Friday, November 14, 2014

Sexist Terminology and the Infamous B-Word

*Warning: this blog post contains minor usage of language that my mother may not approve of.*

About that infamous B-Word...

I've always hated the word b-i-t-c-h. I have. Unfortunately, I am guilty of using this word in ways that I know I should not. I try to refrain from using this word, but I will agree that sometimes it just seems to work for what you can't say more eloquently (that is not a good thing). I rarely, if ever, use it in front of my kids and if my husband uses it? I invariably give him the evil eye just to make sure he knows how I feel about it (if looks could kill I'd be a serial killer). I remember when it really struck me how much I hated this word. I was in high school and I was talking with a boy or two (I can't recall who) and one of them referred to a girl at our school as a bitch. It stopped me dead in my tracks because it seemed to be completely unprovoked and arbitrary. It seemed to come out of nowhere. This girl was just passing by. But, for all intents and purposes, this guy had declared that she was a bitch by virtue of the fact that she was a female and nothing more. So, bitch it was. And, I am afraid, bitch is what it will probably always be at least once in every girl's life time for no legitimate reason.

After all...

Women don't have to actually do anything to be considered a bitch. They just have to exist in the female form––et voilà (there you have it). That's all it takes to be a bitch. Of course, there are plenty of women who give the name a little credence. Some women are a bit feistier that others so they are classified as bitches. Some women are grumpier than others and so they, too, are bitches. Some women are smart, some women are sexy, some women are all of these things, which makes them––you guessed it: bitches. Extreme bitches. Quiet women, loud women, stern women, feminists, mothers, daughters, and so on. We all fall under the same label when it comes right down to it. And that is why I hate the term. It is a demeaning term used to gloss over all the nasty, putrid, dirty bits of rampant sexism that exists in the world today, yesterday, and forever into the future (so it seems). There is not a woman alive who will escape this word completely. It's like mortality: death will get us all in the end. And the B-word will get us, too. My daughter will be tagged with it at some point through simply stepping outside a limit or two (she might stand up for herself or she might snap at someone because she is tired, for example). So will yours, I'm afraid. This is the way the world is for woman.

To call a woman a bitch is to basically admit that you have no desire to consider her as an individual. It might mean that you are intimidated by her or perhaps it might mean that you have a real hatred for women in general. It may mean you have a burning desire to compartmentalize women into little boxes with one big bright label slapped across the opening: Bitch. It's so easy. Then again, maybe you don't mean any of those things but use the word simply because it's there and you never actually gave it any real thought. Fair enough. Think about it now.

I went for a walk last week and I passed an art installation on a walking trail in the city where I live. I love walking this trail and I love the artwork that has been installed here and there throughout. But, what sunk my heart by quite a few degrees was the fact that this rampant problem of labelling women with the term bitch manifested itself right there on the trail. I came across (which isn't hard to do because they are huge) a series of three large wooden statues/carvings and I noticed someone got a little carried away with a Sharpie. There were two men statues and one woman statue. The graffiti was only on one of these statues and can you guess which one it was? Of course you can. It was the woman, naturally. What do you suppose, by the way, was written on the woman? The word bitch. What else? Is it just me or does it seem like the entire world is hell-bent on making sure women (even replicas) maintain their lowly status? The prevalent attitude of sexism is utterly reinforced through such degradations as this. Why? Because a wooden statue carved to look like a female could be nothing else but a bitch in the mind of the non-thinking masses. It couldn't possibly have said scientist, or writer, or teacher, or successful business woman, mother, daughter, friend. No. The word that the stuck and continues to stick is bitch. Bitch––because someone out there in the big city is a hater of women and not a very creative one at that. Well, I assume so. Maybe, if I looked into the historical information surrounding the woman depicted in the carving, I would learn some colourful things about her. Maybe I would learn she is a figure from history with a very dubious past. Maybe she stole someone's husband? Maybe she was the first outwardly gay female to run for political office in the municipal sphere? Maybe she was the top engineer in charge of the building of the city's Harbour Bridge? I don't know. I could (and likely should) look into it. Even if I do, the tag will stick, I am sure. It might be removed, perhaps, but somehow that would seem like a form of defeat, wouldn't it? Either way, there she will stand through wind and rain, snow and sleet, with the name bitch written on her leg for a while longer yet. Somehow, she seems to wear it rather proudly, which is commendable. Most strong women have learned to adapt in that way.

These seemingly minor indicators of digression and degradation are taking over, I think. Don't even get me started on the more obvious ways in which women are degraded in society. I can't handle that kind of rage and frustration today.

And what about the word slut:

There were a couple of other things I encountered this week that made me cringe for the sake of womanhood. One of those things was a sticker (like the ones pictured below) that I saw on some guy's pick-up truck while I walked through the grocery store parking lot. It said "Mud Slut." When I Googled this I gleefully (sarcasm) discovered that some versions of this sticker also include a clever little disclaimer that it (the driver, I assume) "hit every hole." Lovely. Of course, on the truck I just mentioned there was another sticker next to it depicting a half naked lady with impossibly ginormous breasts and impossibly short shorts all posed and ready for "mudding" I guess. Twice as lovely. I won't bother discussing the obvious double entendre here.

(Hey, what you do with your vehicle is none of my business.)

Another thing I encountered (this time on the Internet) was a photograph of a food truck/restaurant of some kind in LA by the name of "Egg Slut" and I wondered: why the cultural obsession with the word slut all of a sudden? I had to look up the definition because, to my mind, to be a slut means to be sexually promiscuous (where are they getting their from eggs, anyway?). According to my computer's dictionary it also means prostitute, whore, tramp. So, I looked up tramp because I was desperately trying to make sense of such seemingly careless usage of derogatory language. Tramp means a vagrant or someone who roams from place to place. A food truck does that, I suppose. It wanders. Maybe that is the connection? It makes some small form of sense, I guess. So, I take tramp (as in wanderer) as the best possible synonym for slut because to take the others is to really put some kind of proverbial nail in the coffin of my sense of progress. And I don't want to die.

We all know the word tramp holds a plethora of other meanings, however, and none of them are good. Egg Tramp does have a bit of a ring to it though. Egg Prostitute. Egg Whore. I suppose an egg does technically sell itself. I think I just reasoned my way out of this mess.

But still... Egg Slut?


Yup. I guess so. Call me archaic, but is this not (perhaps) a rather largish step backwards in socially acceptable terminology? Am I being too cynical? Yes? You like Egg Slut? They make good sandwiches? I get it. I love a good egg sandwich too.

But still...

I do know that terminology like this is dangerous (think of the N-word, for example) and it is symptomatic of the larger problem of sexism and objectification. Words are wonderfully powerful and useful tools. We should remember to use them wisely. But, I suppose in a world where everyone is trying to catch the eyes (and wallets) of everyone else a little shock-value goes a long way. I imagine the sticker business is a-bommin' right about now. It also looks like Egg Slut is doing alright too. It must be okay because it is in the name of capitalism, right? I don't know about that. It seems to me that was one of the philosophies used to justify slavery.

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