“Sluts Across America” Founder To TJD: We’re Fighting “Ludicrous, Misguided View About Contraception”
10:30 am, April 26th | by Amy Tennery
When conservative talk show host Limbaugh described Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke as a “slut” in late February, the s-bomb had quite a crash zone indeed. Of course, of all the horrendous things Limbaugh’s said about women over the years, who’d have thought this would be the one to catalyze an entire movement?
But that’s exactly what “Sluts Across America” is about. Armed with the most catchy of eye-catching names, the crowd-sourced web project asks users to identify their location and then, in 200 characters or less, finish the sentence “I’m a slut because…”
Answers on the site range from the silly to the serious and so far include “I’m a slut because… having any more kids would totally bankrupt me.” And “I’m a slut because… if I don’t take birth control I am bed ridden by cramps and my period.” A map on the site tracks users’ locations to put the geographic reach of the slut campaign in perspective.
Bottom line: Sluts Across America wants to reclaim the word “slut” — and prove that access to affordable reproductive health care is something every woman deserves. And, not surprisingly, in just 24 hours the website pulled in more than 3,600 testimonials and widespread media attention.
The website’s founder Roopa (who declined to provide her last name) took time out to talk with The Jane Dough about “Sluts Across America” — and what the reproductive rights revolution means for women.
TJD: The map of crowd-sourced testimonials is quite powerful. What made you decide to orient the project this way?
Roopa: One of the things that I think bothers me most about the current reproductive health controversy is the fact that it’s at times assumed that the only supporters of contraception are on the coasts, or in little liberal pockets of the country. I knew I wanted to create something that spoke to that fact, and showed that women (and men!) who rely on birth control are everywhere, in every part of the country, in all walks of life. I think the geography of birth control supporters says a lot about how crucial access to these services is, especially for people coming from low-income backgrounds who wouldn’t be able to afford it without insurance coverage or assistance.
TJD: Can you tell us a little bit about your background? Have you done projects that are similar to this?
Roopa: I’m a current graduate student at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP). Prior to re-entering school, I worked on MTV’s documentary series “True Life” for several years. I’ve always had an interest in doing educational and socially-aware pieces, and a lot of my work both in TV production as well as at ITP has been pro-social in nature.
TJD: So far, roughly how many “I’m a slut because…” explanations have come in? Do you have any personal favorites?
Roopa: As of this typing, there are about 3,600 submissions, but there are more rolling in every minute. I have been absolutely overwhelmed by the amount of support the site has received so quickly and I owe so much gratitude to the women and men who have chosen to share their stories with the project. A lot of the responses have been deeply personal, while others have been wonderfully tongue-in-cheek and witty. It’s impossible for me to pick favorites because every person who wrote in has an absolutely legitimate reason for standing behind this cause, and none of them are better or more valid than any of the others.
TJD: What kind of backlash or criticism have you faced since launching the site?
Roopa: A Fox News affiliate picked up the story soon after I launched, and a lot of the comments coming in from there indicate that I was undermining myself by the explicit use of the word “slut” in the title of the site, or argue that there is no “war on women” and that those of us on the site are just whining about having to pay for birth control ourselves. I think that if you’re latching on to the title and seeing it as a “poor decision” on my part, you’re kind of missing the point of the entire project. As far as the debate about whether there is actually a war on reproductive rights, I think the sheer number of people who have felt compelled to contribute to the site speaks for itself.
TJD: On your website, you point to Rush Limbaugh’s controversial use of the word “slut” to describe Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown Law student who testified before congress on birth control access. Do you feel that was a catalyzing moment for women’s reproductive rights?
Roopa: I think the fact that such explicit language was used — that he made no attempt to disguise how he really felt about her or about any woman who chooses to use birth control — was definitely a turning point. He so clearly articulated what is such a ludicrous and misguided view about contraception that I think a lot of people who wouldn’t have ordinarily gotten involved in such a politically loaded battle were outraged enough to do something about it. Sandra Fluke isn’t so different from you and me, and I think the act of equating her with a prostitute hit a lot of people way closer to home than anything that had been said prior to that statement.
TJD: What’s next for you and the site? Do you hope to organize any kind of political actions?
Roopa: Right now I’m finishing up the end of my semester, and hope to continue to be politically engaged with this cause through the summer and beyond. This project has really made me aware of the incredible power that social media and the Internet have to catalyze engagement and participation, and I definitely hope to produce more work that has a similar effect in the future.
This interview has been edited and condensed.