Monday, March 26, 2012

Bill Maher’s Use of the “C” Word and the “T” Word

In my last post, I mentioned that some conservatives have defended Rush Limbaugh's attack on Sandra Fluke by asserting that certain liberals are just as misogynistic.  The main focus of such assertions has been comedian, Bill Maher.  The link below takes you to one of the many articles covering this controversy.

Mr. Maher has rejected comparisons between his use of the “c” word and the “t” word to refer to Sarah Palin in comedic routines and Mr. Limbaugh’s attack on Sandra Fluke.  To differentiate his own language from Mr. Limbaugh’s disgusting rant on Sandra Fluke, Mr. Maher has explained that Mr. Limbaugh had gone “after a civilian” while Mr. Maher had used filth to describe a “public figure.”  (OK, to be honest, the term “filth” was my characterization, not Mr. Maher’s.) 

Mr. Maher elaborated:

“I used a rude word about a public figure who gives as good as she gets, who’s called people ‘terrorist’ and ‘unAmerican’... The First Amendment was specifically designed for citizens to insult politicians. Libel laws were written to protect law students speaking out on political issues from getting called whores by Oxycontin addicts.”

Interesting.  I’m not exactly sure that that is what James Madison had in mind when he drafted the Bill of Rights.  But I suppose Mr. Maher has a point.  And although his choice of words does trigger my gag reflex, I am a fervent defender of the First Amendment and would vigorously defend Mr. Maher’s right to speak his mind. 

 To defend his use of these terms in question, Mr. Maher also countered that audiences at his comedic performances loved the use of those terms to describe Governor Palin:

“The bit I did about Palin using the word c--- was one of the biggest laughs in my act, I did it all over the country, not one person ever registered disapproval, and believe me, audiences are not afraid to let you know. Because it was a routine where that word came in at just the right moment. Context is very important.”

The fact that audiences at his comedy shows did not object to the use of these terms doesn't say much. Mr. Maher is a self-confessed "potty mouth," so people paying the big bucks to attend his live show expect (and arguably demand) such filthy language.

Finally, Mr. Maher also seemed to think part of the problem with Mr. Limbaugh’s word choice was that the radio host was “speaking for a party that has systematically gone after women’s rights all year, on the public airwaves.”  Mr. Maher seems to be suggesting that the GOP is hostile to women, but the Democrats are somehow their savior.  That is a rather questionable claim of superiority.  I would suggest that both parties are dominated by white men who are either rich or middle class, and neither party has done a particularly good job of representing people of color, women or the poor.  There are a lot of issues impacting women.  Being against the re-criminalization of abortion does not somehow make one a champion of “women’s rights.”  If Mr. Maher thinks it does, then he certainly has a lot to learn about women.

All in all, I don’t think Mr. Maher quite understands the controversy over Mr. Limbaugh’s attack on Sandra Fluke, and the comparison to Mr. Maher’s own attacks on Governor Palin.  It frankly has nothing whatsoever to do with context.

The main point, in my opinion, is that “slut” and “prostitute” are words that convey certain sexual connotations.  As I explained in a prior post, the term “slut” is an epithet that only makes sense when used against a woman.  It is a joke or a compliment when used to describe a man.  The term “prostitute” is generally equated with women only.  Both terms denote individuals who have had multiple sexual partners, for which there is a strong sexist double standard in our society.  These terms when used against women can painfully bring shame and humiliation.  By contrast, accusing a man of having multiple sexual partners is typically viewed in our society as praise for his virility. 

It is important to note that the specific terms that Mr. Maher used to reference Governor Palin are actually much worse than the terms Mr. Limbaugh used to describe Ms. Fluke.  So much worse that I won’t even write Mr. Maher’s words out in this blog.  Not even once.  They are that disgusting.

Before I go on, let me be clear that I am no prude.  Christians are often stereotyped as nerdy, sheltered squares, so I do feel the need to state this fact at the outset.  Let me elaborate on my credentials as a non-sheltered person. I have been happily married for 15 years. I’ve had a lot of friends from different backgrounds and with different value systems.  I have been to comedy clubs, I’ve seen plenty of Hollywood films, and I’ve even listened to hip hop music.  (Oh, my!)  I’ve taught grade schools in tough neighborhoods fraught with gang violence.  I have heard all kinds of language.  Curse words have indeed come out of my mouth.  I am also a Criminal Law professor; periodically I must lead sexually graphic class discussions when I teach the law of rape.  I do not blush or even get nervous when I have to lead these discussions with 70+ law students.  The bottom line of all this is that I have not lived in an ivory tower isolated from the world.  I don’t flinch when people use filthy or sexually explicit language.

But the two words in question that Mr. Maher used are particularly vile.  They are both epithets that only make sense when used to describe a woman.  Insightfully, both the “c” word and the “t” word technically refer to female genitalia.  I think that is interesting and no fluke.  (No pun intended.)

If you think about it objectively, why on earth would it be an insult to call someone female genitalia?  I mean, it is weird.  I grant you that.  But then again, it would be pretty weird to insult folks by calling them other body parts.  “You elbow!”  “He is such an ankle!”

But in our American profanity, we have at least two epithets where we put women down by calling them female genitalia.  As a Christian, I understand that God designed our bodies; as his creations, they are beautiful.  That includes the genitals. 

Nonetheless, in our culture, the connotations associated with the “c” word and the “t” word are so incredibly foul.  I mean, the “b” word absolutely pales by comparison.  Not even close.  It is like the difference between “stupid head” v. “m----- f-----.”

The “c” word and the “t” word are so incredibly taboo and heinous, I was actually in my 20s before I ever heard them.  They just don’t get used that often in pop culture or in the circles I’ve frequented.

To me, the fact that words for female genitalia have come to have such a deeply offensive connotation is suggestive that those who coined the “c” and the “t” words find women’s sexuality awful and shameful.  I’m at a loss to understand that attitude fully, but it clearly is rooted on some level in misogyny. 

I get that Mr. Maher doesn’t like Governor Palin.  You know what?  She is not my favorite person either.  Frankly, her politics and her rhetoric appall me on many levels.  But calling her the “c” word or the “t” word is blatantly sexist.  And I deeply resent Mr. Maher’s use of those terms to describe any female.  I don’t care if the female in question is a “public figure” or not.

These two terms are misogynistic.  They allude to shameful connotations associated with female genitals.  They are epithets reserved exclusively for women.  I’m doubtful that Mr. Maher has used the terms for Senator McCain, Governor Romney or any other male politician.  That is not how the terms in question are used.

Thus, using the “c” word and the “t” word to deride Governor Palin has the effect of dismissing her as a politician.  The insinuation is that she is not to be taken seriously.  It is quite condescending.  Again, male politicians don’t get dismissed like that.

If Mr. Maher has a problem with Sarah Palin—or any other female politician—I would hope that in the future he would explain his concerns without the use of misogynistic epithets.  If he has to use profanity, I would prefer he at least stuck to gender neutral epithets!  

Genesis 5:1-2 (Common English Bible)
On the day God created humanity, he made them to resemble God and created them male and female. He blessed them and called them humanity on the day they were created.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Liberal Misogynists?

Some conservatives have recently tried to defend Rush Limbaugh's attack on Sandra Fluke by essentially saying certain liberals are just as misogynistic.  In my opinion, that is rather a pathetic way to defend Mr. Limbaugh's words.  It reminds me of when I was an elementary school teacher where kids would sometimes defend their own breaking of the rules by saying other kids did the same thing.  Two wrongs certainly don't make a right. I thought that was generally accepted.

Nonetheless, I do appreciate these conservatives bringing attention to the sexist attitudes of some liberals.  That is something that rarely gets mentioned in the media.

In some ways, one might expect so-called "liberals" to be light years ahead of conservatives on gender equality.  The women's movement is typically more closely aligned with Democrats than Republicans.  People advocating "traditional" gender roles (e.g., women staying home to tend the home and family while men alone are responsible for breadwinning)  tend to self-identify as conservatives. 

Despite what you might expect, however, I have not perceived the left to be more evolved on gender issues. 

It was Bill Clinton who married the nerdy brain with Coke bottle glasses because he saw beyond appearances and he realized they made a good team.  He campaigned for president by touting his wife's intellectual and political gifts: "Two for One."  But it was also Bill Clinton who was apparently a serial philanderer humiliating his wife over and over again throughout their marriage.  Cigars and pizzas in the Oval Office with a young intern doesn't exact scream "I respect women as equals."  But maybe that is just me.

Unfortunately, President Clinton is not the only Democratic president in recent memory to cheat.  We know that JFK and FDR also broke their wedding vows.  FDR had several long-term affairs.  JFK had numerous sexual relationships both before and after his marriage.  Both men had vibrant, extremely intelligent and devoted wives.  Such betrayal is just incomprehensible. 

More recently, former senator John Edwards forever disgraced himself by lying about having cheated on his wife and having fathered a child out of wedlock.  Not only was his wife a brilliant lawyer and activist, she was also a devoted mother of four children.  She wrote touchingly about her struggles after her first son died in a tragic car crash.  Sadly, the fact that John Edwards had betrayed his wedding vows became known publicly while Elizabeth Edwards was struggling with stage IV breast cancer.  Her final months were hardly the peaceful end that you would hope for someone with a terminal illness.

In France, in the mid-1990s, the funeral of Socialist president Mitterand was appalling as his wife and his long-term mistress stood side-by-side on apparently equal footing.  That is not my vision for the phrase "Liberté, égalité, fraternité."

Some may believe these examples of liberal politicians cheating on their spouses are simply personal matters.  Some may argue such betrayals are irrelevant to one's attitudes on gender equality.  I strongly disagree.

If a man treats with such disrespect the one woman who is supposedly closest to him, I think that says a lot about his attitude towards women generally.  Moreover, to the extent one is a serial philanderer like Clinton or Kennedy, I think a much more dire assessment is warranted.  If a man engages in sexual activities with numerous women that suggests he is using them for his own pleasure in one specific way.  It suggests he views them as sexual objects and not seeing them as whole individuals. 

In that sense, it is quite reminiscent of Mr. Limbaugh's descriptions of sex being "recreational" and a type of "social" activity.  Perhaps we aren't that surprised to hear such attitudes from a man who coined the phrase "feminazi" or told us that feminism was a plot to "allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society."  But when such attitudes seem to be exhibited by men who have purported to defend the poor and other vulnerable people in society, it is quite disappointing. 

Matthew 5: 27-28

You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Reason for the Debate on Oral Contraceptives

Some politicians have tried to win points with religious conservatives by trying to frame this issue of employer mandated coverage of oral contraceptives as an Obama administration war against people of faith.   This is an incredible distortion of reality.  Shame on them.  I’m not sure why politicians making such assertions haven’t experienced tremendous, rapid growth of their olfactory organs.

Let’s call a spade a spade.  I’ve listened to the debate carefully, and I have not yet identified any religious group other than the Roman Catholic Church that objects to the provision of oral contraceptives as part of an employer provided health plan.  Despite following the debate carefully, I have never heard of any other Christian denomination or any other non-Christian religion opposed to the secular law in question.  If there is another faith group who is also opposed, please let me know.

Perhaps it is politically incorrect, but the media doesn’t seem to be noting the reality of the debate’s genesis.  That failure subtly implies that many people of faith—many Christians, for example—also are opposed to birth control.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  The current debate centers around an issue of Catholic teaching that is now having secular policy implications. 

And let’s be clear about who in the Catholic Church is opposing this employer mandate.  Strangely, that is not getting much media attention either.  It is the hierarchy, not the members of the Church, who are opposing the employer mandate in question.  This is an extremely significant point, but members of other Christian denominations and other religions may not immediately recognize why. 

Unlike many religious institutions, the Roman Catholic Church is monarchical and undemocratic in terms of its decision-making structure.  This is not a criticism, it is a fact.  What I mean in using these adjectives is that Catholics in the pews don’t vote to determine the bishop of their diocese, or the members of the College of Cardinals or other Church groups that set policy.  Those decisions are made by the Pope in Vatican City.  But he also is not elected by the Catholics in the pews. 

As women are banned from the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church, women’s voices are simply not present when policy is decided by Church leaders.  Moreover, women’s voices are not even indirectly heard because the decision-makers are men who are barred from marriage.  Thus, the decision-makers do not even have the benefit of insight from a wife (or daughter).

These facts are important to recognize because when the Church hierarchy speaks out against the employer mandate in question, it is very unlikely that they are speaking for many American Catholic lay people.  There are several reasons to have such doubt.

First, despite some cruel accusations to the contrary, the Catholic Church is not a cult.  As I have mentioned previously, I was a Catholic most of my Christian walk.  My fellow parishioners and I did not just blindly follow what the priests and other ordained leaders told us.  We had minds of our own and we used them.

Second, it has been well-documented that the overwhelming majority of American Catholics reject the Church’s teaching on birth control.  For example, the link below takes you to a report indicating that 98% of sexually active American Catholic women have used contraceptives that the Church hierarchy has deemed to be incompatible with Church teaching.

Such data certainly is consistent with my own experience as a devout Catholic.  I have had countless Catholic friends who just shake their heads in disbelief at that teaching and ignore it without a second thought.  Significantly, these have been friends who agree with and follow the Church’s teachings on other issues.  For example, these friends tend to be very strongly against induced abortions.  (Perhaps because they are so strongly opposed to abortion, they take the prevention of pregnancy very seriously.)

I was particularly struck by this disconnect between the Church hierarchy and its parishioners many years ago when my husband and I were in pre-marriage classes at our home parish to prepare for a sacramental wedding.  The class met for several weeks to discuss various topics of great importance to a strong marriage (e.g., finances, child rearing, division of household chores).  During the last class of the series, the topic for our discussion was the role of sex in marriage.  That topic was part of the official curriculum for the course.

The course my then-fiancé and I took was taught by a long-married couple.  They were pillars of the parish and active in a variety of ministries.  They were close to the church’s pastor.  The wife was even a teacher at the parish school.

Though this couple had been leaders in the parish’s pre-marriage education program for a long time and had prepared countless couples for sacramental marriage, I was stunned when they began the last class by admitting they had never understood the Church’s teaching on contraception.  Indeed, they even strongly insinuated they had used artificial family planning to space their children’s births. 

The couple teaching the class asked if anyone else could explain the Church’s teaching on contraception.  In a group of over thirty people, I was the only one who raised her hand.  I had actually studied the Church’s teaching and tried to explain it neutrally to the group.  It was almost comical because people just stared blankly at the explanation.  No one expressed any reaction.  Though we had openly discussed a number of personal subjects with the group, and many of us had shared very personal struggles, no one wanted to try to discuss the Church’s teaching on contraceptives.  After hearing the Church’s rationale for prohibiting artificial family planning, I got the strong sense everyone was just thinking: “That’s nuts.”  Everyone was polite and quiet until someone changed the subject to a less awkward topic.

Matthew 5:5

Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

Acts 10:38

You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

“Contraceptives” and “Birth Control”

In the last post, I noted the lack of women’s voices in the current public debate about employer mandates to cover oral contraceptives.  Because of this critical omission, I think the public debate has been skewed.  I am certainly not an expert on women’s health or oral contraceptive issues.  But because we haven’t heard enough from women, I would like to flag a few facts that don’t seem to get mentioned in the media coverage of this issue.

The debate has focused on insurance coverage of prescription drugs which have been characterized as “oral contraceptives” or “birth control pills.”  But in some ways, I resent those characterizations and believe they are misleading.  I’m not an expert in this area, so I unfortunately don’t know of a better appellation.  But the reality I would like to flag is that the prevention of pregnancy is but one of many uses such prescription medications have. 

It is important to note that in this day and age, birth control pills are like the little black dress of women’s health.  For a variety of health issues, doctors will prescribe birth control pills as a treatment.  Whether that is desirable is another question that can be debated elsewhere.  But in the current state of medicine, that reality should be acknowledged.

When I was in my early 20s, I primarily ran with a pretty tame crowd.  Most of my closest friends were religious Christians.  Sex outside of marriage was not a value embraced by my best friends.  Yet in college, a number of them were taking birth control pills at various times.  They were explicitly not prescribed the pills because of a desire to prevent pregnancy.  Indeed, these friends were unmarried and not even sexually active.  I share this anecdote simply to illustrate the point that this employer mandate is not aimed solely at enabling women to engage in intercourse without becoming pregnancy.  It is a much broader women’s health issue.  Women need access to these prescriptions for many other reasons. 

Moreover, the prevention of pregnancy is itself a health issue.  It is not just a choice about one’s family size.  Pregnancy is a very serious women’s health issue.  For much of human history, child birth was very dangerous; women often died giving birth. 

Thank goodness for the great leaps forward in obstetrics.  In Western countries, women no longer die in childbirth at high rates.  But pregnancy is still life threatening in many poorer countries where medical care is less accessible.  I’m not sure why, but we rarely hear about that in the media.  That is atrocious.  Those are preventable deaths. 

Nonetheless, even in the United States, women do still die in childbirth.  That point was vividly brought home to me several years ago when a colleague’s wife suddenly, unexpectedly and tragically died when she went into labor with her only child.  It was an incredibly heartbreaking loss for her family and friends.  Despite having access to great doctors, no one was aware of a medical condition that made child birth particularly risky for her.  The death of this lovely young woman was a huge shock.

There are plenty of women for whom pregnancy would clearly be life threatening and their doctors strongly advise against getting pregnant.  Diabetics sometimes fall into that category, but there are others.  Years ago, I knew a young woman who nearly died of a food borne pathogen from eating negligently undercooked food at a restaurant.  She was in a coma for weeks, but did eventually recover.  When she was finally recovering and preparing to go home, her doctors were quite clear that if she ever became pregnant, her body was so permanently weakened from the food pathogen that she would surely die.  As a result, her doctors were extremely adamant that she had to be on a highly reliable form of contraception.  Oral contraceptives were a possibility, but they suggested something with an even smaller rate of failure.  This young woman had a baby on the verge of toddlerhood when she became so sick.  She and her husband had dreamed of a large family, so the danger of her becoming pregnant again was very tough news for them.   I share this anecdote to illustrate that pregnancy can have dire health repercussions for some women.  Access to reliable contraception could be a life or death proposition.

Matthew 25:44-45

Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Lack of Women’s Voices in the Current Debate

Moving away from Mr. Limbaugh’s words, I would now like to move into broader themes in the current debate on mandates to include oral contraceptives in employer provided health plans.  To begin, I would like to note the relative dearth of female voices being heard in the public debate of this issue. 

Obviously, Mr. Limbaugh’s views have garnered a lot of attention.  However, in the media coverage of the public debate, we have heard from others.  Because of their roles in determining what our laws will be, we have primarily heard from the president and leaders in Congress.  For similar reasons, we have also heard from the GOP presidential candidates who are still in the race for delegates.  It is worth pointing out that those individuals are all males.  I’ve followed the debate on this issue, but I myself have not even seen any media coverage of Representative Pelosi or other women in Congress. 

Further, because this issue is primarily driven by Roman Catholic teaching on artificial birth control, we have also heard in the news from leaders in the Catholic Church.  For those who are not familiar, it is worth noting that the Church is governed exclusively by ordained priests.  Currently, only men are allowed to be priests.  Further, they are not allowed to marry.  Thus, when the Catholic Church weighs in on this topic, women’s voices are not represented directly or even indirectly. 

This situation is highly ironic in that oral contraceptives are not something, with which most men have firsthand experience.   As a result, I think the failure to hear women’s voices on this particular issue is incredibly tragic.  It results in a failure to consider critical insights to arrive at a full and informed conclusion on the issue.   

Oral contraceptives are an issue in women’s health.   Debating mandatory coverage of such prescriptions without hearing from women is absurd.  Imagine having a national debate on erectile dysfunction, vasectomies or prostate cancer that was dominated by women and failed to consider men’s actual experiences with these issues.

Luke 6:21, 25

Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Mr. Limbaugh on Burdening “American Citizens” and on “Personal Responsibility”

 A few other aspects of Mr. Limbaugh’s apology got my attention.  In the course of apologizing for his disgusting rant against Ms. Fluke, Mr. Limbaugh continued to assert his political position on the current debate about the employer mandate to cover oral contraceptives.  Several of his points are worth exploring.

First, in his apology Mr. Limbaugh said that “American citizens should [not] pay for these social activities.”  (I’ve previously explained that the term “social activities” appears to be a reference to sexual intercourse.)  With his wording that “American citizens” should not be paying for oral contraceptives, Mr. Limbaugh seems to imply that the debate is whether the government is going to be footing the bill.  However, the current debate is not about whether Medicare or Medicaid will cover such prescriptions.  Further, the single payer approach to solving our health insurance mess was never seriously on the table during the Obama era debate of potential reforms.  So, to the extent Mr. Limbaugh is trying to make it sound like the current debate is about the government (i.e., “American citizens”) paying for these prescriptions, that is misleading.  (Parenthetically, as a tax lawyer, I should point out that the government is not funded merely by the income taxes of “American citizens.”  For example, resident aliens also must pay income taxes to the federal government.)

Instead of being a debate about what the government will fund, the current issue is what employers are required to provide for their employees.  In our country, the reality is that employees have very little bargaining power.  Unionism is not strong.  And without some type of collective action, employers generally hold disproportionate power over employment terms.  Employment at will is the norm.  With the exception of certain executives and entertainers, employment contracts are rarely something, over which rank and file employees have much negotiating power.  Consequently, government mandates are the only realistic option to help make sure that employees are not overly exploited in certain contexts.  That is why we have minimum wage laws, as well as occupational safety and health regulations.  Without them, employees could be paid unconscionably low wages and enticed to risk their health to work in unsafe conditions.

As I’ll explore more in a subsequent post, oral contraceptives are a type of medication.  They are an important tool in providing women with medical care.  For this reason, it is important that they be covered by employer health plans.  Women’s health should not be put at risk because of an employer’s (questionable) objection to that type of medication.  It is for this reason that the Obama administration intervened.  Again, the issue is not what taxpayers will fund.  The issue is preventing employers from refusing to cover important medications when they provide health insurance.  The point is that there should be a basic standard of care, upon which we can all depend, regardless of who our employer is.

I also note that in his apology Mr. Limbaugh rhetorically asked about “personal responsibility and accountability.”  He seemed to be suggesting with that language that the cost to engage in “recreational activities” like sexual intercourse should be covered exclusively by those engaging in such activities.  Again, this is not an issue of taxpayer funding, it is about establishing a floor of coverage in employer provided health insurance coverage. 

And it is worth noting that in most employment settings, employees do pay for their health insurance.  Indeed, most of us pay significant premiums for such benefits.  The point of the employer mandate in question is to ensure that when employees pay their premiums, they are getting the coverage they need and are not being sold a plan with significant holes.  In that sense, this is a consumer protection concern.

I am also intrigued by Mr. Limbaugh’s reference to “personal responsibility” in this context for other reasons.  For years I have heard fiscal conservatives rail against people having children that “they can’t afford.”    I have lost count how many times I’ve heard such fiscal conservatives assert that the poor shouldn’t have children at all because they don’t have the resources to care for them.  Such fiscal conservatives emphasize “personal responsibility” in their arguments.   The suggestion seems to be that if you are not financially stable you should be celibate (even if married), always use birth control or have a medical abortion if you become pregnant.  Those options don’t all necessarily sit well with social conservatives, including many Christ followers. 

As a result of fiscal conservatives’ criticism of people having children they “can’t afford,” it is interesting to hear Mr. Limbaugh talk about “personal responsibility” in the context of employer mandates to cover oral contraceptives.  In the next post, I’ll explore in greater depth the health reasons women take oral contraceptives, but for now it seems to be the widely accepted assumption that women taking them are simply trying to avoid pregnancy.  If one accepts that assumption, it stands to reason that some of those women may be using oral contraceptives because they “can’t afford” to care for (more) children.  Such women would appear to be doing what fiscal conservatives value, i.e., taking personal responsibility to prevent pregnancy.  It then seems hypocritical to undermine such women’s efforts and to allow employers to make oral contraceptives prohibitively expensive because they are not included in employee medical plans.

Matthew 19:13

Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Mr. Limbaugh's Apology

Following up on the prior post, I wanted to write about Rush Limbaugh’s public apology to Sandra Fluke. The apology was reported at the following website among others:

Last weekend, Mr. Limbaugh apparently posted the following on his website:

For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.

I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities.

What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit? In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone's bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level.

My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.

The apology is available at the following link:

There are a couple things I’d like to mention about this apology.

First, Mr. Limbaugh mentions his poor choice of words and the fact that he is on the air three hours per day five days each week. He does not say it explicitly, but I think a reasonable inference is that he is trying to flag that when one is talking publicly for such long stretches of time, one occasionally puts one’s foot in one’s mouth. Some may see this as an excuse and a failure to take full responsibility for his words, but I for one think it is a fair point. 

Unless one is reading from a pre-written script, one will sometimes say things off-the-cuff that can be interpreted in an offensive manner that the speaker did not intend. Both in private settings and in situations when I had a sizeable audience, I myself have certainly put my own foot in my mouth. Words have not always come out as I have intended.  Sometimes, to my great regret, my words caused hurt feelings as a result.  So, I can appreciate the reality, to which Mr. Limbaugh alludes. Many politicians struggle with such issues.  It is particularly difficult when the media takes things out of context, and only regards with superficiality the words a politician utters.

As I mentioned in my prior post, banning from one's vocabulary particular words that are deeply hurtful and do not contribute to a thoughtful political debate would be a prudent first step towards avoiding such foot-in-mouth issues.  But the problem with Mr. Limbaugh’s recent rant about Ms. Fluke is that it wasn’t solely the use of an offensive word or phrase that caused an uproar. 

His words were not taken out of context. To my chagrin since I had young children in the room, some newscasters played a fairly lengthy excerpt of Mr. Limbaugh’s program to provide context. I’ve read elsewhere even longer excerpts from the radio program in question. His words expressed some really ugly concepts including a basic disrespect for women and for the role of sex.  

Because of this basic lack of respect, I’ve wondered whether Mr. Limbaugh’s wife was disturbed by what he said. If my husband said such things, I would have been horrified.  But knowing my husband, I couldn’t fathom him saying anything like what Mr. Limbaugh said in his rant about Ms. Fluke.  I cannot imagine any self-respecting woman (or any compassionate human being for that matter) not being disgusted by what Mr. Limbaugh expressed in that particular radio program.

I would like to note some of the particular language used in the apology quoted above. In particular, I think Mr. Limbaugh's characterization of the debate is insightful and quite sad.   He makes reference to “personal sexual recreational activities” and “these social activities.” From context, it appears that this language is describing sexual intercourse.


I gather from this presumably more thoughtful choice of words that Mr. Limbaugh’s view of sexual intercourse is that it is merely a form of recreation and a type of social activity.

Again, interesting.

So, in that sense, sex would not be (much) different from playing golf, smoking a cigar, or watching professional football. Those are all “recreational activities” and often they are done in a “social” setting. I find that attitude fascinating since it is coming from someone who has actually been married (and presumably has had sexual intercourse).  

I perhaps would not have been so stunned if such an attitude towards sex were expressed by someone who has never been in a committed relationship.  The lack of life experience in that context might lead such an individual to a less than fully informed view on the matter.

From a Christian perspective, sexual intercourse is not just a form of recreation when you miss your tee time, you are out of cigars and/or it is no longer football season.   Sexual intercourse is a deeply personal form of intimacy. In the context of marriage, it is a special type of intimacy that can deepen already profound bonds between spouses.  Sexual intercourse can bring forth the miracle of life. But even if it does not, it serves important purposes in supporting a relationship that is the cornerstone of the family. 

These views about the role of sex are not the aberrational perspective of just one Christ follower.  These are the basic lessons I've been taught repeatedly in church throughout my adult faith life.  For example, these are the basic concepts my husband and I were taught as we received pre-marriage instruction in order to have a sacramental wedding in the Roman Catholic Church.  These are also the basic attitudes that we team-taught along with ordained priests when my husband and I worked for several years in a Church-sponsored ministry to support married couples and teach them to strengthen their relationships.  These were also the foundational concepts in the official curriculum we used when my husband and I taught in a Church-sponsored program to help prepare engaged couples for sacramental marriage.  Nonetheless, these are not uniquely Catholic views on sex.  These are also the basic attitudes that we were taught later in our Christian walk when for several years we attended a Bible Study for married couples at a large non-denominational church.

As a result of all this, from my perspective as a Christian, to dismiss sexual intercourse as simply recreational or social is astonishing and actually quite tragic. I would not be so surprised to hear such a characterization from a younger person who has never been in a committed relationship, who lacks life experience generally and who engages in illicit sexual encounters with strangers. Such a person would understandably view sex as simply a means to access a form of physical pleasure. But Mr. Limbaugh is in his 60s and is in his fourth marriage. I would have anticipated at this point in his life that he would have a more mature view of sex and would give it more respect.

Genesis 2:18, 24

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

The “S” Word

Recently, another issue involving a sexist epithet has been in the news.  Rush Limbaugh has been heavily criticized for characterizing a Georgetown University student (Ms. Sandra Fluke) as a “prostitute” and using the “S” word as he expressed disagreement with her stance on the requirement to provide birth control pills in health insurance policies. 

Saturday I was in our kitchen doing some cooking because we were going to entertain some friends.  My daughters and I were all working together.  They were chopping fruit, doing dishes and getting the table ready as I was preparing pancake batter and baking turkey sausage.  I like to have the radio on when I work in the kitchen.  However, when the radio news reported on the controversy surrounding Mr. Limbaugh’s attack on Ms. Fluke, they actually played an excerpt from the radio program in question.  I was aware of the story and had to quickly tell my kids to cover their ears.  That kind of language is not appropriate for their ears. 

Our family reads the Bible frequently, so perhaps my kids have heard or read the term “prostitute” before.  I may be overdue in explaining that term and explaining why someone would engage in that kind of work.  It is not a happy story.  There is empirical data that most prostitutes in the U.S. have been sexually abused at some point in their lives, and most have issues with substance abuse.   

I have not explained this ugly part of the world to my children, but my husband and I do try to be honest with them.  We don’t think they should be sheltered forever from some of the horrible things going on in this world.  We want to raise them to help people, and if they don’t understand some of the injustices that take place, they will not be able to minister to people where they are.

Although I may have need to explain the concept of prostitution to my children, the “S” word is quite a different thing.  That is such an ugly epithet.  There is no excuse for using it.  Ever.

Yesterday evening, my husband got home from his classes and we were touching base on the day’s events.  He raised the brouhaha over Mr. Limbaugh’s language and characterization of Ms. Fluke.  My husband’s take on Mr. Limbaugh’s word choice was interesting.  He believed that Mr. Limbaugh could well be suffering from some type of serious mental illness and might be in need of treatment.  Alternately, my husband brainstormed that Mr. Limbaugh might be having issues with substance abuse again.  To my husband, only such medical explanations would explain such a horrible choice of words on national radio.  No rational, healthy person would have said such vile things publicly. 

Mr. Limbaugh has been so heavily denounced for what he said about Ms. Fluke, there is not a whole lot else to say.  I’m not often at a loss for words myself.  But I am now.  As I write this post, I am just sitting at my desk and shaking my head in disbelief.

But I do want to express that what I wrote about the “B” word goes even more for the “S” word.  There is no good reason to ever use that word.  Not as a joke.  Not in private.  Not ever.  I encourage everyone to banish that term from their vocabulary forever.

It is a term that reflects condemnation of female sexuality.  It denotes judgment against a woman who has sex outside of marriage. 

For a variety of reasons, I’m second to none in my belief that it is best to reserve sexual activity for marriage.  But I’m also a realist and we know full well that most Americans today do not live up to that ideal.  However, as a society, we continue to privately cheer men who don’t live up to the ideal while we condemn women for the same behavior. 

Many continue to believe that men are supposed to spread their seed around the forest.  It’s just nature.  We can’t blame a guy for not saving his virginity until marriage, or betraying his wife by breaking his marriage vows.  He can’t help himself.  When a man has sex outside of marriage, he’s literally or figuratively pat on the back by others.  If you use the “S” word to his face, it is considered a joke because by definition the term only works when used against a woman.  Indeed, using the term to a man is even considered a compliment.  It is equivalent to praising a man for his sexual prowess.

By contrast, when the same word is used against a woman, it is deeply shameful  and is no joke.  Use of the word to a woman typically inflicts humiliation and great pain. 

I heard this week part of an interview with Ms. Fluke.  The interviewer was asking about a call of support from President Obama.  The portion of the interview that really resonated with me was when Ms. Fluke indicated that the part of the phone call that meant the most was when the president told her that her parents should be proud of her for standing up for her beliefs.  With her voice beginning to crack, Ms. Fluke explained that meant a lot because Mr. Limbaugh had questioned whether her parents would be proud of her.

I agree with Mr. Obama’s words.  I don’t know Ms. Fluke but I admire her willingness to stand up and add her voice to the public debate on this important issue.  If Mr. Limbaugh disagreed with her position, that is certainly his right.  We are fortunate to live in a country that guarantees freedom of speech.  But having a constitutional right to speak your mind doesn’t give you a license to make vicious personal attacks.  Particularly when the personal attacks are of such a vulgar and disgusting nature. 

Beyond the use of the “S” word, the nature of Mr. Limbaugh’s rant on this topic was simply obscene.  I am just disgusted.  Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction was not nearly as offensive as the filth that Mr. Limbaugh is spewing these days.

James 1:26

If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Bachmann and the “B” Word

In our culture, we have all kinds of preconceptions regarding gender that most of us barely even recognize.  For example, our society expects men to be strong and assertive.  Women are supposed to be warm and nurturing.

We make all kinds of judgments about people based on whether or not they live up to the gender roles we expect.  There is plenty of empirical evidence that people, who depart from those expected gender roles, are poorly received by those around them.  If men change their minds on an issue, they are potentially labeled “flip-floppers.”  If men are perceived as “too” sensitive, they are at risk for being branded a wimp.  If women are firm with respect to a position they embrace, they are often characterized as inflexible and overbearing.  If a woman is not warm and nurturing, people may describe her as cold. 

Ironically, these same traits in the opposite sex are typically well-received.  Rarely do women get branded flip-floppers or wimps; we expect them to change their minds and be sensitive.  Similarly, it is rare to hear people criticize men for being inflexible, overbearing or cold because that is simply how we expect them to be.

Such judgments are evident in myriad ways.  They impact with whom we associate.  They may influence which candidates get our votes.  They may determine whether an applicant gets a job or whether an employee is promoted.  And at an extreme, these judgments sometimes even result in violence against those who fail to fit preconceived gender roles. 

Such gender preconceptions are a difficult land mine for those in politics.  Men typically get the benefit of the doubt in my observation, but sometimes have to be wary of being too wimpy.  The first President Bush, for example, struggled with that in his presidential campaigns.

In my observation, gender roles are typically a trickier obstacle for women in politics.  There are sometimes preconceptions that female politicians get too emotional or are not sharp enough.  But there is also the overarching issue of being too tough or too assertive.  On the one hand, women can be judged as not tough and assertive enough for politics, but if they try to overcome such concerns, then they may be slapped with the “bitch” label. 

That label is of course not just a hazard for female politicians.  Ask any woman in a position of any type of authority.  Managers.  Pastors.  Police officers.  Committee chairpersons.  Lawyers.  Professors.  In pretty much any context, a woman is at risk for having the “bitch” label applied to her if she speaks up to voice an opposing view point, or uses the authority she has to set policy or require others to do something they do not want to do.  If men do these things, that is expected. There is no equivalent to the “bitch” label for such male behavior.  In my experience and observation, when people don’t like the decisions made by a male in authority, people criticize or complain about the substance of his decisions.  But there is not a personal attack based on gender.  The “bitch” label (as well as even more offensive sexist terms that I won’t list), and the underlying gendered judgment that is conveyed, are uniquely applied to women.

To be clear, I do not agree with or condone the use of the term “bitch.”  I am using it here to make a point.  But make no mistake, I find the term extraordinarily offensive.  It is sexist.  It implies a double standard.  It is demeaning to women.  It undercuts the advancement of women in our society.  I would strongly urge everyone to refrain from ever using that horrible word.  Not even privately.  Not even under your breath.  My advice would be to just banish the term from your vocabulary forever.

I would particularly flag for any women readers of this blog that the potential use of this term to deride any women in authority in your lives is counterproductive and can harm your own attempts to be taken seriously as a person.  Using such a sexist term to complain about a female supervisor, professor or peer implicitly condones gender based negative judgments against such women.  If a female supervisor, professor or peer is in your opinion not doing a good job, that is certainly a legitimate basis for critique.  But make sure to keep your critique based in gender neutral terms.  Otherwise you are serving to perpetuate a sexist mindset that will undoubtedly be used against you.  If not now, it will surely happen eventually.  It always does.

With that background on the “bitch” label, I was really saddened to read about an incident last fall during the GOP presidential campaign.  Representative Bachmann appeared on Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night show last fall prior to bowing out of the race.  To introduce Mr. Fallon’s interview with her, his band played a song with the “B” word.  The not-so-subtle message sent as Representative Bachmann walked out to be interviewed was: she is a bitch.

Mr. Fallon and NBC later apologized.  Big shock.  What else could they do?  It seems laughable to imagine they could even try to defend something so sexist and offensive. 

But I am concerned about how this incident was received by the public. 

First, I am concerned that most people never heard about the incident.  This was a pretty egregious insult on national broadcast television, but it didn’t seem to get a lot of attention.  Why the heck not?

  Many liberals find Representative Bachmann’s politics so distasteful that I suspect they may have agreed with the implicit message and even cheered the “bitch” label. 

But I fear that most other folks who heard about the incident probably thought it was not a big deal.  Much ado about nothing.  An over-emphasis on political correctness.  A Puritanical rail against profanity.  I disagree with such sentiments.  I think this was a big deal, and the mainstream media dropped the ball in not examining it more.

The “B” word is a very ugly term.  It hurts to be called that word.  It cuts you off at the legs.  It is a slap in the face. 

Like Representative Bachmann, you can be a lawyer with an advance degree in tax law, be elected to Congress, rally thousands in rousing Tea Party speeches, and even become a serious candidate for the presidency of the most powerful nation on this planet.  But being called the “B” word just slaps you back to the starting line. 

The underlying purpose of the epithet is to convey that no matter what, you are just a woman and thus a second class citizen.  In that sense, I think it is analogous in many ways to the “N” word used against African Americans, the “F” word used against gay men and the “D” word used against lesbians.  These are vile words that carry emotionally toxic baggage.  They are meant to protect the privilege of those who have historically wielded most of the power in our society.

Because of the toxicity of the “B” word, I cannot even imagine how humiliating it would have been for Michele Bachmann to walk out to begin a televised interview with Jimmy Fallon with that particular song to introduce her.  If it were me, I think it would have sabotaged my ability to coherently answer questions on national television.  I would have been shaken.  My confidence going into a stressful situation would have detrimentally impacted.  And as I describe what my own reaction would have been, you should know I've got a pretty thick skin, and am not easily intimidated.  Nonetheless, talking to a national audience with that kind of a disrespectful introduction would have been humiliating.  As a result, on a personal level, for Representative Bachmann’s sake, I hope that as she walked onto the stage to speak with Jimmy Fallon last fall, she did not recognize the song that was played.

This incident is like if President Obama had appeared on the show and a song using the “N” word was played as he was walking towards Mr. Fallon.  That would have been unthinkably disrespectful, hurtful and racist.  If anything like that happened, it would certainly have led to tremendous public outcry.  Mr. Fallon would probably have lost his show and been banished to some lesser cable network—if he ever worked again.  But nothing like that happened after the Representative Bachmann incident. 

Similarly, can you imagine if Mr. Fallon began an interview with Representative Barney Frank with a song using the "F" word?  There would have been protests, editorials.   It would have been unthinkably rude, offensive and homophobic.  Why wasn't there more of a backlash over this incident with Representative Bachmann?

Judges 4:6-9

And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedesh-Naphtali, and said to him, Hath not Jehovah the God of Israel commanded? Go and draw towards mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun,

and I will draw unto thee, to the torrent Kishon, Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army, and his chariots and his multitude, and I will give him into thy hand.

And Barak said to her, If thou goest with me, then I will go, but if thou goest not with me, I will not go.

And she said, I will by all means go with thee, only that it will not be to thine honour upon the way which thou goest, for Jehovah will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh.