Rush Limbaugh recently made headlines for calling young Georgetown University student Sandra Fluke some rather unsavory names after she addressed Congress about birth control needing to be covered by all insurance companies for a variety of reasons. Limbaugh called her a slut, a prostitute, and stated that if insurance had to pay for her birth control, she should post her sex tapes online so that he and the rest of us could watch them.
And while Limbaugh has most definitely been faced with a great deal of backlash for his three-day tirade about the young woman (including over forty some sponsors pulling their advertising from his radio show), this is just the latest incident of a troubling societal problem. Another example is Bill Maher’s blatant, repetitive attacks on Sarah Palin, when he called her a slang, derogatory term used to refer to the female genitals. Some individuals may feel that comments like Limbaugh’s and Maher’s are not a big deal, and that while hurtful and mean, they are just words.
They are words, but words have power. They have the power to change the way a person thinks, to influence the way a person acts, and how a person treats another person. If you can degrade a woman to the point that she is just an object and not a real person, it is that much easier to commit an act of violence toward her, or to look away while someone else does it, or even to blame that woman for the violence committed against her.
All a person needs to do to see this is pick up a newspaper in almost any city, on almost any day of the week to find an example of this. The focus is almost always on the victim, rather than on the perpetrator. How many of us have heard about a sexual assault and instead of asking ourselves or those around us, “why did that man rape that woman?,” we ask questions like, “well, what was she wearing?” or “Why was she out at that time of night?” or “How much did she have to drink when the ‘incident’ happened?” As if the answers to those questions will somehow assure us that as long as we don’t dress a certain way, don’t go out a certain time of night, don’t drink alcohol, etc., etc., etc., we ourselves will be exempt from sexual assault.
Anyone can be a victim of violence, but our society has this tendency to place blame on the victim rather than where it belongs: on the person who committed the actual violence. We must learn to change our thinking if we ever hope to live in a world where systematic violence against women is not a common, every day thing as it is now. It is estimated that 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. Right now, a woman in the United States is raped every two minutes.
We must be willing to reject the status quo, we must be willing to take a stand and to rise up and tell the perpetrators that this kind of violence is NOT acceptable in our country. And we must change our own flawed way of thinking. Because until we do that, those statistics aren’t going to get better.