The recent incident in which Rush Limbaugh called a woman who spoke out about contraception policy a “slut” could end up being beneficial in many different ways. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Name-calling is inappropriate. It’s cheap, thoughtless, and dehumanizing. It adds nothing to the discourse and says a lot more — all of it bad — about the name-caller than it does about the subject of the name-calling. Limbaugh learned his lesson when his comments provoked outrage and he apologized for his crudeness. He was right to do so, of course, and I think we should accept his apology as sincere. If Rush Limbaugh becomes a bit more temperate in his language as a result of this episode, that would be a good thing.
I also think, however, that conservatives make a fair point when they note that a lot of misogynistic language emanates from the political left, be it Bill Maher, or bloggers, or rappers, and that no one seems to care about it or criticize it.
There is a subtle but, I think, important distinction to be made, too, in connection with the conservative focus on the likes of Bill Maher and his insulting, sick comments about conservative women like Sarah Palin. Pointing out the bad conduct of others in order to excuse your own misdeeds because “everybody does it” is a schoolyard ruse, but recognizing the pervasiveness of a problem because your consciousness has been raised by a particular episode is quite another. I’m hoping that the current dialogue falls into the latter category.
That’s why I think it’s important for people across the spectrum to call out and condemn people who use misogynistic language and imagery, whether we otherwise agree with the speaker’s politics or not. If people on the left can make gross jokes about the fertility or sexual practices of conservative women in politics with impunity, people on the right will come to view the misogyny issue as mere politicking and tune it out.
Obviously, we want to make sure that doesn’t happen. Women should be able to participate in politics without people commenting on their appearance or private lives, just as is the case with men. If Rush Limbaugh’s ill-advised comments ultimately move us closer to that goal, that would be a good thing — but that’s only going to happen if we all maintain a vigilant, and even-handed, intolerance for misogynistic comments.