Thursday, June 10, 2010

Word Up, Bitches


In epidemic-like fashion, women are continusouly addressing one another with offensive and sexist language. Allow me to recount for you a recent experience of mine:

"You f***ing slut,” my roommate (and best friend) said to me as she rounded the corner to our kitchen and saw me standing over the sink. Perhaps I have been spending too much time at the Feminist Majority Foundation, but for some reason my first response to her comment (which she has probably said to me a thousand times over the course of our friendship) was “Why?” Why does me, standing here, filling up my ice cube tray, make me a f***ing slut? I mean sure, maybe you have to wait a few extra seconds to wash that dirty dish in your hand while I use the faucet, but a “f***ing slut?” Isn’t that a little bit unnecessary?

In truth, it’s more than unnecessary. It’s inappropriate, degrading, and a reinforcement of the woman-as-harlot stereotype. Now, my roommate does not actually think I am a slut (at least to my knowledge she doesn’t). In reality she didn’t mean that comment any more than my teenage brother did when he called the broken DVD player “gay”, or muttered “retard” to his friend after he spilled ketchup on his shirt. Can I say that I was honestly offended by her faux-insult? No. Do I think every female should launch into an angry rant whenever she hears the word “bitch,” “slut,” or “ho” thrown around as though it were synonym for “woman”? Probably not (and, let’s be honest – if we were going to go down that path women wouldn’t have time to do anything but correct language offenders). But I do think that, as Americans, we should be aware of the culture our voices create. Perhaps we are not giving the power of our words enough credit.

I’m not trying to be a whiny feminist who can’t take a joke. And by no means am I immune to the “bitches ‘n hoes” mentality advanced by rap lyrics, sexist movies, and white frat boys who find the irony of adopting black cultural slang too funny to pass up. I’ve even been know to start a wall post or two with the endearing greeting, “what up biotch.” But at some point women have to recognize that as long as they call each other sluts and whores (or slores for that matter), they are giving men a free pass to do the same. While the comments are often empty and thoughtless, maybe even well intended or habitual, they nevertheless enable a culture in which women can be given negative labels merely because they are women.

The consequences of the casual use of such terms are twofold: 1) By calling a woman a slut, bitch, ho, etc. for no reason at all, the association between a woman’s behavior and the resulting label is eradicated. If a woman is in fact a prostitute, meaning that she sleeps with men for money, then she is, by definition, a whore. While I am not advocating the use of derogatory terms in any context, if you wanted to call this woman a whore, you would not, by Merriam-Webster’s standards, be incorrect. By calling your best friend who has not engaged in prostitution a whore, whether intentionally or not, you are changing the definition of the word from one that requires a decisive action on her part, to one that is applicable to a woman based on her mere existence. You have now not only removed a woman’s agency from the definition, but you have enabled a dialogue that supports the degradation of women regardless of what they think, say, or do.

Now, for those of you who are thinking, “I call my guy friends bitches all the time too, it’s not really an insult to women thing, it’s just how I talk,” I would suggest to you the second consequence of casual slut-term usage: 2) Such language is a reinforcement of the idea that to be gendered female is to be insulted. By using words that have historically, culturally, and institutionally been gendered as female (a bitch, a slut, a ho, a whore) to mock, insult, or even casually joke with these terms is to advance the notion that to be associated with the feminine is a negative thing. So, when my guy friend complains about the rain outside and I call him a “little bitch,” I am first implying that he is weak, and because he is weak he should be compared to a woman. Secondly, I am associating behavior that warrants mocking with terms that are expressly feminine, so I am using the feminine to insult. Consciously or not, I am further engaging a culture that disrespects women, even though the person I was insulting was a man!

A few years ago the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) launched an awesome campaign called “ThinkB4YouSpeak,” that encourages students to refrain from using terms such as “fag” and “gay” as insults. Some of you may recall the memorable “That’s so gay” Hilary Duff commercial. (watch video here) While I recognize that a full on attack of language that is so culturally engrained as "bitches 'n hoes" is a rather impractical crusade, I think it would serve us all well to stop and think the next time we want to use the term "slut." What is it we're really saying?

Photo Credit: Fashionate on Flickr.com

7 comments:

shawna foley said...

bitches ain't shit but hoes and tricks...

you are fabulous and a brilliant writer!

Biie! said...

This is amazing, i feel like there is an epidemic going on with women referring to one another as "bitches". it frustrates me and im glad someone else feels the same :)
thank you for this!

Secret said...

Jacqui,

This post is incredible!! As someone who regularly uses this type of language, and may or may not have inspired this post, I realize now that my language is offensive but demeaning to women. Now, I can't say I will never again use this language- because let's be serious I am human, but after reading this post, I really will make an effort to watch the way I use terms like "beeotch" and "ho" when referring to my friends or women in general. Thank you for this enlightening post. You are incredible!

xoxo, Snowflake

Sara Pressey said...

Wonderful post! Language can be so problematic. I enjoyed reading your opinion on the significance of language. You express yourself well. :)

Juskish said...

am i the only one that caught that she said "black cultural slang" what is that?

Jacqui Logan said...

hey! yeah, sorry I was waiting for someone to call me out on the "black cultural slang." I was going to explain it in the article, but I ran out of room. It's actually based off of an interesting interview I saw with the rapper Ice-T (I'm pretty sure it was him - but don't quote me 100% on that). When asked about the use of typically derogatory terms in his music to refer to females, he defended his lyrics by saying that he was not intentionally insulting women - he was merely using the language he was surrounded by to express himself. I realize that my use of the term was definitely taking advantage of stereotypes for the sake of humor, and I apologize for that. And by no means am I trying to assert that "black culture" (whatever that term may include)is somehow responsible for the language epidemic I am describing. The phrase was just the best way I could figure out how to describe what I was observing. Which I think it did. It was informal and not thoroughly researched, but then again, it is a blog!

thanks for the comments!

ADT said...

I know that this is an important issue, and that ppl need to realize the words they are using have specific meanings, but it seems like these sorts of issues are old news. It seems like I have just as many friends who react to inappropriate use of the word 'retarded' as friends who use the word as slang. Conflicts among these parties tend to be heavy on the bickering side and light on the intellectual progress side. This may be cynical, but it just seems like one of those things...

Also, The african american community has adopted derogatory language (the N-word) as something that is appropriate when used by and referring to a member of the community, but as inappropriate when used by a white person... perhaps women can create a similar culture around the aforementioned words?