Irony: Thursday Is International Women’s DayThe Sunday television political circuit was punctuated by references to Rush Limbaugh’s wildly inappropriate, inaccurate and misogynistic remarks made over the course of three days last week.
Ironic, isn’t it, that Thursday is International Women’s Day, which has been observed since 1911.
Many from a younger generation feel that ‘all the battles have been won for women’ while many feminists from the 1970’s know only too well the longevity and ingrained complexity of patriarchy. With more women in the boardroom, greater equality in legislative rights, and an increased critical mass of women’s visibility as impressive role models in every aspect of life, one could think that women have gained true equality. The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men. (emphasis added)
Let me point out that the violence is both verbal and physical and not limited to genetic mutilation. From the DOJ National Crime Victimization Survey:
Intimate partner violence includes victimization committed by spouses or ex-spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends, and ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends.
- In 2008 females age 12 or older experienced about 552,000 nonfatal violent victimizations (rape/sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated or simple assault) by an intimate partner (a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend) (table 1).
- In the same year, men experienced 101,000 nonfatal violent victimizations by an intimate partner.
- The rate of intimate partner victimizations for females was 4.3 victimizations per 1,000 females age 12 or older. The equivalent rate of intimate partner violence against males was 0.8 victimizations per 1,000 males age 12 or older.
That’s 1,500 females aged 12 or older who are the victims of nonfatal violence every day. In the United States.
Back to Limbaugh
Conservative commentator George Will told George Stephanopoulos that the men of the GOP are unwilling to counter the verbal violence but quite willing to engage in physical conflict.
“[House Speaker John] Boehner comes out and says Rush’s language was inappropriate. Using the salad fork for your entrée, that’s inappropriate. Not this stuff,” Will said. “And it was depressing because what it indicates is that the Republican leaders are afraid of Rush Limbaugh. They want to bomb Iran, but they’re afraid of Rush Limbaugh.”
While Rick Santorum said Limbaugh’s comments were “absurd,” he said the radio host was an “entertainer” and “an entertainer can be absurd.”
“No,” Will said about Santorum’s response. “It is the responsibility of conservatives to police the right and its excesses, just as the liberals unfailingly fail to police the excesses on their own side.”
Rather than criticizing Limbaugh’s choice of words, Newt Gingrich instead blasted Obama for “opportunistically” calling Fluke on Friday to thank her for testifying.
The bigger picture
While Limbaugh’s remarks this past week were revolting, he is by no means the only on-air personality to dish out sexist and demeaning comments, although most TV “analysts” direct their low-brow comments at female politicians. The TV news circuit exists within a larger cultural context. Janet Bagnall writes:
A new U.S. documentary called Miss Representation argues that, if anything, we are losing ground under a sustained, sometimes conscious – sometimes not – campaign to undermine women in public life.
Written, directed, produced and narrated by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, a former actress, the film sets out to show how the media, described as the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms in the U.S. today, delivers the message that a woman’s worth is limited to her youth, beauty and sexuality.
In the past decade, Siebel Newsom says, the message television has given to women is to “look like Miss USA, have sex like Samantha on Sex and the City and think like June Cleaver.”
In the film, Katie Couric, the first American woman to solo as a national news anchor, says that when she looks at cable newscasts, the female newscasters are wearing lowcut clothing, masses of makeup and tousled hair. “They look like cocktail waitresses instead of newscasters,” she says.
Girls are rarely exposed to women who have succeeded in life without using their sexuality. They don’t see Indra Nooyi, the chief executive of PepsiCo., or Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox.
They certainly saw Hillary Clinton when she was running against Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, but they also heard her called a bitch, a ball-breaker and an irrational woman who couldn’t be entrusted with power.
Ignoring women is another form of demeaning them. During current U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s first four weeks on the job, the film shows, he was featured on the cover of five prominent weekly magazines: Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker, the National Journal and The Economist. In Nancy Pelosi’s four years as speaker, she did not appear on a single national magazine cover.
What are we going to do it about it?
Well, one thing we can do is take all of this energy and demonstrate solidarity on March 8.
Here’s the more challenging thing we have to do.
We have to call out all instances of demeaning and racist rhetoric masquerading as political commentary. All of it. Left and right and in-between. Radio and TV and print.
That means we have to tune in, we can’t tune it out by simply ignoring it.
My mind keeps circling back to Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. Harris tells us that the world of religious tolerance is not sustainable, that it is not a “bulwark against religious extremism and religious violence.” He pointedly asserts: “Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance.”
We can no longer feign ignorance.
We can no longer pretend that language and attitudes like those displayed by Limbaugh are the exception. They are the rule, and it’s not just cable news and talk radio. Tune in to Comedy Central. Watch any movie with 15-year-old males as target demographic.
Tolerance is out. Action is in.
We do not due justice to our daughters, our granddaughters, our nieces … or our nephews, grandsons and sons … if we let allow our media elites, and the advertisers who make them rich, to continue in this vein.
We have to speak out.
We have to make this public.
- White House petition calling for FCC investigation; the petition follows the FCC complaint form.
- Prior stories: Seven Advertisers Have Dropped Limbaugh, Politics, Comedy and Women’s Bodies, Breaking: Rush’s Non-Apology Apology (UPDATE III), Advertisers Begin Dropping Limbaugh, Is There No Line To Be Crossed That Would Turn Limbaugh’s Sponsors Against Him?
Update: headline changed to reflect that I either misread or found a flawed reference to IWD.
6.43 pm Pacific