These past 2 weeks in my journaling group, we have been talking about using our voices to set boundaries, to set limits, to assert ourselves. So what better way to demonstrate the use of my voice than to wade into the recent Rush Limbaugh debacle?
I am certain that I do not need to reiterate the clearly ignorant remarks that Limbaugh made when he attacked Sandra Fluke. His remarks not only attacked her but all women and demonstrated the misogynist attitudes that women often face.
Let's look at "voice" throughout much of this controversy. An initial attempt was made to block the expression of many women's view on contraception and insurance coverage when Sandra Fluke was denied the opportunity to testify before a congressional hearing. She later testified before an unofficial hearing. That's when her remarks were taken out of context and Limbaugh called her a "slut" and "prostitute".
Does he have a right to say this? Within the framework of our society: possibly, yes—although she may be able to sue for libel. We believe in the freedom of speech. Limbaugh can have the right to be stupid and obnoxious. Stupid because his description of how birth control works was ridiculous. Obnoxious because his labeling of a young sexually active woman as a prostitute and slut and asking her to videotape and up-load her sexual exploits was demeaning.
And yet many women face ignorant and degrading remarks every day. Working in the eating disorders clinic, I have heard stories about fathers who tell their teenage daughters that they have "linebacker thighs like their mother." Families have told their children that they have destroyed the family with their eating disorder. Some family members have attempted to shove food into their loved ones mouths. What do we do about pervasive unkind attitudes in families? What do we do about hateful comments made on the radio? What do we do about cruel comments and attitudes in general?
First, we don't believe them. Typically when people work so hard to make a person feel bad about herself it is because they themselves are so insecure that they can only feel better when someone else feels bad.
Second, we test the words. Would you say something like that to your best friend? To your daughter? To a young child? If you wouldn't want them to believe those things about themselves, then don't allow yourself to buy into those painful words.
Third, we fight back with our own voices. I have signed a petition to encourage advertisers to pull their support of Rush Limbaugh's show. Yes, maybe he can say what he wants, but we don't need to give him money to do it. I have posted a link to the petition on my Facebook and Twitter. I'm writing about the issue here. We need to stand up to bullies and say, "We are not going to believe your ignorant lies!"
Fourth, we need to work to change the double standard in our lives and society which presents women as sex objects but then attacks them when they admit to being sexually active. We need to also value our intellect. We need to join together with our voices and let government and society understand that we demand equal rights. We need women to have covered access to contraception. That is one way that we can help prevent teenage pregnancies and unwanted children.
Fifth, we need to keep finding ways to voice our opinions even if it means that we might come under attack. Many women who I treat try very hard to keep everyone happy. They don't want to disappoint anyone. What happens is that they twist themselves into knots trying to please everyone. They end up not expressing themselves; they don't discover their own happiness. They end up fueling their eating disorders and that doesn't help anyone.
- What would you like to use your voice to express? What would you like to tell someone in your life that you have never been able to tell him/her?
- Write a dialog of that conversation. What would you like to say? What do you think his/her response would be?
- Write a letter to someone in your life with whom you feel that you have left many things unsaid. (You don't need to mail the letter! Use it to organize your thoughts.)
- What critical comments have people said about you? What are you doing with your emotions about this? Holding onto them? How can you let the comments go?
- What are your views of women? Do you find yourself believing some of society's double standards? I am not telling you what to believe, but asking you to look at your beliefs so that you can understand the effect that they may be having on you. Sometimes we believe things only because it was something that we were told. Yet when we stop and examine the statement, we discover it is not something that we really want to believe. Examine and if appropriate challenge the beliefs that others have been telling you.
- And if you want to wade in too-let Rush know how you feel. Express your opinion if others make statements that you don't believe in. We don't need to be bullied or berated. What we do need to do is believe in ourselves.
Go, Write On!
Martha Peaslee Levine, MD