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.

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