Tool Boyfriends, Tool Politicians, and Tool Pundits

Pundits wrongly think contraception is controversial, and VH1 wrongly thinks emotional abuse is entertainment. Also, an interview with blogger Figleaf.


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Links in this episode:

Neil Giuliano takes on religion coddling

Chris Matthews mixes up voluntary and mandatory contraception

Neil Cavuto on how forced childbirth could improve the economy

Contraception: Almost as popular as breathing

Figleaf’s Real Adult Sex

The horrors of "Tool Academy"

Limbaugh doesn’t know from "imposed"


Welcome to a media criticism heavy episode of Reality Cast.  I’ll be talking about the new hostility to basic contraception in the news media, and this upsetting new VH1 show that normalizes intimate partner abuse.  Also, paradigm-smashing with pro-feminist sex blogger Figleaf, and how conservatives are going to use the fear of  women’s sexuality as a tool to smash everything positive in sight.

Meanwhile, Neil Giuliano, the president of GLAAD is out there fighting back against people who use religion to promote bigotry.

  • glaad *

Agreed.  I’m sick of how people hide behind religion.  The mere fact that you have a religious belief doesn’t mean that you are exempt from criticism.  All this does is continues to encourage sexists and homophobes to adopt religion in order to shield themselves from criticism.


I wrote about this ridiculous hissy fit that House Republicans are having over the inclusion of family planning money in the economic stimulus package, but truly, this is a story that has many myriad angles to show exactly how screwed up this country is on the subject of sex and reproduction.  What’s shocking is how many media types are willing to sign onto demonizing contraception.  Contraception is an everyday part of life for most Americans, as unremarkable as toilet paper or house shoes.

But you wouldn’t know it from the way the media is responding like they just found out that people want to have sex for reasons other than procreation.  I have to start off with Chris Matthews interviewing Representative Gingrey.

  • pill 1 *

Oh hardy har har. I think Gingrey is a little confused about how birth control pills work.  You swallow them and they suppress ovulation.  You do not actually stimulate yourself with birth control.  You need a good friend or your own hand for that.  It seems we not only need sex education in schools but in Congress.

But did Matthews point out the obvious to Gingrey, which is that it’s completely insane to get upset over the use of contraception in the 21st century?  No.  He implied that the birth control pill is the first step towards communism.

  • pill 2 *

Does Chris Matthews think the pills are mandatory if you’re on Medicaid?  Because he’s conflating a voluntary program with the one-child policy in China, which is mandatory. The irony is that depriving impoverished women of contraception makes pregnancy mandatory in practice, if not in theory.

And then you  have Neil Cavuto coming out and saying that forcing women to have children they don’t want or can’t afford is good for the economy.  

  • pill 3 *

What strikes me about these sort of things is how these male pundits seem to simply forget that women are human beings, not ambulatory uteruses.  Matthews and Cavuto seem to think babies come from cabbage patches, because they talk about this issue strictly in terms of raising or lowering the birth rate, as if the fact that real women have to go through real pregnancies and raise real children with real money hadn’t even occurred to them.  And for some bizarre reason, it’s going completely unmentioned in the mainstream media that a huge percentage, possibly even the majority, of unintended pregnancies that will result if this isn’t passed will end in abortion.  

For reasons I fail to understand, it seemed that this right wing-concocted nonsense was considered important enough to make Nancy Pelosi go on TV and defend the inclusion of family planning in the bill.

  • pill 4 *

George Stephanopoulos has lost his mind.  Why is he pandering to right wingers by feeding this fuss over contraceptive funding?  Since when is it considered part of the non-crazy discourse to insinuate that there’s something seedy and immoral about basic contraceptive use, which means that we’re casting doubt on the moral character of 98% of straight women.

This is misogyny, pure and simple. Not that George Stephanopoulos is a misogynist, but by grabbing onto this, he’s feeding a misogynist narrative. Count on Rush Limbaugh to come straight out and connect this issue to other expressions of misogyny.

  • pill 5 *

What I liked most about that clip is that he literally sounds like he’s foaming at the mouth. You can hear the spittle flying off his mouth as he insinuates Nancy Pelosi is too old or ugly to be permitted into his view.

Anyway, I fail to see how this isn’t just raw misogyny.  Limbaugh and company are projecting this world where women are condemned for aging, but also condemned for being young and fertile and needing contraception.  You cannot win.  This game is rigged.  


  • insert interview *

Big time hat tip to Bitch Blog for pointing out that VH1 has a new reality series called "Tool Academy", where bad boyfriends are supposedly trained to be good ones.  Initially, I thought it was kind of funny and interesting that men are, for once, the subject of a self-improvement reality show program, but upon watching the clips, I have some serious concerns with this show.

On the good side, as the blogger at Bitch noted, the show demonstrates how sexism infects personal relationships and breeds abuse, which could be educational.  However, they don’t come down hard enough on these guys, and worse, they seem to be normalizing the idea that staying in a relationship with an abusive man in order to fix him is something that could work.  Here’s example #1, one of the boyfriends talking about how he’s "trained"  his girlfriend into submission:

  • tool 1 *

This hit me in the gut, because I’m feeling like we’re seeing emotional abuse, being put in front of us for our entertainment.  Help Guide, in their page on domestic violence, says abusers need to dominate and will often treat victims like possessions or servants. My ill feeling was reinforced when the guy coughed up the disingenuous apology.

  • tool 2 *

By no means am I an expert, but I couldn’t help but feel the pride he took in forcing her submission and the half-assed apology, especially considering the way she blamed herself, and I thought, no this relationship just needs to end, period.  Despite his apologies, he spent most of the show berating her. But do the producers do the responsible thing and help this woman get the help she needs to get out? No, by the end of the show, she’s engaged to him, as if that’s something to celebrate.

Here’s another bad boyfriend:

  • tool 3 *

Blaming his girlfriend for his own choice to throw the chair, taking pride in it, being invested in strict gender roles—again, all red flashing signs that indicate that someone may be prone to domestic violence.  

Some of the guys have other problems, such as cheating or just generally sucking.  The consistent theme is that the women with them can’t see that they just need to walk out the door, because our culture eats up women’s self esteem with shark like efficiency.  Like this poor woman:

  • tool 4 *

And in the next episode, we get this horrible scene between that woman and her boyfriend.

  • tool 5 *

The VH1 website describes these clips and others with words such as "hilarious", "funniest", "ridiculous", and condescending phrases like, "getting in touch with their sensitive sides".  The ads on the videos are almost completely for products aimed at women, like women’s shampoo and deodorant, so it’s clear that the intended audience is female.  

Two of the major reasons that women stay in abusive relationships, especially early on, is that they tell themselves it’s not that big a deal, and they believe that if they stick around and love him enough and work with him, then he’ll stop his abusive behavior.  Both beliefs are wrong, but this show promotes both to its female audience, with the trivializing language and the incorrect premise that working on the relationship will improve things.

There’s an elimination round to get rid of men who the producers think are insincere, which I think is all of them.  Sadly, 2/3 of the contestants stay with the men even after elimination.

And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, Limbaugh really lost his mind a long time ago edition. Rush Limbaugh didn’t used to be some anti-contraception nut, but check it out, he’s attacking contraception funding to pro-choice organizations.  

  • Limbaugh loses it *

As I documented in the first segment, this appears to be the growing right wing strategy, to simply remove the possibility that women have agency from the discussion.  Offering women an opportunity to control their fertility is conflated with "imposing" infertility on them.  What they’re ultimately communicating is this idea that women, especially poor women, women living in 3rd world countries, and women of color, have no agency.  In conservative eyes, women are just walking wombs.  We don’t make choices.  Being assisted is being imposed upon, because it’s assumed that women simply cannot think for themselves.


Follow Amanda Marcotte on twitter: @amandamarcotte

  • alexm

    Your final paragraph highlights why a class-based/Marxist analysis is essential to the pro-choice view on reproductive rights.  Thank you for cutting the crap and stating the truth :) 

    The personal is political.

  • invalid-0

    Thank you for the wonderful podcasts. As a blue dot in a landscape of red that is my home state, I appreciate very much your insightful commentary, in-depth reporting, and coverage of all aspects of reproductive health issues.
    As the father of two daughters, I find it hard to express just how useful this podcast and websight have been in raising them to have a healthy respect for themselves and others. They will certainly not grow up believing that women do not enjoy or should not have sexual lives, or that there should be any shame involved with their own bodies if I have anything to say about it. Having the information available to counter what passes as information in their schools as it comes up is invaluable to me as a parent.
    Again, thank you for all the work all of you do.

  • invalid-0

    Thanks for your podcast. Being a woman stuck in the middle of a mostly Republican and backward area I am bombarded with anti women, anti choice propaganda. This is a place where women are taught that sex outside of marriage is bad or wrong and that we should be punished for it. But, somehow these rules do not apply to the men around here, whom the most horrid of behavior is conveniently excused.

    Thank you for the weekly deprogramming!

  • amanda-marcotte

    Thanks for all the great comments.  I really appreciate them.  And if I may bleg for a second, if you could put these comments on the iTunes page for Reality Cast located here, that would help promote the podcast to a larger audience.

  • harry834

    I noticed that the meme that keeps playing is that "if we just worked harder on our relationship, he would change".

    This meme takes the meme of "seeing the good in people" to its worst degree. If you’re required to "see" the good in someone, than you have force your brain to ignore the ugly facts of this person’s cruelty. This "seeing the good" excess-meme has encouraged women to stay in abusive relationships. 

    I’d also add it’s responsible for people refusing to accept someone’s claims that their parents are abusive. I once read a Ms Magazine article on judicial bypasses for teen girls seeking abortions. They had to show a judge that they were "mature".

    The author wrote about how some judges might ask the teen: "why is it that you can’t trust your parents who have loved and provided for you through your life?"

    This is a classic meme: The assumption that parent’s providing is proof of non-abuse. We know this isn’t true. We also know that abuse can be non-physical in nature. Imagine the psychological torment that a pregnant girl might have to go through. She may even be sent away, to a place that will "teach" her.

    This is my question:

    Instead of assuming good or bad about an entire group, why can’t we just evaluate them on an individual-by-individual basis?…like we do for every person?

    The right wing hates anything that could diminish "parental authority". This means they want schools to demand parental permission for gay straight alliance clubs (ie demanding kids come out to their parents). Confidental counseling is not allowed for teens, because the parent’s have a "right to know".

    I often ask myself,  which do parents value more: their child’s welfare or their child’s obedience? Conservative parents will often refuse to entertain that the one does not necessarilly equal the other. If a child grows up to find success, happiness, self-confidence, relationships with friends and partners, – but all in a different way than the parents had wished – will the parents accept and later embrace the child’s success, even if it ran counter to their views….OR

    will the parents refuse to acknowledge anything good about their adult child’s life, despite all obvious visible evidence? Parents who demand their gay son to get rid of his husband, and give his children a mother? Who still, after years, say to their daughters that "no man will ever marry you" if you act so confident about your career or if you have had other relationships before your current boyfriend?

    Are we to tolerate this abuse and accept the social mantra: "they just want the best for us"?

    All this is wrong, and abuse should never be tolerated in familial, or intimate relationships. I call it domestic terrorism.

  • amanda-marcotte

    I do think a lot of people cherish obedience over safety or well-being.  I think that’s one reason well-meaning people encourage women to work on abusive relationships, because even though they don’t want women to get hurt, they can’t stomach a world where women do what they have to in order to survive and thrive.  That conflicts with their definition of "woman"—in their view, women are for serving others, so serving yourself by surviving makes them uneasy.

  • harry834

    I believe our values-based decisions usually come down to a conflict between two mental forces within:


    willpower vs empathy


    The latter is automatically assumed to be good always/mostly, but I say that any human virtue becomes a handicap when in excess. 

    An example is when doctors became resistant to performing abortions once sonogram pictures came out. Their emotions/guilt/empathy was triggered. How can this not be justified?

    I will tell you.

    Because there is a greater good to be protected: banning abortion means requiring women be pregnant against their will. That this is bad should need no explanation. In fact, this ought to trigger empathy for the women. And I think those who know a female friend/loved one who has had an abortion will more likely (but not always) have empathy for her and more likely to think and worry about other women who need abortion access. Much the same as knowing a gay person makes one less likely to be homophobic.

    Of course, there will be those with friends who will resist this urge to be empathic. I suppose my theory of willpower for a "greater good" is working on them.

    But ultimately, the greater good is in helping ACTUAL people (women), rather than hypothetical/wish-to-be persons (balls of cells). 

    Banning abortion requires mandatory pregnancy. There’s no getting around that. But I guess these anti-choice guys suppress their empathy to think "it’s not my fault".

    I vote for willpower and empathy for what is right, not for what is wrong.


  • invalid-0

    Regarding empathy, I don’t think there is such a thing as “excessive empathy”. When people impose the power of their will on others that’s not excessive empathy; that’s simply selfish self-righteousness. Empathy is a process of identification rooted in a person’s emotional connection to another person that’s not dependent upon any specific ethical or moral framework. You empathize with somebody because you identify with their pain or situation. Any action that could be characterized as an imposition on a pregnant women to do x because it’s the moral/ethical thing to do is not empathy, it’s merely an ideologically based suggestion that the mother can either accept or reject, just like any other suggestion.