Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Real Men, Part 2: Fifteen Minutes of Slutty Fame

By now we all know more than we want to about the imbroglio that has cost Rush Limbaugh the advertising of several high-end sponsors, a pull-out which, in turn, prompted him to apologize for calling a Georgetown Law student who testified before Congress about contraception a "slut" and a "prostitute," making other nasty insinuations about her sex life, and suggesting that she and other women whose contraception is covered by their health insurance make sex videos and post them online so that, in a sort of never-too-old-for-the-frat-house quid pro quo, he can watch.

Some conservatives have dug for dirt on the student, Sandra Fluke, and found it. It seems she is an activist who sought to attend Georgetown Law solely as a test case, in order to try to force the administration of the Jesuit university to violate the teachings of the Catholic Church, amend its policies, and include contraception in its health insurance plan.

Do you disagree with what Sandra Fluke is fighting for? I do. 

And yet I was surprised this morning to see, on the Facebook wall of a well-known Catholic bioethicist, a status update that questioned whether a law student "bankrupting herself for contraceptives" might accurately be called a slut.  A friend of this bioethicist, whose profile picture features the words "Lent: Turn Away from Sin," cheered him on. Another commenter wrote: 

If you're so addicted to sexual stimulation that you need to have it often, and you're not in control of your sexual behavior, you are a slut. The only question left is why Rush feels so compelled to repeatedly apologize for speaking the truth. . . Repeatedly apologizing [is] protracting what should have been 15 minutes of slutty fame.

I have to admit to liking that line about fifteen minutes of slutty fame. However, because it was just the sort of bitchy little bon mot that I would have expected to issue from the mouth of one of my opera-queen semblables of yore, reading it next to the Facebook profile of someone who probably considers herself a Catholic conservative was, to say the least, jarring.

The greatest mockers of Sandra Fluke on this particular thread were women. And on another friend's wall, the greatest defenders of Rush were men. There is, of course, a good deal of overlap between these two camps. And it made me wonder.

Why would anyone defend a man who attacks a woman, least of all conservatives? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought that conservatives generally advocated a return to pre-1960s cultural mores, during which time it was generally accepted that men protected women, even women with whom they disagreed and women who were of a lower moral status. Good men, real men, would never use a national platform to viciously attack and personally defame a woman -- in particular a stranger and a private citizen -- with whom they did not agree (especially men who live in sexual and pharmaceutical glass houses, but that's another story). And men who applaud these attacks seem to me lacking in some crucial component of manliness.

Why? Because men are supposed to protect women. Simply put, it is unmanly to to attack a woman. (Sadly, it's to be expected from other women, even, apparently, from conservative Catholic ones.)

These unfortunate discussions make it clear how much we are all suffering culturally in a society in which abortion is legal.  When a man takes a woman to have an abortion, encourages her to have an abortion, pressures her to have an abortion, or abandons her when she is pregnant -- all phenomena which it's safe to assume are exponentially more prevalent now than before the legalization of abortion -- he is avoiding his responsibility as a man to protect the weak. A society in which these phenomena are commonplace is a society in which it's acceptable for men to harm women, or to allow harm to come to them, in subtler ways as well. I contend that, in the era of legalized abortion, unmanly men -- men who shirk their duties vis-à-vis women, men who deride women, men who degrade women -- are so commonplace across racial, class, educational, and economic lines as to be banal. And, dare I say it, they now also exist across lines of faith. 

If conservative Catholic men are openly defending a famous man (and a man who, it must be said, has proven himself to be somewhat less than temperate, sexually and otherwise) for attacking a woman, there is something woefully wrong with the culture of conservatism, because it has clearly accepted the social mores and the sexual constructs of our post-abortion society.


Lydia said...

I don't like Rush-I find him to be a blowhard who does very little in terms of actually helping the cultural situation. The thing is, he'd good at what he does, and he knew he'd get a spike from this. Cynical? Yep. I think the Sandra Fluke thing is ridiculous, and it ought to be a non-issue. But, the media, both left and right, knows how to manufacture fights. The vitriol and spite met with from both conservatives and liberals is unsettling.

GretchenJoanna said...

You are so right. This sort of unmannerly, even unchristian behavior is not a characteristic of true conservatism, which should *conserve* the best of civilization.

ex-new yorker said...

The Limbaugh thing really brings the word "nadir" to mind. I just want to tune out from suddenly seeing the word "contraception" everywhere, not even "emergency contraception" anymore. It's not like we didn't know the Catholic view was widely rejected and disrespected, so something feels weird in a very bad way about all this. It reminds me how our hope is not of this world because I don't think we are going to win the world over on this one... even if we can get a legal "victory" of some kind and maybe some individual souls could manage to be converted amidst all the discussion. Seeing people like Limbaugh take this on and others defend his method of "argumentation" in pursuit of *Catholic* aims just emphasizes how misguided it is to keep looking at these things as primarily political, worldly battles.

Pentimento said...

I completely agree, Ex-New Yorker.

MrsDarwin said...

As I have learned to my great fury recently, it is apparently a trope of the Manosphere (and is also where hard Right and hard Left circle back on each other, like the snake biting its tale) that women are not called out enough for being sluts. This yearning for punishment of "bad women" (someone in my combox -- MY COMBOX -- called them "temptresses", as if every woman who'd had sex outside of wedlock had instigated and was solely responsible for the encounter) seems to go hand in hand with the kind of name-calling that reduces a woman to the sum of her sexuality -- a pure pornographic impulse.

Sandra Fluke is a reprehensible character in her own right, but there are more accurate and magisterial ways for men and women to dissect her testimony and hypocrisy than pulling out the "bad woman" trope.

Pentimento said...

It also considerably weakens one's argument to make it personal, and it doesn't win anyone over to make derogatory comments about those who oppose you. Have Catholics simply given up on trying to change hearts? Because trying to justify throwing the word "slut" around ain't doing it.

elena maria vidal said...

Excellent post!!! Mr. Limbaugh is not a gentleman.

Charming Disarray said...

Great post. The reaction to Limbaugh's comments has been sad but not that surprising. There's a deep streak of misogyny among conservatives.

Enbrethiliel said...


I don't know anything about these two figures (although elements of the controversy sound familiar), but I felt I was on familiar ground as soon as the word "slut" entered the conversation. =P

Now that Mrs. Darwin has brought up the Manosphere (beating me to it!), I guess it's safe to bring related stuff up. (I'm reminded of Netanyahu saying nothing about Israel's nukes except that their policy has always been never to be the first in the region to have a nuclear programme. LOL!)

I think the overlap between conservatism and Manosphere tropes is seen in the Manosphere belief that the only way to get people to change their behaviour is to make them ashamed of it. Indeed, you will not find a corner of the greater blogosphere so obsessed with shame as the Manosphere--whether they are talking about the wrongness of shaming "natural" behaviour or the rightness of shaming "bad" behaviour. I can see why a conservative, rightly appalled by the actions of certain individuals, might use similar tactics without thinking them through.

Pentimento said...

What surprises me, but probably shouldn't, is the glomming on of women onto what are apparently Manosphere principles and tactics.

However, I had a very strong sense that the "fifteen minutes of slutty fame" commenter, who soon after turned on me for trying to "police speech" (which, don't you know, is a "liberal" thing), was a former Catholic-school mean girl.

Enbrethiliel said...


To be honest, I don't get the "conservative" and "liberal" divide, which seems to be mainly an American thing. I have some sense of what the two mean, but I had to look up the former just to make sure I had it correctly when I was composing that comment.

There is a kind of "gender bending" that goes on all over the Manosphere. What surprised me was not all the women who are sympathetic to its message (because it's an easy way to be anti-feminist), but all the men adopting and recommending what are traditionally feminine relationship behaviours. I think one male blogger did a post recently that compared Pick Up Artistry to The Rules. (Remember that book? LOL!) They lined up almost point by point!

BettyDuffy said...

I've been watching this play out, both on facebook, and at the Register (http://www.ncregister.com/blog/pat-archbold/in-defense-of-name-calling/).

I do not know what to make of it. I've been guilty of calling people names--but never, for one minute, has it occurred to me that it's an ok thing to do.

From any of these discussions--I have only to deduce that I am a Catholic slut, and a feminist, and a shrew, and a dumb-smart girl, and a liberal, and a commie. And that I have almost nothing in common with many Catholics with whom I share the most controversial viewpoints on sexual ethics.

Clearly, Satan loves to see a house divided.

I learned this in pre-school: Name-calling alienates your friends.

BettyDuffy said...

Oh yeah--and commenters were saying that Jesus called people "Pharisee" and so name-calling is justified in scripture.

But in Jesus's time, Pharisee was a name ascribed to practitioners of a particular Jewish philosophy. It developed a negative connotation due to the hypocrisy of its adherents.

The term "Catholic" is already freighted with 2000 years of sin. For the love God, let's salvage what's left of it.

Pentimento said...

"From any of these discussions--I have only to deduce that I am a Catholic slut, and a feminist, and a shrew, and a dumb-smart girl, and a liberal, and a commie. And that I have almost nothing in common with many Catholics with whom I share the most controversial viewpoints on sexual ethics."

I'm right there with you, Betty.

Thanks for the link. I left a brief comment (it should be at or near the very end).

A subtlety that's being lost in the argument here is that God gives a preferential place to sluts. He commands Hosea to marry "a harlot wife." He hangs out with them. He assures us that they are entering the kingdom before we goodies.

Really interesting point about gender-bending, Enbrethiliel. Nevertheless, the cattiness and bitchiness I've seen among some Catholic-con dudes are extremely unappealing, and militate against whatever masculine ethos these guys might be trying to put forth. Men shouldn't act like mean girls.

Pentimento said...

(I included myself in "we goodies" only rhetorically, I should add, since I can't make many pretensions to real goodness.)

Pentimento said...

Incidentally, the well-known Catholic bioethicist whose Facebook page it was accused me of being "unscriptural," although I had referenced Matthew 5:22. He asserted that St. Paul said we should shun evildoers and cut ourselves off from them. I still have yet to see the scriptural basis for calling people foul names.

Maureen said...

A lot has been written about this, but I have not read anything about the fact that Rush LIED. I am no expert on theology or ethics, but when I went to Catholic schools (in the 1950s) It was not OK to lie. Rush is entitled to his own opinion, he is not entitled to his own facts.

Karen Edmisten said...

"Have Catholics simply given up on trying to change hearts?"

I can hope not, and pray not.

When I was a pro-choice atheist and -- by all worldly definitions -- a slut, my best friend was a Catholic. He loved me through the ugliest years of my life. Later he attended my Christian baptism (when I was 30), was with me at the Easter Vigil Mass in which I was received into the Catholic Church (when I was 35), attended the Vigil Mass in which my husband was received into the Church (when I was 40), and is godfather to all of my children.

He acted out of authentic, genuine love. I am extraordinarily grateful that he never dismissed me or refused to be my friend when I was far, far from the Catholic Church.

He was able to separate *me* from *my actions* (able to separate the worth of my soul from the evils of which I was guilty.) He was, in other words, Christ to me.

I can only pray that I can spend the rest of my life trying to be Christ to others. I fail miserably, but I keep trying.

Karen Edmisten said...

And did I mention what an excellent post this is?

Pentimento said...

It is sad and discouraging that in some cases, it is the hearts of our fellow Catholics that need to be changed, and those can be very hard to change. There is so much at stake for some people in being right, and not enough in loving.

Pentimento said...

Oh, and thank you, Karen!

ElizabethK said...

Thank you for posting this. I wrote a while ago about about how frustrated I felt by the misogyny directed at Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman. What's most frustrating to me, as a woman, is how derogatory language about women is deployed by both liberals and conservatives, and then each gets the vapors when it's "their" side attacked. I'm pretty sure that those who thought it was Hee-larious that the song "LAB" was played for Michelle Bachman's entrance on the Jimmy Fallon show are the same ones who are now calling out Rush. Understand--they're right to call him out, but I think their motives are cynical and that, frankly, they wouldn't give a hoot if it was Sarah Palin who had been called a slut. I'm just so tired of it--sorry for the rant. I guess what I'm saying is you're right--it cuts across all lines. And it makes me feel sad.

Pentimento said...

You're right, Elizabeth.

Clare said...

One thing that really irks me is that--hello, that's not the way hormonal contraception works. You don't have to use it more the more sex you have, or the more partners. If you're in one monogamous relationship your whole life, you use the same birth control regimen as someone with a different partner every night.

Which is just another indicator that this has NOTHING to do with religious freedom, or the actual debate, or Sandra Fluke's incredibly entitled arrogance as an incredibly privileged person trying to force an organization committed to serving the most underprivileged to finance her lifestyle or shut down.

It's about putting down women, because they are women.