Super Tuesday: Should Rush Limbaugh be fired?

Opinion by Johnathan Bowes
Sept. 22, 2014, 4:55 p.m.

Sexual assault on college campuses has been making headlines recently as the number of reported assaults continues to rise every year. In response to these disturbing reports, the government took action by releasing a list of colleges under investigation for their handling of sexual assault claims. Consequently, many colleges on that list have begun to take concrete actions to both help better prevent and educate students about sexual assault. Ohio State University, as one of those schools, has reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to meet the Title IX standards to “provide a learning, living and working environment that is free from sexual assault and sexual harassment.”

Despite Ohio State’s vigorous steps to keep its campus safe, its new policies became the punchline of the joke on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show on Sept. 15. Limbaugh attempts to make a mockery of Ohio State’s policies by implying that the need to affirmatively consent takes away from the fact that “seduction used to be an art.” In an effort to appeal to his heterosexual male audience he asks, “How many of you guys, in your own experience with women, have learned that ‘no’ means ‘yes’ if you know how to spot it?”

But “no” never means “yes” in any other context, so why should it have any other meaning in an intimate setting that requires such a great amount of trust between two people?

The greatest problem with Limbaugh’s argument for more relaxed sexual assault policies is his undermining of the trauma of sexual assault. The way we talk about things in society plays a great deal into our stereotypes and even how we act. Perpetuating sexist humor or phrases in fact actually justifies prejudice in settings much more serious than our jokes. Limbaugh does just this through his caustic humor by implying that seduction requires deceit and manipulation.

This is especially problematic amidst the growing number of college students who are reporting sexual assaults on campuses across the nation. Victims of sexual assault are already at a heightened risk of developing further psychological problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and depression. Depreciating the very real psychological trauma that can result from sexual abuse or assault only makes these problems worse.

While some may call upon Limbaugh’s unquestionable right to the freedom of speech, his derogatory comments cross the line from a mere statement of an opinion to the perpetuation of a dangerous rape culture. This is the very thing that American society needs to get away from. Denying the fact that sexual assault is so prevalent or trying to redefine assault as “seduction” is not only sexist and offensive but also blatantly false.

It is not acceptable to make comments like these solely for the sake of provoking a response from the public. The high potential for causing harm in this case has much bigger consequences for people’s lives than the potential monetary or publicity benefits that Limbaugh might get from his diatribe. There is a business choice that must be made in this situation, but there is only one moral answer.

Mr. Limbaugh could clearly learn a few things before deciding to impart his misogynistic criticisms on college sexual assault policies. First off, I myself would much rather attend a school where I felt safe that where I felt the so-called “art of seduction” was still alive. Campus safety is undoubtedly a much larger factor in college decision-making than “romance” culture is. Secondly, consent is sexy. Seduction and consent are not mutually exclusive, as he suggests in his tirade. A policy requiring expressed verbal consent does not signal the tragic end of romance. It signals the start of better communication and more equal dignity between women and men.

We cannot continue to make rape jokes or assume that women are incapable of expressing their true desires. There should never be any “blurred lines” in sexual interactions because no means no. Always.

Contact Aimee Trujillo at aimeet ‘at’

A recent change in OSU’s sexual assault policies has brought Rush Limbaugh into another pot of hot water; this time, progressive leaders and lay people want Limbaugh’s head over his comments about consent destroying the art of “seduction,” since he holds that “‘no’ means ‘yes’ if you know how to spot it.

Those of us who understand him know that Limbaugh enjoys controversy, though he generally creates it via blunt language or, less frequently, personal attacks. Such pot-stirring comments are essentially subjective, even if he later apologizes for their impact. It’s rare that Limbaugh sets off a wave of anger due to something objectively stupid.

Nonetheless, this is one of those times.

It unfortunately doesn’t go without saying that consent is crucial in sex/romance. Articles on the topic still open many eyes because of our rape culture. The idea that all partners should want what’s happening to happen sets apart abusive, traumatic and/or violating actions from those that aren’t. Barring circumstances where partners have already agreed to a different paradigm, “no,” in fact, never means “yes.”

Beyond this, his statements are also idiotic because they ignore that men can be sexually assaulted* and that rape is about power, not sex.

As such, Limbaugh’s comments on the not-so-blurred lines of sexual violence are at best naïve and at worst imbecilic. For many on the left, that’s the end of the story — after all, it’s Rush Limbaugh. When a right-of-center voice displays such incompetence on something like sexual assault, it’s more than enough for the left-of-center powers to campaign against them.

Conversely, true-blue Democrats who are sexual predators still get a platform*. Take Bill Clinton, who — despite abusing Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broaddrick — is still a major Democrat fundraiser.

In reality, though, ending the story there does nothing to actually combat rape culture or change ideas about sexual assault.

Since we live in a country that (usually, but not always) respects individual freedom, it’s important to realize that Limbaugh’s freedom to say stupid things enables our freedom to teach him, and others, why he’s wrong.

Simply shutting him up, as the left wants, doesn’t send the message that he’s morally incorrect; instead, it sends the message that he’s politically incorrect — something he has taught his listeners is a good thing for two decades. Political correctness is an inherently left-wing concern, while moral correctness is something that right-wingers and left-wingers both care about.

Just look at the vitriol that surrounded Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke. While left-wingers were too busy going apoplectic over his slurs, few focused on trying to explain their objections in a way that would actually sway people on the other side of the aisle; few successfully bypassed the tropes of the “war on women” to actually point out how they saw contraception as morally important. Thus, when Limbaugh did apologize to Fluke, he didn’t change his mind on the issue of contraception in Obamacare; he did so because he felt his words had been both inappropriate and too much like the standard progressive rhetoric. More importantly, his listeners didn’t change their minds either, given how favorable most Republicans view the SCOTUS decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

The targeting of Limbaugh then made him a martyr for the cause against contraception in Obamacare, which very well could happen with sexual assault if this most-recent battle in the war on Limbaugh continues to roll forward.

So where does that leave us on sexual assault? Regardless of political ideology, many of us here at Stanford and other universities are starting to awaken to the specific manifestations of rape culture in college, including universities that care more about damage control than helping survivors — thanks to Leah Francis ‘14 and the #StandWithLeah campaign that began last year.

Francis has taught so many because her voice was added to the conversation, not because her detractors’ voices were removed from it. The same can happen in our culture as a whole, too, if we refuse to silence people who need to be taught and instead focus our efforts on teaching them in the first place. Those of us in the position to do so must remind Limbaugh and others how their right to free speech, even when they say things that make no logical sense, is just as important as the right of everyone to feel safe and comfortable in their interpersonal (and especially romantic/sexual) relationships. We must still acknowledge the stupidity and danger in the idea that “no” can automatically mean “yes,” but it is of the highest importance that we do so in a way that actually causes a positive change.

*TRIGGER WARNING: the preceding link contains details of sexual assault.

Contact Johnathan Bowes at jbowes ‘at’

Johnathan Bowes (also known as JoBo) is a senior and premed majoring in Science, Technology, and Society. Originally from Sacramento, he went to high school in Chattanooga, TN. Besides writing for The Daily, he also works for El Aguila, Stanford's only Latin@ interest and culture magazine. He's also an avid fan of black tea, Game of Thrones, and Spanish literature. Follow him on Twitter @JohnathanBowes.

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