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Tue Nov 27, 2012, 11:15 AM

On "Bitch" and other Misogynist language [View all]

Cross post from Another forum. With an addendum. I did NOT block out or use punctuation for certain words.

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 is 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

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