Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"THAT COULD BE YOU!": The Unpardonable Sin Of "Speaking Out While Female"

There were so many infuriating things about Rush Limbaugh's recent 3-day tirade against Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke that it was hard to decide which was the worst: Rush's dragging Ms. Fluke's name through the mud for three consecutive days. His requesting access to video of her and other Georgetown coeds having sex as "payment" for his supposed subsidizing of her their sex lives via taxes. His conveying false information (either wittingly or unwittingly) of how contraception AND employer insurance plans work. His so-called "apology" in which he played the victim. And let's not forget the unwillingness of any of the GOP Presidential candidates except Ron Paul to stand up against Limbaugh, as if he were Keyser Soze (which, to them, he probably is).

But I've managed to figure out the one element which pissed me off the most:

The message.

This wasn't just a simple case of one brief inappropriate word or two, as Limbaugh seemed to imply in his non-apology. This was a 3-day, 3-hour-per-day sustained attack. Instead of an uncontrolled slip of the tongue, this was a calculated on-air verbal assault of a female private figure, carefully worded so that he could just narrowly sidestep the risk of slander charges. This wasn't done on impulse. It was done to make an example of Fluke, particularly to any other women who might have the temerity to speak out in a similar fashion. It was done to send a deliberate message to those women.

The message:


It's a message, unfortunately, that outspoken women are all-too-used to hearing. It was the same message they received in the wake of the Anita Hill hearings 21 years ago. One they've heard in their workplaces over the years. One that they've heard when other women like them have tried to seek redress for sexual assaults or harassment committed against them. One they hear constantly.

"You see how Sandra Fluke is getting maligned for speaking out on birth control? THAT COULD BE YOU!"

"You see that rape victim getting humiliated in court? THAT COULD BE YOU!"

"You see how that female gamer is getting sexually harassed relentlessly online? THAT COULD BE YOU!"

Translation: If you're a female and you want to speak out, prepare to be relentlessly attacked -- no holds barred!

In Fluke's case, "no holds barred" meant being the subject of 3 days of vicious smears and false allegations about her sex life and sexual history, as well as those of other women in her alma mater.

But it can mean so much worse.

Just ask any female blogger who attempts to express her opinions on controversial topics. Ask them about the comments they have to delete or the internet trolls who harass and even threaten them online. I joined Twitter last summer, and I'll be damned if I've ever gone one week without reading about at least one horror story from at least one of my female fellow Twitterati about one of these trolls. Whether it's Laura Hudson or Sue from DC Women Kicking Ass criticizing the treatment of female characters in comics, or it's Karoli over at Crooks And Liars criticizing Ron Paul, these women are subject to a constant barrage of cyber- harassment, whether it's degrading insults and sexual insinuations or even extreme measures like rape threats and death threats and even threats against family members. Unfortunately, internet trolls are a fact of life for female bloggers. Hiding behind their perceived anonymity, these cowards have no boundaries, no limits on the depths to which they will stoop. To them, no threat is too severe.

And why? Because their unfortunate targets committed the oh-so-unpardonable crime of Speaking Out While Female (SOWF). Apparently, having their opinions and behavior challenged is too much for some people to bear. And like cornered lions, they lash out at those challenging them. But they take their attacks to disproportionate extremes.

The effect of these relentless assaults, unfortunately, is to discourage too many women and girls to avoid speaking out or blogging entirely. The sickening part is that, to the likes of Limbaugh, that negative effect on women isn't a glitch; it's a feature.

I'm speaking about this from the perspective of someone who's been completely untouched directly by this type of online terrorism. In my nearly 5 years of blogging, the worst thing I've had to deal with in the comments I've received is the occasional piece of spam. This is for many reasons. It's partially because I operate a little-known blog. It's partially because roughly 95% of my comments come from Sally, and the rest come mostly from either Ami, Saranga, or my Friday Night Fights compadres, none of whom post anything threatening or offensive.

But it's mostly because I'm male.

Yes, it's true that men can face ridicule and derision for speaking out in predominantly-female environments. (Here's an experiment: Go to, identify as a male commenter and post a dissenting opinion. Then see how many posts it takes before somebody makes insulting comments about your "poor widdle feewings getting hurt". My guess: Not many.) But that's just a drop in the bucket compared to what women online face.

But what's happened to Limbaugh in the wake of his attacks on Fluke is an encouraging sign. You see, the problem with sending stark messages is that you can't always control who is receiving them, or how people are perceiving them. While many women DID perceive Limbaugh's message as "THAT COULD BE YOU!", their reaction was not fear, but anger. Other men and women perceived Limbaugh's message as "THAT COULD BE MY WIFE, OR MY GIRLFRIEND, OR MY SISTER, OR MY DAUGHTER, OR MY NIECE!!" And they responded accordingly.

And what they all did next was a thing of beauty.

It was like the members of social networks like Facebook and Twitter essentially rose up as one to denounce Limbaugh and his remarks. People voiced their concerns to the show's sponsors, who pulled out in droves.

I'm glad that worked because I hope it encourages more actions like that. I have nieces who are only a few years younger than Fluke. Also, if my child is a daughter, I don't want her to have to deal with this shit decades from now.

Misogynists like Limbaugh keep sending their message. Let's send our message to them:

We're all SICK of your fucking message.


At 6:19 AM , Blogger Saranga said...

I am horrified by what I've heard about the stuff happening in America recently.

Tell me, this anti-abortion/contraception stuff, is it confined to Texas and Arizona (for Arizona, read this: or are other states looking to bring in similar legislation?

At 5:36 AM , Blogger notintheface said...

It seems to be confined to states where Republicans dominate. Imagine the far right faction of the Tories if they'd REALLY let their election victories go to their heads, and that's what it's like with the right here.

At 1:25 PM , Blogger SallyP said... rock.

So hard.

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