The War Being Waged Against Knowledge and Female Autonomy

BlogHer Original Post

Last week Rush Limbaugh called a female Georgetown student a "slut" and "prostitute" for supporting the provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that will provide women with free oral contraceptives. Facing national outrage and the very real threat that he could lose many of his advertisers, Limbaugh finally issued what many have termed "an apology" on his site, which reads:

For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.

I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit? In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone's bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level.

My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.

His statement, unfortunately, fails to address the real issue in question, which is Limbaugh's complete disregard for the truth. Through it, he continues to deceive, inveigle and obfuscate, reinforcing the belief that asking insurance companies to provide birth control as part of the provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is something Americans are going to have to pay for.

This is false. According to a statement from President Obama, the insurance companies are the entities expected to cover the cost of providing birth control to women. The hard-working American public, which deserves better healthcare regardless of who they are, will not be footing the bill. Further, the contraceptive pill will not be coming to all and sundry for free: women who will be able to receive for free are women who already pay or receive for health insurance.


"Am I a bad person, Mom?" via Shutterstock.

The point of this provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is to make preventive measures affordable by eliminating co-payments and deductibles that the insurance companies have convinced us that we need to pay despite the fact that we already pay them a significant amount of money for coverage. This isn't really a battle against the hardworking American public in an attempt to get them to pay for our slutty antics. This is a measure that reminds insurance companies what they're supposed to be doing: helping us to cover our health costs, with an emphasis on preventive care.

Another point reinforced by Limbaugh in his apology is that Congress has no business hearing about sexual antics. I agree with that -- the government has no business in our bedrooms or our hearts. Unfortunately, we live in a world where policing both has become federal business. That said, Sandra Fluke did not come before Congress to speak about her sex life -- that fallacy has been spread by Limbaugh himself to the detriment of all women in this nation. Perhaps if the nation wasn't so opposed to sexual education people like Limbaugh and those who agree with him would understand that the contraceptive pill is not only used to prevent pregnancy.

I strongly believe that a general disregard for women and for the conditions that affect women is the main culprit behind statements like those made by the popular conservative commentator. But before you run off on a tangent about the inherent misogyny of conservative political ideologies, allow me to point out that a dangerous disregard for women's health isn't anything new. The Bible itself refers to menstruating women as unclean. Men of science as far back as the 13th century referred to menstruation as venomous. In the 1920s, Béla Schick, who developed the test for diphtheria by the same name, became convinced that menstruating women gave off a toxin in their sweat.

As Kate Clancy, an assistant professor of anthropology who studies medicine of women's reproductive physiology, writes in a column on Scientific American about the evolution of the study of the so called "menotoxin," Schick's theory kicked off decades of destructive research:

What's worse, the presence of the menotoxin in the female body began to expand beyond menstruation. Any woman who was post-menarcheal and pre-menopausal [of reproductive age] could be found to have the menotoxin in her system. She could not escape it: some reported that the menotoxin could be found in a woman's menstrual blood, but also venous blood, sweat, and breastmilk. One case study reports that a mother gave her child asthma because she was menotoxic during pregnancy (Perlstein and Matheson, 1936), and several contended that colic was caused by menotoxin in breastmilk (Ashley-Montagu 1940; Perlstein and Matheson, 1936).

Not only did the idea of the menotoxin become a ubiquitous menace around any reproductively-aged woman, it began to explain pathology. So the menotoxin, which first was an explanation for the presence of menstruation in women, became a way of diagnosing women as ill... and again, since now all reproductively-aged women could secrete it from any bodily fluid at any time, the state of being female essentially made one pathological.

Woman is unclean. Woman is toxic. Woman is pathological. Why study woman? This same bias toward women affected other areas of research -- even that dealing with desire, a question we still haven't quite answered for women, though we are finally considering it. I say finally because of how little progress has been made on the topic since Freud asked himself "What do women want?" over a century ago despite ample research done on the topic for men. The female body, though it comprises half of the world population, has received far less consideration than that of the male.

While women are no longer characterized as pathological by virtue of being women alone, and while scientific inquiry has expanded to explore issues affecting women and their health, much remains to be done about educating the general population about issues relating to women's health. For all the information brought to our fingertips by the advances in technology made in our time, despite the increased rates of literacy we enjoy compared to past eras, we continue to disregard the female body. We shun sexual education because our fear of promiscuity is greater than our belief that our daughters can lead better, healthier lives through a basic understanding of their own bodies. We assume anatomy and physiology, despite being a wide subject, is enough to educate them, and health and wellness, despite being another vast subject as well, can fill in the blanks.

But they can't. These topics can't fill in the blanks. If Rush Limbaugh and those who agree with him knew anything about women's bodies and female health, they would know that the oral contraceptive pill is not only used to prevent pregnancy. Lacking that, allow me tell you about five conditions that women experience, complete with the percentages of women who suffer them to paint a picture of the affected population who need access to the contraceptive pill through insurance:

Polycystic ovary syndrome, also known as PCOS, is a hormone-related disorder in women which affects one in five women of reproductive age and is one of the biggest causes of substantially decreased fertility. It is characterized by an overabundance of male hormones (androgens); lack of ovulation; and excessive menstrual periods, very few menstrual periods or no periods at all, which can lead to abnormalities in the womb and even cancer. PCOS has also been linked to obesity and insulin resistance -- in fact, women with PCOS are at risk for type II diabetes, high blood pressure, lipid disorders, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, and autoimmune thyroiditis. The contraceptive pill is used to regulate the hormone imbalances associated with PCOS.

Dysmenorrhea is a condition that results in extreme pain during menstruation, which is debilitating and different from menstrual cramps. Dysmenorrhea also causes nausea, dizziness, disorientation, diarrhea, constipation, and fatigue. It affects 25 percent of the female population, and 90 percent of sexually mature teen girls. Pain can begin shortly after ovulation and continue until the end of a woman's cycle. Because the pain is produced by the changes in hormonal levels in the body, the birth control pill is used to treat the condition.

Endometriosis is a condition which results when the lining of the uterus begins to grow outside the uterine cavity. It is estimated that between 10 and 20 percent of American women of reproductive age suffer from endometriosis. Symptoms include dysmenorrhea; chronic abdominal, lower back, rectal and leg pain; painful sex; painful urination; and chronic fatigue. Complications from endometriosis include scarring of the Fallopian tubes, ovaries, uterus, bladder and the intestines; cysts in the pelvis and ovaries; bowel perforation; and complications during pregnancy. It has also been linked with infertility. It is treated with the contraceptive pill, which provides estrogen support and can be used to either reduce or eliminate menstrual flow.

Adenomyometritis occurs when an abnormal thickening of the uterine lining invades other layers of the uterus, causing heavy periods, long periods (between eight and 14 days), irregular bleeding (especially between periods), debilitating pain, bladder pressure, large blood clots, and painful sex. It is common among women who have delivered a child or have experienced any kind of trauma to the region that can cause the barrier between the top layer of the uterine lining to breach the middle layer, such as a C-section, pregnancy or any surgery involving the uterus. Its prevalence is difficult to determine, as it requires invasive examination. Some estimate that between over 20 percent of women over thirty suffer from adenomyosis affecting the uterus. The contraceptive pill is used to treat this condition.

Dysfunctional uterine bleeding is abnormal bleeding in the uterus caused by a disturbance in hormone levels. It manifests as bleeding or spotting between periods, periods that last more than seven days, infrequent periods that occur more than 35 days apart, heavy bleeding (needing to change sanitary napkins every hours for more than three hours in a row due to heavy period), large clots, hair growth associated with males, hot flashes, mood swings, and the tenderness and dryness of the vaginal area. It affects 22 percent of women between 35 and 55. It, too, is treated with the birth control pill.

The birth control pill is also used to treat vaginal dryness and painful sex related to hormonal changes due to menopause. It has been shown to reduce the risk of ovarian, endometrial, and colorectal cancer. Given all this information, is it still reasonable to claim that the only reason women could possibly want to use the birth control pill is for the purpose of avoiding the "disease" of pregnancy, which we deserve to "suffer" based on our reckless sexual practices?

Firstly, for all those not familiar with how the birth control pill works, allow me to clarify: the amount of sex one has does not determine the amount of pills needed or the frequency that these need to be taken. Whether a woman is taking the pill for medical reasons or to prevent pregnancy, the number of pills taken and the frequency they are taken do not vary (unless indicated by a doctor, though this is almost always done only in the case of treating a medical condition, as in the case of skipping the placebo pills to prevent menstruation for women suffering from endometriosis). In short, you cannot say that any woman is having "so much sex" she can't foot the bill for her birth control pill.

But let's say that a woman is having a lot of sex. Does she not have a right to ensure that she starts a family when she is ready to provide the best life for her children? Limbaugh doesn't think women should unnecessarily burden insurance companies by demanding birth control. A woman who wants to have sex should use condoms instead, even if she is in a monogamous relationship or marriage, and accept the possibility that sex leads to children.

Unfortunately, Limbaugh fails to address the cost of carrying and having a child. He dismisses the problem saying that supporters of this measure believe "pregnancy's an illness." Pregnancy is not an illness and children are a blessing, but the fact remains that taking time off from work, assuming the costs of prenatal and post-natal care, and eventually childcare (if the baby is not given up) are burdens. They're not only burdens for women, but in the case that one cannot meet the cost, they're also burdens on the state.

Currently, over twenty-five percent of children under 18 live in single-parent households, and over 80 percent of these households depend on single mothers. In 2010, 14.2 million people in female single-parent households were considered to be living below the poverty standard ($14,570 for a family of two). Over half of these single mothers were employed. Two-thirds of these households received food stamps and a little over a quarter received cash welfare assistance. It's worth noting that poverty among single-mother families is the highest in the United States than any other high-income country in the world.

So if Limbaugh were really concerned about the strain being put on the diligent taxpayer of this nation, he would have taken this into account. But he didn't -- and the fact that he chose to use the slurs he did suggest his bigger concern is the audacity of women to be autonomous. Rush Limbaugh just doesn't want women to act independently as it regards their sexual or health decisions. He says they're free to use condoms -- but condoms require a woman's partner to acquiesce. He says women are welcome to pay for their own birth control, but only because he's aware that a great percentage of women can't afford it. His concern with impeding female autonomy is such that he simply doesn't care how many women who need birth control to treat legitimate medical conditions are harmed by his diatribes.

Rush Limbaugh's so-called apology isn't an apology at all. It's a way to move the limelight away from his evident bias, except he fails when this this bias crops up again in the second paragraph of his statement, in which Limbaugh disregards, once again, the many other uses for contraceptive pills, and dismisses women's concerns outright as something not worthy of being heard by the government. Is that not a blatant disregard of women, if not outright misogyny? First it was "menotoxic" and now it's "slut."

And for anyone who wants to say that this form of dialog isn't dangerous to all women because Rush Limbaugh ultimately has no power to change the law, I refer you to this post, by beantown mom at the Daily Kos, whose daughter was prescribed the contraceptive pill to treat menorrhagia and secondary dysmenorrhea:

I pulled into the parking lot and saw that she was standing inside the doors at school, her head down and shoulders shaking -- I thought she was laughing at something someone said or was looking at her phone reading something funny. I honked and waived to motion her out, not sure if she saw me. She never looked up, just pushed open the door and practically ran to the car. She flung open the door and I started to say something about the wind and rain, but stopped mid-sentence because of the look on my child's face! She was sobbing, face streaked with tears, cheeks red and eyes so swollen I could hardly see her beautiful brown eyes -- I slammed the car into park right in the middle of the parking lot and asked her what was wrong.

"Apparently I'm a slut -- a whore -- a bitch who is screwing every guy in school!" She was speaking but it wasn't making sense -- who said this? What are you talking about? For a minute we were talking over each other and finally I said just get in the car and tell me what is going on! She handed me a wrinkled piece of paper. I could tell it had been opened and closed, folded and unfolded wadded up and straightened out so many times it almost looked like it was going to fall apart in my hands.

Little miss innocent, huh? Whatever slut -- you take birth control pills so you can f*&# every guy in school! What a joke -- u are nothin but a whore! Pretty bad when some guy on the radio who isn't afraid to tell the truth has to break it down for everybody -- if u on the Pill u are nothing but a skank ass ho! My mom said girls on the pill are tramps who just wanna get laid and don't care about nothing -- is that how u are?

"Am I a slut because I take a prescription birth control pill?" her daughter asked her in tears. "I don't take it because I am having sex, I take it to help my periods -- am I a bad person, Mom?"

This is the hatred we're breeding. We are allowing irresponsible adults with clear political agendas to turn us against one another, and in turn, to turn our children against one another. We've seen this before. We know where it leads.

To date, 12 advertisers have cut ties with the Rush Limbaugh show. But the damage is done and the only way to combat this man's vitriol is to support this measure, support the autonomy of women, and push for the proper education of our children as it relates to the female body.

AV Flox is the section editor of Love & Sex and Health on BlogHer. You can connect with her on Twitter @avflox, Google Plus +AV Flox, or e-mail her directly at av.flox AT BlogHer.com

Comments

In order to comment on BlogHer.com, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.