Sex, Power, and Rush Limbaugh

March 2, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Rush Limbaugh’s attack on Sandra Fluke reminded me of something; I just wasn’t sure what.  Fluke, as you surely know, is the law student who dared testify before Congress to support the idea that employers should not be allowed to choose which procedures and prescriptions their employee medical plans will and will not cover.*  The  item of dispute currently is birth control prescriptions.

For her efforts, Limbaugh called Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute.”   In a subsequent broadcast he said,
So Miss Fluke, and the rest of you Feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex. We want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.
At first, I thought that what was underlying Limbaugh’s reaction was the age-old male obsession with female sexuality and simultaneously a fear of female sexuality.  The efforts of men to control that sexuality, part of what Robin Hanson would call the “farmer” mentality, have been a regular and often unpleasant feature of male-dominated societies.

But Limbaugh wasn’t concerned that Fluke was doing something wrong sexually. She was doing something wrong politically.  The issue isn’t sex, it’s power.  (Limbaugh’s coinage Feminazi is another illustration.  Any woman who opposes his views is automatically both powerful and evil, a force to be feared and attacked –  like the Nazis.)   

Then I remembered the feminist observation that rape is not about sex, it’s about power. I found the Susan Brownmiller quote from her 1975 book Against Our Will:

Rape is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.
A bit over the top – all rape, all men, all women? I don’t think so.  But it’s certainly true of many rapes and many rapists.  This aspect of rape is especially easy to see in Sudan, in Rwanda, in the Balkans . . .  – when the context is political conflict.

Similarly, in the current political conflict over healthcare, two things are clear
  • In a dispute over policy, Limbaugh has chosen to make his attack sexual
  • His goal is not sexual pleasure, it’s intimidation**
* The government and the employee might have a legitimate claim to having some say in these decisions.  The government gives the employer money in the form of tax breaks, and the employee pays too – usually directly, and always indirectly in the form of a lower salary (if the employer weren’t paying for medical coverage, that money would go, at least in part, to salaries).

** Its possible that in his own sexuality, Limbaugh does conflate intimidation and sexual pleasure.  Some men do.  But since he has not posted his own sex videos, we do not know.

UPDATE (March 4):  The response of the Republican candidates to Limbaugh’s vulgar incivility has been swift and severe.  Well, maybe not so swift.  It took them a couple of days, and they had to be asked directly about it before they denounced Limbaugh in no uncertain terms. 

Rick Santorum, the great moralist, said,  “He’s being absurd, but that's you know, an entertainer can be absurd.”  In other words, “Hey, that’s show biz.”  I’m sure he would have said exactly the same thing if similar remarks had been made about his own wife or daughter.

Romney said,“I’ll just say this, which is, it’s not the language I would have used.”  And he meant it –the “I’ll just say this” part.  He immediately changed the topic to something else.  Still, you have to admit that “not the language I would have used” is the kind of firm statement about principles that we have come to expect from him.


Anonymous said...

I am sure that this episode has not left Don Imus laughing. (Ho, Ho, Ho.) His use of language was deemed a personal gaffe. The Limbaugh reference is simply a contribution to the political dialogue. This alongside new abortion laws with 'intrusive' pretests. Perhaps they can show the results on TV along with Limbaugh's call for videos. (In this case, on C-Scan) Go figure. It gives new meanings to the chants of his supporters:

Sitting here in Limbaugh, ...
they're putting up resistance,
But I know that my faith will lead me on.

Where is Rev. Jimmy Swaggert when we need him? (Oh, he is!)

Jay Livingston said...


Indeed. Maybe Rush didn’t realize that he had wandered so close to the edge of the Cliff. His “apology” – that it was “humor” and “I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke” – is basically, “Hey, this is what I always do.”

Arnie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Arnie said...

Readers of this blog should flood Mr. Limbaugh's call-in radio program with telephone calls to voice their concern and outrage!

His call-in program airs on WABC (770 AM) weekdays from 12 Noon to 3:00 PM EST and the call-in phone number is: 1-800-282-2882

In addition readers are urged to join the movement of citizens calling upon advertisers to pull their commercials from Mr. Limbaugh's radio program (see links below).