HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » Forums & Groups » Topics » Gender & Orientation » History of Feminism (Group) » Shakesville: On "Bit...
Introducing Discussionist: A new forum by the creators of DU

Tue Nov 27, 2012, 08:55 AM

Shakesville: On "Bitch" and other Misogynist Language

This article is from 2007. Have things gotten better? Or worse? Given the yet again, 'dust ups' over language, I found this post apropos to current events in general. What's sad it we still have to explain, over and over, why context is everything. This is a much longer post than the excerpt I have here and has a couple of embedded articles.


Quite honestly, I've had almost this exact same conversation before with male, self-identified liberal/progressive bloggers at whose blogs I objected to the use of sexist language, which is why I'm not identifying the blogger with whom I had this conversation. It's far too typical for me to single him out. I was, however, particularly disappointed by the way this conversation went, because I had thought that the person with whom I was speaking would be receptive to hearing how alienating it is, if for no other reason than because it will necessarily limit their audience. I was evidently mistaken.
By which I shouldn't be surprised, given that, as I said, I've had this conversation before, and it always goes the same way. So let me just respond to this point-by-point, since they're the same responses I inevitably get in such exchanges, and all of them have been raised in the comments of Shakes on multiple occasions:

1. The Brits use it. Some segments of British society are indeed fond of using the word cunt a lot. There are pubs in London where three seconds doesn't go by without someone shouting "yeh feckin' cunt!" at his or her mate. And…that really has nothing to do with its use at an American blog about American politics.

It also, btw, has nothing to do with whether it's intrinsically sexist. There are also bars in America where not three seconds pass without one guy calling another guy a fag. The frequency of its use in specific regional areas doesn't make it not homophobic—in those areas, or anywhere else.

Relatedly, the attempt to rip misogynist slurs from their roots to try to redefine them doesn't fly. "I'm using it in the European way" is just a cynical ploy to justify the continued use of misogynistic language that feels good to use. "Asshole" just doesn't have the zing! of "cunt," which is why we get these tortured explanations about how "cunt" isn't being used in the misogynistic way, but in the British or European way, where the word's ubiquity is fallaciously used as evidence that the word has lost all its meaning.
Throwing around the word cunt as if it has no meaning anymore—or some "new" meaning separate from gender—is ignorant and lazy, and contributes, in spite of all protestations to the contrary, to a culture of inequality.

2. I use it. My using the word cunt to describe myself and a man using it to describe another man are fundamentally different contexts. To pretend that this difference is not patently fucking obvious is what August calls a fabricated belief. No one with two brain cells still knocking together honestly believes that white people using the n-word as an insult and black people using it for any reason are equivalent, nor that a gay man describing himself as a faggot is the same as Ann Coulter describing John Edwards as a faggot. And no one should have the slightest bit of trouble wrapping their heads around the idea that my (or other women) reclaiming the word cunt (or bitch, or other sexist euphemisms) to describe ourselves is not the same as a man using it as an insult.

I love the word cunt, and I'm all for reclaiming it—but reclaiming "cunt" is about a woman wearing it herself and wielding it ironically, which is necessarily as a compliment, not an insult. If I call my girlfriend "a beautiful cunt" for expertly handling a sexist wanker, that's got reappropriative power. If I call her "a dumb cunt" because she does something foolish, not so much.

There are ways to use words and there are ways to use words—and knowing the difference, rooting out the subversive context from that which simply perpetuates oppression, is not remotely difficult.

And no matter how often women use it in a reclaimative fashion, it doesn't give anyone (of either sex) permission to use it as an insult. The whole "you use it" justification strikes me as a rather pathetic bit of whining; why do you get to use it and I don't? As if that's some big coup for the girlz. Trust me—in the whole "undeserved privilege since birth" v. "getting to use cunt" cage match, you've got the better end of the bargain. So STFU.

3. The guy who used it is "no misogynist." He was using this term for female genitalia to insult a man, after all, and his intent was not to be misogynistic. Okay, first of all, let’s pull this apart into two pieces:

A. Intent: If you're turning part of a woman's body into a slur to insult someone, the implication is necessarily that cunts are bad, nasty, less than, in some way something that a person wouldn't want to be or be associated with. That's how insults work. When cunt is used as a slur, it is dependent on construing a woman's body part negatively—and it thusly misogynistic, because it inexorably insults women in the process. Specifically using a misogynistic slur against a man can't be anything but intentionally misogynistic. If you don't intend to demean women, then don't use misogynistic slurs. It's really as simple as that.

B. Not a Misogynist. How often does one have to use misogynistic language before one can be identified as a misogynist? Twenty times? A hundred? An infinite number of times, as long as he doesn't beat women? During the "cunt/whore" dust-up recounted here, Piny wrote a great post addressing this very question:

I wholeheartedly agree that there is a difference between someone who posts an ill-conceived blackface photoshop caricature and, say, Nathan Bedford Forrest. I will also happily concede that there is a difference between someone who openly identifies as feminist but casually uses misogynistic slurs and graphic misogynistic riffs to deride people–women in particular–and, say, John Knox.

This does not mean that it’s a good idea to restrict “a racist,” “a sexist,” and “a misogynist,” to the very worst of the worst. …t reduces complaints about all of these words to matters of personal affront, such that “sexist” and “cunt” are equated. “Sexist” becomes not a criticism of someone’s demonstrated beliefs, a term like “reactionary,” but an epithet as crude as the slurs to which it responds. It’s mean and unfair to call someone a sexist.



http://www.shakesville.com/2007/11/on-bitch-and-other-misogynist-language.html

17 replies, 1976 views

Reply to this thread

Back to top Alert abuse

Always highlight: 10 newest replies | Replies posted after I mark a forum
Replies to this discussion thread
Arrow 17 replies Author Time Post
Reply Shakesville: On "Bitch" and other Misogynist Language (Original post)
ismnotwasm Nov 2012 OP
redqueen Nov 2012 #1
redqueen Nov 2012 #2
Little Star Nov 2012 #3
ismnotwasm Nov 2012 #4
redqueen Nov 2012 #5
ismnotwasm Nov 2012 #6
redqueen Nov 2012 #7
redqueen Nov 2012 #8
ismnotwasm Nov 2012 #9
redqueen Nov 2012 #10
KitSileya Nov 2012 #11
ismnotwasm Nov 2012 #12
KitSileya Nov 2012 #14
seabeyond Nov 2012 #13
KitSileya Nov 2012 #15
redqueen Nov 2012 #17
gollygee Nov 2012 #16

Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Tue Nov 27, 2012, 09:38 AM

1. This should be posted in GD

and pinned in here.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Tue Nov 27, 2012, 10:39 AM

2. If no one else wants to put this in GD, I will.

Please let me know.

This language contributes to women's oppression. I've had it with letting the issue of hate speech against women be treated as if it isn't important.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to redqueen (Reply #2)

Tue Nov 27, 2012, 11:02 AM

3. I like Shakesville and have it on my favorites list....

I agree redqueen, this is worthy of a GD post.

Just not by me because I have been very vocal the last few days.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to redqueen (Reply #2)

Tue Nov 27, 2012, 11:16 AM

4. Did it

We will see how it goes.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to ismnotwasm (Reply #4)

Tue Nov 27, 2012, 11:40 AM

5. Thanks.

I think it is important to stop pretending that certain words don't have power, especially considering the epidemic of violence against women and girls.

"Violence against women and girls is the most pervasive human rights violation. Up to seven in ten women experience violence in their lifetime. Governments have promised to end this pandemic. UN Women is calling on them to fulfill this promise and make new commitments to end violence against women and girls."
http://saynotoviolence.org/16days2012

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to redqueen (Reply #5)

Tue Nov 27, 2012, 12:12 PM

6. I don't understand that particular blinder people wear

The language I use at home is not the language I use in front of patients. My husband and I have what Steven King referred to as the 'internal language of a marriage'. Many people use words differently depending on where they are.

Those are milder examples; kick it up to sexist, homosexist or racist language and it should be clear.
Words matter. Yet the 'word police' crew will express sympathy over the suicide of a Facebook bullied child and completely miss the point that it was words that were used as a vicious weapon.

And then there's snark. Why make attempts at being so clever, if words don't matter? Why is there pig pile on every thread about abusive language if they don't matter? It's projection if you ask me.

I recently observed a stanch defender of all kinds of language get pissy and upset because someone was making jokes about a possible discovery on Mars. No, I'm not kidding.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to ismnotwasm (Reply #6)

Tue Nov 27, 2012, 12:15 PM

7. wow

Jokes about a discovery on Mars was their issue?

Seriously?

I'm lost for words...

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Tue Nov 27, 2012, 01:09 PM

8. It is so sadly ironic that the dismissals and excuses she lists

are being used in the GD thread.

Clearly people are simply ignoring the OP and simply kneejerkingly defending their beloved misogynist hate speech.

I shouldn't even be surprised.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to redqueen (Reply #8)

Tue Nov 27, 2012, 01:31 PM

9. As you pointed out

They aren't reading it.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to ismnotwasm (Reply #9)

Tue Nov 27, 2012, 01:36 PM

10. Yep. Defending misogynist slurs is very important, apparently.

Taking two minutes to read women's thoughts about misogynist slurs? Not so much.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 02:34 AM

11. Well, The GD thread just gave me my first ever hidden post.

I'm not sure whether to be proud or horrified.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to KitSileya (Reply #11)

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 09:03 AM

12. I had one here

Linking to something I had linked to several times before on DU2, from IBlameThePatriarchy. Only one since 2004. It's a weird feeling.

It's too bad because its a great little essay. I have your post as wallpaper. Should make a poster of it (hey, I made a pun!)

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to ismnotwasm (Reply #12)

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 11:05 AM

14. The pic wasn't attributed well.

I was having trouble remembering how to post a pic, so I forgot to give the source. I knew there had to be one for offensive language out there, as I have seen general ones for feminism many times, so I googled it. The pic was taken from a blog called "Atheist MC", who reposted it from a site called "Blag Hag", and it was made by someone called Jen McCreight.

Somehow, whenever misogyny is pointed out, a horde of defenders pop up and give out these long-tired arguments that have to be deflected every time. After reading Shakesville, Captain Awkward, Jezebel et al I am getting so darn tired of it. Therefore, I figured pointing out their hackneyed arguments with that bingo card would at least let DUers with open minds see how typical these discussions are.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to KitSileya (Reply #11)

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 09:21 AM

13. lol. you should have heard the consternation with that hide.

wha? wha?

lol.

she has all the hof women giving it a thumbs up yet, .... hid for the word.

that is an interesting graph.

meh... with hides. i cannot figure out how not to get hides.

and really, i am not trying for them.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to seabeyond (Reply #13)

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 11:13 AM

15. Isn't it typical, tho?

I have a really high chance of ending up on juries, down 5% to only 90% now. So I have several times voted to hide posts with offensive language. However, that was a thread about offensive language, and how do you discuss offensive language without using some of it?

It is kind of funny too, as I am known in my circle of friends and co-workers for never swearing. Perhaps because I am deeply religious, I believe that words have power, and some words are more powerful than others. Swear word have power, because they wouldn't be swear words if they didn't have power, which we imbue in them. Honestly, I was the only one among my friends not surprised at the research that was done that showed that swearing actually helped combat pain. (See Stephen Fry's Planet Word episode on swearing for visual confirmation of this - Fry and Brian Blessed, who swears a lot, stick their hands in ice water to test the efficacy of swearing against pain.)

As for the hide... I am a rebel, I am.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to KitSileya (Reply #15)

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 11:36 AM

17. Your comments re: the bizarre ideas about discussions of offensive words reminded me of this:

http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~evans/cs655/readings/purity.html

A Person Paper on Purity in Language

William Satire (alias Douglas R. Hofstadter)

It's high time someone blew the whistle on all the silly prattle about revamping our language to suit the purposes of certain political fanatics. You know what I'm talking about-those who accuse speakers of English of what they call "racism." This awkward neologism, constructed by analogy with the well-established term "sexism," does not sit well in the ears, if I may mix my metaphors. But let us grant that in our society there may be injustices here and there in the treatment of either race from time to time, and let us even grant these people their terms "racism" and "racist." How valid, however, are the claims of the self-proclaimed "black libbers," or "negrists"-those who would radically change our language in order to "liberate" us poor dupes from its supposed racist bias?

Most of the clamor,as you certainly know by now, revolves around the age-old usage of the noun "white" and words built from it, such as chairwhite, mailwhite, repairwhite, clergywhite, middlewhite, Frenchwhite, forewhite, whitepower, whiteslaughter, oneupuwhiteship, straw white, whitehandle, and so on. The negrists claim that using the word "white," either on its own or as a component, to talk about all the members of the human species is somehow degrading to blacks and reinforces racism. Therefore the libbers propose that we substitute "person" everywhere where "white" now occurs. Sensitive speakers of our secretary tongue of course find this preposterous. There is great beauty to a phrase such as "All whites are created equal." Our forebosses who framed the Declaration of Independence well understood the poetry of our language. Think how ugly it would be to say "All persons are created equal," or "All whites and blacks are created equal." Besides, as any schoolwhitey can tell you, such phrases are redundant. In most contexts, it is self-evident when "white" is being used in an inclusive sense, in which case it subsumes members of the darker race just as much as fairskins.

...

Post Scriptum

Perhaps this piece shocks you. It is meant to. The entire point of it is to use something that we find shocking as leverage to illustrate the fact that something that we usually close our eyes to is also very shocking. The most effective way I know to do so is to develop an extended analogy with something known as shocking and reprehensible. Racism is that thing, in this case. I am happy with this piece, despite-but also because of-its shock value. I think it makes its point better than any factual article could. As a friend of mine said, "It makes you so uncomfortable that you can't ignore it." I admit that rereading it makes even me, the author, uncomfortable! Numerous friends have warned me that in publishing this piece I am taking a serious risk of earning myself a reputation as a terrible racist. I guess I cannot truly believe that anyone would see this piece that way. To misperceive it this way would be like calling someone a vicious racist for telling other people "The word 'nigger' is extremely offensive." If allusions to racism, especially for the purpose of satirizing racism and its cousins, are confused with racism itself, then I think it is time to stop writing.

Some people have asked me if to write this piece, I simply took a genuine William Safire column (appearing weekly in the New York Times Magazine under the title "On Language") and "fiddled" with it. That is far from the truth. For years I have collected examples of sexist language, and in order to produce this piece, I dipped into this collection, selected some of the choicest, and ordered them very carefully. "Translating" them into this alternate world was sometimes extremely difficult, and some words took weeks. The hardest terms of all, surprisingly enough, were "Niss," "Nrs.," and "Ns.," even though "Master" came immediately. The piece itself is not based on any particular article by William Safire, but Safire has without doubt been one of the most vocal opponents of nonsexist language reforms, and therefore merits being safired upon.

...


It is truly a brilliant effort.

Only the Scandinavian countries seem to have shown any significant desire to understand, much less act on this issue.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to seabeyond (Reply #13)

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 11:26 AM

16. It is interesting what will get hid and what won't

That graph seemed obviously to be not calling anyone the word or using it to hurt anyone. But when people use the C or B or P words to hurt someone, it's jury bingo. Maybe they'll get hid, but often not.

But a graph explaining why excuses as to why people use the word are not reasonable gets hid. I would love to have everyone on the jury explain what about it was offensive, whether it was just the word or the opinion in the graph, but oh well. I was hoping the jury results would give more information. I've given up trying to change people's minds, but I'm interested in seeing what people are thinking.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Reply to this thread