Context is paramount when you’re dealing with topics of race, gender stereotypes and the offensive vernacular associated with them.
I wouldn’t normally bring up a media
shit storm brought about by Rush Limbaugh because, frankly, that happens pretty much every day, but this last kerfuffle is worth the time.
In the most basic way I can explain it, here’s what happened: A Georgetown student testified in front of Congress as to why she needed help paying for birth control.
Rush Limbaugh called her a slut.
Then, the world ended.
Ok, not really, but you’d have thought it did the way liberals were wailing and gnashing their teeth over Limbaugh’s inflammatory statements. It was as if they’d never thought he’d say something just to be controversial. More on that later.
But then something truly incredible happened. A liberal woman came to the scene with a fresh perspective: why are we vilifying Rush and not the liberal media figures who are equally if not more misogynistic and/or racist?
Kirsten Powers’ column for The Daily Beast was extraordinary. She called it “Rush Limbaugh Isn’t the Only Media Misogynist.”
She offers example after example of misogyny from Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, Matt Taibbi, Ed Schultz and particularly Bill Maher whom Powers called the “Grand poo-bah of media misogyny.”
Powers never intends to defend Rush Limbaugh, nor does she. Either will I.
What she does mean to do is call into question the way we view the messengers. Why do people give passes to liberal misogyny and not conservative misogyny?
The answer is somewhat complicated, but the biggest reason is based on what is referred to as confirmation bias. You have a belief, in this case that Republicans dislike women (an untenable position, but a liberal point of view nonetheless), and you hear Rush Limbaugh make a comment using a gender slur.
Now your already established bias is confirmed.
You hear Chris Matthews or Bill Maher, with whom you agree on issues, use those same words (Bill Maher once called Sarah Palin a “dumb twat,” while Matthews has repeatedly demeaned Hillary Clinton with condescending misogyny) and because liberals purportedly love women, you give them a pass.
There have been two big arguments I’ve heard from liberals on this topic. Somehow they all got the e-mail MSNBC sent out with the liberal talking points (I’m just assuming this happens because they all make the same arguments).
The first is that Bill Maher is a comedian and so if he calls Sarah Palin the “c-word” it’s about pushing the boundaries, not about misogyny.
Yes and no. Comedians get more room to use offensive words because they make us laugh. It may make the word “cunt,” less cringe-worthy for some of us if we’re laughing about it, but it doesn’t make that word less misogynistic.
This goes back to my original point about context. There are certain phrases or words we allow in certain situations. I think most of us can agree to the offensiveness of the “c-word” in any context.
More to the point, just because we give tacit consent of a word’s use by laughing at the joke, doesn’t make the word or the context any less misogynistic. Comedians use gender stereotypes and social taboos to craft comedy. The shock value helps them get laughs, but it doesn’t make the word or it’s use less misogynistic.
Second, liberals will argue that Limbaugh calling a private citizen a slut is different than Bill Maher calling Sarah Palin a “c-word” because one is a private citizen and the other isn’t.
This is the slipperiest of slopes for gender stereotypes. If we make one situation acceptable, or at least “more acceptable” then where do we draw the line?
Think about if your sister or a close female friend posted a YouTube video of herself singing (or something), and people called her a slut. She made herself public, are we going to allow her to be bashed in this way?
We ought not to, but that’s the defense liberals are offering. Furthermore, to say that a public person opens them up to these kinds of heinous jokes is like saying the girls with the low-cut top opens herself up to being sexually assaulted.
No one has the right to sexually assault you, just like no one has the right to call you a “stupid twat,” whether it’s comedy or you’re a public person or otherwise.
Liberals will also argue that if the roles were reversed, people would be just as outraged. Except we know that isn’t true. Powers documents just a few of the offensive things said by left-wing media personalities that have no extensive backlash.
We don’t even need to delve into the murky waters of hypothetical situations to offers examples. In fact, just the other day a liberal talk show host made fun of families in the South devastated by tornadoes, explaining that it was God who destroyed their lives as part of an anti-religion rant.
He was being facetious of course, but can you imagine something more callous than to castigate people whose lives have been utterly destroyed by no fault of their own for believing in God? What if Rush Limbaugh had said that AIDS was just God’s way of wiping out homosexuals in a similar sarcastic tone?
He’d be picketed off the air.
This is confirmation bias at work. It happens in the political realm and in our own daily lives. Rush Limbaugh shouldn’t have called that student a slut, but hopefully this moment has been a teachable one for those paying attention. It should give us all an opportunity to think about what injustices we tolerate in the name of our own confirmation biases.