The silence of the lions
In the wake of “Slutgate,” the operative argument seems to have devolved into a barnyard taunt: “My pig isn’t as bad as your pig.”
This pithy summation comes from Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren, who has been leading the charge against vile language used to describe women in the public square. Among other things, Van Susteren deserves credit for single-handedly shaming the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association into parting ways with its headliner for this year’s dinner, comedian Louis C.K.
On her blog, “Gretawire,” she promised to boycott the dinner and invited others to join the protest. Her reasons should be clear with a quick scan of C.K.’s shtick, which we’ll get to shortly. But first a word about some of the other offenders and why we need to have this conversation.
As many have observed lately, including Peggy Noonan, who last week wrote a powerful column about misogyny aloft in the land, Rush Limbaugh isn’t the only culprit to use the word “slut” and “prostitute” to describe a woman with whom he disagreed. MSNBC’s Ed Schultz called radio host Laura Ingraham a slut and later apologized. Limbaugh, who reserved his comments for a 30-year-old law student, Sandra Fluke, also apologized, if begrudgingly once sponsors began pulling away.
And, of course, everyone remembers what happened to Don Imus when he referred to a women’s basketball team, which happened to be mostly African-American, as “nappy-headed hos.” There isn’t sufficient space here to comb the history of slurs—or how we got to this point from the hilarious “Jane, you ignorant slut” skit from the original “Saturday Night Live,” though a quick note of distinction bears mentioning: Jane Curtin was in on the joke. And, remember, she countered with: “Dan (Aykroyd), you pompous ass.”
Like most women in the media, I’ve grown accustomed to vile and vicious attacks. It’s part of the marinade in which we swim now. I’ve always figured, well, that’s the game. Get tough. Hit delete. Deal.
But my feelings, raw as they may be at times, are not what matters. What does matter is that our children are growing up in a world that believes it’s OK to denigrate women. They are witnesses to adults laughing at jokes about women being sluts, whores and worse. When the object of derision is aimed at Sarah Palin, “jokes” are even made about her Down syndrome child.
Which brings us back to Louis C.K., whose “jokes” are so beyond anything we should find funny that it’s hard to comprehend how he was selected to amuse a gathering of journalists. Of Palin, he says: “her f——— retard-making c—-” and “the baby that just came out of her f——— disgusting c—-.”
If you’re not disgusted, please leave now. Similarly, though not nearly as graphically, comedian Bill Maher has called Palin a “dumb t—-.” Palin supporters and others concerned with decency have wondered where the outrage was then. Fair question.
Many also wonder why President Obama, who found time to call Fluke out of concern for his own daughters, never raised his voice for Palin. Or why he’s accepting a $1 million contribution from Maher to his super PAC. Like any candidate, Obama doesn’t control his super PAC, but he does control his voice, and it has been notably silent about certain women.
Let’s be clear: Demeaning women for fun and profit may be legal and permissible in a free society, but it shouldn’t be acceptable. The argument that comedians fall into a different category is valid to a point, but journalists and public leaders don’t have to be parties to their act. It isn’t funny, even if some women apparently think so.
Therein lies at least half the problem. As long as women are yukking it up alongside men while women are reduced to disposable sexual objects and their children regarded as sub-human, well, we have a ways to go. And though such remarks may not hurt successful women like Van Susteren, who is the longest-sitting news anchor on cable TV, they do hurt young women and little girls.
And they also hurt young men and especially little boys, who adore their mothers and who, provided the right example, are capable of becoming the honorable and decent men everyone, including the president, hopes their daughters will marry.
In the barnyard we call American culture, a pig is a pig is a pig.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.