#womenwednesday You’re Just a Feminazi

Lately, Rush Limbaugh has been in the news for calling a young woman a slut because she testified in front of Congress that she should be allowed access to birth control pills and that it should be covered by her insurance. As The Week nicely recaps, Limbaugh said,  ”What does that make her?…It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.”

The really interesting thing, though, is that all of this has inspired Limbaugh to bring back one of his old stand-bys – the word Feminazi.

What is a Feminazi?

Of course, our sage online resource, Wikipedia, offers a detailed definition of this word, which Limbaugh kindly introduced back in 1992:

“Limbaugh also stated that the word refers to unspecified women whose goal is to allow as many abortions as possible, saying at one point that there were fewer than 25 “true feminazis” in the U.S. Limbaugh has used the term to refer to members of the National Center for Women and Policing, the Feminist Majority Foundation, the National Organization for Women, and other organizations at the March for Women’s Lives, a large pro-choice demonstration.

As so often happens with words that are deemed catchy, Feminazi eventually became synonymous with any woman who stood up strongly for equal rights. Women asking for equal pay were, with this one word, placed on an equal plane with Valerie Solanas of SCUM Manifesto fame, who wrote that the male race should be eliminated.

Now, according to a blog written by Malia Litman, Limbaugh said on his show:

“So, Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here’s the deal: If we are going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. And I’ll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”

Classy. And severely disturbing.

The many, many problems with the word Feminazi

Of course, most people know who the Nazis were. Even the people who claim the Holocaust never happened still have a general idea of what the word “Nazi” means. So, you know that using a word like “Feminazi” is going to carry pretty strong connotations right off the bat. A lot is insinuated. A woman dubbed thusly wants to wipe out all mankind. She is merciless, cruel, heartless, soulless, etc.

Historically, the first problem we have is that the Nazis targeted women during the Holocaust along with so many others, so equating women to the Nazis is historically bunk. But that’s really the least of our problems.

First, the use of the word Feminazi is highly and immediately dismissive. Once a woman is called a Feminazi, it’s going to be difficult for her to get her point across. After all, would you take to heart something said by a person called a Feminazi? The word is a linguistic version of plugging your ears and saying, “I can’t hear you, na na na foo foo.”

Second, the word indicates a sort of infantile view of the world, right? “Oh, you want equal treatment, therefore you hate me.” For most women (I dare say, though I haven’t done a survey) we like men pretty well. Most of ‘em, anyway. It’s just, ya know, if we do the same job, we want to get paid the same amount of money. We want to have the ability to live as we want and not have society refer to us as cat ladies or whatever else people come up with. We’d like to be able to voice our opinions and not be called sluts. That would be rad. But that doesn’t mean we hate men. That doesn’t mean that we think men should board a ship headed towards nowhere.

Right?

It’s not just Feminazi

Of course, there are lots of other ways that women get dismissed. “It must be her time of the month” is a common one. “She’s just getting emotional.” You’ve heard these before, I’m sure. The real question though is why this keeps happening, not the what. We know the what, obviously. But why do conversations about equality or, say, the female reproductive system, revert into conversations about how women are being irrational? Is it possible that women sometimes come across as too shrill? Is it possible that too much emotion gets into the conversation because women often are wired that way? Are men really that intimidated?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Speak away!

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cphotos/3181201118/ via Creative Commons

15 comments
miltonkmartinez
miltonkmartinez

Wanted to get abortion! By providing professional, compassionate abortion care for thousands of women, we have developed a reputation for excellence and safety.

chriedodson
chriedodson

Finding abortion! We provide abortions from 16-24 weeks. It is based on the philosophy that every woman has the right to make reproductive decisions that best reflect her personal values and lifestyle.

Milaspage
Milaspage

Ahhh...my favorite ridiculous word - Feminazi... Well, why does it keep happening? Because people let it. We control the view of the future with the way we raise our children, with the language we accept around us, with our reactions - or our lack thereof.  So, for a change I'll keep my comment brief, and to the point. If we as people in this world who have the ability to effect change (every single one of us) react differently when we hear these words used, for example : "OMG, I can't believe you used that word, its so insulting - or ridiculous, or ignorant" IGNORANT. then your colleague, friend, or whoever it will be will start to learn - hey, this is not acceptable. Yeah, maybe I see through rose colored glasses, but thats where it starts. We - as individuals have to point it out, and just say, thats just not right. 

 

Challenge the use of the word, explain how its insulting or why its not right, and how in essence it is just spreading negativity, and more of what makes things go backwards instead of forwards... we are responsible. Racism, sexism, any ism.... one by one, we should just not allow it in our worlds. 

WillReichard
WillReichard

I agree totally, Margie, and in fact I included some of that in this piece I wrote in a helpful fairy tale format to help perplexed Limbaugh supporters imagine why someone might be bothered by what he said (they will have to imagine being called "masculinazis," which in our normal world would be just another word for "nazis"):

 

http://wreichard.tumblr.com/post/18899058760/a-fairy-tale-for-rush-limbaugh

 

I for one am just stunned that people can't see how this crossed the line. Women will see it.

BrandFlair
BrandFlair

I would love this post more Margie and others like it if it provided a balanced set of examples.  The discussion would have way more credibility if Bill Maher  were not given a pass for calling a woman the "C" word.  The offensive argument goes both ways and it makes no difference if one woman is a college student and the other a former Republican VP candidate....or does it? 

 

Women should fight for women unconditionally regardless of political issue or party.  The sad fact is that this is not the case which is a huge reason many of these great points get blown off and terms like Feminazi are spawned.  That term seems to imply a myopic and rigid philosophy.  If women don't stand up for Palin when she is attacked with the "C-word" then unfortunately they are playing into that definition and reducing the effectiveness of the overall argument.

 

As a man, I grew up with very strong  women role models.  I think both the young woman testifying before Congress and Palin for stepping up to run for VP of our great country are wonderful examples of courage and conviction regardless of my personal beliefs.  All men and women should be ashamed of using them for childish political purposes.

 

Cheers my friend!

 

JDB

RebeccaClark
RebeccaClark

Ask yourself, "Is that really the best they can do?". The English language is full of words, concepts and knowledge, and the very best that can be used to insult women is that we are "Feminazis" or "too emotional"? Honestly, I tell my clients to laugh when their soon-to-be-exes call them a "slut" or a "whore"...after all, how original are those men that they believe they were the first to come up with that comeback. It is the male version of "Well..but..and..you're a poopyhead". We, as women, face any number of challenges, but I think we take on too many that are self-imposed. If Rush Limbaugh thinks I am a whore because I want birth control, then so be it. This is because he is so short-sighted that he is thinking with his penis rather than even a speck of foresight. Unintended pregnancies have financial, emotional and social consequences (always for the parents, never for the sperm donors) that far exceed the cost of a simple prescription. If nothing else, Mr. Limbaugh's statements reveal more about how he looks at life than how Ms. Fluke actually lives hers. Consider this, Mr. Limbaugh and your loyal followers: Perhaps, those Feminazis are really just persons (of the female gender) who are better able to prepare for the future of not only themselves, but the next generation, than the persons (of any gender) who can only see just beyond the tip of their shoes (and for some, that is giving them a lot of credit).

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

 @WillReichard Thanks for including the link! I am not really sure how people can't be bothered either, although I do know some people who listen to people like him more as a sense of "wrong entertainment." They find it funny. For me, it plays out a little too close to reality. 

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

 @BrandFlair Well, in this particular case I wanted to talk about the word Feminazi, which Rush coined. I had established that as the topic for this week months ago, and it just worked out that it fell during all of this ridiculousness with him. Factually, many people beyond Rush's circle of influence have taken up the word "feminazi" and have used it all over the place, regardless of political leanings. People on both sides of the political spectrum have treated women disgracefully. There's a reason I'm doing a year-long #womenwednesday series. This is just one tiny issue on a bar graph of pain women are experiencing these days. 

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

 @RebeccaClark Wow. I should have had you write this post!

 

Thanks, Becky!! Very well said (you certainly know the English language better than they do!) :)

WillReichard
WillReichard

 @BrandFlair IMHO, there is a difference between singling out one by-all-standards famous person vs. holding up one at-best-only-minutely-famous person as an example of the behavior of an entire class of people (one of the single biggest classes of people there is). Limbaugh kind of made it a three-day project, so it isn't really just word choice. He repeatedly made the link to how all women should act. I'm not going to defend Maher; he's frequently crude, which doesn't do much for me, but I think there's a difference. I will agree that instances of this wherever they're found should be met the same way. The question is whether it's really the same thing. I think there's a nuance people aren't getting here. Many women hear it immediately--it's that nuance they thought they successfully got rid of in the civil rights era. It's the Scarlet Letter one, the Handmaid's Tale one. 

 

That and Bill Maher doesn't have personal friends on the Supreme Court, of course.

 

The other thing that comes to mind (having looked at too much of this stuff) is something Gini Dietrich wrote today about Rush's "apology"--namely that it's not an apology if it has to be qualified in any way. And I think that's the danger with the "fair play" argument--it's like people are saying, "maybe it's wrong, but they do it too, so..." The implication being that maybe we don't need to stop doing it. What needs to happen is, "It's wrong, and we disown it, and we apologize. We are categorically opposed to it, and we've given this guy the boot." Then, next time it comes up somewhere, people would have a moral leg to stand on.

 

I'm not accusing you of that, just saying that's something I see playing out elsewhere.

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

There are plenty of people, myself included, who find Bill Maher just as offensive via his blatant sexism. His fascination with Ann Coulter, for example, who cannot possibly be more diametrically opposed from his own views, can probably best be explained by the fact that she is a long, tall blonde lady. Sad but true. As I have said elsewhere in the online world, the fact that we have to argue about which case of a man calling a woman a name was "the worst" bespeaks a deep underlying problem in our society, and that's what I'm trying to scratch at here.  @WillReichard  @BrandFlair 

WillReichard
WillReichard

 @BrandFlair I should say nothing partisan _per se_. There are certain realities here (like the Supreme Court being much more conservative than in past decades and palling around in their off hours with people like Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney). That's just facts that are part of the context here. Again, I repeat, I'm not defending Maher or anyone else. I'm merely saying Limbaugh did something very few people ever publicly do anymore--he stereotyped an entire class of humanity. The fact that he happens to belong to the race, gender, and party of the most powerful people on earth compounds what women and forward-looking men hear in statements like these. But it's not wrong in my mind _because_ he's conservative. But again, I'm glad we agree he's a cad, and I think a critical examination of everyone's language is a great thing. I have other thoughts on the C-word question, but it's a separate discussion.

 

Finally, this: I've read a lot about the history of public debate in America. The founders foresaw a time like theirs--full of ugly slurs, fierce arguments, aggression, and outright lies. They chose to enshrine freedom of speech anyway. They knew that one of the downsides of being involved in public life was that you exposed yourself to whatever people might want to say about you (and what people used to say was routinely astonishingly cruel instead of only occasionally as it is now). That's why it was so brave of this woman to testify.

 

There are also some legal issues in media relating to what can be said without consequence about people depending on whether they've sought the public eye or not. I'm not saying that's right or wrong, only that Limbaugh has crossed that line by singling out someone whose "fame" is minor at best, whereas I do not think Maher has done so with your Palin example. If anyone who testifies before Congress is automatically a celebrity, then Congress can never get testimony from "real" people. This sense of his picking on her particularly in order to attack all women is part of what is driving the outsized reaction to this--it's a sense that Limbaugh has crossed even the dim lines of decency that we have set up. See the fact that he is now attacking a new woman who writes about food. She, meanwhile, is mystified as to why. Who will it be tomorrow?

 

You and I probably agree about a lot more than this exchange makes it seem. But I really feel that if we miss this nuance, we're missing a major opportunity as a society to learn something. Few things are black and white. That's also not to say it's all we have to learn.

 

Finally, thanks again to @margie for provoking this excellent discussion. I wonder what she thinks about where it has led us...

WillReichard
WillReichard

@BrandFlair I don't agree with that summary of what I said but fair enough to your disagreement on whether there's a difference. My point has to do with why more people are offended than usual. Nothing I'm saying has any partisan quality to it. You used maher as an example. I'm sure we can find a similar example from the conservative side.

BrandFlair
BrandFlair

 @WillReichard I don't see any difference.  Calling any woman the "C word" is repulsive.  People don't care because she is a Republican and that is hypocrisy.  Plain an simple.  Basically what you are saying is that it is OK to call a woman the B, S and C words if they are well known - even more so if she is not a liberal.  That is not the way I was raised and I do not agree one bit.