After Limbaugh, Maybe It’s Finally Time To Ignore The ‘Slut’ Slur

Even before Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a "slut," women everywhere had been discussing and organizing around an oft-maligned word.

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At left, a London "Slutwalk" protester in June 2011. At right, Rush Limbaugh in November 2010.

Make no mistake, ladies. Rush Limbaugh wasn’t just calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” on his nationally syndicated radio show, heard by an estimated 15 million people. He was calling all of us sluts.

The furor started last week, when Limbaugh spent three consecutive days describing the testimony to House Democrats given by Sandra Fluke on February 23, 2012. A 30-year-old law student at Georgetown University, Fluke had testified that a close friend had been denied birth control coverage through her insurance provider; she required the pills to treat polycystic ovary syndrome. Though Fluke’s testimony did not delve into her own sex life, Limbaugh characterized her as a “slut” and a “prostitute”, saying she wanted taxpayers to pay for her sexual practices.

Apart from Limbaugh’s wildly inaccurate description of Fluke’s statement – she was speaking in favor of requiring private insurance plans to cover contraception – it was his language that caused a firestorm. There was nothing radical about Fluke’s testimony; in 2012, a woman requiring birth control should be altogether uncontroversial. Birth control is something that the vast majority of American women use, have used, or will use at some point, whether they are Democrats, Republicans, college students, sex workers, mothers or even virgins, since hormonal birth control pills are commonly prescribed to remedy irregular or painful menstrual cycles. If Limbaugh thinks Sandra Fluke is a slut, then he must think a whole lot of other women are, too.

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Which is why it has been heartening to see the rush of women and men taking to Twitter, Facebook and online petitions to support Fluke and condemn Limbaugh. Across the Internet, women have begun an ongoing campaign to take Limbaugh down, putting pressure on advertisers to pull funding from his show. Despite Limbaugh issuing a written and on-air apology to Fluke, around three dozen advertisers have already pulled their sponsorship and at least two stations have dropped the show altogether. Will the backlash lead to Limbaugh’s show being canceled altogether? In all likelihood, probably not. Still, the solidarity that Fluke and women across the country have shown has been inspiring.

One of the leaders of the backlash pack has been Jessica Scott, a soldier and author from Fort Hood, Texas. On March 2, Scott took to her blog to describe how, as a married soldier, she used birth control while on tour so that she could continue to perform her job without the worry of becoming pregnant. “By all means, call me a slut,” she wrote. “Calling me and every woman who chooses when to have children a slut will not change the fact that we are responsible citizens who opt to plan their families, who opt to take responsibility for their lives as women and members of our society. And yes, call me a whore because I still expect Tricare to cover my birth control and my pap smear and my government mandated annual STD exam.”

Scott also mentioned her use of birth control on Twitter, followed by the hashtag #iamnotaslut. That quickly caught on, as other women began rapidly sharing their own reasons for using birth control, which ranged from treating medical conditions to simply wanting to responsibly enjoy sex.

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In many ways, Limbaugh’s statements recall the last time the incendiary word was making headlines: during 2011’s Slutwalks. That movement began when a police officer told a group of college-aged women that they “should avoid dressing like sluts” if they wanted to prevent being raped. The backlash against that notion quickly resonated around the world, as tens of thousands of people in cities across the world marched, protesting the idea that a woman’s so-called sluttish behavior could lead to her assault. While the motivation was inarguably sound – a woman’s dress or behavior does not indicate her consent – the protest caused controversy, in part because many were wary to associate themselves with the word slut.

Remarkably, thanks to Limbaugh’s ignorant vitriol, we’re seeing a marked change in that wariness. Obviously, no matter what a radio commentator says, using birth control does not a slut make. Then again, what does? Slut is, and has long been, a nebulous word used to judge and intimidate women. And the fear of being labeled with such a derogatory slur might have at one time kept women from speaking out. In this instance, however, fear hasn’t appeared to be an issue.

Yes, it’s both depressing and infuriating that in 2012 a man would try to disgrace a woman for favoring birth control. But let’s take solace in the fact that Sandra Fluke and all of us other sluts are refusing to be ashamed.

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