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and the slut-shaming of America

The only way to hurt a salesman is to hit him in his money.

“Slut! Whore! All right, good show, everybody.”

Asshole Controversial blowhard radio personality Rush Limbaugh, the nuclear testing ground for tomorrow’s GOP election-year rhetoric, has formally somewhat apologized except not really for calling Georgetown law student/activist Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” after six, no wait, seven, eight, no, nine advertisers recently pulled their advertising from his radio show. Republicans, seeing the invisible hand of the marketplace’s middle finger, wasted no time falling in line, revealing their own personal idiosyncrasies as they did so: House Speaker John Boehner quietly harrumphed that the slut-shaming was “inappropriate,” Rick Santorum tried to dismiss Limbaugh as an “entertainer,” and Newt “Dick Move” Gingrich banked the controversy off the far wall, slamming the President instead for daring to get involved by calling Fluke personally, presumably to invite her to the White House for a beer. (Mitt Romney, the Sphinx of billionaires, managed to give a statement that, somehow, allowed him to stay above the fray entirely. He refuses to take a position on anything, which is why everyone hates him and will make him a Presidential nominee.)

So, we can all go home now, right? No. For one thing, the fallout is still falling all over the Party of Uniters; the story’s grown so big that anonymous freelancers are even beginning new blogs by commenting on it. (Any minute now, Donald Trump will weigh in.) More importantly, however, it points to the unholy cultural union of conservative small-government ideology and evangelical proselytizing that, like everything else about politics, has devolved over the past 30 years into one big tinfoil hat party. And this one is the grandest of all.

Ronald Reagan and his soon-to-be-installed neocon army got the ball rolling on this sort of rhetoric way back in the mellow, bell-bottomed days of 1976, when the former Hollywood b-list celeb decried the latest menace to the country, a woman from the South Side of Chicago who was committing massive welfare fraud.

“She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands,” he claimed. “And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.”

Of course, this “welfare queen,” as she later came to be known, didn’t exist. She was a composite of welfare fraud cases who weren’t stealing nearly that much money. (About 2 percent of claims were proven to be fraudulent; exactly two known cases are verified as having pulled in those kind of figures.) These were mostly white men and women creating lots of fake identities. But as the meme got fleshed out in the 1980s, it became about women, specifically poor black women, who were having lots and lots of babies in order to get welfare checks. This resonated with white America’s image of blacks as lazy, but also of male America’s image of women as shameless whores. And the Rush quotes – which, as his website transcripts show, were even worse than the media reported — are important because they come from the same playbook. Here are the words that brought on the shitstorm:

What does it say about the college co-ed Susan (sic) 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? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception.

Even for Lindsay Lohan, this is a lot of pills.

This invective was brought on by Fluke’s statement that it can cost $3,000 for contraception for female law-school students like herself. These numbers are correct: whether you accept Planned Parenthood’s own national average for the cost of birth-control pills ($32.50/mo) or the government’s ($50/mo), you come out with, over the seven years it takes to become a lawyer, a bill that falls somewhere between $2730 and $4200. The way you know that this cartoon boogeyman of a slut is aimed at the fears of men – besides the fact that it’s Rush’s creation – is the way it assumes that birth control costs more if you have a lot of sex. It doesn’t. It’s not as if the OB-GYN says, “My, my, Miss Kardashian! Look at that thing! This is gonna cost you. Can you get my clipboard out of there? I’m afraid it fell in.”

The message is clear, as it has been for these guys since the advent of “The Pill” in the ‘60s: only loose women need birth control. Rush even assisted Santorum moneyman Foster Friess in bringing back that old hateful joke about putting aspirin between your knees in order to avoid pregnancy. Forget preventing ovarian cysts (which is the specific issue Fluke testified about, not sex), or controlling periods, or taking contraceptives prophylactically, literally, in order to be ready in case a sexual encounter does occur. Like the welfare queen, the welfare slut loves to be on her back, which means the taxpayer’s back. Instead of paying for her babies, we’re paying for her to not have babies.

Georgetown University, where Fluke studies, was founded by Jesuits but is only partially staffed by them. It celebrates its Jesuit tradition – and does not allow contraceptives to be sold on campus. (The nearest available off-campus outlet is about a mile away.) Yet it’s no bastion of virginity. It’s Bill Clinton’s alma mater, okay?

The President’s new proposal, which is the real center of this shitfuffle, states that a religion-based university or medical center which receives taxpayer dollars– not a church – should include contraceptive coverage in its employees health care plans. As it happens, this is not true of Georgetown: the many non-Christians who work there, and get hundreds of millions from the government to do so, are actually covered. Students, however, are not, regardless of their personal views on religion or birth control. The university doesn’t believe its students should able to prevent unwanted babies at the same time they are able to afford the occasional flu bug or teeth cleaning.

Clearly asking for it. Look what she’s wearing.

Fluke was called to testify because the Democrats wondered if five male clergymen alone should make that decision for the secular world, and thanks to committee chairman Darrell Issa (R – Duh), her testimony was denied. She was, after all, “just” a student – and a noted feminist, activist, and former President of Law Students for Reproductive Justice. Later, the right alleged that Fluke specifically decided on Georgetown as her law school because it was a perfect testing ground for her heresy, thus branding her a fraud as well as a whore. A fraud like Homer Plessy or John Scopes, both of whom specifically challenged a rule in order to focus attention on its idiocy.

None of this will matter to the evangelicals, who apparently consider anything that stops a sperm from entering an egg a bad idea: like Santorum, they feel pregnancy is a God-given rape-gift that must not be denied. Don’t want to get pregnant, adult college co-ed living on her own? Don’t be such a slut next time! Don’t expect us to pay for the babies you’re not having that aren’t a drain on the economy with our government check that you paid for.

And if you still think this is about the “religious freedom” to deny women the freedom to live as they please, there’s Sen. Roy Blunt’s recent contraceptive proposal, which would have allowed any employer to decide whether or not you should be a harlot on your own time. It failed – by exactly three votes.