“Crazy,” “junkie” and “whore” are words that have been used to discredit individuals. They are meant to hurt and alienate, and they do. But once the sting wears off it is evident such words are merely the ignorant vernacular of people aiming to stigmatize for selfish reasons, often to gain power over a group of people.
A person suffering from mental illness is labeled as “crazy” when they are simply people with brain chemistry incompatible with societal standards. Addicts are people who suffer from chemical dependency, a progressive and sometimes fatal illness. Women in charge of their sexuality are not whores. Human beings are too complex to be reduced to the virgin/whore paradigm.
Fearing being stigmatized, people often conceal their true identity. Ironically, nothing is more empowering than shining one’s true colors. If someone bears a stigmatized malady such as mental illness, relating the trials endured is like opening a window in a musty attic. The truth comes to light and false perceptions get aired out. Every day millions of people suffer in silence from refusing treatment because they will not even acknowledge their condition. They fear being stigmatized because they themselves believe them to be true.
Sharing our shortcomings establishes solidarity, a tool effective in combating stigmas. It is important to recognize that stigmas do not apply only to ill people. They can be used against any person or group that differs from the majority.
Equal rights for women have been attained but even in America old-fashioned stigmas still oppress women and threaten to thwart equality from being practiced.
Stigmatization is a form of character assault, meant to disqualify a person’s opinion. The offender often resorts to this tactic when attempting to rally support against an opponent.
Susan Fluke, a Georgetown law student, was given the opportunity to testify before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on a hearing regarding women’s reproductive health and contraception. Her testimony validated medical reasons for providing insurance coverage for birth control for students.
Rush Limbaugh, host to the nation’s most popular radio show, was quick to weigh in with his usual scandalous commentary. He reacted to Fluke’s testimony by calling her a slut and a prostitute among other heinous comments.
Limbaugh’s incendiary remarks backfired on the radio host who has branded himself through his outrageous commentaries. More than 140 advertisers, including McDonalds and Wal-Mart, have withdrawn support.
Inflammatory reactions to his outrageous banter are expected, in fact that is mostly why people listen to him, only this time he took it too far. Losing advertisers is as grave consequence for a media figure as losing ratings. Corporate solidarity could indicate that the blatant use of a stigma with such vulgar language is no longer tolerated in the public eye. Perhaps we are slowly inching our way towards the dissolving of stigmas, though we have a long way to go.