There are some insults that no grown man or women should ever speak or be subjected to. If you were to compile a list of truly foul insults to hurl at women, I imagine that “slut” and “prostitute” would come pretty near the top of anyone’s list.
And blaring those words, intending to wound and discredit, through a huge megaphone to tens of millions of your ardent listeners is even worse, of course.
Rush Limbaugh’s decision last week to call Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke both of those things because she had the courage to testify to Congress in favor of insurance coverage for birth control seems to have united most Democrats and Republicans in utter revulsion.
He wasn’t finished yet, though. In exchange for access to birth control Limbaugh requested that Fluke provide a sex tape for his listeners to enjoy.
As well as being outrageous, this comment underlined a enduring contradiction in conservative thinking -- they’re all for tax cuts for the massively rich, but they tell the less well off they will have to literally put out to avail of essential health services.
That got me thinking about power and powerlessness. How you act when you have one or the other probably says more about you than anything else you will ever do.
One cannot deny the humanity of another, without diminishing one’s own, wrote James Baldwin wisely.
Limbaugh let the mask slip this week when he showed the world what he really thinks about women who use contraception for any purpose.
He gives himself a pass of course. Recall that in 2006 he was detained at a Florida airport for a bottle of Viagra in his luggage that he did not have a prescription for. Limbaugh had just returned from a stag party vacation in Dominican Republic.
But instead of criticizing him for hypocrisy or his horrifying slurs, Republican Party presidential candidates sounded like they were shaking in their shoes. There’s a good reason for that, pundit George Will said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday.
“Republican leaders are afraid of Rush Limbaugh,” he clarified.
America has a bullying problem. Everyone knows it, knows the staggering scale of it, but so few seem to want to tackle it head on.
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The words “slut” and “prostitute” and even worse are heard every day in the nation’s high school corridors. The damage they do to vulnerable students fill the nations headlines.
But still half the nation’s politicians oppose any measure whatsoever to address the situation or punish the bullies in question.
I’ve been thinking about bullying for the last two weeks since I spotted Urban Outfitters selling tables full of tried and trusted anti-Irish stereotyping for profit.
People who read my exclusive report in the Irish Voice two weeks ago were incensed, and I fielded multiple calls and emails from readers all over the nation and even from Ireland.
The one question they kept asking over and over is -- why do we stand for this?
So, why do we? I have no idea why people are reluctant to act in the face of hateful aggression from people who think they enjoy the advantage.
I don’t know why so many of us seem to think that silent acceptance is a wiser route than principled push back.
The Irish should know what a bully looks like, and by now they should know how to deal with one.
For centuries the Irish lived under a bullying oppressor that wasted no time characterizing them to the wider world as drunks, ingrates and incompetents.
For centuries we let literally other people tell our story, and we even surrendered our language to them.
What were we expecting? That justice would somehow magically prevail some day?
Yes, it was an unfair fight. But that’s exactly what attracts a bully in the first place.
Bullying challenges us to adopt creative strategies and outsmart those who would drive us down.
We’re better than this and we’re smarter than this, and when someone is being this brutally unfair is the prefect time to remind ourselves exactly how we are.
The worst thing you can do when you see yourself being bullied is to pretend that it isn’t happening.
You’ll just embolden your foe and diminish yourself.
So pop into Urban Outfitters this week, and if they have a display of anti-Irish goods on the shelves give them an earful. Or call into Rush Limbaugh and give him the riot act.
Just stop pretending it’s not happening. It is.