Talking Points Memo reports that lawyer Gloria Allred, on behalf of the Women's Equal Rights Legal Defense and Education Fund, has written to the prosecutor in Limbaugh's home county in West Palm Beach, Florida, asking for a criminal investigation of Rush's insults against Sandra Fluke.
TPM has posted Allred's full letter, which cites Florida Statute 836.04:
whoever speaks of and concerning any woman, married or unmarried, falsely and maliciously imputing to her a want of chastity, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree.
In Florida, first-degree misdemeanors can be punished by up to a year in jail.
It does no service to feminism or freedom of speech to call for Rush Limbaugh to be prosecuted for his speech.
The Florida statute is one of the worst examples of sexist paternalism, pretending to “protect” women by treating them like weaklings needing the defense of the state against offenses to the virtue. It's no small irony that at the bottom of Allred's letter is the text of the never-adopted Equal Rights Amendment: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Clearly, a law that protects the “chastity” reputation of women but not men fails to meet that equal rights standard.
The Florida statute, incidentally, makes it a misdemeanor to publish an anonymously-written statement which attempts “to bring disgrace or ridicule upon any person,” making DailyKos' owners and editors guilty of several million crimes.
Criminal defamation should be considered unconstitutional beyond any redemption. When it's mixed with an archaic sexist law that regards the value of women as depending upon their “chastity,” it's even more repulsive.
Limbaugh deserves criticism for his sexism, far more criticism that Mitt Romney and other Republicans have offered. Most of all, he deserves the greatest criticism for calling Sandra Fluke and all other feminists (including me) Nazis with his use of the term “feminazi” to describe her. Comparing anyone who supports women's equality with the worst genocidal regime in human history is a thousand times more offensive than insulting the chastity of women.
Sadly, some of the outrage against Limbaugh reflects the very same sexist notions embodied in the Florida law invoked by Allred, that the "chastity" of women is what makes them worthy. Many conservatives think it's completely appropriate to call feminists Nazis, and seek to limit the rights of women to health care, whereas questioning the chastity of a woman goes too far. Limbaugh's pornographic fantasies about Fluke are the flip side of the Florida "chastity" law, an attempt to treat women as sexual objects whose most valuable commodity is their virginity.
Crossposted at DailyKos.