Slutty Role ModelKelly Wickham
I have something to say about the fact that a college dropout drug addict is spouting off on a sponsored radio show who is openly and gleefully calling a woman a “slut.”
In fact, I’ve been saying it for a long time. When I sit down to put pen to paper, I am sort of confounded that some kind of defensive response is required — but then I remember that a lot of people listen to him and my circle of having to explain common sense and decency widens and I lose focus. It’s probably because I’ve raised a daughter, placed one daughter for adoption only to have her return to my life as an adult, and that I’m also raising two sons. Additionally, I’m raising The Cuban’s oldest son and his girlfriend. If you think that because these people are still in their teens that I’m not raising them, think again. Even the two newest children in my house have some missing parts in their lives where they weren’t given enough guidance or were shown bad parenting. We are having to undo all of that and start fresh with them, gently guiding them to be more compassionate adults and showing them a better way to live. After all, I have watched thousands of children come before me in my work as an educator. My own children aren’t perfect, but that wasn’t the expectation in the first place. It does make me sort of an expert on the topic of children.
I am sure the other parents from which these children came will take issue with that and I can’t be bothered to try to respond to it because their kids are living under my roof now. They are intermingling with the children I have raised and I get the right and the responsibility to run my house as I see fit. Some of the things I am un-doing and reprogramming them for come from harsh words spoken in anger or blithely uttered words of ignorance or racism. I have my work cut out for me. And this is where I will take issue with Rush Limbaugh’s painful, targeted words of calling a female law student a “slut” and asking that he be allowed to watch her have sex if she chooses to take control of her personal health.
We talk openly about sex in my house. I liken it to the manner in which sexual and reproductive health is taught in Europe. It’s not a question of not ever enjoying sex, but how to enjoy it safely and have it be a good experience. When Grant and Kaylee (both 18 years old) moved in with us we began those conversations with them and, yes, it was uncomfortable at first. They weren’t used to talking about it, but we laid it out as one of the expectations just like going to school and getting a job were expectations. You’re probably going to do this, so let’s ensure that you are being safe and healthy about it. Not long after moving in with us, Kaylee listened to a vitriolic voicemail from a man who was previously helping to raise her call her a “psychotic whore.” We dealt with the aftermath of that. It was devastating to her, I tell you, not to mention irresponsible and horrid to speak to a child that way. In response, we have cut off all communication with that person and are rebuilding her self-esteem and character in a positive and supportive way.
Mind you, I joke openly about getting pregnant twice in high school and even once in college. I don’t suppose that politicians approve of how my life course has gone, but I neither expect nor anticipate garnering their approval of my life. Once, while having a discussion with my girlfriends about my sexual past, I joked that I should have named my children after the birth control that failed me. Mason would be the Today Sponge and Maddie would be Ortho Novum 777 with a side of antibiotics. Mallory, on the other hand, would simply be Teenage Invincibilty or perhaps Young Ignorance. It can’t happen to me. I am all too aware that the conversations on birth control and female sexual health are focusing on the health aspects of monthly cramps and excessive bleeding and menopausal issues, but I will openly admit that after birthing babies I was also intensely interested in how to have enjoyable, healthy, consensual sex without getting pregnant again. I am the woman who wants birth control because I don’t want to have more babies.
I have no shame in admitting that, either. But if these men are denying women the very civic right of addressing Congressional meetings because their health is being compromised then I have to wonder: whatever would they say about a divorced woman on birth control who is living with a man she isn’t married to and who is part of that unmarried couple raising four of their six children?
Let me answer that. I’m not asking anyone’s permission.
Whether I like it or not I am a role model in my career. I am responsible for my words and for name-calling and for spouting hatred. Exactly how would my community respond if spoke to my students that way? You’d be calling for my job, right? What if I went around condemning my gay students as “sinners” in a repulsive lifestyle? How about if I told young, impressionable girls that they are “sluts”? What if I denied them the privilege of speaking on their own behalf because I think I know what’s best for everyone just because I have a platform on which to pontificate due to my position?
People may have their opinions about the choices I made to get where I am, but I would ask that they remember that I didn’t get to this place alone. There were boys and men who abandoned that “choice” and left me to clean it up afterward. No matter how I got myself into these situations, I was left to find a way out alone. I finished college and grad school. I have never been addicted to drugs. I am not on my fourth spouse. And I’ll bet you any amount of money that my position as a role model is far superior to that of Rush. In my house, where I am raising my own children and other people’s children, I use my words carefully and thoughtfully. We may not look like your typical family, but that’s not a goal we were reaching for anyway.
What we are, though, is a growing and loving and accepting family, but we know we have a lot of work to do. When it comes to being a role model, I regard my place as a person who is serving as an example seriously. I don’t expect my kids to take the same route or make the same mistakes I made, but I am a strong reminder to them that people overcome and surpass expectations and that they move on to better things. And Rush Limbaugh is a strong reminder that men in powerful positions can still call women like me and Sandra Fluke a “slut.” Out loud. In a public space.
We all have a lot of work to do.