The Deep Resentment of Having to Think About It: Rush Limbaugh and Sandra Fluke
‘A popular exercise among High School creative writing teachers in America is to ask students to imagine they have been transformed, for a day, into someone of the opposite sex, and describe what that day might be like.
The results, apparently, are uncannily uniform. The girls all write long and detailed essays that clearly show they have spent a great deal of time thinking about the subject.
Half of the boys usually refuse to write the essay entirely.
Those who do make it clear they have not the slightest conception what being a teenage girl might be like, and deeply resent having to think about it.’
–David Graeber, ‘Beyond Power/Knowledge: An Exploration of power, ignorance and stupidity’
Rush Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke, in short, because her voice threatens to reconstitute the nature of the American public: if she were heard — if the specificity of woman’s health were publicly speakable in the hallowed halls of Congress — then we could no longer pretend that this is simply an abstract and legalistic question of ‘religion,’ ‘government,’ and ‘medicine.’ It would suddenly be apparent that the female public and the male public actually have different interests and concerns when it comes to issues like sex and contraception, that contraception means something different to people with different reproductive organs. The fact that (heterosexual) men’s enjoyment of consequence-free sex is dependent on the privilege of those consequences being borne by someone else might become thinkable, if those ‘someone else’s’ had a public platform to speak about it.
This, after all, is why ‘privilege’ is so importantly different from power or bigotry:
privilege must remain ignorant of itself, because it’s the right to enjoy benefits which you aren’t even aware that others get denied.
And in this sense, while Rush was and is indirectly policing the boundaries of where and how a woman’s reproductive organs come to be of public concern — and real human suffering is indeed at stake — it’s the boundaries of whose concern gets to be publicly voiced and heard that concerns him, who gets to be heard when the public debates itself (as it inevitably will when we start talking about things like religious freedom and the state).
And this is also why it’s not surprising that Rick Santorum wants nothing to do with what Limbaugh is doing, precisely because Limbaugh is simply taking Santorum’s own position to its logical conclusion. Santorum needs people to overlook the reductio ad absurdum Limbaugh represent — to misunderstand it so that they can still think he might represent them — but Limbaugh is in the business of policing the boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ of describing ‘them’ in shameful terms which expel them from the public that ‘we’ see ourselves as part of. The more bitter and contested this expulsion can be made to be, the more effectively he plays his role as culture warrior.