In the eighties, people were talking about women stepping up to the plate. Women were competing in the work place, and “studies” by the infamous “they” (you know, the “they” who says eggs are bad/good for you this week) popped up right and left to let women know having a job caused miscarriages, there was a man shortage, and divorce put women in the poorhouse (all were later discredited). The concepts of date rape and marital rape evolved into meaningfulness (before that, it was only rape if it was a complete stranger, apparently). At the same time, women were pressured to lose weight until their bones crumbled. There were a lot of messages, some good, some bad, some dependent on your perspective.
Society was having a dialog – a big dialog – in the way societies do before they either take a step forward or a giant leap backward.
At the end of the eighties, fashion magazines announced it was okay to be feminine again, which meant rounded tummies and dresses and high heels and makeup – but only IF she wanted to. Unlike men, who run the world but can’t stop wearing neckties, women were going to be as frilly or butch as they wanted, and society was going to have to cope. By the early nineties, we had images like the newly-muscular Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2, whose physique – and most of the rest of her life – was dictated by the needs of survival, not fashion. We had a little of everything. It was looking sort of promising.
Then we had Rush Limpballs Limbaugh and society took that giant leap backward. He applied the label “Femi-Nazi” not just to radical militant feminists (yes, all 5 members of that huge and threatening sect) but to pretty much every woman who spoke up about what she wanted from society or men. It was the act of voicing a desire that made you a man-hater in Limbaugh’s head, because to him that meant you were condemning every man who hadn’t given it to you. A highly irrational statement, considering that some of the things women wanted weren’t even anything men were in a position to grant. Like, self-esteem for teenage daughters. While men play a role in what’s led to self-esteem being such an issue, surely mothers and consumers of all types are equally to blame.
Unfortunately, I think women took this to heart. Were the men in their lives sincerely confusing a desire for equal opportunity with a militant man-hating, man-conquering agenda? They reached out to reassure the men that this wasn’t what it was about… and somewhere along the way, the dialog got dropped. I think it had to do with a new generation of kids coming of age who’d missed the first dialog. It just all got swept out with the trash.
Now that we have the advantage of knowing the aptly named Rush has an addictive personality, I think we can get some perspective on his lack of perspective. Limbaugh needed to make feminism all about men – that was the only way he could retain his own impotence importance in his delusion of grandeur. And the same was true of his listeners. If women wanted to pursue their own path, where did that leave men?
So, years later, what are we left with? Well, Ol’ Rush can call me whatever he likes. It says a lot more about him than it does me. How women are portrayed in the media says more about the men doing the portraying than it says about women in general. As a writer, I know (uncomfortably firsthand) how one can be psychoanalyzed by her own work. Let this be the case for people like Rush Limbaugh and the producers and showrunners responsible for dehumanizing women in TV and film.