Let’s be clear: Rush Limbaugh didn’t actually apologize to Sandra Fluke and the 99% of American women that use contraception that he’s dismissed with words such as “slut” and “prostitute”. He only apologized for not using better euphemisms. He maintains that his argument—that nearly every single woman in America is irresponsible and her sexuality makes her a bad person—is still correct. And so far, Mitt Romney is on record agreeing that the problem is finding better euphemisms, and not that every woman who has sex for fun and not procreation is a bad person. I have more here at RH Reality Check, if you want to dive into this argument.
I think a lot of people are confused about why right now is the time conservatives chose to wage open war on contraception. To be clear, the anti-choice movement has been opposed to contraception use for a long time now, at least a decade. Even more “moderate” anti-choice groups like Feminists For Life circulate anti-contraception propaganda. But anti-choicers, the conservative movement, and certainly the Republican Party realized that being out about this hostility to contraception is politically toxic. That’s why they’ve really been slow in their efforts to chip away at access. The biggest anti-contraception effort prior to Obama’s election was abstinence-only education, or as I like to call it, state-funded anti-contraception propaganda.
But now it’s all-out war, with conservatives trying to kill off subsidies that make contraception affordable to low income women. This failed at the federal level, but they’re having smashing success on the state level, I’m afraid. Now it’s about trying to deny decades of precedent that classifies most forms of contraception as insurance-covered medical care, on the grounds of SLUTZ. It seems like a weird time to argue that 99% of American women are irresponsible sluts, I will admit. Which is why I think it’s a panic reaction more than it’s a a Machivallian scheme to move the needle to the right on reproductive rights. (In fact, the more conservatives bitch about contraception, the more clear it is that their antagonism to abortion is not and never was about “life”, but about hating women. The Virginia situation demonstrates this.) Conservatives often have a better read than liberals do on how macro politics affects micro politics, which is to say, they really do get how oppressed people can see progress in the larger political world, and that boosts their self-esteem and makes them feel more entitled to demand better treatment in daily life. Liberals see no co-pay contraception and think, “That’ll help women save money and lower the unintended pregnancy rate.”
Conservatives see it and think, “That’ll suggest to women that being able to have sex while retaining control over your body is your god-given right that the President went out of his way to protect. That’s going to make those bitches uppity.”
Thing is, conservatives are right on this front. While the stigma of contraception has faded over the years, some taboo still clings to it, especially for the young and disempowered. We’re still anxious about it, because we as a society haven’t completely come around to the argument that sex is good, and therefore should be pursued with minimal risks. But having the President say that contraception is a normal part of health care and that it should be classified as preventive care—that’s how normal and universal it is—sends a strong message. It suggests that the government knows you’re fucking, and they not only don’t judge you for it, but they want to make sure you’re safe. “Hey,” this move says, “Contraception is normal. Everyone uses it. It’s a public good, like indoor plumbing or electricity.” That could have profound long-term effects on reducing shame around female sexuality, and thereby giving women more self-confidence when it comes to sex. I suspect women may in fact become harder for men to push around, for instance. God knows if we can actually take the sting out of the word “slut”, fewer women will buy the line that they’re washed up harridans at age 30, and therefore have to settle down and start cooking for any man who’ll take them. You can see how this directly threatens conservative men especially.
So they’re panicking, flinging the word “slut” around a lot, and trying to preserve the sexual taboos that are being dismantled by the pro-choice movement. Unfortunately, they are seeing success.
She handed me a wrinkled piece of paper. I could tell it had been opened and closed, folded and unfolded wadded up and straightened out so many times it almost looked like it was going to fall apart in my hands.
Little miss innocent, huh? Whatever slut- you take birth control pills so you can f*&# every guy in school! What a joke- u are nothin but a whore! Pretty bad when some guy on the radio who isn’t afraid to tell the truth has to break it down for everybody- if u on the Pill u are nothing but a skank ass ho! My mom said girls on the pill are tramps who just wanna get laid and don’t care about nothin- is that how u are?
I thought I was going to throw up! I was crying- crying for my sweet daughter who was in a puddle on the front seat of my car, crying because I was so angry I didn’t know what to do first! I drove home with one arm around my daughter and one hand on the wheel; I was saying things but for the life of me I can’t remember any of what I said now. I just wanted to take the pain away from my child! I wanted to make her stop crying, wanted to erase all the horrible pain that she was feeling.
These kinds of attacks on individual women—in this case, a 16-year-old girl in high school—are only effective in an environment where the bullies can imply that using contraception and/or being sexually active is deviant. The idea is to isolate the victim, make them feel weird and different, and terrify them for it. But when you have the President in the White House talking about contraception as a normal part of health care for pretty much all women, it becomes clear that being sexually active and using contraception is the national norm, as wholesome and American as apple pie. The high levels of support for the HHS mandate suggests that most Americans are already there. This panic reaction is the last gasp of the old order trying to turn back the clock, to a time where it was scandalous for people to live together without being married, to when women who have sex with their boyfriends worry about their reputation, and when contraception was seen as embarrassing, and so some people tried their luck without getting any, and usually failed.
The thing is, as this example above shows, backsliding is possible. (If anyone in my high school was bullied for using contraception, I don’t remember it.) Which is why it’s more important than ever to talk about sex, and specifically how normal it is, how universal it is, what the benefits are, and to shame anyone who would say otherwise. We have the numbers on our side. We just need the courage. Remember, the people who think there’s something bad about women just because they fuck are the weirdoes here. Don’t be afraid to really believe that and act on it.