Why Bill Maher is Different from Rush Limbaugh

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COMMENTARY | I am a feminist. I am also a fan of comedian Bill Maher. So the recent calls by right-wing conservatives and some feminists for Maher to apologize for using slurs against Sarah Palin have gotten my attention.

The outcry against Maher is in response to Rush Limbaugh's recent rant against birth control advocate Sandra Fluke in which he called her a "slut" and "prostitute." While Limbaugh apologized to Fluke, some conservatives and feminists are wondering why society does not demand Maher to apologize for the offensive words he called Palin.

The answer is simple: Maher is different from Limbaugh.

Maher is a comedian. Or as he described on Friday's episode of "Real Time with Bill Maher" on HBO, "a potty-mouth" comedian similar to George Carlin. But Maher does not single out women collectively as targets for his stand-up. Yes he made fun of Palin on "Real Time" and in his stand-up routines, but I've heard him make more jokes about the religious (Maher is staunch a atheist).

When news of the Penn State child abuse scandal broke, Maher asked his "Real Time" panel a question that was women-friendly. He didn't sound like a sexist creep but a man who notices the moral importance of women in society.

Compare that to Limbaugh, who coined the term feminazi. Also, just a few days after the Fluke fiasco, Limbaugh called "The American Way of Eating" author Tracie McMillan a "young, single white woman .... overeducated" and she only has a bachelor's degree. But what might be the most telling sign of what Limbaugh really thinks of women is who one of his biggest fans is: uber-conservative, anti-Equal Rights Amendment proponent Phyllis Schlafly.

I do not like to hear anyone talk disparagingly about women. But I must also be wise enough to know the difference between humor with sincerity and blatant sexism. And I know which category Maher belongs.

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