Finding our voices: the sharing of anger, when Limbaugh calls one of us a slut

Politics inspires a lot of quiet anger.  But this week, a tipping point was reached when Rush Limbaugh, conservative radio ideologue known for vitriol, suddenly awakened public ire.  Sandra Fluke, a student at Georgetown Law School, was offering testimony before a Congressional sub-committee, advocating for health insurance coverage for women’s contraceptives.   She was careful and dispassionate.  Limbaugh went on a tirade last Thursday, and called her a slut.

The response has been fascinating.   A nerve has been touched.  The President has called Ms Fluke to offer support, and she is now fielding respectful interview questions.  Online petition drives are swirling; some seek denunciation of Limbaugh’s remarks by politicians who benefit from his support.  Some petitions are directed toward Limbaugh’s advertisers; today, interestingly, he has offered a thin apology limited to his “word choices”.  Some are petitions of solidarity with Ms Fluke; others are demands for Limbaugh to be removed from the airwaves entirely.  A Google search yields 194,000 related sites.

The background of quiet anger has been stirring in recent weeks.   Some conservative politicians have focused their concern on employers who would rather not, for religious reasons, pay for contraceptives that their women employees require.  Ms Fluke made her case, and Limbaugh was enraged.  He is often angry, vulgar, and caustic, and his views on public policy extreme.  The public tunes in, or not; but something is different this time.

Public anger on behalf of Ms Fluke comes from a deep place.  The intensity makes it clear that this is not just about sticking up for a young woman who has been insulted.  The moment has coalesced around her, and made her a symbol; she found the energy to speak up on behalf of others, and was bullied.   Consumers of the news have been awakened from their inertia and vague depression about politics, and have been moved to speak out in anger.  We identify with her.  For the moment, at least, we are disinclined to take it any more.  We have been dissed, and we are taking it personally.

Several thousand people have suddenly found their voice.   When one woman, speaking respectfully and out of conviction, was humiliated over the airwaves and called a slut, something resonated.  Perhaps the sexualized nature of the verbal abuse was too much.  The vulgar suggestions by Limbaugh that paying for women’s contraceptives like any other medical expense, was no different than “paying for sex,” and women should compensate by supplying pornographic video, was not just unfunny but too much.  The response was an awakening of healthy anger.

Small examples of shaming are familiar to all of us, and have toxic consequences for our emotional wellbeing.  Often, these get swallowed for the sake of keeping the peace, to our own detriment.  Private outrage, shared with a close friend, can be comforting.  It is a huge improvement over internalizing the shame of one’s verbal abuse, and becoming depressed.  The nurture of one’s personal circle of support can help us direct anger where it belongs, instead of becoming defeated.

Public outrage has power.  One of the things that makes this moment interesting is that it feels personal to viewers, in a way that leads to reaching out, not just for support but for change.  Social media make it easy to act on that flicker of an activist impulse.  Ms Fluke defended a widely shared view, that access to contraceptives is important for our health and wellbeing.  Giving the employer the option to refuse, based on his personal views, is to take away personal power.  We may have risen above partisan politics in rising up in focused anger this week, and expecting, as Ms Fluke did, to be heard.

Depression is the inner experience of lost power, and a sense that being diminished by others is just the way life is, or the way our life is.  Loss of civility in public discourse is disheartening, and it has been lamented as if it, too, is inevitable.

Perhaps it is not.

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About Lynn Schlossberger

I am a mental health counselor, writer and photographer living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
This entry was posted in Anger. Resentment. Forgiveness., Craziness in the world, Social media and life online and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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