To Limbaugh, this made Fluke a “feminazi.” That moniker was his calling card — and, to the extent that it was used to short-circuit any actual dialogue of feminism in thousands and thousands of American households, it’s now a part of his legacy.
The man died on Wednesday on the age of 70, forsaking a military of listeners, hundreds of hours of content material, and a diabolical eight-letter portmanteau.
“Feminazi” took the idea of ladies’s rights, and the idea of essentially the most murderous, evil political philosophy of the twentieth century, and lashed them collectively. It put advocating for gender equality on the identical aircraft as wanting to annihilate individuals and tradition. It offered misogynists with a get-out-of-hard-conversations-free card: Reasonable individuals haven’t any obligation to pay attention to Nazis. Why ought to they prolong any courtesy to feminists?
The earliest you ever heard the phrase was in 1992, which is when Limbaugh first used it on his present. He as soon as mentioned the time period was really invented by a professor good friend of his, however Limbaugh was the one who put it within the mouth of America’s dads and sons (and sure, mothers and daughters). He’s the one who unfold the gospel of “obnoxious feminists” who had been allegedly hellbent on having freewheeling abortions and forcing others to do the identical.
“They don’t need men in order to be happy,” Limbaugh wrote, horrified, in a book published that year. “They certainly don’t want males to be able to exercise any control over them.”
Reading these sentences right this moment is — nicely, it’s hilarious. Limbaugh, huffily presiding over his vitriolic fiefdom, had unintentionally gotten it proper: Feminists, like several affordable people, didn’t need one other group of individuals to train management over them primarily based on their gender. They didn’t need marital standing to dictate their happiness.
Limbaugh introduced these primary ideas of equality and private freedom because the downfall of Western civilization: If ladies gained, males would lose.
And this was that loud, indignant man’s biggest trick: Chew on one thing affordable; spit it again out as a masticated, unrecognizable blob. A disgusting factor that no one needs. Equal rights grew to become particular rights. Feminists grew to become feminazis. Somehow this made his listeners’ mouths water, even whereas it stuffed everybody else’s with bile.
His hatred of feminism ended up inadvertently shaping it. The method he mischaracterized the motion pressured his exhausted opponents to repeatedly re-explain it. The method he attacked it put feminists on everlasting protection.
As is so typically the case, his points with feminism revealed his personal hang-ups and foibles. When Limbaugh first began utilizing the phrase within the early Nineties, he insisted it must be used sparingly. “Feminazi” referred particularly to ladies “to whom the most important thing in the world is seeing to it that as many abortions as possible take place,” he mentioned. He estimated there have been possibly 25 feminazis in the entire nation.
By a decade later, in accordance to Media Matters, a liberal outlet that tracked Limbaugh’s use of the phrase, he described an abortion rights rally as containing “about a half-million” feminazis.
Two years after that, ladies who’d opposed Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s nomination had been feminazis.
Two years after that, in 2008, the National Organization for Women promoted a “Love Your Body Day,” which Limbaugh renamed, “love your body day if you’re a feminazi . . . because nobody else does.”
Were all feminists feminazis, then? Were all ladies? All individuals with our bodies?
In the identical broadcast, he declared that “feminism was established so that unattractive women could have easier access to the mainstream.” And by then the which means of feminazi had lastly turn into clear: Rush Limbaugh didn’t need all ladies to have entry to the mainstream. He didn’t like the concept they is likely to be judged on deserves apart from those he favored. He hated their unruliness, their insistence on dictating the phrases of their very own humanity. He hated that the nation appeared more and more open to this. So many feminazis, and extra daily.
“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,” Limbaugh mentioned on his present. “We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”
Limbaugh made Fluke’s request for common medical protection into a signal of non-public promiscuity. “It makes her a slut, right?” he demanded. “It makes her a prostitute. . . . She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception.”
Nevermind that in her testimony, she hadn’t talked about her personal contraception wants, if she even had them. She’d solely talked about the wants of ladies she knew.
Limbaugh’s denigration of Fluke revealed a elementary lack of information about contraception — the capsule prices the identical quantity whether or not you will have intercourse as soon as a month or daily — however a deep perception into what the broadcaster thought may encourage the conservative male psyche: that ladies may very well be having intercourse, a number of it, and not in your profit or along with your say-so. That the lads in these ladies’s lives may lose a measure of management.
I talked to Fluke on Thursday to study about what she was doing now, to hear about her recollections of the time.
She mentioned that she’d been cautious, again in 2012, not to reply with particulars about her private life, or to strive to show that she wasn’t a “slut.” She thought that doing so would preserve the argument on Limbaugh’s phrases.
“No person deserves those labels,” she mentioned. “Those insults were not a personal insult on one woman, but on women in general, and how they are looked at and how they are talked about.”
She as a substitute needed the discourse about contraception to be a second the place “these types of old, old slurs couldn’t stop us from having those conversations,” she mentioned.
The conversations that phrases like “feminazi” had been supposed to short-circuit.
In the times and weeks following Fluke’s 2012 testimony, she acquired a lot of messages. The ones she remembers weren’t those from individuals who supported Limbaugh, however the ones from individuals who shared along with her their very own tales of harassment and perseverance.
When Fluke known as me, the primary sentence she uttered was sympathy for Limbaugh’s household and family members. “Anyone who loses a loved one, that’s difficult regardless of what else might also be true,” she mentioned.
She has spent the last decade since her run-in with Limbaugh working in opposition to the forms of rancor and divisiveness she believes he spent his profession sowing. Today, she’s the president of a nonprofit that focuses on financial and social justice, on giving everybody an equally loud voice.
Limbaugh’s legacy contains introducing the phrase “feminazi” into the American lexicon. But it additionally contains, opposite to what he supposed, catalyzing the work of ladies like Fluke. A lady who was known as a dumb identify by an indignant man — and selected to be the larger particular person.
Because although it might have pushed Rush Limbaugh loopy, she actually didn’t care what he had to say.
Monica Hesse is a columnist writing about gender and its influence on society. For extra go to wapo.st/hesse.