birth control to their employees. This is why, when a rape exception to abortion bans is proposed, Christian politicians are quick to imply that women may “cry rape” to get abortion access.

Fundamentally, evangelical, right-wing politicians do not believe women have a right to their own bodies, whether that control be related to purity or rape or birth control or abortion. This is beyond simply a political issue—it is, at heart, theological. And this fight is far from over.