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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 05:44 PM ET, 03/14/2012

Famous women are entitled to respect

The airwaves are now contaminated with opinions and suggestions that famous women need to suffer through misogynistic attacks.

Writing in the New Republic last week, Tim Noah attempted to differentiate between women slimed by the likes of Bill Maher and women like Sandra Fluke, who was recently slimed by Rush Limbaugh:

First, all of the people who were subjected to verbal abuse by the liberal- or left-leaning blowhards and smart-asses mentioned above are public figures. If you follow politics you know who they are. Fluke, on the other hand, though a political activist, was not really a public figure. If you follow politics you probably didn’t know who she was until Limbaugh attacked her.

The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz voiced a similar strain on CNN. His interviewer asked: “In Limbaugh’s case, this is a third-year law student. We’re not talking about pundits. We’re not talking about major political figures who are on the airwaves each and every day. There’s a difference, is there not?”

Kurtz: “And that’s precisely it, because Limbaugh can go on and on and on about Nancy Pelosi or Barack Obama. These are established public figures who have their own megaphones and can answer back and are used to being in the arena.”

Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” didn’t go quite that far. But on last night’s program, he did suggest that outrage over Limbaugh’s comments may have spiked because Limbaugh attacked a “private citizen.”

The notion that a public figure should sustain more abuse than the average citizen is rooted in common sense as well as in media law. Nancy Pelosis and Barack Obamas willingly present themselves to the public, with all the attendant unpleasant consequences. Our legal system, accordingly, makes it more difficult for such people to prevail in legal actions against those who may defame them. So they need to develop a thick skin.

From there, however, it’s a leap to assert that misogyny is somehow more okay when dealing with Sarah Palin (massive public figure) than with Sandra Fluke (once-private figure now emerging as a public figure). Two reasons:

One: This is a torturous and cruel double standard that applies only to women. If you’re Sarah Palin or some other woman contemplating a life in public office, it suggests, you must be ready to be called the sort of offensive things that Maher has done.

And if you’re a man contemplating life in public office, what’s the sexist analogue here? What verbal abuse are you likely to endure solely because of your gender? A lugnut?

Two: Many Americans are misogynists, as you can glean from reading the comments boards on just about any political site. Prominent women have the unfortunate choice between lashing back at them or ignoring them.

Yet! The originators of the misogyny in the Limbaugh-Maher axis aren’t just any old yahoo with an Internet connection. They’re very highly paid and influential members of the media-entertainment complex. They’re fully grown people who make lots of money.

As such, they can reasonably be expected to do a couple of really hard things: One is to refrain from using misogynic terms when referring to private women. Two — and this may be pushing things — is to refrain from using misogynic terms when referring to public women, including Sarah Palin.

By  |  05:44 PM ET, 03/14/2012

 
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