A great column today by Frank Bruni on “Why are scarlet letters stitched only on women?” He responds to novelist Paul Theroux, who wrote in the Daily Beast that liberals “must give Limbaugh a pass, otherwise you lose the right to go on calling Gingrich and Eric Cantor pimps for Israel, and Rick Santorum a mental midget, and if you foreswear colorful, if not robust or wicked language altogether you might as well shut up.” Here’s Bruni:
It’s an interesting point, but it ignores the precise type of language Limbaugh turned to and assumes an even playing field where one doesn’t exist.
While both men and women are called idiots and puppets and frauds, only women are attacked in terms of suspected (or flat-out hallucinated) licentiousness. And only for women is there such a brimming, insidious thesaurus of accordant pejoratives.
Decades after the dawn of feminism, despite the best efforts of everyone from Erica Jong to Kim Cattrall, women are still seen through an erotically censorious prism, and promiscuity is still the ultimate putdown.
It’s antediluvian, and it’s astonishing. You’d think our imaginations would have evolved, even if our humanity hasn’t.
Anthony Weiner may have been felled by his libido, but the weirdness of its expression and his recklessness were what people mainly balked at. Ditto for John Edwards. No one called them gigolos.
You could argue that Limbaugh chose the slurs he did for Fluke simply because the context, a debate over contraception, was in part sexual.
But there are examples aplenty of women being derided as sluts and prostitutes—two of his descriptions of Fluke—when sex is nowhere in the preamble, nowhere in the picture.