Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Rara Avis, Part II (Rush Limbaugh)

1. Introduction

Any human-watcher knows Rush Limbaugh: an extreme conservative talk-show host, and he's not especially rare as a type. Conservatives who dislike gays, feminists, ethnic minorities and the environment are a dime a dozen nowadays. But there was a time when Rush indeed cut an almost solitary figure against the political skies. He was a pathbreaker, a revolutionary, and his fans, the so-called dittoheads, are his revolutionary troops. This makes studying him still useful, even though he is currently flying in some turbulent winds.

I am going to pay special attention to his views on women and feminism, because this is a partly feminist blog, but also because many useful wider lessons can be concluded from such an endeavor. My main source material is roughly fifty pages of results from Google on the topics "Rush Limbaugh and women" and "Rush Limbaugh and feminists".

What I learned in general from wading through this material (other than the fact that thigh-high boots chafe and a snorkeling mask leaves a rash) is that
1. the majority (51%) of Americans dislike Rush Limbaugh (only 34% view him favorably),
and that
2. the way he has been criticized within the political left has been all wrong.

Organizations such as FAIR have taken Limbaugh to task for disseminating incorrect information on various topics. The underlying principle seems to have been that if Limbaugh can be shown to have lied his reputation would suffer. This is totally invalid. None of the dittoheads or other supporters of his shows are interested in some concept of objective truth. What they are interested in is exactly what Limbaugh's shows provide: validation of their own world view. That this validation is based on lies is beside the point.
In any case, criticizing the shows for inaccuracies is difficult when they are sold as humor. If something too outrageous is said, well, it can always be interpreted away as 'just a joke'.

2. Rush on Women

Limbaugh's views on women are crystallized in this 'Rushbite':

One of my fabulous routines concerns a San Francisco men's club which lost its battle to exclude women from membership. The courts ruled that they had to admit women on the basis that businesswomen were being unfairly denied opportunities to do business. This is specious. How much business did women think they were going to get as a result of forcing their way in?
Anyway, after one year, the female members demanded their own exercise room. They were probably tired of being ogled by a bunch of slobbering men while they pumped iron in leotards and spandex. The men offered to install the first three exercise machines in the women's new workout room. The ladies were thrilled. When they arrived on that first exciting day they found, to their stunned amazement, a washing machine, an ironing board, and a vacuum cleaner. Heh, heh, heh. (The Way Things Ought To Be, p.142-45 Jul 2, 1992)

He doesn't like women who 'force their way' into men's clubs, and he believes that women belong in the home, presumably cleaning it. He also doesn't want women in the military combat roles, partly because he believes that women are incapable of them, but also because:

I don't believe that women should be in combat roles even if they can do the job. Why? Simple. Women have a civilizing role in our society. They establish enduring values that are handed down from generation to generation. I just don't believe that we have to subject women to the horrors and rigors of war. (The Way Things Ought To Be, p.200-1 Jul 2, 1992)

Women are now put on a pedestal, but beware, the support is shaky. They are responsible for civilizing the society, while Rush does his utmost to uncivilize it. Besides, passing these female values on can also be translated as 'being responsible for child-rearing'.

In sum, Rush believes in strict, traditional gender roles. He also appears to find women less rational than men:
"Women should not be allowed on juries where the accused is a stud."

3. Rush on feminism and feminazis

I believe that Limbaugh doesn't like women very much, but that could be debated, if 'like' is used in the sense of "I like to eat cheese sandwiches." What is quite certain is that he detests and fears the feminist movement, just as I would detest and fear a liberation movement for cheese sandwiches. These two are conflated in the next famous 'Rushbite":

Let me leave you with a thought that honestly summarizes my sentiments: I love the women's movement. especially when I am walking behind it. ( The Way Things Ought To Be, p.142-45 Jul 2, 1992.)

An almost equally famous is the following one:

Feminism was established so that unattractive women could have easier access to the mainstream of society. Just look at the history of feminism if you doubt the truth.

Though trivializing the feminist movement by interpreting it as the reaction of women who have failed in their quest for a man is common, Limbaugh goes much further. In fact, he's responsible for the term 'feminazi', which has spread far beyond its original home of the dittoland:

"Femi-nazi," a word Rush Limbaugh used to equate the goals of feminism with societal devastation, has become a popular way for liberals to denote their levelheadedness (as in, "Well, I'm no femi-nazi, but"). Bill Maher, the cheeky host of TV's Politically Incorrect, has established himself as the vanguard of a sort of disaffected, Hugh Hefner liberal -- someone who doesn't care what anyone does, so long as it doesn't keep him from getting a good piece of ass.

But actually Limbaugh gets far too much credit for the coining of this term, or at least for its widespread use. This is what he actually said:

I prefer to call the most obnoxious feminists what they really are: feminazis. The term describes any female who is intolerant of any point of view that challenges militant feminism. I often use it to describe women who are obsessed with perpetuating a modern-day holocaust: abortion.
A feminazi is a woman to whom the most important thing in life is seeing to it that as many abortions as possible are performed.(The Way Things Ought To Be, p.192-93 Jul 2, 1992)

Given his definition, there are no feminazis. At least I have never met any or read about any. That the term has been so widely adopted tells us much more about the views of the people who use it than the views of those they apply it to.

4. Identification

What's behind Limbaugh's war against women or at least against feminism? I believe that it's his fear of losing his self-identity as a man. Though the following quote is a bit too extreme to may taste, it expresses the same basic idea:

The last few years of 20th-century popular culture have seen the culmination of a movement in the (supposedly) collective American male psyche. Men, it posits, are the browbeaten receptacles of a nation that refuses them any identity. Calls for justice and equality from women and gay men are now increasingly viewed as strident, misguided efforts to remove a man's ability to Be A Man. Wanton male lust, violence, and ignorance are not only healthy; they form a valid political viewpoint.
It's a mindset that originally fluttered from the chubby hands of crafty, discontented conservatives like Rush Limbaugh...

Consider also the following quotes (bolds mine):

A feminazi is a woman to whom the most important thing in life is seeing to it that as many abortions as possible are performed. Their unspoken reasoning is quite simple. Abortion is the single greatest avenue for militant women to exercise their quest for power and advance their belief that men aren't necessary. (The Way Things Ought To Be, p.192-93 Jul 2, 1992)

Ms. magazine has named its women of the year, and in doing so has illustrated : Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society. Every woman on this list has effectively flipped the bird to men.... Other candidates for W of the Y included Nancy Pelosi, who stabbed Democrat men in the back to get into power, Enron's Sharon Watkins, WorldCom's Cynthia Cooper and the FBI's Colleen Rowley. They got the award because they brought down a bunch of guys.

Rush Limbaugh fears being made unnecessary, and most likely so do his dittoheads. But how could the movements promoting equal rights for women, ethnic minorities or gays make him and dittohead men like him unnecessary?

This is only possible if the Limbaugh view of his own identity hinges crucially on being superior to others, if his view of being white or heterosexual is based on whiteness or heterosexuality being 'better', and if his view of being a man includes the idea of men as lords and masters and a strict exclusion of women from the public sphere. If ones identity is built on NOT being like the other groups, then any progress in the relative standind of these groups is going to aim directly at the foundation of ones personal well-being.

No wonder Rush Limbaugh is so fanatic in his views. I would be, too, if I saw the world changing in ways which threaten my very cornerstone. Poor Rush. What's even sadder is the fact that it would have been a lot easier to build a healthier self-identity than to try to have the whole world stand still so that this wouldn't be necessary. Still, I shouldn't feel too sorry for him. He's made millions out of his pet neuroses and caused much pain and suffering in the process.

And he has also successfully misdirected the anger of many of the dittoheads. Working-class men in the United States have seen a considerable drop in their real earnings during the last two decades. The current Republican policies are only going to encourage this drop through their effects on exporting jobs and on clamping down on labor unionization. But instead of addressing these very real causes of discontent, what does Rush offer his dittoheads? Most recently, the mythical castrating female, in this example Hillary Clinton:

.. Limbaugh and the vast conservative talk machine are working overtime to assure the under-employed and threatened men of America that the target of their rage should not be conservative policies but, instead, castrating women. Hillary is behind the campaign to put men's testicles in a lock box, and it's those damn liberals who are responsible for all the ills that have befallen the working class.

So, how should Rush Limbaugh be classified? What can be learned from this intensive exploration of his world? That he's still an idiot, I'm afraid.