Rush Limbaugh beat me to it.
There I was, trying to explain to my Mom last weekend about the sense that the "insured contraception mandate" discussion was not, as Republicans claimed, about religion, but indeed about contraception, I also said, as a follow-on, that I thought the subtext of the "debate" - and the reason Republicans got some traction on it - was because the real issue was sex, and Americans are uncomfortable with talking about that.
And then Rush Limbaugh took the subtext and made it text.
If there's something heartening about the latest Rush furor, I think it may be that feminism finally had a clear example of "slut shaming" that made an often abstract discussion very literal. Slut Shaming is trying to marginalize voices, especially women's voices, in political discussions by calling people things like sluts and whores, implications that are negative, sexual, and promiscuous. Sandra Fluke, a law student at Georgetown, was offering a reasonable, thoughtful take one the issues of contraceptive cost and availability, and there was Rush, to call her a slut and a whore.
Unfortunately, I suspect that raising awareness about Slut Shaming is about as good as it gets; what's really problematic here is that conservatives will continue to get truck out of the contraceptive debate because liberals, even as they defended and praised Sandra Fluke, tended to run away from the uncomfortable aspect of the contraception debate that is the reality of our American cuture: that is, that we are nation at once obsessed about sex and deeply conflicted about the issues around it. And the idea of people having sex, especially a great deal of it, tends to raise flags about morality that cloud reasonable policy discussions.
Which is to say... it's fine if you want contraception, ladies... just don't be all sexed up about it.
It's true that, as a medication, hormonal birth control has a number of uses - it reduces some symptoms of PMS, helps to treat ovarian cysts, and so on. It's also the case that the arrival of the pill was a big factor in changing a whole generation's notion of sexual freedom. Sex that is largely free of the risks of pregnancy (but not, let's note, STDs) takes away a huge impasse in consensual sex for heterosexuals.
This, at bottom, is the uncomfortable issue many people don't want to touch when it comes to the availability of contraception (no room for snarky double entendres, please; we're Americans). The idea that contraceptives facilitate easier, freer notions about sexual behavior and sexual activity is a subject fraught with moral judgments. And those judgments are not, despite a lot of brave talk, confined only to religious conservatives. That's why "slut shaming" actually works - no one, even a lot of liberal, free thinking, quite sexual people, wants to be labeled as slutty or loose.
Here's another example: there's plenty of people to stand up and speak for the ideas that limiting access to contraception is anti-woman and anti-women's health; there's lots of people to point out that nearly everyone - some 98 or 99% of women - have used contraception at one point or another in their lives.
Is there anyone, really, speaking up for the notion that we need to make contraception less expensive because people like getting laid? And frankly, getting laid more often, which most people actually want?
Sexual promiscuity are the two dirtiest words in American politics; not because conservatives oppose sex, but because liberals reflect the real dichotomy of American notions of sex and sexuality. It's all good, so long as sex is hidden away, not talked about, and preferably, when it is, we talk about it in the context of longer term relationships. Not just marriage, but serial monogamy, committed dating... that sort of thing. When the discussion turns to people who sleep around, singles who seek out additional partners, swinging, orgies... then everyone starts to tense up. We make fun of it. We joke about hookers and tramps... and we call people slutty, and promiscuous whores.
Melissa Harris Perry - who I am now convinced may well be the brightest accident MSNBC happened upon - is the only person I heard make the point this week, about Sandra Fluke and Rush's Slut Shaming: so what if she's promiscuous? So what if she likes having sex? What possible change does that make to her reasonable point that access to contraception is made more difficult for students like her, who attend Catholic universities, where heath insurance coverage - for students, and workers who may not share their institution's views on things like contraception - is allowed to deny them coverage of medical services they need?
As heartening as it is that Rush Limbaugh - an already marginalized figure on the right who has had little real impact on national or Presidential politics in at least the last year - has been made to back down on Slut Shaming, the underlying reality is still operating: calling women, or anyone for that matter, a promiscuous whore is the easiest way to marginalize their voice. The contraception debate we're having is not really helpful because, at base, Americans get skittish admitting the obvious, that people want to make contraception more affordable primarily because it helps facilitate additional sexual activity. All the wringing of hands we have about "cultural" issues - the "coarsening" of our culture, the encroaching presence of exual behavior in our advertising and entertainment (the "porn"-ing of everything), even the increased visibility and acceptance of gays - comes down to discomfort in accepting that all of this is about people having sex, liking sex, and wanting more of it. And you people - us people - of easy virtue, loose living tramps, and promiscuous tarts... you've been warned, people: either speak up, or this nonsense will continue.
And I say,,, let's talk about sex... and for fuck's sake, let's stop pretending we don't like it.