Faux-Apology Not Accepted: Fire Rush Limbaugh for His Hateful Misogyny


Cross-posted with permission from the Feminist Wire.

Rush Limbaugh’s limp quasi-apology to Sandra Fluke isn’t good enough. Clear Channel Communications, the largest radio station owner in the US, should fire him and establish a precedent whereby media commentators understand that misogynistic language and attitudes are unacceptable and career-ending. An apology from Mr. Limbaugh is insufficient and unacceptable if we are serious about women’s rights, equality and ability to participate in civil public discourse. Listening to Limbaugh talk about Sandra Fluke was #Mencallmethings 101.

Why is our nation even having this conversation about this man and his sexist abuse? Replace anything that Rush Limbaugh said with its ugly racist equivalent…Right. Moving right along. The entire planet has spent the last two hundred years coming to terms with the implications of race and class on society. Now some people are having the dawning realization that gender is salient too. Rush Limbaugh and his ilk are rooted in a dying paradigm. It is so time to bid it farewell and this is as good a start as any.

First, Limbaugh did not “just,” as he claims, “illustrate an absurdity with the absurd,” and “choose the wrong words.” He used vitriolic hate speech in an attempt to belittle and degrade a woman, and by extension most other women, while discussing a serious issue in a public forum. Jack DeGoia, president of Georgetown University, said in his letter of support for Fluke, “This expression of conscience was in the tradition of the deepest values we share as a people. One need not agree with her substantive position to support her right to respectful free expression.” The use of the word “slut” to put a woman in her place, the dominant Republican party-theme this primary season, should be as unacceptable as once-but-no-longer-acceptable racist equivalents. Thank god Sandra Fluke is not a woman of color or this could have been even uglier. In addition to the language itself, there was Limbaugh’s request that she videotape sex and share it for his consumption. This, I agree, is absurd – but not in the same way Limbaugh meant it. He actually uses the following phrases in his apology: “What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line?” and not in an “attempt to be humorous.”

Second, he’s not just an “entertainer” he’s an influential “MissRepresenter” and it is causing serious problems for our country. To claim, as Rick Santorum did, that Limbaugh is an entertainer and by extension not important or culturally relevant is disingenuous to say the least. But, Limbaugh is not the only media misogynist out there and firing him would be an important precedent. Remember Ed Schultz’s “right-wing slut” episode last year? Media commentators on the left and the right regularly ridicule and insult women in mean-spirited, highly gendered ways and laugh it off as lame attempts at humor. Consider what happens to women politicians if they have the audacity to appear on television or radio and take strong, confident positions on anything other than domestic work. A recent study revealed the degree to which sexism undid Hilary Clinton’s presidential chances. The sexist ways that women candidates are discussed are endless: Sly jokes about brooms, mops, dusting rags abound; references to nut-crackers, ball-breakers, harried husbands; nags, bitches, ‘hos, bimbos, “boobgate” on and on and on. Widespread acceptance of misogynistic language and public sexist bullying is a serious problem to equality and a deterrent to women’s running for office. Sexist language is as offensive as racist language, but it is still acceptable in our culture. That is unacceptable. Can you imagine what people would say if media commentators, analysts and reporters had, as Jeff Greenfield has pointed out, talked about President Obama shining their shoes the way the joked about Hillary Clinton doing laundry and vacuuming?

Third, Limbaugh only said out loud what lots of social conservatives think about Sandra Fluke and all women who defend women’s rights. (And, if they’re sluts, well, that must make any man that shares their beliefs “gay,” right?) The only way you can celebrate a Momma Grizzly is if you denigrate a Feminazi Slut. Traditional ideas about men, women and their “complementary roles” rely on Madonna/whore stereotypes. Slut-shaming is par for the course in the time-warp, backlash environment that regressive social conservatives want to reinstate. It’s how Herman Cain could believe he hadn’t done anything “inappropriate” and have an entire army of people defend him against allegations of obvious sexual harassment. Limbaugh’s mansplaining is just another flavor of the responses to his assault on Sandra Fluke from the leaders of the Right.

John Boehner: “inappropriate.”

Rick Santorum: “…an entertainer can be absurd.”

Mitt Romney: “not the language I would have used…”

These men, and Limbaugh’s core audience, don’t fundamentally disagree with Limbaugh and are having a hard time drumming up convincing condemnations of his behavior. “Inappropriate” would be if Limbaugh wore blue jeans to a black tie wedding. “Absurd” would be if he’d claimed aliens had used nanotechnology to encrypt his brain with slut-shaming memes and he had no control over what he said. And, as Maureen Dowd asked earlier today, what’s the right “language” to call a woman a slut? Republicans who understand what the real problem this poses for their party must be thanking god for George Will today.

Lastly, Limbaugh’s apology appears, to say the least, cynical. In the first place, I agree with Pat LaMarche, who made the point that all this press is good for Limbaugh and Clear Channel. But, in terms of the apology – no one takes it seriously and that’s a slap in the face to all women. Did no one ever teach him as a child how to apologize? It is arguable that what saved Ed Schultz job last year was his apparently genuine unqualified remorse for what he called his “terribly vile” behavior. Not only does Limbaugh seem to feel no remorse, but he continues to defend himself. As pointed out by writer Rachel Larris at the Women’s Media Center: “In a statement of 192 words long Limbaugh uses only 55 words to say he was sorry and the other 137 to continue to argue that he’s actually right.”

I am not in favor of the “take him down” approach to people or problems. And, as a woman feminist writer I am particularly careful about how easy it is for my words to be turned against me by a media culture steeped in 30 years of backlash against feminism. But, this man and his attitudes are not just harmless entertainment. Even if the senior management of Clear Channel doesn’t understand what the big deal is, they must have at least one person in their Marketing Department that can explain what the future looks like and Rush Limbaugh is not it. So, even if it’s for selfish profit reasons, do the right thing and fire Rush Limbaugh. It would give “Pink Slip” a whole new meaning.

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  • sschoice

    It will probably be less than successful to pressure broadcasters, Clear Channel or not, to stop airing the Rush Limbaugh show. 

    That will likely work out about as well as going to the nearest auto parts store that has his show on the store radio and asking them to change the channel to NPR.

    It may be more successful though to thank companies who announce they will stop advertising on his show.

    The threat that numerous advertisers withdrawing from his show poses him is — we think — the main reason for his apologies, which seem to sound more as time goes on, but as they are the sort of “I’m sorry I’m being held accountable” and “now you’re hitting me in the wallet where it hurts” sort of apology it doesn’t mean his underlying motives for his words and actions are changing.

    Rush might actually noticably change his tone where these issues — reproductive rights — are concerned because of this incident by not targeting women like the Georgetown law student and focus his offense better on the rights and liberties of younger, less educated women.  He’s trashed the names of younger, less educated women who have wound up in the news for various reasons (usually unfortunate) on his program for decades with much less attention than this incident has gotten.

    He’ll most likely just try to choose his targets better, which is all the more reason to thank the companies and public figures who say they will no longer be associated with his show at all.

    —southern students for choice, athens

  • crowepps

    I make it a habit to always ask if the channel on a waiting room TV can be changed from Fox News to PBS, particularly if there are children present.  The hysterical tones and hate mongering aren’t good for anybody, and  I would far rather watch Sesame Street or Word Girl with the kids.

  • cmarie

    This is a good article.  RH realitycheck would have made a very powerful statement publishing it (as well as the three other stories currently available on this site about this story) IF they had been equally concerned about Bill Maher’s equally hateful comments about Sarah Palin.  The ironic thing is that RHreality check is perfectly willing to criticize Maher when appropriate…http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2009/09/23/how-approach-megamisogynists-among-us    but apparently not when the victim is as controversial as Sarah Palin…  A willingness to stand up to misogyny regardless of the victim’s politics (especially on a site which frequently addresses political issues) back in March would have really been very meaningful.  I’ve looked but I’m not finding anything here about that when it happened… please direct me if I’m missing it.  And if Obama is truly as outraged as he claims to be about Limbaugh’s comments (and I think there is no question he is)… then he should really return Maher’s million dollar donation.  Doubtless Obama disapproved of the anti Palin comment and probably cringed when he heard it, but a willingness to address the issue regardless of the victim’s political affiliation back then would have made his current comments about Limbaugh much more powerful.  The same of course is true for this site; any site.  If your concerned about people making misogynist comments about Hillary (and obviously we all are) then you should be equally concerned about them when they involve Michelle Duggar.. and there are some truly hateful comments out there about her.    Its true for everybody, every network and every website…. support them both (all) or your support is meaningless.

  • julie-watkins

    Possibly because Maher is on weekly, Limbaugh daily. I don’t watch either. 

    From the summaries I’ve read Limbaugh’s comments have been more objectionable, and (in context) targeted at women in general, while the context for Maher was more focused on Palin as a candidate, and whether she had qualifications for office.

    Granted there was a sexism problem in general for news reporting all parties compairing how they report on men candidates vs how they report on women candidates. Ditto non-white candidates vs white candidates.

  • prochoiceferret

    RH realitycheck would have made a very powerful statement publishing it (as well as the three other stories currently available on this site about this story) IF they had been equally concerned about Bill Maher’s equally hateful comments about Sarah Palin.

     

    The right-wing media would have made a very powerful statement publishing all their whining about Bill Maher IF they had been equally concerned about their own much more hateful comments about Hillary Clinton.

     

    Maher’s sexist comments were ill-conceived, but as a demagogue and ostensible candidate (snrk!) for political office, Sarah Palin was very much a public figure and thus a target for pointed criticism and epithets. Sandra Fluke only talked about her own experience (not) getting contraception. You’re comparing apples to artichokes.

  • colleen

    Here is what your cultural icon was saying  over a 3 day period:

     

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=OAF9s6n5cBY

     Republican women are powerless, ineffective, ignorant and unable to hold their male leadership accountable for ANYTHING.

     

     

     

  • cmarie

    oh Colleen I love you!  You can always be counted on to prove a point.  I don’t give a shit what he said because not only is he not my cultural icon… I don’t even like him.   I listened to your link and that makes exactly one time I’ve listened to him since 9/11. I don’t have to like him because it’s not about me and its not about him.  It’s about a man who verbally assaults a woman because she’s a woman and tries to silence her that way.  It doesn’t matter what her politics are.  It doesn’t matter what his politics are.  It doesn’t matter what my politics are.  It doesn’t matter what your politics are.  It’s wrong regardless.  What a shame that you don’t agree.    

    Pro Choice Ferret  (still don’t get the “dook”…)  The right-wing media would have made a very powerful statement publishing all their whining about Bill Maher IF they had been equally concerned about their own much more hateful comments about Hillary Clinton

    link please! (to the More hateful comments)   Trust me, what he said about Sarah was pretty hateful but if you really have found the same or worse regarding Hillary by all means post it.  Of course I’ll condemn it and I won’t try to brush it aside with pitiful comments about them being “ill advised”.  Even if you don’t or can’t …. point taken.   Yes, a conservative journalist defending Palin against Mahar would have much more credibility if he or she was equally concerned about slurs against Hillary.

    How sad that you don’t hold yourself to the same standard of behavior.  “Ill conceived?”  really? “but as a demagogue and ostensible candidate (snrk!) for political office, Sarah Palin was very much a public figure and thus a target for pointed criticism and epithets”. (since when is “c**t”  a pointed criticism?)      He still shouldn’t have said it Pro Choice Ferret.   And of course according to that logic, if he wanted to say the exact things about Hillary you couldn’t challenge him (beyond the “ill conceived” plea) because she is an elected official, not just hoping to be one.

  • prochoiceferret

    How sad that you don’t hold yourself to the same standard of behavior.  “Ill conceived?”  really?

     

    I must have missed the time when a left-wing media personality hurled sexist slurs at a right-leaning woman talking about her own life experiences, and didn’t get called on it. Yes, what Maher said was ill-conceived, really, but less so considering Palin’s much larger public presence.

     

    “but as a demagogue and ostensible candidate (snrk!) for political office, Sarah Palin was very much a public figure and thus a target for pointed criticism and epithets”. (since when is “c**t”  a pointed criticism?)

     

    Good question, considering it’s actually an epithet.

     

    He still shouldn’t have said it Pro Choice Ferret. And of course according to that logic, if he wanted to say the exact things about Hillary you couldn’t challenge him (beyond the “ill conceived” plea) because she is an elected official, not just hoping to be one.

     

    Yes, Maher shouldn’t have said sexist things. And yet it would have been a lot slimier if he had said sexist things about a private citizen simply speaking out about her own experiences, than a politician looking to lead the national discussion. Defamation laws make this distinction, and so can you!

  • colleen

    I don’t give a shit what he said because not only is he not my cultural icon

    But he has been and remains the most consistent public voice of the Republican party. Indeed during those dark days when Newt Gingrich was Speaker the House GOP voted to declare him a “national treasure”.

    It doesn’t matter what her politics are.  It doesn’t matter what his politics are.  It doesn’t matter what my politics are.  It doesn’t matter what your politics are.  It’s wrong regardless.  What a shame that you don’t agree.   

    Politics most certainly matters and it’s dishonest of you to pretend otherwise. For instance, without Republican women, Darrell Issa would not have been able to hold a hearing on the right of employers to deny coverage of effective contraception to women while simultaneously denying any women the right to speak at the hearing. I didn’t hear you or any other Republican woman speaking out against that nor did I expect you to. You are what you are and Republican women never hold the  men who they marry and elect accountable for ANYTHING.  I didn’t hear any Republican women speaking out against the pepper spray and arrest of peaceful demonstrators in Virginia last week.In fact you’re remarkably silent when the basic civil rights of women whose politics you disagree with are violated by your own political movement. It’s not as if this blog fails to report on such issues. I think it’s unfortunate that your contributions here are limited to poorly expressed right wing talking points and insults but that is your choice.

    Mr Limbaugh did not confine his comments to Sandra Fluke. He included every woman who wants their insurance coverage to include effective contraception and that would be the majority of women in this country. I don’t care if he believes that most women are sluts and prostitutes. I understand that he is speaking from his Republican right wing misogynist universe of bitter personal experience. What I DO care about is that this son of a bitch is spewing this crap on armed forces radio and that I have to pay him to do so.

  • cmarie

    Colleen I am not a Republican!  I don’t even know where you came up with that. 

  • colleen

    I don’t even know where you came up with that.

    Your impersonation is flawless and has been for several years.

  • crowepps

    You are what you are and Republican women never hold the  men who they marry and elect accountable for ANYTHING.

    Well, jeepers, Colleen, if they try to hold men accountable they get dumped and the guy marries the mistress who knows to keep her mouth shut. 

  • cmarie

    Colleen I strongly suggest that in future you ask one of your friends at rhreality check to review your comments before you hit that “send” button.  I’m sure they would appreciate that too.  So now if someone says anything you don’t like, you are going to pretend they are a Republican so you can blame them for anything Republicans have or are accused of saying or doing…. good luck with that.   

    Pro Choice Ferret still waiting for that link to the “much more hateful comments about Hillary Clinton” (you know, more hateful than c**t).  Again, I’m more than happy to condemn them, whatever they are.  I just think its fair to actually see an example, because so far I have not seen anything worse than the Palin comments directed publicly at Hillary by a member of the right wing media.

  • prochoiceferret

    Colleen I strongly suggest that in future you ask one of your friends at rhreality check to review your comments before you hit that “send” button.  I’m sure they would appreciate that too.  So now if someone says anything you don’t like, you are going to pretend they are a Republican so you can blame them for anything Republicans have or are accused of saying or doing…. good luck with that.

     

    You also do a very good impression of a forum troll!

     

    Pro Choice Ferret still waiting for that link to the “much more hateful comments about Hillary Clinton” (you know, more hateful than c**t).  Again, I’m more than happy to condemn them, whatever they are.  I just think its fair to actually see an example, because so far I have not seen anything worse than the Palin comments directed publicly at Hillary by a member of the right wing media.

     

    Next, I suppose you’ll want links with instances of Fox News not being “fair and balanced.” How about you impersonate someone who knows how to use Google?