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Geoff Nunberg. Sandra Fluke, a third-year law student at Georgetown University, testifies about contraceptives and insurance coverage during a hearing before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. That's the standard formula for these things — you apologize not for what you said but for the way you said it. Though in this case, there didn't seem to be a lot of distance between thought and word.
What was the point of saying Sandra Fluke was asking to be paid for sex and then adding "What does that make her? Whatever your view of Limbaugh, he's one of our most gifted controversialists, and he must have had a good idea that that word would kick up more of a row than any of the other things he said.
Still, he obviously didn't anticipate that the reaction would be so intense that it would drive off advertisers who had been willing to overlook all his previous effervescences about race and gender. It couldn't have landed well. But if most people found the remark offensive, it wasn't always for the same reasons. Some have a problem with the very existence of a word that stigmatizes women who are sexually active or who look as if they'd like to be. In an age when it's obligatory to condemn the double standard wherever it rears its head, the disparity between "slut" and "player" is an embarrassment to the English language.
The objections to "slut" went public last year after a Toronto police constable told a crime prevention meeting that women should avoid dressing like sluts if they don't want to be victimized. In response, several thousand women held what they called a slut walk to protest the whole culture of slut-shaming. The idea caught on, and slut walks have been held in a number of cities since then. Some feminists object to the term, saying the sexist connotations of "slut" are beyond redemption.
And it is hard to imagine "slut" being reclaimed the way "queer" was, as a respectable label for academic programs and cultural centers.