‘I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke’

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I understand that you're trying to criticize him, but you're doing it wrong.
I understand that you're trying to criticize him, but you're doing it wrong.
David Horsey/Los Angeles Times

Rush Limbaugh, as you might imagine, is not that practiced in issuing apologies. That was quite apparent in his Saturday statement concerning his (most recent) sexist comments:

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…

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.

We’ll skip the whole bit where we note how Limbaugh’s “word choices” makes the “I did not mean” part laughable. The excerpt above brackets a poor rationalization for his attack, and I’ll leave the analysis of that to others. Whether the “apology” was motivated by pure regret, futile desperation to stem the loss of advertisers, or a desire to remain a relevant topic in the Sunday shows (not ours), the apology was up to Sandra Fluke to accept. (Which minutes ago on ABC’s “The View,” she did not.)

What’s interesting to me is why this incident, out of Limbaugh’s long history of bile, hit such a nerve with so many. Good Magazine associate editor and past “MHP” guest Nona Willis Aronowitz proposes four possibilities that make a lot of sense: that “slut” is an actual epithet (you haven’t heard him drop the N-word on-air, yet); his comments were sheer hypocrisy (oh, hi, Viagra); and Limbaugh made these hypocritical comments at a time at which the Right is losing the culture war, and Americans are finally getting that the Right is losing the culture war.

The fourth reason Nona gives is a point that isn’t being discussed enough:

Sandra Fluke is a white, female law student—the “perfect victim.” When Limbaugh assails a public figure, we don’t get too angry; criticism, even the vicious kind, goes with the territory of a high profile. When Limbaugh rails against a group of people like welfare moms or Muslims, it comes across as garden-variety racism rather than a pointed attack. But our protective impulses kick in when someone disparages an innocent, stand-up citizen, especially if that person is a white, educated woman. As writer Amanda Marcotte told me Friday, Fluke “is the good daughter distilled,” the kind parents can be proud of. This same principle holds with “perfect” rape victims, in which our culture believes the rape story of a virginal cheerleader getting attacked behind the bushes rather than, say, an immigrant maid of color. Do you think there’d be the same outcry if Sandra Fluke was a poor, unwed mother from the projects?

Being upset over Limbaugh’s comments is understandable, given that is his goal and his demonstrated skill in achieving those ends. But that doesn’t mean that as we examine Limbaugh’s psyche to understand such cruelty, we shouldn’t also take a look at ourselves and our privilege. Even the cartoon above uses a negative image of women in order to criticize Limbaugh. Yes, it is infuriating to have to deal with the latest Limbaugh slut-shaming, but it’s also an opportunity for us to re-examine how much we’ve bought into both the “good” and “bad” images of womanhood which we’ve been sold – and which we sell to ourselves.

'I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke'

Updated