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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Gloria Allred tries to use slut-shaming law to stop slut-shaming

The most important thing wrong, to my eyes, with the fact that Gloria Allred is trying to hold Rush Limbaugh criminally responsible for his "slut" remarks is that it elevates him. It gives credence to the claim that his First Amendment rights are being infringed, because if Allred is successful they would be. No supporter of free speech should stand behind that.

But the added bonus of disturbing can be found in he specific legislation Allred wants to use to prosecute him: Section 836.04 of the Florida Statutes, which allows for the criminal prosecution of anyone who “speaks of and concerning any woman, married or unmarried, falsely and maliciously imputing to her a want of chastity.” Jonathan Turley writes:
What is curious about Allred’s embracing of this law is that it is overtly sexist. The law suggests that a woman who is viewed as unchaste is so harmed that she constitutes a crime victim. Chastity is defined by Webster’s as “(a) : abstention from unlawful sexual intercourse; (b) : abstention from all sexual intercourse.” The law is based on the out-dated notion that a woman who has sex before marriage is damaged and subject to social stigma. To put it more colloquially, such a woman was viewed as a “slut or prostitute.” That is precisely the outrageous view voiced by Limbaugh in relation to Fluke and led to a worldwide condemnation. Now, Allred wants him prosecuted under a law that assumes that is based on the same assumption. The law was not designed to prevent women from being called sluts. Laws like Florida’s code provision were designed on the belief that a woman who is unchaste is a slut — and that “good” women should never be accused of sex before marriage. So Allred wants Limbaugh prosecuted for saying Fluke is a slut based on the law that effectively treats unchaste women as sluts. It does not protect men because an unchaste man was viewed under these dated laws as just a normal man. A man was not viewed as harmed or demeaned by being sexually active. Only a woman was harmed by the suggestion of sexual activities. Not also the law only protects women who are “falsely” accused of being unchaste. Thus if a woman has been sexually active before married, she would presumably not be protected under the law.
It's troublesome enough that so many people who are happy to condemn Limbaugh for his remarks without mentioning that it would be wrong to call Fluke a slut even if she did stand up in front of Congress and testify that she slept with five different men every day. But the law Allred wants to use against Limbaugh buys into the exact same patriarchal, sexist thinking that she seeks to prosecute. In no way does this effort score points for free speech or feminism, and so merits a big thumbs down from this fan of both.

The appropriate response when someone says that Fluke (or anyone) is a slut is not "No she isn't." It's "I'm not going to accept that it's your business to morally judge her sex life, which is what you just declared by using that word." It takes longer to say, but it notes something important, something definitely worth noting.

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