The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.
Jake Tapper recently spoke with Bill Maher, offering him a chance to set the record straight about the misogynistic comments he often directs at women. Tapper noted that conservatives are complaining that Rush Limbaugh should not be the only one singled out for his vile words regarding Sandra Fluke when liberal commentators get away with demeaning conservative women all the time. But Tapper’s premise is incorrect on its face. Liberal men also make disgusting comments about liberal women. Hillary Clinton can attest to that point. Jake Tapper well knows this. He ran a column on the same in 2008, and yet he too seems to want to bury that knowledge.
In his defensive comments, Maher repeatedly plays the “I’m just a comedian pushing the envelope” card. He compares himself to George Carlin, but I would suggest he neither possesses the genius with language nor the ability to formulate sophisticated social commentary the way Carlin did. Bill Maher is good at trashing women he doesn’t like in the most sexist, demeaning terms possible. On that score, he has no peer.
Maher also makes the argument that when Rush Limbaugh called Ms. Fluke a “slut,” he went after a private citizen, and that was wrong. However, Maher implies that going after a public female figure with sexist language is entirely permissible. Maher’s statement is as nonsensical as it is indefensible. This implies that because a woman is a public figure you should be able to call her a cunt, a twat, a bubblehead, a witch, a bitch, a whore, a slut, or say that she should be “splayed out on the hood of a car.” In re Sarah Palin, he says that, as a politician, ‘she gives as good as she gets’ in the insult department. I would have to disagree. She has never gone after the children of anyone’s family, nor does she find the world’s filthiest names to describe her attackers. “Lamestream media” is no comparison to what she and her daughters have had to endure.
According to Maher’s logic – it is okay for MSNBC’s David Shuster to call Hillary Clinton a pimp and infer that her daughter is a whore; or for Alex Castellanos on CNN to call Hillary a “bitch,” and it is okay for Maher to call Palin a “cunt” and a “dumb twat” but it is not okay to say that about a private person. I would ask Mr. Maher how many television viewers, who likewise have no respect for women, would draw the line at this public vs. private citizen rationale? If you demean one woman you demean them all.
Men like Maher, Shuster, Olbermann, Cafferty, Matthews, Louis CK, and Taibbi all set an example with their behavior and tacitly grant permission for everyone else to jump on the sexist bandwagon.
Excusing himself for the defamation of female public figures also ignores the fact that other women who support Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Elizabeth Warren, Martha Coakley, Nikky Haley, or Kirsten Gillibrand are by extension being insulted and intimidated by vile and violent rhetoric toward these women. During the 2008 election cycle, for example, pundits, some newscasters, and many comics not only demeaned both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, but by their horrid jibes against them, also made clear that anyone else should be ashamed to support them. Liberal men accused women of “vagina voting” if they chose Hillary – isn’t that going after a whole group of private citizens?
Maher says “he lets his audience be his guide” as to when he has gone too far, but by then the damage is already done. And since there are enough people in this country who thrill at the use of misogynist rhetoric, a man with a bully pulpit such as Maher would do well to set an example, not to follow, or pander to, the lowest common denominator.
He refers to himself as a “comedian,” yet his HBO show is peppered with politicians, commentators and other political operatives. He debates with them as if he is on a par with them; offering his services as a political commentator on other news programs. For him to hide behind the safety veil of “but I’m just a comedian” whenever he gets into trouble for his sexist commentary is not cutting it.
Maher called comedy the “final frontier of free speech” and also refers to “context.” In which context is it appropriate to refer to a mother, wife, sister, or daughter as a whore or a cunt? This is hate speech. I apologize for spelling out the “c” word continuously but only when we see the shock of it on the page over and over will we finally figure out that this is not okay.
No one is telling Maher to stop criticizing women with whom he disagrees, but can’t he summon the intelligence to do so in a way that does not encourage disrespect, and a demeaning image or objectification of women? The amount of violence toward women in this country and around the world is a clear indicator of the relationship between vile words and violent actions.
What if a female comedian used the “N” word to describe a male politician, or offered a demeaning slur to a gay man – would she still be on the air? Why are “cunt,” “bitch,” “whore” and “twat” considered free speech, whereas slurs against people of color or gay persons considered hate speech? I can’t wait to hear the moral relativism on that one. The ‘public vs. private’ citizen excuse in those cases would be useless, I can assure you.
Maher, like Limbaugh and any others on the news or off, who use this kind of disrespectful rhetoric against women can only have the intention to intimidate, to objectify and to silence. A man who respects women does not speak about them using these terms – in any context.
Maher told Tapper he was a “potty mouth, not a misogynist.” My final question to Mr. Maher: What word could he be called on a daily basis that would hit so hard in the solar plexus that he would comprehend the cost of being debased as so many women have been? What would get the message across and does such an equivalent even exist?
Until he understands what it feels like to be on the receiving end of this constant vile treatment, or witnesses someone about whom he cares deeply be treated to the same, I doubt we will penetrate the façade of his vapid excuse making.
Anita Finlay is the author of the book, DIRTY WORDS ON CLEAN SKIN: Sexism and Sabotage, a Hillary Supporter’s Rude Awakening, which will be released in April…