In this latest podcast, we’re talking about female sexuality and the people who attack it. Slutphobia and slut-shaming have been fashionable throughout history, and are still going strong today. But women are fighting back and taking back the S-word for themselves. I interview Chelsea Black, a sex blogger and Sarah Berry, a sex journalist, and visit the Erotica show in London, where I talk to women about their porn viewing habits.
Being the product of an inner-London state education, I have to admit my Latin ain’t what it should be. When I first encountered the term ad-hominem, used frequently enough in online debate, I had to go and Google it. It means an attack on the person rather than the idea – a simple enough concept, but the use of the neat Latin phrase is understandable, given Twitter’s 140 character limit. It’s a useful term as it describes much of the discourse of morons both online and in the mass media, and especially on the right. Given the sheep-like behaviour of right-wing morons, when an ad-hominem attack is begun in the moron media, I usually see it echoed a thousand-fold on Twitter.
This week’s example is an attack on the satirist, Bill Maher. Maher didn’t actually have to do anything to warrant the attack; what happened was a textbook exercise in the manipulation of morons. The starting point was Rush Limbaugh’s hysterical attack on Sandra Fluke, who he used as a proxy to label women who enjoy sex as sluts. Limbaugh’s attack exposed not only his hatred of women, and of female sexuality, but in the wave of support it created for him, it exposed the American Taliban’s war on sex.
While it’s easy for the truly moronic to scream about sluts, the moron-puppeteers – those who make a living winding up morons – had to be more circumspect. After all, Rush got a kicking from his advertisers; and other right-wing moron commentators, such as Michelle Malkin, didn’t want to follow that example. So the strategy was to use the right-wing staple, ad-hominem. Rather than defend the indefensible, attack someone else as a smoke screen. They chose Maher, labelling him misogynistic for attacks he’s made on Sarah Palin and others. “The liberal war on conservative women!” they screamed.
From the little coverage I looked at, Maher isn’t a misogynist. The Malkin trick is simply to label any attack on a woman, however well founded, as sexist. Who’d fall for that? Morons of course. But the point is, it’s not relevant – morons are screaming at Maher, not because he’s said anything wrong, but to try to balance out the obvious Republican hatred of women, and make it look like it exists on both ends of the political spectrum. Of course, hidden in this strategy is an admission of guilt: the Republican Party has undoubtedly declared war on female sexuality, via abortion, contraception, and simple slut-shaming. The attacks on Maher only serve to underline the lack of a defence.
The use of ad-hominem attacks by morons is frequent and entertaining. The key antidote is to not get distracted by them. Laugh, ignore and move on. After all, if the only attack you can make on Richard Dawkins’ wonderful work on promoting atheism is that his ancestor may have owned slaves, you’ve lost the argument. The fact that Obama-haters have exhausted themselves trying to prove he wasn’t born in the US is a sign of desperation. And I myself have been labelled an Alinskyite so frequently, I had to Google it to find out what it meant.
We should be heartened by the sheer stupidity of right-wing debating tactics. They’re already scraping the bottom of the barrel – where can they go next? In fact, don’t answer that – the truth could be scary.
It’s appropriate that International Women’s Day comes just after a tsunami of misogyny has swept through the more moronic sections of American society. While it’s traditional to focus on those places where being a woman seems almost unbearable – rural Afghanistan among the Taliban, or in the Democratic Republic of Congo where a rape epidemic never seems to end, for example – we’re reminded that the Western World isn’t quite as advanced as we like to think. Indeed, it seems that many women-hating morons in the West are only staying quiet about their true feelings as part of the ongoing crusade to paint Muslims as less civilised than we are.
Rush’s moronic minions echoed his slurs online. Bizarrely, many of those screaming at Fluke were the same ones screaming that Muslims disrespect women. The American Taliban is nothing if not hypocritical.
Slut-hate has been around as long as morons have, and words like slut, whore, ho, tart, slag and many other derogatory terms are thrown at women. And yet, the base meaning of Slut is: a woman who is promiscuous. To be a slut therefore, isn’t a matter of shame – the problem isn’t with the meaning of the word, but that it is used as a hate term.
When I was a teenager, a radical school student magazine called Blot existed for a little while. It ran a feature dealing with the British word Wanker (wanking means masturbation). The article made the point (obvious in hindsight, but not to a 1980s teenager) that almost everybody, male and female, wanks; therefore the shame isn’t in the act, but in the use of the word as abuse. It concluded by suggesting a comeback for anyone labelled as a wanker: “I do: don’t you?”
Similarly, the word Nigger has been a derogatory term for centuries; by reclaiming it through hip-hop (and respelling as Nigga), black Americans have, at least partially, defused its potential to sting. While once, white racists could throw the word and cause pain, today, they’re reduced to whining: “Why can black people say it, but if I do, I’m a racist?” (to which the correct answer is: “You’re a moron”).
And finally, Slut Pride has arrived; in 2011, the SlutWalk movement burst into life. Sluts proudly marched in Toronto, and then the movement rapidly spread worldwide. SlutWalk was a small part of a social revolution that ignited globally in 2011; but it was still very important. Reclaiming the S-word from bigots was a vital step towards female equality; for decades, feminists have rightly complained that men can be “sluts” without shame, and yet women can’t. SlutWalk made a statement that echoed around the globe: there is no shame in being a slut.
SlutWalk introduced a new, powerful vocabulary: slut is no longer derogatory. Bigoted attacks on sluts, like Limbaugh’s, are referred to as slut-shaming. Hatred of sluts is slutphobia. In a stroke, the tide had turned: the accusers became the accused. SlutWalk provoked rage – not just among fundamentalist morons but among the anti-sexuality wing of the feminist movement, who found themselves taking a remarkably similar line on SlutWalk to the fundamentalists.
Women cannot be free until they are sexually liberated, and don’t have to deal with slutphobic bigots who take an unhealthy interest in other people’s sex lives. We react in disgust when a raped woman in Saudi Arabia faces corporal punishment; but the slut-shaming antics of Limbaugh and his army of bigoted moron fans are little different. Limbaugh attempted to carry out a public lynching of Sandra Fluke; but here’s the good news: he failed. The American Taliban may still be powerful, but it now embarrasses the American mainstream, and it’s in retreat.
International Women’s Day must highlight the poor position of women in poor countries, but it also should highlight the problems in America. After all, this is a country that partially justifies its ongoing brutality in Afghanistan from a women’s rights perspective, and may again play this card when it attacks Iran. The US was once a global thought leader; it no longer is. It needs to get its own backyard in order rather than try to dictate to the rest of the world.
My next podcast (edition 3, if you’re counting) will be on the subject of sluttishness; you can subscribe via iTunes so you don’t miss it.