In Response to Steven Landsburg

Today we publish the first in a three-part series of guest responses to Steven Landsburg’s comments that not only reiterated but also added to the demeaning statements Rush Limbaugh made about Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke earlier this month. This post comes from Joanna Scott, Roswell Smith Burrows Professor of English and Faculty Associate to the Susan B. Anthony Institute, University of Rochester.

I find it deeply disappointing to read our colleague Steven Landsburg’s comments directed at Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke.  It’s one thing to examine the legal and economic ramifications of subsidized health care.  We’re on vastly different ground, however, when inflammatory language is introduced and charges are made about a young woman’s character.  The insults launched by Professor Landsburg are breathtakingly ugly.  After applauding Rush Limbaugh for introducing the analogy between subsidized contraception and “mandatory on-line sex videos” and declaring that Sandra Fluke’s “position…deserves only to be ridiculed, mocked and jeered,” he sets out to ridicule, mock, and jeer.  Rush Limbaugh called Ms. Fluke a slut.  Professor Landsburg tells us that “prostitute” would be a better word for her, and even better than prostitute would be “extortionist.”  Still not content, he adds “contraceptive sponge” to the list.  Surely Professor Landsburg knows that words never float entirely free from their definitions.  He purports to go after Sandra Fluke’s “position.”  But when I last checked, a prostitute is by definition a person, not a position.  An extortionist is by definition a person, not a position.  Oddly, in Professor Landsburg’s unusual dictionary, “contraceptive sponge”–generally not a person–is a phrase he says he reserves “very clearly and specifically for people.”

At the center of this storm is Ms. Fluke, a person, not a position. For her Congressional testimony on the benefits of subsidized birth control, she deserves “requisite mockery,” Professor Landsburg declares.  His logic is perplexing when he goes on to insist, in a public letter to President Seligman, that he “dissected [the arguments] with respect.”

The initial charge of “slut” made by Rush Lindbaugh is an undeniably loaded insult, and the degradation associated with it colors all the words Professor Landsburg offers as substitutes.  He ridicules, he mocks, he jeers.  But I know enough of our faculty at the University of Rochester to be able to say that Professor Landsburg is not typical.  I can assure our students that if we disagree with your argument, we will not ridicule, mock, or jeer.

About Kaitlin Legg

Former Program Assistant at the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women's Studies at the University of Rochester.
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