Rush Limbaugh does not need an excuse to go all misogynistic and creepy when he talks about women. That's his thing. I don't listen to him, even though he once linked me with "the moral decay and the evaporating fiber of our society." (I described that surreal experience here.) So I'll trust the sense I'm getting from the recent surge of outrage that what Rush said about Sandra Fluke was way over-the-top, even for him. (If you don't know what I'm talking about and want to, Limbaugh described the law school student as a slut and a prostitute, and said that if she wanted contraception covered under health care plans, then she should post videos of her sexual experiences online so that he and others could watch.)
I also know that Rush will attack women regardless of their marital or relationship status. His assaults on Hillary Clinton, for example, have been vile and relentless—and so often discussed that you don't need to listen to Rush to know about them. I also learned, in looking for links for this post, that he has harrumphed about Danica Patrick—not gonna put up with those "lady drivers."
Still, I wonder whether women who are single—perhaps in particular if they are single and accomplished—are especially likely get under Limbaugh's skin. Undeterred by the flight of advertisers no longer willing to be associated with his war on women, Rush went on to disparage still another successful single woman, Tracie McMillan, author of The American Way of Eating:
"What is it with all of these young single white women; overeducated doesn't mean intelligent. For example, Tracie McMillan, the author of this book, seems to be just out of college and already she has been showered with awards, including the 2006 James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. Social justice journalism. This woman who wrote the book on food inequality, food justice, got an award for social justice journalism."
Forbes asked McMillan what she thought of Rush's rant. She told reporter Jeff Bercovici:
"I just wasn't expecting anybody to say flat out that my work wasn't valid because I'm a single woman."
In many ways, 2012 has been a remarkably good year, so far, for the place of single people in the media. All sorts of high-profile publications and programs have featured stories not teeming with the usual singlism. The rise in the number of single people, though, along with the positive attention to their lives, predictably produces backlash. People who are living single are not staying in their place. They are not hewing to the traditions (real or imagined) that Limbaugh and others so idolize.
Among the anxieties that single people stir up, just by being single, are sexual ones. Without a spouse to bind them to proper sexual behaviors (supposedly), who knows what they might be up to? Rush can't take it. Throw in an issue about birth control—even in the context of medical conditions having nothing to do with sex—and he has a melt down.
(For a discussion about how anxieties about single people get all tangled up with patriotism, see the previous posts here, here, and here.)
Like the radio hosts who can't keep their bigotry and their fears to themselves, so too are legislators going off the deep end. Too many are trying to write their singlism and their shaming of women right into the law. In Wisconsin, for example, Republican Senator Glenn Grothman is sponsoring a bill proclaiming that single parenthood contributes to child abuse. Check out this take-down of the matter by our friend Christina over at Onely.
Such is the winding road to social justice. When progress becomes a bit too visible, the threatened parties reach for their vitriol. Sometimes, though, that backlash inspires its own push-back, and the result is a net gain for fairness and decency.
Lots of notes today:
1. Thanks to Susan Hurt for the heads-up about Tracie McMillan, and to April, Christina, and Elizabeth for passing along links about that awful Grothman bill.
2. Why is it so hard to make progress in extinguishing singlism? One reason is that people who are brilliant in their assessment of other privileges, such as white privilege, are oblivious when it comes to marital privilege. I wrote about that recently here and here.
3. As always, check out Single with Attitude for the latest from other enlightened singles bloggers.
4. I invite your feedback about commenting norms. Every so often, someone posts a whole series of comments that are typically only marginally relevant to the blog post, and which do not generate any discussion. Is that OK with you or should that change? I've been getting some emails from people who feel that it compromises the best interactive qualities of the comments sections. If anyone wants to post their opinions here, please do. My own role in moderating is different at different blogs. Here at Psych Today, I can't delete comments until after they have appeared, but I can post suggestions. Over at my personal blog, All Things Single (and More), I can delete comments before they appear. At my Single at Heart blog, either I or a PsychCentral person deals with the comments, depending on who gets to them first.