When Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a “slut” for testifying for women’s right to free and accessible birth control, he was putting a bull-horn to the lurking and unspoken discomfort the ultra-conservative have with women’s sexuality. Fluke wanted to represent women in a hearing that could determine whether or not birth control would be covered by their health insurance. Because of this Limbaugh dismissed her as a “prostitute.” This created such uproar that 75 Democrats in Congress called on House Speaker Boehner to repudiate Limbaugh’s comments. Even President Barack Obama felt compelled to call up Fluke and offer his support.
Republicans had been insisting that the birth control coverage debate was not about sex, but about religious freedom. Limbaugh ignored the pre-approved script and delved right into the meat of the issue. He didn’t approve of a woman advocating for the rights of women’s choices. And, playing the outdated and now even stereotypical archetype of the prudish and hypocritical misogynist, he shamed Fluke on the grounds that only a “slut” would testify for women’s rights to reproductive health care. He repeated the tried and tired position of inflicting shame on a woman for speaking on an issue that suggests sex is a natural part of most people’s lives.
Now, a week later, even after Limbaugh’s attempt at an apology, nine companies have pulled their advertising from his program. Democratic leaders have overwhelmingly condemned his remarks. And, Republican leaders still don’t know what to do with him. Most are tentatively stating their disapproval of what he said, but mostly focusing on his word choice. In classic Romney-esque fashion, Republican Presidential front-runner Mitt Romney addressed Limbaugh’s attack on Fluke by saying it is “not the language” he would use. And in that statement, Romney is then condoning the meaning behind the statement, just not the use of a “bad word.” House Speaker John Boehner gave Limbaugh a gentle disapproval by saying the comment was “inappropriate.”
This tentative discounting is partly because of the power Limbaugh wields. ABC’s George Will said that Republicans are “afraid of Rush Limbaugh,” because of his political clout. And, with few denouncements of Limbaugh’s statements from the GOP, it seems to be a solid theory.
But, it is clear that they are also afraid of sex; more specifically when women are the ones talking about it.
When Sandra Fluke was originally denied the opportunity to speak on behalf of women’s access to birth control coverage because she was determined unqualified, it became absurdly clear what game was being played. The ultra-conservatives wanted to control and regulate women’s sexuality. Republican’s discomfort with sexuality is so loud that they can’t even speak on it. They hardly address the vitriol of their talking heads, refuse to bring women into hearings on women’s reproductive health (until public outcry forces that they do otherwise) and they can’t even bring themselves to say “vagina” when referring to a bill that has “vaginal” in the title.
Limbaugh’s comments were crude and shameful, but they were only an amplified version of the sentiment of what leaders in the GOP have already been saying. Republican leaders have been uncomfortable, watching Limbaugh lose respect and credibility because of his outrageous statements, not just because his actions wound their stance, but also because it makes clear how ultimately their attack on women’s reproductive health will be unsuccessful. This debate against contraception coverage, and Limbaugh’s comments, are driving women away from the GOP. The game has been revealed, and women don’t want to play anymore.