When the whole Rush Limbaugh/Sandra Fluke issue popped up a couple of weeks ago, the media pattern was pretty predictable. Conservatives said that it didn't matter what Rush Limbaugh said, because he was an entertainer. Liberals, correctly, said that was a load of crap, and that Rush Limbaugh has way too much sway in the Republican party to just call him an entertainer. Conservatives then pointed to Bill Maher, who has called Sarah Palin a c***. Liberals drew two distinctions: (1) Maher is a comedian, and we've typically given comedians more leeway with their acts than other entertainers; and (2) Maher does not have anywhere near as much sway among liberals as Limbaugh has among conservatives.
The most interesting defense I saw of Maher was from Michael Ian Black, who correctly noted that Rush Limbaugh's statements about Sandra Fluke were in fact not a personal attack on Ms. Fluke, but instead a general attack on women's rights. Maher's statements, on the other hand, were personal attacks. Maher didn't say that all conservative women were c***s, but instead solely that Sarah Palin was.
But is that enough that we should be defending Maher's language referring to Ms. Palin, no matter how abhorrent we find her viewpoints? Here is my problem with the defenses of Maher: there are certain words that, when used to describe a woman, are inherently degrading towards women: c***, bitch, slut and whore come to mind immediately. And it really does not matter if I am making a personal attack on an individual or degrading a greater population. If I called a black man the n-word, would it be better because I just really disliked that individual, and wasn't referring to a general population? I somehow doubt the answer to that question would be yes.
The words that are specifically designated towards women are specifically designed to be degrading towards women. There are plenty of gender neutral terms we can use to describe people we think are just not good human beings: Asshole. Douche bag. Sack of shit. Try it with me: Sarah Palin is an asshole. Michele Bachmann is a douche bag. Ann Coulter is a sack of shit. Ah. Doesn't that feel nice?