birth control access in the United States

Call a gay person a faggot and it’s hateful. Sling the n-word at a black person and you are a racist. But call a woman a slut? Follow it up with slander about her sexual appetites and put in a request for YouTube videos of her “banging it five times a day”. That’s just …? What exactly is that in America? Business as usual? Lately it seems so. But whatever you call it, no one is likely to call if sexism – though clearly it is. Few will see it as hate speech though if you ask a woman how it feels to be called a slut for using birth control, she is likely to feel degraded and vilified for the “crime” of exercising her right to self-determination or merely just taking legally prescribed medication for a physical ailment.

Rush Limbaugh‘s recent slut problem is hardly the first time the shock jock has taken gratuitous pot shots at the female gender for the sake of pandering for a living. He’s a misogynist. A lot of men his age are. I would even go so far as to say that it would be difficult for men of a certain age to not take their preferred gender status for granted and have incorporated the tenets of sexism to such an extent that they truly don’t really most of the time that they really have no respect for women. That’s not to excuse them. Racists of the pre-Civil Rights era were blind to their racism to some extent as well, but it doesn’t make their participation in it innocent.

Thanks to the recent Komen backlash and the even more recent birth control versus the Catholic Church and Rick Santorum uproar, women of social media means near instantly ignited the public’s fury, which has resulted in Limbaugh’s rather predictable non-apology and the less predictable disavowal of him by his advertising sponsors, who are dumping him in droves. It’s heartening to see women uniting and demanding that sexist rhetoric have consequences in the same way that anti-gay rhetoric provokes outrage or racist diatribe earns the rebuke it deserves.

But I fear, that gender slurs where females are concerned is still not seen as too big of a deal. It’s 2012 after all. Did women win their freedom back in the 1960’s? They got the pill and burned bras, right? Or maybe it was when the government deigned to allow us the vote barely 80 years ago and only after they bad publicity of beating suffragettes and force feeding women on hunger strikes made Uncle Sam look too evil to do anything else.

No, wait. It was in the 1970’s. There was Title IX, which allowed little girls to play school sports and the Equal Right’s Amendment. Didn’t Helen Reddy sing something about roaring women to celebrate that victory?

Except there was no victory. Female collaborators like Phyllis Schlafly barnstormed the country with stories about housewives turning lesbian and little baby fetuses piling up in the gutters and people like my Dad voted against ERA and the Constitution remained blissfully male oriented.

But man means “woman” too.

Except when it doesn’t and that’s most of the time.

When I graduated from college in 1987, North America was firmly entrenched in paying lip service to the notion that “women could have it all” but only the most foolish of my gender went out into the world and didn’t soon discover that to be completely untrue. And twenty-five years later, it’s just as untrue. Our so-called equality is as shallow as an episode of The Housewives of Beverly Hills.

Sure, we can have it all as long as we stay thin, don’t appear to age past 40, bring home our share of the household income and do more than our share of the housework and childcare. Be sexually attractive but never appear to enjoy sex or discuss it or anything else to do with our “naughty bits”. Don’t ask and don’t tell and if anything “down there” needs looking after, be prepared to cover the expense ourselves. At that includes pregnancy and wellness checks and contraception. Don’t ask and don’t tell. If you ask, we’ll know you are not a “good girl” and if you tell, we’ll know for sure you are a slut.

You can’t call a gay person a faggot or a black person the n-word. But you can call a woman a slut or a whore or cunt or a bitch. You can sing it even while barely clothed young women grind poles (or each other) in the background on a YouTube video. You can expect a woman to make a video of herself for your “entertainment”. You can do this because of men like Rush Limbaught and Rick Santorum. It’s possible because of collaborators like Pamela Gellar and Angela Morabito. You can do this because the Catholic Bishops have a long history of female suppression (almost as long as their support of priests who like little boys). You can do this because everywhere in the world, women are universally seated in the back of the metaphorically bus and we’ve accepted it or been brutally suppressed when we didn’t.

Rush is taking his lumps for being caught with his old school pants down, and it may or may not cost him his job – I’m going to say “not” – but the essence of the problem has not changed. Women stopped fighting for their rights much too soon. We settled for crumbs and we are paying the price of it.

Why is it still okay to call a woman a slut? Because we’ve allowed it to be.