It has been two weeks since Rush Limbaugh made controversial remarks about Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke’s testimony regarding contraception in front of the Democratic House Steering and Policy Committee.
On his show, Limbaugh called Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” because, if insurance companies were to mandate that employers provide employees with contraception coverage, then taxpayers would be paying for women to have sex. He went on to say that if his tax dollars were paying for Fluke to have sex, he should have some sort of video evidence of the act as a payoff.
It was right for supporters to come to Fluke’s aid — she even received a personal phone call from President Barack Obama. But if I were writing this column to simply say that what Limbaugh said was bad, I think I’d be a beating a dead horse.
What I’ve been looking for over the past two weeks has been something—anything —coming to the defense of self-identified sluts and sex workers. While Limbaugh’s remarks were out of line and were certainly meant to be offensive, the issue of why they were offensive seems to have been swept under the rug.
For one, Limbaugh conflates “slut” and “prostitute.” This is inaccurate. A prostitute is someone who typically engages in “transactional erotic labor,” whereas a “slut” is generally defined as someone who sleeps around for the sake of sleeping around.
However, the word “slut” is a reclaimed term, defined as “a person of any gender who has the courage to lead life according to the radical proposition that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you,” according to “The Ethical Slut” by Dottie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt.
Liberals (although this issue is one that is fairly consistently bipartisan) were right to defend a woman who conservative politicians attempted to further marginalize because of her opinions. However, it is important for everyone to realize that by demonizing sluts and sex workers, it only perpetuates a stigmatization placed upon these people who are our sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, cousins and friends.
Sluts and prostitutes exist. Hopefully, they will be able to benefit from insurance-provided contraception available to them. (Many sex workers won’t be able to take advantage of this, however, depending on the legal status of their work and depending on the medical coverage provided to those working legally.)
Being a slut isn’t bad. If we follow Easton and Listz’s definition, a slut is a liberated individual aware of their sexuality and intent on having healthy relationships with others.
Prostitution is not bad either. It’s a job just like any other, sans its current legal status in our country. Our negative perception of both of these terms comes from an ideology passed down by those who preach that a specific “morality” is the right one. A morality that believes monogamy and misogyny are the frameworks we’ve always have and are always meant to abide by, a morality that preaches that any derivative of that discourse is inherently wrong.
I do not know whether Fluke identifies as a slut. Frankly, I don’t need to know. It’s none of my business. And it was wrong of Limbaugh to call her a slut or a prostitute because of his intentions behind it.
In speaking with NBC’s Shomari Stone, Fluke said Limbaugh and other conservatives comments were an “attempt to silence women.” Fluke is right to say so. Whenever women specifically speak about reproductive rights, they are called prostitutes, sluts and, if we are speaking about Limbaugh directly, “feminazis.” (Yes, somehow those fighting for women’s rights are comparable to administrators of genocide.)
Conservative appropriation of these terms, deemed negative by society at large, is an attempt to silence women, to keep them from speaking their minds fearing labels associated with promiscuity.
But we should all keep in mind that being a slut or sex worker does not make one a bad person or invalidate an opinion.