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What Rush Limbaugh Can Teach Us About Discrimination Against Women

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"At AOL one of our core values is that we act with integrity. We have monitored the unfolding events and have determined that Mr. Limbaugh's comments are not in line with our values. As a result we have made the decision to suspend advertising on The Rush Limbaugh Radio show." -- Maureen Sullivan, AOL spokeswoman

AOL became the eighth advertiser to pull their ads from Rush Limbaugh's show earlier this week in wake of the controversy over Limbaugh's characterization of Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke as a "slut" and a "prostitute."

The details of this controversy have exploded all over the Internet and you, no doubt, have already read many posts on this site and elsewhere condemning Mr. Limbaugh and calling for a boycott of the companies that continue to advertise on his show. I have posted a personal letter to him on my own website. You can read that post here.

In the firestorm of responses to Limbaugh's comments and the "apologies" he has issued in the wake of sponsors fleeing the show, I have been impressed by the AOL response, quoted above and the response from another former advertiser on the show, Carbonite's CEO David Friend:

"No one with daughters the age of Sandra Fluke, and I have two, could possibly abide the insult and abuse heaped upon this courageous and well-intentioned young lady. Mr. Limbaugh, with his highly personal attacks on Miss Fluke, overstepped any reasonable bounds of decency. Even though Mr. Limbaugh has now issued an apology, we have nonetheless decided to withdraw our advertising from his show. We hope that our action, along with the other advertisers who have already withdrawn their ads, will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse."

Ms. Sullivan and Mr. Friend have raised the issues of integrity and decency and their importance in our society today. Few would argue that Rush Limbaugh's actions do not cross the line of both. But these actions demonstrate a consciousness toward women that has been present throughout most of human history, and this is merely the latest salvo in the "war on women's equality."

Today it looks and sounds like Rush Limbaugh, but he is merely echoing the misogyny that has worn thousands of faces throughout the ages. Almost every woman has a story of having felt discounted, devalued or disrespected because of her gender.

Sexual harassment is not confined to the workplace, and few women get through life without having been exposed to it personally or know of someone who has. And the wage gap between men and women has barely changed over the past several decades. According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2008, women were still paid only 77 cents for every dollar a man earned and that number goes down to 68 cents for African American women and 57 cents for Hispanic women.

And lest we think that misogyny is purely a right-wing phenomenon, Kirsten Powers has written an interesting post on The Daily Beast outlining the media's misogynistic treatment of women on both the right and the left.

We may have come a long way, baby, but we still have a long way to go. The current Limbaugh controversy, and the Republican presidential candidates' tepid response to it, is a poignant reminder of just how far away women are from equal treatment in this, the most advanced country in the world and how much misogyny still exists.

Ironically, however, the Rush Limbaugh controversy has elevated the collective consciousness around these issues, and in doing so, may have inadvertently helped to accelerate a shift in public opinion. For thanks to him, it is now front and center and white-hot in the minds of many, especially women. A giant has been unleashed.

Words matter, but more importantly, the intention behind them matters even more. That is why Limbaugh's so-called "apology" has largely fallen on deaf ears, especially Ms. Fluke, who rejected his apology this week, claiming that it changes nothing and was only done to help stem the tide of fleeing advertisers. Mr. Limbaugh may have retracted his words, but the taste of disrespect lingers long in the mouth.

This controversy leaves me with the heightened awareness of how much waking up humanity still has to do. As long as there are those who are steeped in the culturally-conditioned beliefs that power resides in gender, and that half the population of the world is fundamentally flawed because of it, humanity has not turned the corner toward a more enlightened consciousness.

This controversy is far from over. No doubt it will continue to be debated in the days and weeks to come. In this regard, Rush Limbaugh may just be the canary in the coal mine. As advertisers continue to rush towards the exits, the proverbial "fat lady" may be just be starting to warm up.

Rush has inspired an entirely new generation of women to pick up the gauntlet and fight for women's equality. As an elder feminist, I stand shoulder to shoulder with them, having walked this path for the past 40 years, alongside Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinhem, and Betty Friedan in those earlier efforts to break through the barriers all women face.

If we are to move to a higher state of consciousness as a species, and many believe that this year of 2012 marks the beginning of such a shift, what will it look like?

Here's a quote from my letter to Rush:

"Like a big ship changing course in the middle of the sea, this ship called humanity, is turning around. And in our turning we are moving away from the past, where women were disregarded and disrespected just for being women. We are headed toward a future in which men and women are valued as equal expressions of humanity. We are moving toward a future where all human beings are treasured, regardless of gender. We claim a present based on love and respect for all life: humans, plants and animals."

It's pretty hard not to have an opinion about all this. I'd love to hear yours. Please leave your thoughts and comments below and/or come pay a visit to my personal blog and website at Rx For The Soul.

Become a Fan and be notified when a new post appears. For personal contact, I can be reached at judith@judithrich.com.

Blessings on the path.

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