The Spring of Sexism
March 11, 2012 by Amy Siskind
The following article was also featured on the Front Page of The Huffington Post.
You can thank Rush Limbaugh for the sexism revolution this spring.
His diatribe last week was the watershed. Insipid slurs meant to diminish and demean a Georgetown Law Student for this offense: being a woman. More loathsome drivel on the airwaves – a veritable war of words waged against women in our country. Yet, were his words novel or unique? Absolutely not!
Poor Rush (well, not really) and his inopportune timing. He was just being his outrageous, obtuse self; oblivious to the fault lines created by a series of cataclysmic events for women. Congressman Issa’s all-male panel discussing women’s reproductive rights, which, the next day was analyzed and sanctimoniously criticized for excluding women by – you guessed it – an all-male panel on MSNBC‘s Morning Joe. We got to ponder whether aspirin between the knees was an effective form of birth control, before observing the three-ringed circus in Virginia, where, as the legislature mulled ultrasound probes, Del. Albo bemoaned that the discussions were hurting his sex life.
Egad, all this left women to wonder: are we back in the 1950s? Women felt under siege – as if standing on tenuous ground. So when Rush uttered another in his long string of sexist slurs - ‘slut‘ – this time, it become a battle cry for activism. Ironically, when the bombastic Ed Schultz used the same word on MSNBC just nine months prior, our country could barely muster a yawn.
Something has changed. Women, and like-minded men, have finally had it. And it’s not only Rush feeling the tremors – a myriad of misogynistic rats including Bill Maher and Louis C.K. are being forced out of the darkness to face the light of humanity. As President Obama said in a press conference this week: “All decent folks can agree that the remarks that were made don’t have any place in the public discourse.“ And we all, in the end, want to be decent. Don’t we?
President Obama gets it by the way. For the first time in his presidency, he boldly spoke out about the war of words on women. Am I thrilled that it took three years for Obama to address sexism, not really. But am I grateful that he did it, absolutely!
Obama’s message goes straight to the heart of the matter: the other victims in the war of words are our daughters. The media and popular culture have a direct impact on our girls’ hopes, dreams, ambitions and even safety. Every vitriolic word, every sexualized and violent image, gets mixed into a caustic brew which shapes the ever present messaging in our girls’ lives. The war of words scares our daughters away from running for office – tells them not to lead or seem over-zealous. The war of words frames our girls as sexual objects, valued by their appearance. The war of words decries women and girls deserving of controlling behaviors and violence. Do we wonder why women are moving backward in leadership measures, and increasingly becoming victims at ever younger ages? It’s the messaging.
Take for example, Bill Maher who smugly thumbed his nose at us last Friday night: ‘I don’t have sponsors’ like Rush. We weren’t amused. By Tuesday, Maher changed course to defend Rush and move onward. We aren’t willing to. For all those saying Rush’s comments are different because Sandra Fluke is not a public figure, you haven’t been watching Maher very closely. His war on words extends not only to women of both parties, but also to private citizens. And while Maher gleefully demeans women with words like ‘c*nt,’ ‘twat’ and ‘bimbo’, these words are hardly his most heinous offense. He also employs violent imagery like ‘choked this b*tch’ and ‘splayed out on the hood of a car.’ Is this the decency President Obama was referring to?
President Obama spoke out and did his part. Now we must demand a national conversation about the war of words and it’s impact on women and girls. It’s not the President’s responsibility to police the airwaves – that’s our job. And as I’ve read over the President’s remarks, I still can’t find the section where he gives a free pass for sexism to liberal men. Nor can I find a section where he says it’s okay to target conservative women.
In 2009, when I first wrote here at HuffPost that Sexism Against Conservative Women is Still Sexism, it was a groundbreaking notion. Not any longer. Last night, Louis C.K. who tweeted sexist obscenities about a conservative woman, dropped out of hosting the Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner. Thank you Greta Van Susteren for standing up for women and girls.
It’s time we the people finally hold our media accountable for the war of words. Men like Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher should be taken off the air. Argue free speech, fine. Let them foam at the mouth with misogynistic drivel in their lives as private citizens. But not on the airwaves!
Finally, there’s an old adage: when you roll with dogs, you get fleas. David Axelrod may consider taking his boss’ lead before going on Maher’s Real Time. This spring, finally, enough is enough.