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the real slut problem

rush limbaugh, bill maher [not exactly as pictured]
i was watching cnn earlier tonight and saw erin burnett giving her response to being called out on rival network msnbc over backing republicans who equated comments made by comedian and obama super pac donor bill maher with those made by radio talk show host rush limbaugh. predictably, burnett was defensive, repeating that to her, there was no meaningful difference between comments maher has made about conservative politicians like sarah palin and michele bachmann and those made by law student and women's health advocate sandra fluke.

the aftermath of "slut-gate" generally has had me a bit at odds with myself. my knee-jerk reaction is to assume that those who are sounding off about maher, burnett included, are doing so purely out of political interest and wouldn't care if the democrats sacrificed a woman as the climax of their convention. [maybe if she was a virgin, but i digress.] my other knee-jerk reaction is to think that there is a peculiar nastiness in comments directed towards women in the political sphere that i don't necessarily see directed at men- as if it's predicated on a belief that they don't really belong.

so i'm kind of stuck, both knees jerking uncontrollably, trying to figure things out.

i see the point that democrats, liberals and those from the proverbial left in america have when they say that maher is a comedian and that his comments are presumed to be outrageous/ unrealistic by virtue of this, whereas limbaugh purports to speak seriously about issues. you can go back and forth on that alone for quite some time: maher's status as a comedian would probably not have saved him if he'd used the n-word to describe tea party congressman tim scott and limbaugh would likely concede that he exaggerates for effect, even if his listeners don't get that.

and you could argue that claiming that africa is a country or that vaccinations make people retarded does make you stupid, while testifying before congress that women should have access through their employer's health care insurance plan to oral contraceptives for a variety of health issues does not make you a slut.

i even get the republican point [yes, you read that correctly] that there is a certain hypocrisy when you only cry foul over derogatory terms in the mouths of your political opponents. i felt the same sense of unease when feminists were falling over themselves to talk about how wonderful bill clinton was, rather than saying what most of us felt to be the truth: he was a shitty individual to his wife and to a degree to the women he was cheating on her with, but that isn't a political issue. end of story.

that sort of clarity is what's needed in this situation and although i doubt it's going any further than you and me, here it is:

bill maher's brand of comedy is scathing and he can say some things that most people are going to find harsh. the fact that he's a comedian doesn't make what he says insincere, because his fans and viewers all know that he believes what he says and is trying to get his audience motivated in much the same way as limbaugh does. he isn't giving a million bucks to re-elect obama as a set up for a big punchline.

and you know what? i could even be persuaded to think that he's a misogynist. i don't, but if someone who knew him wanted to tell me he was, i wouldn't immediately write them off as a republican operative. it would mean that i would always view bill maher as a sexist jerk, but i'm not trying to date him and, since i'm in my thirties and not a model, he's not trying to date me, and that would be the end of it.

and therein lies the difference between maher and limbaugh.

no one, least of all the republicans who are crying foul over maher, think that his statements are reflective of a larger anti-women agenda within the democratic party. many, many people think that limbaugh's statements are precisely that- the crest of the g.o.p. iceberg. you can play word-for-word match games between maher and limbaugh from now until november and none of that will change the fact that republicans have been moving backwards on women's rights since they pushed through the 19th amendment in 1919. [seriously. look it up.]

limbaugh's been saying insulting, erroneous, batshit crazy stuff for years without this scale of reaction, but when there are so many examples of republican-driven legislation that seems backward, condescending or flat-out hostile, it ties into a larger story.

so it's not just about the "slut" tirade. it's about what those statements reveal about how a lot of republicans think about women to begin with.

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