As many of you may have heard by now, ultra-conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh has come under harsh criticism for his especially misogynist, inaccurate, and creepy comments about Sandra Fluke, the graduate student from Georgetown University who was denied a seat on the all-male panel at last month’s congressional hearing on birth control. Fortunately, she did eventually get her day to speak, though not as an official part of the hearing. House Democrats on the committee (not being able to call their own hearing because they are in the minority) organized a forum for her to share her testimony. She provided poignant information on why access to cost-free birth control is such an important and necessary part of women’s health, and shared stories to personalize her message, showing that policy decisions are not abstract but fundamentally effect real women, their partners, and their families.
Rush Limbaugh’s response included the following:
What does it say about the college co-ed Susan [Sandra] Fluke…who goes before a congressional committee and says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? Makes her a prostitute.
He also said that her parents should be embarrassed of her, and should disconnect their phone line and hide from the neighbors to avoid the shame. These comments prompted President Obama to call Sandra Fluke to thank her for speaking out on such an important issue and to say that her parents should be very proud of her.
There were two comments though that stunned me even more than a misogynist calling sexually active women sluts. One absolutely grossed me out, and the complete ignorance of the other shocked me most of all. So let’s get to it.
I should warn you that this is excessively creepy.
Ms. Fluke and the rest of you femi-Nazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to ay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. And I’ll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.
Limbaugh tried to defend himself by claiming that he has no power to control female sexuality, yet he is suggesting here that the only way to legitimize a woman making the personal decision to have sex is to do so for the public entertainment of strangers. If men she doesn’t know can’t benefit from her sexuality, then she shouldn’t be allowed to act on it. The purpose of her sexuality becomes something she has no control over. She acts for others instead of for herself. Her own pleasure become irrelevant.
The problem with Limbaugh’s statement isn’t just the epic perviness- it is the complete disregard for female sexual pleasure and the inability to grasp that women make valid sexual decisions solely for the purposes of their own pleasure. He can’t understand that women make sexual decisions that have nothing to do with men. Female sexuality does not exist FOR men. It exists for women. Women own their sexuality just as men own male sexuality, and whoever you have sex with it should be for no one else but you, no matter who your partner is.
While there’s no denying the outrage that such a misogynist comment rightly deserves, I was actually more stunned by the following comments, which make it clear that people who have absolutely no idea how birth control and pregnancy work should not in any way be involved in policy decisions regarding women’s health.
Your daughter goes up to a congressional hearing…and testifies she’s having so much sex she can’t afford her own birth control pills.
It’s no different than if someone knocked on my door, that I don’t know, and said, “You know, I’m out of money. I can’t afford birth control pills and I’m supposed to have sex with 3 guys tonight.”
I’m sure you see the problem here. MSNBC news host Rachel Maddow put it most simply and accurately on her show this week:
You don’t need more birth control to keep you not pregnant from more sex.
I am legitimately stunned. How the hell are their grown people ignorant enough to believe that you have to take a birth control pill before each time you have sex? Not only is this a stunning example of the consequences of abstinence-only programs, this is embarrassing! Birth control pills don’t work that way!
So I’ve decided to make this a teachable moment. Listen up kids; this is how birth control pills work!
Birth control pills are a prescription medication that most women get from their gynecologist. Most women use birth control pills to prevent pregnancy. However, many women use them for non-pregnancy related health issues and can get a prescription from their regular doctor. To be effective, you have to take the pill once a day every day, regardless of the primary reason you take it and regardless of if you anticipate having sex that day. To prevent pregnancy, birth control pills work in three ways.
1) They thicken the mucus around the cervix (the opening to the uterus at the top of the vagina). This makes it harder for sperm to reach the egg.
2) They delay the release of an egg from the ovary, reducing the amount of time that an egg is waiting in the fallopian tube.
3) They lessen the monthly build-up of tissue along the uterine walls, making it harder for an egg to attach to it. Menstruation is the process of the uterus emptying itself of the unused extra tissue- which is why getting your period means you’re not pregnant.
Taking the pill once a day every day protects you from pregnancy. How often you have sex is irrelevant. It works the same way every day no matter what you do.
Limbaugh’s absolute ignorance of this is especially dangerous because it coincides with his instance that (largely) old, white, privileged males in public office (who have also proudly proven their ignorance of women’s health a hundred times over) should be in charge of making medical decisions for women, dictating which women have access to medial care, and outlining what doctors are allowed to tell their patients and how visits are to be conducted.
If you don’t understand how birth control and pregnancy work then shut your mouth and pick up a book. Seriously. How can we move forward as a country if most of our elected officials don’t even know the most basic aspects of women’s health care? Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is extremely dangerous.