On Sexism and Consciousness-Raising

I’ve written in the past about religion’s harm to women, and the way modern sexism is aided and abetted by ancient religious prejudices that still survive today. Every major holy book has sexist verses, but some of the most misogynistic and the most virulent can be found in the books referred to by Christians as the Old Testament. Since this text is the foundation for religions that comprise over half the population of the world, it’s small wonder that oppressive, sexist ideas still have so much power.

This ancient misogyny is on full display in this article about a group of pious Jewish women who want to pray at the Wailing Wall, the holiest site of Judaism. They’re obviously seeking to perpetuate the faith, not rebel against it, and you might think that would earn them respect from their peers. But instead, they’ve faced insults, taunting, and even arrest, all from ultra-Orthodox men who demand that women be kept separate, silenced, and subordinate:

Men sporting the black coats and wheel-shaped fur hats that identify ultra-Orthodox Jews shouted at the women, calling them “Nazis,” and telling them to “go to church”.

…Their adversaries, including the rabbi of the wall, say that the women have no business wearing such religious garments as yarmulkes and prayer shawls, or carrying the Torah, the Jewish holy book.

Such things, the ultra-Orthodox Jews say, are reserved for men.

Whatever religious blindness has afflicted these men, I trust that we as atheists can agree that this kind of sexism is unacceptable. This kind of disgusting bigotry should be intolerable in an enlightened world. We, both men and women, have every reason to cooperate in stamping it out wherever it rears its head, and to work for its total eradication.

But one of the biggest mistakes we could make would be to assume that misogyny only manifests itself in obvious ways: as ultra-Orthodox men cursing and spitting at women on the streets, or Muslims committing honor killings against female relatives, or Roman Catholics arguing that abortion should be forbidden even to women with life-threatening ectopic pregnancies. Those are the most visible manifestations, but sexism can take on more subtle forms as well, more difficult to notice and therefore to oppose.

I bring this up because of an appalling editorial published on Comment is Free by Nancy Graham Holm, writing about the ax attack on Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard by a Muslim fanatic. The title of her article was – no joke – “Prejudiced Danes provoke fanaticism”, and its argument was that Danish writers and artists are to blame for any violence they suffer as a result of offending the religious sensibilities of Muslims, who demand the right to be exempt from criticism or satire.

This cowardly nonsense was capably dissected by Ophelia Benson, the author of Butterflies and Wheels (and also a columnist for Comment is Free). Holm’s article also caught the attention of the Richard Dawkins Foundation, and there, too, most of the commenters on the site’s forum responded with appropriate criticism. But there were a few who couldn’t stop there – including one whose reaction was to attack Holm as a “stupid bitch”.

Ophelia stopped by to point out the inappropriateness of this, and she was met by several commenters who insisted that this was a perfectly acceptable way to criticize a woman, that it wasn’t at all sexist, and even if it was, women are just as sexist as men so it’s hypocritical to complain about it. Here are a few shining examples:

If you really want to cast a gender in the role of servants or slaves, then a case could be made that MEN have been the servants…

One half of humanity [that would be the male half —Ebonmuse] does not get a say in whether language is sexist?

Ophelia needs to recognize not only that “words change” in general, but that these particular words — slang terms like bitch — have changed and acquired a non-sexist sense.

These commenters argued that the word “bitch” is defensible as long as it’s being used only against one specific person and not a slur against all women, and if it wasn’t meant as sexist by the person who said it, then it wasn’t sexist.

While I don’t think this kind of attitude poses a threat to the atheist movement as a whole, I do think it’s extremely important to ensure that everyone feels welcome among us, regardless of race or gender. That’s a goal that the atheist movement still needs to devote more effort to accomplishing, and comments like these don’t help. (Several commenters referred to the “locker-room atmosphere” of the comments at the largely unmoderated RD.net forums – although to his credit, Richard Dawkins himself did step in to put a stop to the flame war.)

To begin, let me pose a question to anyone who thinks that “bitch” is an appropriate term to use in reference to any woman. If you strongly disagreed with an essay written by a gay person, would you write a critique calling them a faggot? If it was a black person, would you express your disapproval by calling them a nigger? If these slurs are unacceptable, as they obviously are, then why is it any different to criticize a woman with an epithet that implicitly demeans all members of her gender? The word, after all, has historically been used to insult any tough, confident or assertive woman by implying that she doesn’t “know her place”.

To assume that any word can be used in a vacuum, stripped of all its past connotations, simply by willing it to be so is ludicrous. A word’s meaning is not wholly determined by context – individual speakers can use words in new and unique ways – but neither is it wholly determined by individual intent – else we wouldn’t ever be able to communicate with each other. Even if you use that word with no sexist intent whatsoever – a highly dubious proposition, considering the way we’re all influenced by culture – it’s hardly reasonable to expect the recipient of your message to understand your pure heart. They’re much more likely to see that word as coming with all the sexist and misogynist context that has always been attached to it, understandably so. And condescendingly telling a person that they should just ignore all that and let you decide for them when they should be offended is only going to make things worse.

There are plenty of bad ideas out there that deserve criticism. But when we criticize them, we shouldn’t do it in a way that cedes the moral high ground, or that insults or alienates people whose sympathies were already with us. Nor should we tolerate others who do these things. Even the gentlest declaration of atheism is going to anger many irrational people, which is unavoidable and is no reason for us not to speak out. But we shouldn’t compound that offense unnecessarily if we want atheism as a movement to flourish and succeed.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Valhar2000

    To assume that any word can be used in a vacuum, stripped of all its past connotations, simply by willing it to be so is ludicrous.

    Really? Let me try something:

    Jack bitch Jill went up the hill
    To fetch a pail of water.
    Jack fell down bitch broke his crown,
    Bitch Jill came tumbling after.

    Up Jack got bitch home did trot
    As fast as he could caper;
    Bitch went to bed to mend his head
    With vinegar bitch brown paper.

    Jill came in bitch she did grin
    To see his paper plaster;
    Mother vexed did whip her next
    For laughing at Jack’s disaster.

    Now Jack did laugh bitch Jill did cry
    But her tears did soon abate;
    Then Jill did say that they should play
    At see-saw across the gate.

    I replaced the word “and” with the word “bitch”, or, in other words, redefined the word “bitch” to mean “and”, an entirely arbitrary redefinition that will have no history attached to it, unless I am very much mistaken. Is the result sexist (moreso than the original)? If so, how much?

  • Ritchie

    Hmmm, interesting.

    The argument that ‘bitch’ is sexist seems a little odd to me. I know that it often refers to women, but surely men can be bitches too? Doesn’t the word mean something akin to ‘sexual underling’? For example, don’t we refer to generally to people who are dominated (in a social, and more literally, sexual) sense as a bitch, whether male or female?

    Or is that a British/American distinction?

    I do agree that it’s offensive though, and needless to say personal abuse has no place in free debate.

  • http://pennofpaine.blogspot.com/ penn

    Ritchie, that exact same argument can (and has) been made about the words “faggot” and “nigger”. The vast majority of people who are called “fags” are straight males in an attempt to emasculate them. The terms “bitch” and “pussy” are also used in this way towards straight males. It is sexist because they are also used to demean males by associating men or boys with female epitaphs.

  • Ritchie

    Really? Okay. I just never really thought that you were calling men ‘women’ if you called them bitches – you were just stating dominance over them.
    Maybe I’m off on this one…

  • Eric

    “The word, after all, has historically been used to…”

    This reminded me of the scene in Boondock Saints where the brothers are showing a woman around the meat-packing plant, and one of them uses the phrase “rule of thumb.” She then goes on to state that the phrase was coined as a method of determining how large of a stick a man could hit his wife with, and is therefore sexist. I don’t believe that story is true, but if it were: does that make the phrase sexist?

    And I don’t see how using the term “bitch” to refer to one woman is a slur against the entire gender, anymore than “jackass” would be a slur against men (or some other suitable insult that is generally only applied to males). On the rare occasions where I have actually referred to someone as a bitch, it was because of specific actions by them, not because of their gender. If I had seen similar actions from a male, I’d probably refer to them as a jackass. I guess what I’m saying is that if someone uses the word just because of gender, then yes – it’s sexist. But if it’s because of actions, then I don’t think it is. I think there’s a fine line there… I’ll have to do some more thinking about it.

    Just to be clear: I don’t think that the comment calling her a bitch was justified. I do think that males (especially white middle class males) tend to be less sensitive to sexism (and racism, for that matter) than they should be, and therefore need reminders now and then – including me. But to me this seems like an argument that was crafted to support a conclusion, rather than a retelling of a thought process that led to a conclusion, so there are some weak points in it.

  • http://theorangesashford.moonfruit.com Steve Bowen

    I do agree that it’s offensive though, and needless to say personal abuse has no place in free debate.

    Absolutely and that would be my first problem with the comment. As to whether “Bitch” is intrinsically sexist or “nigger” intrinsically racist… I do think it depends on context and intention. Is “bitch” sexist when used by one woman against another, is it homophobic if I tell my gay friend to stop “bitching” about his “mother in law”. Is it true as Tim Minchin says that “only a ginger can call another ginger, ginger”? Any sexist / racist / otherist word used as an insult demeans the speaker as much as anyone else, but the same words used in good natured banter need not demean anyone.

  • Freak

    “Bitch” literally means “female dog, wolf, or coyote”, and is used without negative connotations in the dog-breeding world.

    As for the “rule of thumb” comment, “grandfather clause” / “grandfathered in” has definite racist origins, but those phrases aren’t considered to be racist.

  • jemand

    @Valhar2000, how effective is the following communication?

    Jack bitch Jill rule spic master video
    Lol fetch a pail of water.
    Jack fell down bitch broke faggot crown,
    Bitch Jill came tumbling after.
    Spic Jack got bitch home did trot
    As fast as fag could caper;
    Bitch rule lol bed lol mend faggot head
    With vinegar bitch brown paper.
    Jill came in bitch she did grin
    Lol see faggot paper plaster;
    Mother vexed nigger whip her next
    For laughing at Jack’s disaster.
    Now Jack nigger laugh bitch Jill did cry
    But her tears nigger soon abate;
    Then Jill did say that they should play
    At see-saw across master gate.

    Now I’ll talk more generally (not to valhar in particular)

    Why do people generally insist on redefining words which are offensive to others and then tell those others they shouldn’t be offended because now the word has “no history”? When a word has no history, it has no meaning, and cannot be used for human communication. Do you think this general pattern of redefinition means anything about our society, or about the speakers doing the redefining, in assuming they should be authoritative and able to speak for the group being offended, which generally is also a group with less social power anyway? Do you think this callous indifference to the groups real feelings on the subject by pushing the authoritative nature of your own pronouncements would add to, or subtract from, the feelings of dis-empowerment the group in question has?

  • http://uponariver.blogspot.com/ Lisa

    I’ve never actually considered bitch a sexist term until reading this. I find it difficult to see the word bitch as inherently a sexist word, since the only times I’ve ever been called a bitch is by another female (or by a male but in a friendly context). In that manner I don’t see it as sexist. Sure, it has sexist connotations in some contexts e.g ‘You’re my bitch’ but I’ve only ever heard that said in a jokey conversation. When someone says ‘you’re bitching’ it can be applied to male or female, and my bitchiest friend is male!

    The word is very rarely used in a sexist way, although I would agree that I’d never use the word to actually insult a man… but I’m a female and if I call another female a bitch is that me being sexist?

  • Stacey Melissa

    I always thought “bitch” was the female version of “asshole” or “dick(head/wad)”, and “asshole” or “dick(head/wad)”, the male version of “bitch”… although both words are used many different ways. Those words are gender-specific synonyms for “jerk”. My admittedly superficial reading of the usage that inspired this blog post is that the it was the female asshole or dick(head/wad) variety, and if Nancy Graham Holm had been a man, she would have just as readily been called an asshole or dick(head/wad) instead.

  • http://theorangesashford.moonfruit.com Steve Bowen

    Do you think this general pattern of redefinition means anything about our society, or about the speakers doing the redefining, in assuming they should be authoritative and able to speak for the group being offended,

    It is frequently the case that the people defining a particular word as offensive come from an intellectual elite and not the group allegedly offended by the word. As an example some 30 years ago the Robinson’s Jam (jelly) company was lambasted as racist for having a picture of a gollywog as its logo, they subsequently removed it after intense lobbying from white middle class socialist politicians. Black acquaintances of mine were outraged as it had never occurred to THEM, that they should self identify with the gollywog, and found the assumption that they would more offensive than the logo. As I said above, context is important – if I had called my friends “gollywogs” they would have rightfully been offended, but the mere existence of the concept and the image is not necessarily so.

  • Kal

    Hmm. How exactly does this gel with the defence of the right to free expression? Despite your assertions to the contrary, context and intent are no less important than the historical meaning or overtones that you discuss. Indeed, I would suggest that although history and overtones are certainly important, context and intent are far more important in judging a particular communication.

    There are situations where it is perfectly acceptable to use the word “bitch”, just as there are situations where “nigger” and “faggot” are appropriate. The example being discussed may well not have been one of those times, but to suggest that because sometimes a word is not appropriate that it should never be used is nothing more or less than an attempt to quash free expression.

    To begin, let me pose a question to anyone who thinks that “bitch” is an appropriate term to use in reference to any woman. If you strongly disagreed with an essay written by a gay person, would you write a critique calling them a faggot?

    This is a false dichotomy. As a term used to criticise the author of an essay I strongly disagreed with, “bitch” would be just as inappropriate as the use of faggot or nigger in similar context just as you suggest. It does not however follow that because there exists one example of a situation where “bitch” is inappropriate, all examples of the word’s usage are inappropriate.

    If you’ve got a proper argument for why certain words should be completely excised from the English language then I’d be glad to hear it, but the argument presented here seems as little based in fact than puritanical complaints (bitching?) about the use of the word “fuck”. George Carlin would be rolling in his grave.

  • jemand

    @Steve,

    how is that not a validation of my point? When social elites assume to speak for a group with less social power, they come across as condescending, patronizing, and continue the status quo with themselves at the top of the hierarchy. If I only mentioned one half of the possible cases, that was my mistake. But that does NOT excuse authoritative pronouncements that “This word once was offensive but no longer so because I just redefined it.”

    If someone says that a particular phrase offended them, and they have history of the usage of that word to point to, the proper response is to apologize, not double down and assume YOU are the authority in the world.

  • http://dsimon.typepad.com/ DSimon

    Steve, I don’t think it’s justifiable to assume that your acquaintances are representative for everyone else of their ethnicity. Are you sure that that particular lobbying effort was entirely being ran by white people?

    Anyways, regarding “bitch”: It is true that sometimes offensive words and phrases lose their bite and other meanings take fore. “Rule of thumb” is a good example of this: its offensive meaning is now only known to people who have a higher-than-usual interest in etymology (and people who have seen Boondock Saints).

    However, “bitch” hasn’t yet reached that point. It does have other meanings, including a totally innocuous technical meaning in the context of dog-breeding. However, does anyone here argue that its primary meaning in American society is anything other than as a slur against women or against people matching a particular derogatory stereotype of women?

  • Valhar2000

    @Valhar2000, how effective is the following communication?

    Depends on what you mean. It’s funny!

    When a word has no history, it has no meaning, and cannot be used for human communication.

    This is, on its face, transparently false. You can provide definitions for the words you are going to use, and demand that people stick to them when interpreting what you say. This is seldom done during informal discourse, indeed, but it certainly is possible and in certain environments it is common.

  • Valhar2000

    I always thought “bitch” was the female version of “asshole” or “dick(head/wad)”, and “asshole” or “dick(head/wad)”, the male version of “bitch”…

    I’d never thought of it in those terms, but that is the way I use it, too.

  • http://theorangesashford.moonfruit.com Steve Bowen

    Steve, I don’t think it’s justifiable to assume that your acquaintances are representative for everyone else of their ethnicity. Are you sure that that particular lobbying effort was entirely being ran by white people?

    To what extent is anyone a representative for everyone of their ethnicity? If I was being mischevious I would say that in itself is a racist comment as it assumes all ethnicities are homogenous. But more seriously you could be correct in this case as my friends were university undergraduates, and mainly scientists at that, so perhaps they were not representative of the majority.
    As for the lobbyists, my recollection is only of the talking heads and left wing newspaper columnists who were pushing for this.
    I think however I stand by my opinion, words are not intrinsically otherist, it is context that makes them so.

  • MDavis

    Ebon: “Don’t call women bitches.”

    Male commentors: “If I wanna call women bitches, I’ll call women bitches!”
    White commentors: “Some of my black friends are offended when white people are anti-racist!”

    Sigh.

  • Maynard

    Asking others to view slang terms in your particular context is good for nothing but arguing.

    Coopting words to new definitions, whether or not there is intent of insult along the way, is nothing new and will be continued as long as we have a living vocabulary.

    Gay = happy
    Gay = homosexual
    Gay = silly, dumb (as from recent usage from younger acquaintances)

    Bad = not good
    Bad = good

    Wicked, radical, sick, awesome, fat/phat, bitch, fuck (how versatile is that?), bloody (as versatile as fuck?), etc. Pick a word, pick a meaning and use it. If you are insulting or demeaning, you will probably get called on it. If you are not, then hopefully you made yourself clear, but you can still expect to get called on it anyway by some silly cunt. :)

  • http://theorangesashford.moonfruit.com Steve Bowen

    Maynard @ #16
    Abso-fucking-lutely. That’s exactly what I mean.

  • monkeymind

    I think what the word “bitch” connotes in this context is “I disagree vehemently, but am too inarticulate/undereducated/unoriginal/unintelligent to express my disagreement in any other way.”

  • http://purpletempest.blogspot.com purpletempest

    I’m sick and tired of labeling this or that “sexist”, “racist” or anything else. It’s a damn distraction and achieves nothing.

    How about insults should not be used in debate, period?

    Asshole, bitch, dick, cunt, nigger, spick, cracker, wop, homo, fag, dyke…anyone who uses these and other names should be called out, no matter who they are referring to or what they meant. Just say, plain and simple, that the discussion should stick to the substance of the article and not be debased by attacks on the author. We point out and shoot down ad-hominem arguments for the same reason.

    If some loser hiding behind an nickname on a forum calls me a bitch, I don’t care if it’s sexist or not. I DON’T CARE. All I want is some other person to go, “Knock it off, we’re talking about her writing, not her as a person. Stay on topic or go away.” That’s it. That’s all that is necessary.

    The problem with sexism, racism, and homophobic slurs is that the ideas a person has put forth get dismissed without a second thought, implying that they aren’t good enough for an honest look at their words. When a critic tears apart the ideas and stays away from the personal attacks, they are taking them seriously and everyone benefits from a healthy discussion. Let’s cut through the bullshit, quit focusing on this or that label for the slur, and focus instead on pointing out and shooting down ALL personal attacks.

    There’s a flip side to this coin too. It’s this difficulty folks have distinguishing between People and Their Ideas/Beliefs that’s the core problem here. It’s why that Danish cartoonist got attacked, its why Christians get all uppity when we start pointing out flaws in their holy book. We have to keep reminding people that attacks on their ideas are not the same as attacks on them. Likewise, when the personal attacks come out, put a foot down. The two go hand in hand.

    Adam, attacking misogyny where you see it is good, but it can also backfire. It brings too much attention to treatment of women, makes it a special case, and in the end doesn’t help because people get too riled up over the “sexist” label (see comments above). Women don’t deserve special treatment, just equal treatment. If you and other bloggers show no tolerance for insults across the board…to white straight males as well as women, non-whites, gays, etc., then you are demonstrating that equal treatment.

  • jemand

    @Maynard,
    I agree. And in this case I think they were being rather insulting, especially when they doubled down and tried to tell Ophelia she was overreacting instead of simply apologizing or dropping it. The initial statement is not so problematic to me as trying to tell everyone that there was only one, and very clear, interpretation of it, especially when doing so is dismissing another woman’s perspective who most certainly is NOT acting like a “stupid bitch” in the particular disagreement about cartoons and Islam.

    Plus, you have the “no tone on the internet” thing going where it’s hard to judge things that in person could be clear from voice.

  • jtradke

    I don’t mean to be some bitchy asshole here, but this folk origin of “rule of thumb” referring to wife-beating is probably a myth.

  • JulietEcho

    Why do we need separate derogatory pejoratives for men and women? Why can’t every rude/mean person just be called an asshole (we all have them, after all) or a bully or a killjoy?

    When our lexicon has a wealth of words to express contempt, dismissal, anger, etc., I don’t see why anyone *needs* to use words like “bitch” – even if they don’t mean them to be sexist. I mean, if you had the choice between a word with a sordid history and a word that doesn’t, why pick the one that’s more likely to be perceived as sexist?

    An example that comes to mind is a comment I read once that condescendingly referred to a (feminist, female) poster as being “uppity.” If you think someone needs to get off their high horse, that’s fine – and we have plenty of ways to express that opinion without resorting to baggage-laden words and phrases. Bringing inflammatory language into the equation is done through (1) an attempt to somehow “reclaim” it and strip it of its history, (2) a complete lack of imagination, (3) plain ignorance about the history of the word, OR (4) explicit or implicit intent to convey the historical connotations that come with the word.

    People are most likely to believe it’s (4) unless you’re being very explicit about (1), and (1) usually only works with words that are being “reclaimed” as positive in meaning – not pejoratives.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Oh. Em. Fucking. Gee. Are you telling me that someone was mean? On the internet? Fine. We’ll call Holm a stupid asshole. Will that make everybody happy?

    Seriously, words aren’t intrinsically “whatever-ist” in and of themselves. Ebonmuse himself proved this by writing the words “bitch,” “nigger,” and “faggot” right in his article. Dan Savage called some angsty religious kid a faggot in his column one time. I called a private citizen a bitch one time ‘cuz she was being a bitch. Err, wait: asshole. She was being an asshole. Does using the one cuss word instead of the other really make a difference?

    Back on my Playskool blog, I got into a protracted heel-digger with some friends over whether the word “uppity” was a racist word or not when what’s-his-dick acted like a righteous prick and called the Obamas “uppity” for being educated an’ stuff (can’t find a link from work, sorry). Nobody convinced anyone, but the point I was trying to make was that “uppity” is a term of class warfare and not intrinsically racist (everyone else wanted to tell me that it was intrinsically racist ‘cuz of the phrase “uppity nigger,” nevermind the phrase “uppity bitch”). “Uppity” means simply “presumptuous,” and the implication is that the subject of the insult (when it’s used as an insult) is taking on airs beyond his or her (or their) station. Thus, by implying that the Obamas have a station at all, it opens up a whole can o’ bees, and so even if he just said “presumptuous” instead of “uppity,” it still would have been racist. But because of the idea he was expressing, not because of the word with which he chose to express it.

    The point of this is that… oh, fuck it. Here, let me pose a thought experiment like a good philosopher: suppose for a moment that everyone calling that commenter sexist is wrong. Suppose that it just is the case that a bunch of people flew into a hypersensitive rage for no good reason, and they’re slandering that person as a sexist when s/he was really just being foul-mouthed. But simply tut-tutting over foul language wasn’t enough for these Serious Internet Commentators, no, they need some goddamned oomph in their condemnation, so they seize on something they can call morally disdainful: the fact that s/he incidentally mentioned Holm’s sex (after a fashion) in calling her an idiot.

    Pretend that’s true for a minute. Now let’s consider the fact that Holm has more or less said that the Danes deserve whatever violence comes their way because they laughed at some violently insane religious fanatics (and really, the problem here is only the violently insane fanatics, because they’re the only ones who are moved to violence over this). I’d say that’s a pretty stupid column, and whoever would write such a thing is worthy of insult. Maybe calling her a “bitch” was out of line for RDnet’s code of conduct or what-have-you, but if that’s the case, then let’s please confine it to that. After all, we don’t know whether this person is a bigot or not, and whatever happened to the principle of charity anyhow? I mean, it’s not like s/he was calling for Holm to be killed over drawing a fuckin’ picture or anything. Cripes.

  • AnonaMiss

    Bitch is definitely a sexist term, and definitely not simply the feminine form of “dick” or “asshole.” And we can see that it is a sexist term precisely because of the way in which it is applied to men, as Penn said. When applied to a man, it means “Behaving in a negatively-stereotypically female way,” with specific meanings including being whiny, being submissive, complaining without doing anything about the problem – it is used as an emasculator and a way of putting someone in his place. “Stop acting like a woman” or “you are a woman to me.” Of course, when one has a negative opinion about a woman, she is naturally being negative in a female way, so “bitch” always applies.

    I’ve actually met some “gangsta” wannabes who used “bitch” instead of “woman” or “girl” in everyday conversation. I was still in school at the time, so I’m sure they were just being asshats, but it illustrates my point.

    If it were merely the feminine form of “dick,” it would never be applied to men. And have you ever seen a woman called a dick, when the speaker was aware of her being a woman? Maybe once or twice; but there is no systematic usage of it as an effeminizing tool. Though you could argue that dick is also a sexist term.

    I still use it though, just like I’ll swear “Jesus Christ!”

  • anna

    The point isn’t that somebody said “the bad word” and now we’re all horrified, my stars! The point is that we should try to treat people fairly and decently and not descend into ad hominem attacks which are no help to the debate and only make us look bad.

    Let’s get specific about what she has said that we disagree with, and why we disagree with it, instead of just slinging curse words. This doesn’t mean we have to talk all nicey-nice, just make an argument instead of throwing insults about someone’s gender/race/etc that have nothing to do with anything.

    Ms. Holm, in claiming people are justified in attempted murder over irreligious cartoons, has shown herself to have the mind of a petty fascist tyrant, the kind of fanatic who values the Holy Idea over people’s lives. It is only a stronger form of her belief that animates the terrorists-if the western way of life is sacrilege, then it is justifiable to kill Americans, just as it is justifiable (or at least understandable) in Ms. Holm’s fetid mind to kill anyone who draws a sacreligious cartoon. Now isn’t that a better and truer insult than calling her a bitch? And it gives her no opportunity to say, “You’re just against me because I’m a woman.” It stays right on topic.

  • Sarah Braasch

    One of the most vile and disgusting sexist epithets used against me by a man was when this particular asshole called me lady. I know. Seems benign.

    It had such seething contempt and disdain and hatred behind it. “Look here, LADY.”

    It was many years ago. I found it shocking at the time. I still remember the way it made me feel.

    I find language fascinating.

    I also think we should remember that it is very easy to misinterpret on line conversations. It is very easy to convey something that was never intended. And to intend something that was never conveyed.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    Great. Lots of people defending sexist epithets. Welcome to the brave new world.

  • http://www.turntheclockforward.org/ TooManyJens

    When I hear one man call another “bitch” to express dominance over him, it makes me feel sick. Because he’s expressing dominance by using a derogatory term associated with women. It wouldn’t make any sense as an expression of dominance if not for the ingrained cultural belief that men are dominant over women.

    MDavis @19: Sigh indeed.

    Sarah @30: I’ve had that experience with “honey”. (Which, in that context, is another expression of dominance.)

  • http://generalnotions.talkislam.info Ergo Ratio

    No, welcome to the Internet.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    I also think we should remember that it is very easy to misinterpret on line conversations. It is very easy to convey something that was never intended. And to intend something that was never conveyed.
    – Sarah Braasch

    QFT.

    Anna (#28)… I think you win. You’ve certainly convinced me, anyhow. I’m probably not going to change my behavior, or at least not by very much, but I think you’re right and I’m an incorrigible crank for choosing to insult people because it’s fun, rather than pick them apart which is also fun and more rewarding and more legitimate. I’m just lazy sometimes, is all. Oh, and stubborn! Damn, this is going to cause me some serious cognitive dissonance until I start modifying my behavior…

    AnonaMiss, your point about there being no “effeminizing” slur is interesting. Aside from the preposterous “penis envy,” I can think of no insult that means to a woman, “You’re not being very ladylike,” which does not also mean to a man, “You’re not being very manly.” Curious. [five-minute pause] OK, I just went and looked it up, and as it turns out, there is no official word for undercutting the femininity of a woman. What a shame. I vote we go with Lily Burana’s she-masculate. And I propose any and all slang for male genitalia as the first she-masculating slurs, meaning “to behave in a foolhardy and unruly fashion, like a badly misbehaving boy.” Now I’m gonna go and say that I am often a cock. Or am I still just a bitch? Argh, this is so complicated! Stupid patriarchy… can’t even get insults right!

  • Zach

    This comment thread is slightly disappointing. “Bitch” obviously has misogynistic undertones. It means being an asshole while being female, more or less. The “while being female part” is intended to make the insult worse. Any one person may not intend for such meaning to be communicated. But any one person is also incapable of erasing history and the present reality of inequality of the sexes that goes into making that world the insult that it is.

    I have personal experience with this, albeit on a different front. I have plenty of straight guy friends who support the political struggle for gay rights, but see it as perfectly acceptable to use the word “faggot” to insult anyone who crosses them. They defend themselves if called out on it. They personally don’t mean it that way, they insist. Can’t I lighten up? But, why do I have to be the one that modifies my behavior? Can’t they find some other insult that wasn’t hurled at me while being bullied in eighth grade? Can’t they happen across one insult not tied to the sort of attitude that still keeps me a second class citizen? Why do they think “faggot” is a good insult, anyway?

  • Alex Weaver

    I haven’t had a chance to read all the comments, but I’ve been thinking about my response to the essay itself. In principle I’m somewhat divided on the question of whether significant concern about “unintentional sexism” is justified. On one hand, I’m aware of the subtle messages language can convey (priming effects come to mind) and the term “bitch” does have an extensive history of being used in quite a sexist way (despite attempts to reclaim the term, which are worth taking into consideration), and in general unintentionally hurtful actions should be avoided. On the other hand, I’m intuitively sympathetic to the argument that referring to people exhibiting equivalent behavior as “bitch” in one gender case, and “prick” or something similar in the other, is not inherently more sexist than addressing a person as “Mr.” in one gender case and “Mrs.” in the other – the key being consistency in applying pejorative epithets to a person exhibiting the given behavior rather than having a double standard where, for instance, arrogance or bullying is tolerated in men but not women.

    Additionally, I’m very wary of ceding to a small subgroup of society monopoly power to decide what is and is not acceptable speech or conduct (and I’ve seen no evidence that the group of “people who find the use of the term bitch unacceptable due to perceived inherent sexism” comprises anything like a majority of women specifically, let alone people in general). The general meme of concern over “unintentional” offensive connotations of one’s statements does not seem to be readily checkable, and where it takes root seems to easily lead to idiocies like this comment thread in which I was attacked for using the term “histrionic” in describing the behavior of another commenter (self-identified female), a usage which was perceived as “sexist” essentially because it “sorta sounds like” “hysterical” despite a completely unrelated etymology, was accused of wanting to “keep women in their place” based on my application of the term to a specific petulant comment, and was still rebuffing demands for an apology for my “sexist attitudes” when the thread petered out. Concern over “unintentional sexism”/whatever, if unchecked, easily grades into the feeling that any perception of “sexist” connotations in another’s statements is valid and legitimate grounds for criticism or verbal attack, an attitude which was clearly the driving force behind the thread linked above. Not only, as with any situation where “giving offense” is censured without regard for whether the offense taken is reasonable, does this sort of mindset allow the discussion to be held hostage by the least reasonable participant (a problem you’ve written about before, though I don’t have links to hand), but it ironically parallels the views being expressed by Ms. Holm, albeit with a difference in degree (at least so far).

    From a slightly different angle, embracing the idea that policing conversations for “sexist” connotations is legitimate can readily be taken as implying that the job of “police officer” is open for the taking, an opportunity that I’ve seen being seized rather regularly by garden-variety bullies as an opportunity to “throw their weight around” (beyond the thread I linked, I can think of several who I’ve seen behaving this way very consistently in other comment threads). This occasionally mushrooms into absurd spectacles like a male loudmouth shouting down an ideologically heterogeneous, mixed-gender audience in order to tell everyone, male and female, what “women” do and do not find to be acceptable topics and phrasings. None of this is likely to have a positive effect, long-term, on the general discourse or the progress of our side (we’ve seen with the “framers” how effective the dissolution of our efforts into fratricidal infighting is).

    Finally, I’m a little concerned about sexism being subjected to a “Prop 65″ effect. By way of explanation, Proposition 65, in California, requires that areas or items which contain 1/1000th of the amount of a substance known to cause cancer, or 1/10,000th of the amount known to cause birth defects, in laboratory animals, to be labeled as “containing chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.” Of course, most places contain at least that tiny amount of such chemicals, and the effect of this is that such warning labels have become ubiquitous – the front gate of my apartment complex has one. As such, their impact has been diluted: when things that are “known” to be safe are labeled as “hazardous,” labels on things that are genuinely dangerous are less likely to be taken seriously. Something similar has arguably happened with the term “fascist,” which has been so widely and casually used as to have almost lost a clear meaning, in casual conversation, other than “something the speaker doesn’t like.” It is worth considering whether applying the label of “sexist” or (especially) “misogynistic” to every statement that is poorly phrased, has some seemingly gratuitous bearing on gender, or is simply tone-deaf, may undermine its impact when applied to considerably less benign statements and actions, and this is a potential ramification of attempting to police conversations for “sexist” connotations.

    In the specific case, though, the epithet really isn’t necessary to convey the message and does lend itself to being misread.

    By the way, did something happen to the Preview function? The opportunity to “preview” a comment on a separate page, similar to the current Scienceblogs functionality, might be worth adding in.

  • Alex Weaver

    Great. Lots of people defending sexist epithets. Welcome to the brave new world.

    Given that the “sexism” of the epithets is presently being debated, this sort of dismissive comment is disingenuous and juvenile (as well as being an eye-rolling incidence of question-begging).

  • Sarah Braasch

    I don’t think that’s what is happening here, Ophelia.

    I think we’re having a rather nuanced conversation (and an interesting one too).

    I think people are saying that the use of language is complex, and that there’s no hard and fast rule.

    The reason why I would disapprove the use of such language in a discussion about this article is exactly what has occurred here. The epithet has overshadowed the argument.

    Shouldn’t we be discussing the obvious idiocy of Nancy Graham Holm’s piece?

    I will mention that I recently was upbraided rather severely for my use of colorful language when haranguing the Catholic Church after their threats to throw DC’s homeless onto the street to starve and freeze and die if a single gay couple dare wed within the city limits.

    I was really upset by the attack, because I felt that the situation called for some profanity. And, I wondered how someone could be concerned with my use of foul language when the Catholic Church is threatening to commit a dastardly act that would no doubt result in the deaths of an untold number of persons.

    I feel a bit the same about Nancy’s article. I’m not sure that profanity is out of line.

    And, why are we focused on the word bitch and not the person who thinks the Danes should apologize to a group of homicidal, fanatical religious maniacs for drawing some silly pictures or suffer machete blows?

    By obsessing about giving offense and not giving offense, we are playing right into Graham Holm’s hands.

    That’s what she wants. She wants us to be so concerned about not giving offense that we stifle free expression.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    It strikes me that people who redefine words shouldn’t complain about being misunderstood.

  • silentsanta

    I am reminded of this conversation from the opening scene of an episode of ‘Firefly’.

    Kaylee: Come on, admit it. It’s true.
    Simon: No, I won’t, because it’s not. I use swear-words, like anybody else.
    Kaylee: Oh really? See, I never heard you. So when is it that you do all this cussin’? After I go to bed, or…
    Simon: I swear… when it’s appropriate.
    Kaylee: Simon, the whole point of swearin’ is that it ain’t appropriate.

    To evaluate this hypothesis, I’d encourage readers to submit scenarios of profanity used appropriately, if they can think of any examples.

  • Maynard

    @silentsanta #39:

    What the fuck are you talking about?

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    I’m totally with Sarah Braasch (#37) here. Well, with one little quibble, maybe: “Shouldn’t we be discussing the obvious idiocy of Nancy Graham Holm’s piece?” In general, of course; but this is in a thread with an OP entitled “On sexism and Consciousness-Raising.” (But maybe that’s what you meant in the first place and I’m just reading it wrong? I dunno.)

    I mean, really, it’s just true that People Will Say Things You Don’t Like, And May Even Hate. And if you allow yourself to get worked up over it, if you allow yourself to be thin-skinned enough that it upsets you, then you’re giving power to the haters. That’s what gives the insult its power: your dislike of hearing that word. That’s why they use it: to upset people. It’s the entire point. This is acceptable in some but not all contexts, and I think the fact that Doc Dawkins himself stepped in and said, “Don’t talk like that in my sandbox,” shows that our mudslinger in question was clearly out of line. Where I differ from all the folks calling foul is that I don’t think calling foul will do any good (just like calling someone a “stupid bitch” won’t do any good, even if you’re right to do so). I think the best response is to simply inoculate yourself against such easy barbs, and save your anger for stuff you can actually do something about.

    ‘Cuz, c’mon, the internet will never be a polite place. And even if it is some day, you’ll never run out of things to get offended about, if that’s what you’re after. I think a harmless epithet here and there just isn’t worth getting your feathers ruffled (and remember: mere offense != actual harm).

  • Sarah Braasch

    Whoa — I just read that thread over at RD.net.

    It seriously went off the rails.

    Here’s my take though: They weren’t really arguing about what is and is not sexist language. They were arguing about who has the authority to deem it so.

    Ophelia said that she did and perfunctorily and peremptorily announced the debate over.

    This served only to provoke a handful of the other commenters who chose not to accept her pronouncement of authority on the issue.

    Then, they all lost their shit.

    Richard Dawkins stepped in not so much to calm tempers (Ophelia had already skipped town), but because he was embarrassed that more than one commenter had unearthed more than one instance of him referring to whomever as a bitch or a stupid woman.

    This was my fav post in the entire thread:

    I wonder – if an angry Dane attempted to murder Ms. Holm over this article, would she blame herself?

  • lpetrich

    An Orthodox Jewish man is supposed to thank God for not making him a Gentile, a woman, or a slave.

    Go figure.

    Some Jewish sects have accepted female rabbis, but not any Orthodox ones, as far as I know.

  • http://www.skepticaloccultism.com pendens proditor

    I know several upstanding anuses who would be very offended by the repeated use of the term “asshole” in this thread. Anuses play a noble and essential role and they don’t appreciate this derogatory slur being so flippantly employed as a substitute for other insults. Shame on you people.

  • Ritchie

    Steve Bowen –

    Is it true as Tim Minchin says that “only a ginger can call another ginger, ginger”?

    I TOTALLY love you, man!

    …and Tim Minchin…

    :D

  • paradoctor

    I see that etiquette now demands that we use only _unbigoted_ and _unsexist_ swear words. That’s as rational a system as any. We can still call the boss, male or female, of whatever creed or color, any of the following:

    an asshole, a bully, a kill-joy, a whiner, a schemer, a clown, a tool, a Suit.

    These insults do not discriminate, and so are acceptable. No doubt others on this thread can come up with equally liberal curses.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Many good comments here – let me try to get to a few of them. For Valhar2000:

    I replaced the word “and” with the word “bitch”, or, in other words, redefined the word “bitch” to mean “and”, an entirely arbitrary redefinition that will have no history attached to it, unless I am very much mistaken. Is the result sexist (moreso than the original)? If so, how much?

    Like all words, it very much depends on the context in which you use it. If your poem was posted, say, in an art museum as part of an exhibit with other bizarre juxtapositions of words? Probably not sexist at all. If you were, say, the male head of a company and you routinely sent out this and similar doggerel to your female employees? Just as sexist as the original, I’d say.

    I don’t deny that there are contexts in which this word isn’t sexist, and you don’t even have to go this far afield – as others have pointed out, it has a perfectly fine technical meaning to dog breeders. But in this context, as an insult against a woman whose opinion you disagree with, it seems to me that no such defense is feasible.

    For Eric, #5:

    This reminded me of the scene in Boondock Saints where the brothers are showing a woman around the meat-packing plant, and one of them uses the phrase “rule of thumb.” She then goes on to state that the phrase was coined as a method of determining how large of a stick a man could hit his wife with, and is therefore sexist. I don’t believe that story is true, but if it were: does that make the phrase sexist?

    I wouldn’t say so, but that’s because the phrase has been around sufficiently long that its original sexist connotations (assuming this etymology for the sake of argument) have largely faded, and that meaning is no longer likely to be present in the minds of people who speak those words or – what’s more important – in the minds of people who hear those words. As I said, the sexist message of a word comes about as an interplay between the intent of the speaker and the cultural context.

    jemand at #8 hit the nail on the head:

    Why do people generally insist on redefining words which are offensive to others and then tell those others they shouldn’t be offended because now the word has “no history”?

    As I said, I don’t deny that some words don’t have to carry sexist intent. But I do deny that this is a determination that can be made solely by the speaker, and I especially deny that this determination overrides or renders unjustified any feelings of offense on the part of the recipient. Like it or not, words do have histories, and it’s not reasonable to expect that everyone should disregard the history of a word just because someone says so. And besides, if you’re really not using it as a sexist insult, why that word? Why “bitch” and not some other pejorative?

    Ms. Holm, in claiming people are justified in attempted murder over irreligious cartoons, has shown herself to have the mind of a petty fascist tyrant, the kind of fanatic who values the Holy Idea over people’s lives. It is only a stronger form of her belief that animates the terrorists-if the western way of life is sacrilege, then it is justifiable to kill Americans, just as it is justifiable (or at least understandable) in Ms. Holm’s fetid mind to kill anyone who draws a sacreligious cartoon. Now isn’t that a better and truer insult than calling her a bitch? And it gives her no opportunity to say, “You’re just against me because I’m a woman.”

    Beautiful, anna – you said it better than I could have. Holm’s essay was deplorable, its logic shoddy, and its conclusions appalling. So let’s say that, and refrain from driving the debate into a ditch with sexist epithets that are likely to needlessly anger and offend many people (not just women) who would otherwise be sympathetic to that argument.

    I’m not volunteering to be the PC police on behalf of every offended party, and I don’t think anyone else should take up that job either. But if we want atheism to succeed as a movement, if we want to attract as many people as possible to our cause, I think that paying careful attention to how we express ourselves is worth the effort. If we don’t want atheism to be made up exclusively of white men, we should be making extra effort to show women and minorities that they’re welcome among us as well. By all means, when someone makes a terrible argument, we ought to turn our biggest rhetorical artillery on them. But we should criticize that person, not their entire gender or ethnic group, so as to ensure that there aren’t any potential allies caught in the crossfire.

  • MissCherryPi

    For further reading:

    “Like Tracy Clark-Flory pointed out, it’s hard to even get that outraged, because the word “bitch” is flung around so often that you get numb, which creates this weird irony, because when a man calls you a bitch, he usually wants it to sting really bad, and it doesn’t have that power because it’s used so much. ”
    http://pandagon.net/index.php/site/comments/lets_just_take_it_all_out_on_the_powerless/

    In fact, if I hadn’t been anesthetized to the word “bitch” quite a long time ago, I’d hardly be able to leave my house alone.

    http://www.salon.com/life/broadsheet/feature/2009/12/17/schumer_bitch/index.html

    See also

  • Chet

    Calling a woman a “bitch” is sexist. Full stop.

    @Eric:

    On the rare occasions where I have actually referred to someone as a bitch, it was because of specific actions by them, not because of their gender. If I had seen similar actions from a male, I’d probably refer to them as a jackass.

    If you’d use a different term depending on their gender, how can you claim that their gender isn’t a part of it? If “bitch” isn’t sexist, why do you treat it as an appellation most appropriate for a female?

    @Lisa:

    but I’m a female and if I call another female a bitch is that me being sexist?

    Yes. Why do you think a woman can’t be sexist against women?

    @Valhar2000:

    I’d never thought of it in those terms, but that is the way I use it, too.

    And that’s why it’s sexist – it’s a derogative appellation applied only to women. And why would it be applied only to women if it wasn’t meant to indicate that being a woman was just as bad as being an asshole? Why would you need a derogatory, negative term for someone that folds in their gender as well, except to indicate that their gender is part of what’s wrong with them?

    Calling a woman a “bitch” (and meaning it) is always sexist. Full stop.

    @Kal:

    Hmm. How exactly does this gel with the defence of the right to free expression?

    It gels perfectly. You’re perfectly free to call all the women you want to “bitches”, and we’re perfectly free to use our free expression to call you a sexist. Nobody’s saying you can’t call a woman a “bitch.” Just own your sexism when you do.

  • MissCherryPi

    OK, I just went and looked it up, and as it turns out, there is no official word for undercutting the femininity of a woman.

    Well, I think bitch is used in that way; a woman is uppity and not submissive like women should be, so she’s a bitch.

    Some women are called lesbians and other epithets aimed at lesbians if they aren’t feminine enough. I know the boys in my junior high school were fond of that. And when I was in college a friend was experimenting with different hairstyles and cut her hair very short. A guy asked her if she was breaking up with her boyfriend. She said no. The guy said “Oh. I wasn’t sure if you got a bad haircut, or overnight turned into a raging bull-dyke.” This overlaps with homophobia, but when aimed at a woman the person knows to be straight is a way to shame her for not being feminine enough.

  • Zietlos

    “You shouldn’t swear, you never know what gods might be listening.”

    Someone I knew told me that, and I realized, that day, it was true: People are easily offended. In fact, if I said to 200 people, just random people over the course of the day “I bet you’re easily offended”, I bet I would have a fair number of people offended by that simple statement, proving my point while they try to argue it away. Things said, online, offline, they can all be traced. Your boss, a potential employer, the government, a persistent stalker, Anonymous, anyone of these beings which control your future and freedom (“gods” so to speak) may take offense to your words, regardless of how benign you mean them to be.

    So when you decide to curse, swear, cuss, et cetera, make sure it is for a… very good reason. Injury is a good example, as an unbroken string of explicitives, regardless of what they are, is as identifiable with injury as holding hands to your throat is to choking. Because you’re using them to gather attention to get medical aid, no one will fault you. The alternative, screaming blindly, may cause others injury to themselves by surprise of the yell, while the “swearstring” takes a few seconds for people to realize, and so coworkers would be able to tell you cut your finger and not impale themselves in the process. This is, in my opinion, another example of “changing use of words”, because once that string begins, no one cares the words chosen. So long as the words are intent upon the alert-string, the profanity could be mild, major, sexist, racist, doesn’t matter since it is a generally accepted mode of asking for help.

    But trying ad hominem attacks… It falls into the former, of things that will eventually be able to be used against you in future by one of society’s true “gods”. It simply is not in the best interests of the utterer to waste profanity like that. Akin to Godwin’s Law, once you resort to it, you lose the argument and what little credibility anyone has on the internet.

    In terms of the sexist side of things, I will agree it is, in its unmodified form. Some said it has not yet been changed? In terms of modification: “I got some bitchin’ new rims on my bitchin’ new car”. No one will argue the root word “bitch” used twice in the phrase. Nor would who knows popular culture would say the term “bitchin’” in this context is negatively derogatory towards the hubcaps nor the car. I would say it isn’t even sexist, as the adjective “bitchin’” is never used to humanize an object nor dehumanize a female (not to be confused with “bitching”, an action verb that is used to liken a [nigh exclusively] female to a yapping dog and thus is sexist, likely a holdover from German where most swearing is comparison to animals). Nor is it used it terms of ownership, submission, or feminization. It is an adjective synonymous to “awesome” in almost all cases it is used.

    Just an interesting side-trail on the road to true discovery through socratic discourse, I suppose.

    Personally, I think we’re all crazy, just some of our collective psychoses are more visible than others.

    Afterthought: And Chet, your final comment on freedom of expression, you need to be careful with that. After all, think of what causes the most human deaths at the hands of other humans in the world: Two sides, once one united side, arguing over calling each other different names. I can imagine a world where bloody and violent feuds are held between tribes (or we can call them sects) of “Bitch-ists” and “Sexist-ists” (mostly because said feuds DO happen over similar things in religion). I agree with your argument, simple as it is (simple is good: Occam’s razor), but I disagree with your conclusion: If freedom of speech is the problem… Well, the proper Freedom of Expression had to be narrowed down because someone wanted to defend a murder as their expression of hate, perhaps it needs to be trimmed down some more. “Freedom to speak in public and private forums to the extent that this freedom, this privilege of living in free society, does not infringe upon any of the fundamental rights granted to all living beings, including the rights to security, freedom from enslavement, and the right to be viewed as entirely equal and identical to all other individuals until you prove yourself superior or inferior by your own actions” might be a place to start lawyers looking at it, though I’m sure they would use better words.

  • Chet

    Nor would who knows popular culture would say the term “bitchin’” in this context is negatively derogatory towards the hubcaps nor the car

    It’s not, it’s derogatory towards women.

    Afterthought: And Chet, your final comment on freedom of expression, you need to be careful with that

    We’re either free to express or we’re not. It’s worse than mendacious to pretend that sexists and racists should be afforded perfect freedom to express their bigotry, but the opponents of bigotry must be muzzled lest they cause offense. I don’t think freedom of expression is a “problem.” I think it applies to sexists and anti-sexists, racists and anti-racists alike.

    I can imagine a world where bloody and violent feuds are held between tribes (or we can call them sects) of “Bitch-ists” and “Sexist-ists” (mostly because said feuds DO happen over similar things in religion).

    Woah woah woah! All I said was that it was sexist to call a woman a “bitch”. I never said I wanted to kill or hurt anybody because of it. People are free to call all the women they want to “bitches.” I can’t stop them, and I wouldn’t even try. But they should own their sexism, not try to hide it. Not try to (barf) pretend that it’s somehow egalitarian to call women “bitches” and men “assholes.”

  • http://www.punkassblog.com Antigone
  • Alex Weaver

    Calling a woman a “bitch” is sexist. Full stop.

    I disagree, particularly after the “full stop” and lack of supporting evidence.

  • Chet

    I disagree

    Then perhaps you’d like to address some of the arguments I made?

    In your view, what would be required for a given appellation to be a sexist one? Or do you simply believe that there’s no such thing as a sexist remark?

  • Alex Weaver

    Full stop.

    I already addressed this argument, to the extent it is possible to address it, and on which the rest of your post appears to be premised.

  • Jormungund

    I’m not volunteering to be the PC police

    Odd, you sure seemed to be in your article. No offense, but bitching about the use of the word ‘bitch’ isn’t raising our consciousness. If you aren’t already PC, then you won’t become PC because of a whiner on the internet clamoring for more self-censorship.

  • 5acos(phi/2)

    To put it simply, in my opinion, complaining about someone else’s use of offensive words doesn’t advance arguments, but that opportunity window is enough reason for me to avoid using them in the first place.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    If you aren’t already PC, then you won’t become PC because of a whiner on the internet clamoring for more self-censorship.

    Obviously, if someone is proud of their misogyny, I don’t hold out hope of changing their mind. But I do believe there are people less irrationally set in their ways who can be enlightened, which is why I wrote this post and why I’ll continue to address this topic when the opportunity presents itself.

  • Serenegoose

    Grr. Stupid checkbox eating my comment. Anyway.

    I find it amazing that people who aren’t part of the ‘intended target’ group always assume they have the right to dictate which words are or aren’t offensive to the group. Especially given the transparency of the act, where, the empowered group will in the majority, declare any word they use to be completely harmless, and everyone else is just over-reacting or being too ‘PC’ which is the current trend for shutting down raising awareness to anything. I am (as I’ve mentioned before, though I’m hardly a regular commenter) a trans person, where the same thing happens with depressing regularity as due to the socially acceptable bigotry trans people encounter, slurs are by many people, the only thing they will refer to us as, and when called out on them, will declare that there’s no way ‘shemale’ is offensive, no way ‘tranny’ is offensive, despite being told that quite plainly, yes it is. Some people just don’t want to have to take on board the inconvenient opinions of the people they’re attacking.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    But if we want atheism to succeed as a movement, if we want to attract as many people as possible to our cause, I think that paying careful attention to how we express ourselves is worth the effort. If we don’t want atheism to be made up exclusively of white men, we should be making extra effort to show women and minorities that they’re welcome among us as well.

    Being a woman, I have a slightly different take. I don’t see myself as loitering around on the fringes of atheism hoping to be allowed in. I see myself as already in. But I also see atheism as infected in places by a stupid locker room atmosphere, which I avoid when I find it. My website manages to struggle along without a lot of sexist epithets cluttering the place up. (And that’s not because there’s a ‘rule’ that I have to ‘enforce’ – the people who comment at my place simply don’t call women stupid bitches. I don’t know if that’s because I’m a woman, or because my place attracts people who simply don’t call women stupid bitches, but I suspect it’s the latter.)

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    I’m curious about all these people defending ‘bitch’ and sneering at people who say it’s sexist. Do you all say ‘stupid nigger’ as freely as ‘stupid bitch’? Do you say ‘stupid nigger’ at all?

  • http://theorangesashford.moonfruit.com Steve Bowen

    ‘m curious about all these people defending ‘bitch’ and sneering at people who say it’s sexist. Do you all say ‘stupid nigger’ as freely as ‘stupid bitch’? Do you say ‘stupid nigger’ at all?

    “Nigger” stupid or otherwise is an intrinsically racist word, or at least racially significant in that it explicitly refers to someone of colour. “Bitch” on the other hand, although it has implications of gender is really a character statement in common parlance. To say someone is a “bitch” (without the stupid), is to infer an undesirable character trait. To call someone a “nigger” (without the stupid) merely says they are black. See the difference?

  • http://theorangesashford.moonfruit.com Steve Bowen

    Incidentally, I took a straw poll at a dinner party last night about this, 3 out of the 4 women present did not think the word bitch was sexist per se, the two men present said it was. Hardly statistically significant but just saying…

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    The difference is imaginary. Nigger, faggot, bitch – they’re all equivalent.

    It’s not because they’re ‘different’ that some people insist on using ‘bitch,’ it’s because racism and homophobia are taken seriously and sexism isn’t.

    And what’s this ‘sexist per se’ nonsense? ‘Faggot’ isn’t sexist per se either, because a faggot is literally a piece of wood. So what? Calling a woman a stupid bitch is sexist! ‘Per se’ is beside the point.

  • Serenegoose

    Ophelia: Go to a school and tell me homophobia is taken seriously. ‘Gay’ and ‘Fag’ are some of the most hurled around insults you’ll find, nobody cares about it, and people defend it by saying ‘gay has taken on a new meaning, to mean ‘bad’ or ‘rubbish” completely obliviating the fact that it -has this meaning- because people think to be gay is to be worthless. You’re way wide of the mark here.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    And another thing. All these men explaining why ‘bitch’ isn’t sexist – that’s common – yet seeing white people explaining why ‘nigger’ isn’t racist – that’s not common. Why is that? Why do men feel so cheerful and comfortable and right at home about telling women what is and isn’t sexist? Why is it so fucking easy to brush aside women’s resistance when it’s not at all easy to brush aside that of black people? Why are women’s objections considered so laughable and trivial?

    It’s bizarre that it doesn’t occur to people named Steve and Bill and Dave that it’s really not up to them to decide that ‘stupid bitch’ is not sexist.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    Fuck. That’s the third comment I’ve lost. I hate this system.

    Schools; okay; point taken. I meant racism and homophobia are taken seriously among adults of the type to discuss atheism. Thoughtful adults, if you like. I wouldn’t waste my time arguing about sexist epithets on a site for fans of Glen Beck, but I expect better from atheists.

  • Serenegoose

    Again, Ophelia (though this time in agreement): “It’s bizarre that it doesn’t occur to people named Steve and Bill and Dave that it’s really not up to them to decide that ‘stupid bitch’ is not sexist.”

    I’ve been saying this all along though not just in this thread (though, above…) I think people are under the delusion that language is an entirely mutual endeavour, and people not targeted by certain parts of language still have as much of a ‘voice’ in deciding what it means as the people who are targeted by it.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    By the way, Steve Bowen – in your straw poll, did you ask if calling a woman a stupid bitch is sexist? Because that was the issue. The issue was never ‘is it impossible ever to use the word “bitch” in such a way that it is not sexist?’.

  • Danikajaye

    Firstly, Antigone at comment #53, that is a great, relevant link.

    I have to say that I am honestly really disappointed by this thread.

    I am not offended by the word bitch but that does not mean the word is not offensive. It seems like people use “Thats not the meaning I intended” as a get out of jail free card. I think it is code for “I failed to think through my comments and the many possible interpretations of it” which DOES NOT make any of those interpretations less valid. Language is constantly evolving and I think just because you have decided to alter the meaning of a word for your own purposes it does not mean that you get to wipe the word of its history. You have simply added another interpretation, not taken the others away.

    Words can be reclaimed but I think bitch is far from reclaimed. Many of the “new” uses for bitch have direct links to its historical derogatory meaning for the term. As posters have said previously, the new use for bitch in reference to males isn’t in the interest of egalitarianism but a way to use the devaluation of women as a tool to emasculate. However, I do agree with Zietlos and his use as bitchin’= awesome is not sexist. The meaning has evolved to a point where the new meaning has no direct link the old one. What has “something thats totally awesome” got to do with “I’m likening you to a worthless dirty animal as a means to debase you because of your gender”. Nothing really. This is not the case with most uses of the word though.

    I think this thread demonstrates an important point. Even when you get together a bunch of intelligent people who (correct me if I wrong) don’t want to be sexist, sexism is so pervasive, so culturally ingrained, that we have difficulty spotting it even when we are looking for it.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I feel like the irony inherent in this discussion is being lost on quite a few persons.

    I am never going to be on the side of anyone who wants to impose limitations on free expression.

    I hate hate crime legislation. I am a big fan of hate speech. I want all the haters out in the open, in the marketplace of ideas, being exposed to the disinfecting and sanitizing sunshine of open and honest and frank public discourse.

    Nancy Graham Holm said that the Danes need to police themselves so as not to give offense.

    Ophelia Benson is saying that people need to police themselves so as not to give offense.

    Now, I know the difference. Graham Holm was saying that violence was a justifiable and foreseeable response to the offensive speech.

    Of course, Ophelia is not saying that. She is actually denouncing Graham Holm’s position.

    But, I always get nervous when we start going down this road.

    If women get to decide which words men can and can’t use, then why not the Muslims in Malaysia who are all bent out of shape, because the Christians are using the word Allah? And, why not the Muslims in Denmark who were offended by the cartoons? Why not?

    But, Ophelia, honestly, I felt like the commenters on RD.net were more upset that you were telling them (the male ones, anyway) that they didn’t have a dog in the fight, that they didn’t have a right to weigh in on the question of the use of language, which you had deemed sexist.

    Do you see that?

    I am not ok with that stance. I find it quite sexist.

    Why do you get to decide? I think that was the issue on RD.net that ignited all of the fury.

    And — I’m a woman — so, apparently, it’s ok for me to ask these questions.

  • Serenegoose

    To me this is a question I can’t think of a neat answer to. I think though, nobody is saying that we ‘can’t’ use certain words, only that the use of these words isn’t consequence free. you can call women bitches if you want, but as this is a word with sexist connotations, be prepared to be derided for it, be prepared for people to lose respect and not take you seriously. I think when this gets into hate crime territory is when the words are typically used to dehumanise their victim (a process I’m intimately familiar with), in order to make it easier to then take more drastic, illegal actions and then we legislate against their use (usually in context that whilst open to abuse is usually not) in order to stop them being used as psychological weapons that function to enable things like assault and murder, essentially.

  • Danikajaye

    I don’t buy that women alone can decide if a word is sexist or not. I hear women say things that are horribly degrading to women all the time. Woman or man we have all been immersed in our culture since we were born and have come to accept certain norms. Many of these are sexist or involve some type of double standard. Just because you are a woman and may have been on the receiving end of any number of sexist words or actions, it does not necessarily follow that you were able to recognise them for what they are.

    Case in point, I had a female friend of mine over and we were watching a news story on a woman who was raped after going back to a hotel room with two men (well known sports identities). I nearly choked when she said “That wasn’t rape. Who goes back to a hotel room with two men? She knew what they were there for. She’s just said this for attention.” What….. WTF?

    Also I have been thinking that “cunt” is the new “bitch”. Do you think there would have been a different reaction if the poster had said “stupid cunt” instead of “stupid bitch”? Cunt still packs a punch where bitch is used so much now people are desensitized. However if you look at it logically they are both equally offensive. One degrades women by through the implication that simply possessing female genitalia is somehow something less or in some way wrong or dirty or bad and is therefore an insult. The other degrades them by likening them to animals or in the more modern meaning someone who is outspoken or doesn’t know their place. The only difference is one we hear thrown about all the time and the other we don’t. The constant use has made it acceptable not any change in meaning.

  • http://www.turntheclockforward.org/ TooManyJens

    But, I always get nervous when we start going down this road.

    If women get to decide which words men can and can’t use

    Oh, hell no. That is a complete misrepresentation.

    Women don’t “get to decide which words men can and can’t use”. Nobody here is talking about passing a law against using the word “bitch.” Women do get to say “your use of that word hurts me and reinforces society’s negative attitudes toward women, so I think it’s a crappy thing to do.” Exactly what is the problem with that, except that some men don’t want to listen to it?

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    By the way, Steve Bowen – in your straw poll, did you ask if calling a woman a stupid bitch is sexist? Because that was the issue.

    Yep. I was quite precise about it (I’m a very boring dinner guest).
    The fact is, the term “bitch” is not universally offensive to women in itself, except of course if they are the target for the insult. If it were women wouldn’t use it.
    Personally I would never use any direct insult in an online debate, not because the words may offend some section of the community but because as soon as I did the argument would be lost (besides indirect insults are way more fun). But I stand by my original point, the word is not of itself sexist, it is the context and the intent that can be. As Sarah Braasch pointed out, used condescendingly even “lady” can be sexist, but it is the intent that makes it so.

    Take another insult: Stupid Bastard. The word bastard really means a child of either sex born out of wedlock, however in common usage it means someone of a particularly hard and uncaring character who will almost certainly be a man. It is often used in the same context as “stupid bitch” who will probably be a woman. Apart from the fact that if someone said to me ” I met a real stupid bastard/bitch” it would give me a clue to the gender of the intellectually deficient unpleasant individual in question, neither term is sexist.

  • Chet

    I already addressed this argument, to the extent it is possible to address it, and on which the rest of your post appears to be premised.

    No, you didn’t. I examined every single one of your 4 posts in this thread, and not a single one of them even comes close to addressing what is a very simple argument, or answering my question at all.

  • Chet

    To say someone is a “bitch” (without the stupid), is to infer an undesirable character trait.

    Indeed – it is to infer either that a woman is being insufficiently submissive, or to infer that a man is being inappropriately submissive (like a woman is supposed to be.) The common thread in those two uses of the term is the promotion of the idea that a woman’s appropriate role is a submissive one, which is why the term is so profoundly sexist.

  • Sarah Braasch

    TooManyJens,

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with a woman expressing her discontent (or outrage) with being called a bitch or anything else, for that matter. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a woman refusing to engage in discourse with anyone who would refer to her as such.

    I am very specifically addressing and taking issue with Ophelia’s assertion that anyone male has no right to weigh in on a discussion of the use of language, which Ophelia has determined is sexist.

    I don’t believe that I have misrepresented Ophelia’s position at all, but I hope she will correct me if she believes otherwise.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    Chet

    it is to infer either that a woman is being insufficiently submissive, or to infer that a man is being inappropriately submissive (like a woman is supposed to be

    I think you would be very hard pushed to find someone who defined bitch that way off the top of their head. Having defined bitch as being sexist you are now stretching the definition to fit that view.

  • http://www.turntheclockforward.org/ TooManyJens

    Sarah: I hope she will, too. Because I strongly believe that you have, but I don’t want to speak for her.

  • Chet

    I am very specifically addressing and taking issue with Ophelia’s assertion that anyone male has no right to weigh in on a discussion of the use of language, which Ophelia has determined is sexist.

    She’s not saying that at all; simply that men should not be allowed to unilaterally determine whether or not a given term is sexist at the same time that they’re using it to put down women. We don’t allow white people to unilaterally determine what terms its appropriate to refer to minorities with, because that gives cover to bigoted racists who would like to continue to refer to people as niggers and kikes, to reinforce historical white privilege and oppression of minorities. Similarly, we should not give substantial credulity to the opinions of men who want to defend their privilege to refer to women as “bitches” and “cunts”, because that gives cover to the persons who want to use those terms to keep women in a submissive role.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    that gives cover to the persons who want to use those terms to keep women in a submissive role.

    There you go again

    Try this definition which just happened to be the first one I found. No mention of submissives there.

  • http://www.turntheclockforward.org/ TooManyJens

    Steve, you’re really using the dictionary to say that the word “bitch” hasn’t been used against women in the way that many women say they’ve experienced?

  • Sarah Braasch

    Hmmm, I feel you Chet. I see what you’re saying.

    I think you are being a tad too generous to Ophelia though.

    I wasn’t feeling the openness about having a conversation about what is and is not sexist language.

    Ophelia’s stance, both on RD.net and here, in my opinion, was very much this: I have determined that this language is inappropriate; I am not going to engage you in a debate on the subject; you have no right (as men) to weigh in on the subject or to contradict me; you must simply stop using this language, because you have offended me.

    Maybe I’m way off base, but that’s the message that was conveyed to me.

    And, it’s not something I would ever support. I do know; however, how overheated internet debates and frustration can lead one down a rhetorical path far removed from the original and intended destination.

    And, I think Ophelia’s great. I love her site. So, benefit of the doubt time. Carry on. I’m off to din.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    Steve, you’re really using the dictionary to say that the word “bitch” hasn’t been used against women in the way that many women say they’ve experienced?

    Hmm, that’s not my intention. I think I’m using the dictionary to suggest the word doesn’t mean what some people want it to mean for the purpose of this discussion. If I call you a bitch (and I promise not to) you would have every right to be mortally offended, not because you are a woman but beacause I was defaming your character (see my response to Ophelia re: bastard @ #76)> Just because some women see it as a slur on women generally is not a reason not to use it. As another example, we are all quite happy using xian or xtian on this site to refer to Christians. Some xians (see what I did there?)find this insulting even though most of us know it is a legitimate abbreviation with a very long heritage within the xian sphere itself. Some of us may intend its use to be disparaging, I don’t, it’s just useful shorthand. So should we all refrain from doing it just because a few xians mis-read our intent? I don’t think so.

  • Alex Weaver

    Ophelia’s stance, both on RD.net and here, in my opinion, was very much this: I have determined that this language is inappropriate; I am not going to engage you in a debate on the subject; you have no right (as men) to weigh in on the subject or to contradict me; you must simply stop using this language, because you have offended me.

    I’m not sure there’s any other way to read her comments here, at any rate…

    Why do men feel so cheerful and comfortable and right at home about telling women what is and isn’t sexist?

    So in other words, you’re calling for assigning privileges to some people but not others based on gender?

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    Nancy Graham Holm said that the Danes need to police themselves so as not to give offense.

    Ophelia Benson is saying that people need to police themselves so as not to give offense.

    Now, I know the difference. Graham Holm was saying that violence was a justifiable and foreseeable response to the offensive speech.

    No, that’s not the difference, or not the relevant difference, or not the only and most relevant difference. The most relevant difference – the one that’s independent of the violence question – is that Holm said people should police themselves in discussing a subject that should be wide open to debate, a subject that is external to actual people. I said people shouldn’t use sexist or racist or homophobic etc epithets.

    Satirical criticism of Mohammed and Islam are not insults directed at actual people. (Some believers insist that they are, of course, but they’re wrong.) A joke about Mo is one thing, talk of Mozzies or towel-heads is another. The first should be defended and must be defended; the second should not.

    Just for one thing, it’s a difference of substance versus mere abuse. A very great deal is lost if we police ourselves in such a way that we never say anything critical of a particular religion. Nothing is lost if we don’t use group-specific epithets. I swear very freely, and I say very harsh things about for instance the pope – but I don’t use racist or sexist epithets.

    Why do you get to decide?

    Why does Obama get to decide what it means if for instance someone calls his daughters ‘stupid niggers’? Why does he get to decide more than a white person? Because he is part of the group covered by the epithet. Same with ‘stupid bitch.’ I get to decide because I don’t want to be called a stupid bitch any time someone disagrees with me.

  • http://www.turntheclockforward.org/ TooManyJens

    Actually, Alex, I think she was asking why men feel so cheerful and comfortable and right at home about telling women what is and isn’t sexist. Personally, I would think the lived experience of people who have been on the sharp end of sexism their entire lives should carry some weight in conversations about what is and is not sexist, and people without that experience would do well to listen.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    So in other words, you’re calling for assigning privileges to some people but not others based on gender?

    ‘Privileges’? No. That’s a contentious way of putting it. Would you try to tell a black person that ‘nigger’ is a harmless word?

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    @ TooManyJens (#84): I seriously doubt that Steve is saying that it hasn’t been used in that way, just that it’s not only used in that way.

    There seems to be way too much talking past each other in this thread. Half the people are saying, “We are offended by this, can you please acknowledge the impact your words are having,” while the other half is saying, “This is a perfectly fine word in a wide variety of other contexts, will you please not call foul at every opportunity?”

    In your view, what would be required for a given appellation to be a sexist one? Or do you simply believe that there’s no such thing as a sexist remark?
    – Chet, #55

    That depends on what you mean by “sexist remark.” Seriously, I’m not just being argumentative here. Do you mean, “A remark uttered in expression of a sexist attitude?” Then of course there’s such a thing, but it depends on the mental states of the speaker – and those mental states are what you would need to establish to convince me that the remark does in fact express a sexist attitude on the part of the speaker. But if you mean, “A remark that, when uttered, unfailingly indicates that the speaker is sexist,” then no, I do not think that any such remark exists, because words are never 100% reliable indicators of mental states (people can act, lie, mis-speak, etc.).

    Let’s please remember that sexism (or racism, or homophobia) is an attitude, and attitudes can only be held by persons. Words by themselves do not hold attitudes, though they may be used to express them. But language is ambiguous, and so it is often difficult to reliably infer a speaker’s true attitudes from the words being used. So is our internet mudslinger definitely a sexist for calling Holm a stupid bitch? Well, he is if he thinks that the fact Holm is a woman reflects negatively upon her – but I’m no telepath, so I’m not going to pretend to know what this person was “really thinking.” Is our internet mudslinger guilty of a somewhat serious faux pas by making a vicious ad hominem attack on the digital turf of one of the most prominent atheists in the world? Absolutely.

    But it would have been way worse if he said, “Holm should stop pretending at writing and get back in the kitchen.” To some people, this would finally be crossing the line; to others, the line had already been crossed and he may as well have said just that. That seems to be the difference between the two camps here: where it’s crossing the line, and who gets to say where the line ought to be. Well, every individual gets their say and no one person gets the final word, but consider your audience, for fuck’s sake.

  • Entomologista

    The fact is, the term “bitch” is not universally offensive to women in itself, except of course if they are the target for the insult. If it were women wouldn’t use it.

    Because women never do sexist things that hurt other women and enforce the patriarchy. Nope!

    Also, here is what Wikipedia has to say about the term “bitch”:

    In literal, non-slang use, bitch is a term for female canines, particularly amongst dog breeders. It is also a common English profanity for a woman that typically carries denigrating or misogynistic overtones—such as resemblance to a dog. It is also used to characterize someone who is belligerent and unreasonable, or displays rudely intrusive or aggressive behavior.

    Its original use as a vulgarism, documented to the fourteenth century, suggested high sexual desire in a woman, comparable to a bitch in heat. The range of meanings has expanded in modern usage. In a feminist context, it can indicate a strong or assertive woman, one who might make men feel threatened. When applied to a man, “bitch” is a derogatory term for a subordinate.

  • http://www.turntheclockforward.org/ TooManyJens

    DAMN IT. It would be awesome if the comment didn’t go away when you forgot to uncheck the “I’m not a spammer” box.

    Let me try that again.

    D @91: “Well, every individual gets their say and no one person gets the final word, but consider your audience, for fuck’s sake.”

    I agree with this. Considering your audience is key.

    I would add one more to your list of definitions of “sexist remark”, namely: A remark that is based in negative cultural views of women, and reinforces them by uncritically mirroring them.

    This is what I was getting at earlier when I was talking about men using the word “bitch” to show dominance. Same with “pussy”, etc. — this only makes sense in a cultural context in which femininity is considered subordinate. The insult is incoherent otherwise.

    A person can make a sexist remark in this sense without having the intent of putting women down. They might just not have thought about the implications of the words they’re using — words which are all around them, after all. If you grew up in an environment in which the phrase “Jew him down” was common, and somebody pointed out to you that this phrase reflected negative cultural assumptions about Jewish people, wouldn’t you want to know that so that you could stop using the phrase, since you don’t have any animus toward Jewish people?

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    So is our internet mudslinger definitely a sexist for calling Holm a stupid bitch? Well, he is if he thinks that the fact Holm is a woman reflects negatively upon her – but I’m no telepath, so I’m not going to pretend to know what this person was “really thinking.”

    Jeezis – yet again. Blah blah blah – anything to make excuses for sexism.

    The issue isn’t in any case whether a particular person is or is not definitely sexist – who gives a fuck? The issue is that the epithet is sexist. If X calls someone a stupid nigger – the issue is not the state of X’s soul, the issue is that the epithet is racist.

    But it’s just really urgent to have special rules that make sexist epithets not really sexist epithets.

    Is our internet mudslinger guilty of a somewhat serious faux pas by making a vicious ad hominem attack on the digital turf of one of the most prominent atheists in the world? Absolutely.

    Oh I see! The issue is not that the epithet was sexist, it’s that it was an insult to Dawkins! How stupid of me not to realize that!

    I should tell you, Dawkins doesn’t think it was all about him. He sent me a very nice email apologizing for all the nonsense in that thread.

  • Entomologista

    Let’s please remember that sexism (or racism, or homophobia) is an attitude

    This is only part of it. I’d argue that unconscious, systemic -isms perpetuated by society are also a part. There are very, very few people these days who will tell you they are racist/sexist. A lot of people probably don’t even hold attitudes one would describe as racist or sexist. Yet by not thinking about the impact their actions have, they uphold racist and sexist institutions. Language is a part of that, whether you like it or not.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    D

    But it would have been way worse if he said, “Holm should stop pretending at writing and get back in the kitchen.” To some people, this would finally be crossing the line; to others, the line had already been crossed and he may as well have said just that. That seems to be the difference between the two camps here: where it’s crossing the line, and who gets to say where the line ought to be. Well, every individual gets their say and no one person gets the final word, but consider your audience, for fuck’s sake.

    I agree and that was very well expressed for a girl ;) In fact it was bitchin’
    Back to “nigger” as Ophelia still wants to draw that parallel. For one thing, elements of black culture have adopted the word for themselves so yes, you could argue to a black person that “nigger” is not an intrinsically racist word. True it might be if I used it, but again context is key. Although I never have, I have at least one friend who I could probably call “nigger” in jest without getting bitch slapped. I’l ask her when I get the chance and let you know what she says.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Oh I see! The issue is not that the epithet was sexist, it’s that it was an insult to Dawkins! How stupid of me not to realize that!
    – Ophelia Benson, #94

    Well, OK, gimme a second to take my foot out of my mouth. I can see how you would read it that way, but what I meant is that Internet Mudslinger was out of line, no matter whether he was actually speaking from a sexist attitude or not. Sure, I guess that sort of talk is also an insult to Dawkins, albeit a minor one and of a completely different kind. But I agree with you here that the operant factor is Internet Mudslinger’s words, and not the effect it had upon Dawkins. So I’m sorry for any confusion on that point.

    As for the epithet being sexist and whether so-and-so is a sexist or not, well, I care whether individuals are sexist or not, and I maintain that words in and of themselves are incapable of being sexist. Or racist, for that matter. I don’t think the word “nigger” is intrinsically racist, I think that it is a string of letters/sounds that only has meaning in our heads. I went and looked up many definitions of the word “sexism” – and if you’ve got a different one, then I’m all ears – but all of them seemed to apply exclusively to sentient beings, and not to symbols that are incapable of havig mental states. A word by itself cannot discriminate, cannot have a bias, cannot be intolerant – but a person can do all those things and use any words to express such mental states.

    Some people are nuts and insist that “Well, I didn’t mean it that way, so you’ve no right to take it that way,” and that’s just silly because it trivializes the impact upon the listener. But I think that “I took it this way, so those other ways you could have meant it don’t count” is equally silly, because it presumes to put thoughts in the head of the speaker.

    But then again, I’m one of those people who cares about the ideas a person means to communicate more than the words used to express those ideas, and not everybody is like me on that count. So I guess what I’m saying is that I may be confused on what you mean when you say that a word is racist or sexist. Could you clarify? Like, when you say, “the epithet is sexist/racist,” what definition of “sexist” or “racist” are you using?

    Entomologista, I agree that -isms are complicated, but think for a minute about how cultural norms get propagated: it all comes down to people influencing other people. While this is done through myriad mechanisms as you pointed out, it still comes down to those mental states being passed around from person to person. There is no sexism without sexists – at least, not on the definitions that I’ve seen. I guess that’s up for debate now, though, so I may change my mind on this.

    Steve, excellent application of considering your audience! For bonus points, if your friend bitch slaps you, who’s the bitch and why?

  • jemand

    @D, but some of those people could be unconsciously sexist. In fact, probably everyone is, to a greater or lesser extent, and not using language in ways that reinforces or resonates with the unconscious sexism in the people around you is a conscious and calculated way you can fight sexism as a whole. One can be sexist and say something sexist without sitting down before hand and saying to one’s self, how can I be sexist today?

  • jemand

    Aw hell, we’re almost to 100 comments and so might as well make it longer right? An as-yet-unmentioned context for usage of word “bitch” would be in BDSM type scenes and so there’s an entirely different context of word usages there. Of course, it’s all negotiated and the audience is more considered than in pretty much any other type of communication ever.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    D, well yes, I care whether individuals are sexist or not, over the long haul, but in the immediate situation of wanting to participate in an internet discussion but finding it contaminated by sexist epithets, I care more about simply registering that a sexist epithet is a sexist epithet. Maybe the person who said it didn’t mean it that way – okay, but then the thing to do is withdraw it, not dig in and insist it was never sexist.

    Steve Bowen

    so yes, you could argue to a black person that “nigger” is not an intrinsically racist word.

    Sure, you could, but would you?

    If you were chatting on the Dawkins site and someone said the author of the article under discussion was a stupid nigger, would you argue that “nigger” is not an intrinsically racist word? My guess is that you wouldn’t. That’s partly because I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do that – which is partly because people don’t say that, because they know better – the kind of people who hang out at RDF.

    So I think all this is pretty much bullshit, and un-self-aware bullshit at that.

  • Chet

    Entomologista, I agree that -isms are complicated, but think for a minute about how cultural norms get propagated: it all comes down to people influencing other people.

    But, of course, the minute egalitarians and feminists attempt to influence people not to use sexist, derogatory terms like “bitch” and “cunt”, suddenly that’s an inappropriate attempt to “police the dialog”. Freedom of expression, apparently, is only for bigots; never for people who would like to voice their objections to bigoted remarks. Amazing how that works.

    Speech isn’t just words. Speech is also an action. When that action of speech is meant to reinforce patriarchy, oppression and forced submission of women and minorities, and so forth – as words like “bitch” and “nigger” and the rest are surely meant to do – then that speech is bigoted. It’s sexist or racist, because it meant to be used in furtherance of racist or sexist ends.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    Sure, you could, but would you?

    having that discussion on facebook as we type. Watch this space.

    If you were chatting on the Dawkins site and someone said the author of the article under discussion was a stupid nigger, would you argue that “nigger” is not an intrinsically racist word?

    Not in this case because “nigger” has obvious racist intent behind it in the context you describe. “bitch” on the other hand does not carry the sexist message in the way “nigger” carries the racist one. It would be more sexist IMO to say “stop being such a stupid WOMAN”. The gender derogation is explicit as is the racial one with “nigger”.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    O.K so my friend Jenny has given me permission to show you this.

    My message to her was…

    Hi Jen, help me out here ‘cos I need an informed opinion. I am having a discussion on the web about whether language can be sexist, racist, homophobic etc. I won’t tell you just yet what my position is but…Is there ever any situation where a white person can call a black person “nigger” without causing offence?

    This is her chat rssponse..

    Hi hun it does not both me i was broth up x to see colour hun x poeple are poeple x

    20:39Jenny
    some backs do have a big chip o ther shoulder but i dont i want tobe the first black to join the kkk xx

    20:41Jenny
    all my godchildern have a gollywog and ther all name after me i broth them my self x hope this help you hun xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    Interesting she brought up the gollywog thing (honestly no prompting). Now this is one person and Jen and I are mates so she will have guessed which way I was arguing. But trust me these are her words. You cannot assume that all blacks see racism everywhere and all women see sexism everywhere.

  • jemand

    no steve, some blacks ARE racist and some women ARE sexist. That really has nothing to do with your friend, I don’t necessarily understand her or your point and the format of that IM conversation isn’t the same as the rest of this comment thread and I really am not as familiar at following such IM based spelling/abbreviations, etc.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    Jemand

    Don’t see your point. We are discussing whether language has intrinsic ..isms. Yeh I know we started with “”bitch on RD’s site but we’ve moved on. Ophelia and others keep drawing parallels between “bitch” and “nigger” and I’m cool with that because the semantic differences are telling. So I indulged in a bit of real time game playing because it is so easy for Chet, Ophelia and the rest to play the “you’re a white male so can’t have an opinion on this” card. I got Jenny on line on facebook, without really knowing how she’d respond, honestly she could have told me to fuck off, it’s not a subject that has ever come up between us, I had no idea how she thought about this. Anyway what she said is what she said, I take that to mean that words and objects that the great white liberals may believe are offensive to blacks aren’t universally so. Which says to me what I’ve believed for a long time; People are people, regardless of race, sex or religion and defining their sensibilities to abstracts like words is more race/sex otherist than the words themselves.
    D nailed it #97

    As for the epithet being sexist and whether so-and-so is a sexist or not, well, I care whether individuals are sexist or not, and I maintain that words in and of themselves are incapable of being sexist. Or racist, for that matter. I don’t think the word “nigger” is intrinsically racist, I think that it is a string of letters/sounds that only has meaning in our heads.

    …isms need intent, malicious intent and we should guard against it, and fight it where it lives. BUT, when you start defining things as race/sex/other..ist you deprive ALL of us of the toolbox of free expression.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I think Ophelia has argued herself into an untenable position.

    Saying that only identified (how?) members of certain groups get to own exclusive and incontestable control of any critical (internal?) discourse and language pertaining to their group is murky stuff indeed.

    She sounds pretty confident when she identifies which groups these are that enjoy this control. And, when she excludes Islam from that list.

    A lot of Muslims also sound that confident when they assert their exclusive and incontestable control over any and all depictions of Mohammed. And certain words, like Allah. And, their pleas for global blasphemy laws at the UN.

    Me — I’m sticking with the sanitizing and disinfecting power of an open and free and honest and frank public discourse in the marketplace of ideas.

    Good night all.

  • Zietlos

    I want to pop back in (wow, one day and so much to read!) and say I enjoy seeing the different viewpoints. The main article is being handled well by Steve, Chet, and Ophelia, and as much as I would like to help playing devil’s advocate, I think both sides have their talking points well in hand. (By the way, comment 103, I can appreciate it. I’ve had similar conversations with some friends about other derogatory terms as well. It is actually fun to realize how others view this reality, this world.)

    I just wanted to poke my head in and also as always in my opinion: Comment 99, I must disagree and state that in your case, it is not an exception, but rather EXACTLY what our protagonist duo define as the core definition of “bitch” (The duo is defined as protagonist as one is the originator of the article, and therefore is the central focus). It is consensual dehumanization, but it is derogatory nevertheless, meant to place one as inferior to the other (The slave to the master of the S&M part of BDSM). Rather than desensitizing the word it hypersensitizes it.

    …As an aside, for those are my specialty, to the people praying for a solution to the “uncheck box -> lost comment”, I checked with this post, and the firefox app Lazerus will repopulate the posting box for you. Since it pertains to (one of) the subjects at hand, and is free, I hope it doesn’t count as unlawful advertising. It would work as a short-term fix until the comment-loss thing is changed.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    But, of course, the minute egalitarians and feminists attempt to influence people not to use sexist, derogatory terms like “bitch” and “cunt”, suddenly that’s an inappropriate attempt to “police the dialog”. Freedom of expression, apparently, is only for bigots; never for people who would like to voice their objections to bigoted remarks. Amazing how that works.
    – Chet (#101)

    This is that whole “talking past each other” thing I was getting at earlier. I agree that Internet Mudslinger was out of line. I think that the remark that Internet Mudslinger made was inappropriate in the situation. And I’m in no way calling for anyone to restrict their speech – influencing the state of the culture through dialogue is perfectly acceptable (and happens whether we want it to or not, anyway).

    I’m not defending sexism, I simply happen to disagree with some people about the particulars of just how “worth it” this one battle is. While I do think that Internet Mudslinger was out of line, I don’t think that it’s worth getting upset. But then again, I’m one of those “sticks and stones” sort of people who tries not to let others’ words get to me if I don’t like them; and I recognize that not everyone is as thick-skinned as I am. I understand the fact that this is offensive to some people, in other words, and I don’t want to come across as dismissing that; what I don’t understand is why people let the language of a person (whose opinions they clearly do not value) affect them so much. These sorts of conversations seem to converge on circles of, “I shouldn’t have to put up with this,” “But you do,” “But I shouldn’t have to,” “I know, but you do,” and so on and so forth.

    And for the record, I would actually argue that “nigger” is not an intrinsically racist word, if someone said that it is. However, I also agree that any non-black person who actually calls a black person a nigger is probably a racist (with a few exceptions, of course). I think the same goes for “bitch,” too; I just think that there are more exceptions and they’re easier to point out.

    @ MissCherryPi (#50): Oh, I get that the word “dyke” does that, what I’m saying is that there isn’t a word for doing that. So, in this case, “dyke” would be a “she-masculating” term.

    @ Sarah Braasch (#106): You see sanitization and disinfection, I see embracing the messiness and getting practice for the immune system. Rest well!

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    “bitch” on the other hand does not carry the sexist message in the way “nigger” carries the racist one.

    Yes it does. I assure you, it does. The blindness to this, the double standard, the insistence on defending the double standard, is truly bottomlessly disgusting. This is just some game to you – because you’re not the target. I’m really profoundly uninterested in your opinion of what is and isn’t sexist. (I’m also uninterested in illiterate babble taken from Facebook.)

    If we were all robots then yes it would be reasonable to keep pointing out that words are socially constructed, but as it is, it’s just fucking insulting. You respect the taboo on calling black people ‘nigger’ but you refuse to respect the taboo on calling women ‘bitch.’ That’s a vicious indefensible double standard.

    This crap is disgusting.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    what I don’t understand is why people let the language of a person (whose opinions they clearly do not value) affect them so much.

    Because it is political. It’s not just random noise, it’s part of a system. That applies to nigger, and faggot, and bitch. It matters because it matters. Maybe some day it won’t matter; great; but we’re not there yet.

  • Entomologista

    As for the epithet being sexist and whether so-and-so is a sexist or not, well, I care whether individuals are sexist or not, and I maintain that words in and of themselves are incapable of being sexist. Or racist, for that matter. I don’t think the word “nigger” is intrinsically racist, I think that it is a string of letters/sounds that only has meaning in our heads.

    And DNA is just a big molecule. Language is a means of information transfer. We’re talking about the information that gets transferred when you call a woman a bitch, not the way your lips flap when you talk.

    For the last time, -isms do not require malicious intent. Please see this essay.

  • Chet

    We are discussing whether language has intrinsic ..isms.

    If words have meanings then some words must have some meanings that are “isms”, to use your term, or bigoted, to use mine. It reminds me of the scene in the second Clerks movie, where Randall calls a black person a “porch monkey” and then denies racist intent – it’s just the term his grandma used to use! Of course, as he continues to describe his grandma, it becomes obvious that she was a racist.

    It’s possible to wield a bigoted term out of ignorance, especially since we intuit morality by consensus, by what seems acceptable to our peers. It’s not necessary to believe that women should always adhere to a submissive role in order to use language that reinforces that belief. That’s how a term – the term itself – can be bigoted. That the term is bigoted doesn’t mean or imply that every single possible use of the term communicated bigotry. For instance, you might be using the term to talk about bigoted expressions!

  • monkeymind

    The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master— that’s all.”

  • Chet

    I think Ophelia has argued herself into an untenable position.

    That women shouldn’t be called “bitches”? Yeah, I can see how she’s painted herself into a corner, there!

    But then again, I’m one of those “sticks and stones” sort of people who tries not to let others’ words get to me if I don’t like them; and I recognize that not everyone is as thick-skinned as I am.

    Then why all the pushback, D? Someone who complains as loudly as you and others have on this thread about how unfair it is to be the recipient of charges of “sexism” just because one called a woman a bitch doesn’t give me the impression of being “thick-skinned.” As always, there’s no one so thin-skinned as a bigot, especially when it comes to the part where they’re being identified as one. Call a sexist a sexist and hear the howling! Oh, how they’ll howl, at the mere thought that someone might label them a “bigot” as a result of how they choose to address people. Why, they’ll complain that being a white person called a “racist” or a man being called a “sexist” is every bit as bad as being a black person called a “nigger”! (I hate how many times I’ve had to type that fucking word in this thread.)

    what I don’t understand is why people let the language of a person (whose opinions they clearly do not value) affect them so much.

    You tell me, I guess. Why does it bother bigots so much to be called “bigots”? Why do sexists and racists get so upset at people who label them “sexist” and “racist”? Aren’t those just words, too?

    If people want to be bigots, there’s not much I can do about that, I guess. But they should own their bigotry. If you think it’s no big deal to tell a woman that she’s a bitch, so that you can feel like you got one over on her and that she was put in her place – own that feeling! Why try to hide it? It’s not like anybody gives a shit about sexism and racism, these days. Except for humorless feminazis, or something.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    I’m also uninterested in illiterate babble taken from Facebook.)

    Sorry Ophelia, you have ceased to be a credible participant in this. I assure you Jenny is not illiterate, she is actually a very competent and articulate social worker and can hold her own in any argument. If you can’t understand that I verbatim quoted a social chat string (to avoid paraphrasing) that is your problem. In fact what you are doing by calling my position “bottomlessly disgusting” is implying that I am a sexist. I am not and WILL not be be brow beaten into saying I am. Neither am I racist or homophobic as any one who knows me will testify. Frankly I agree with Sarah, your position is logically untenable.
    This is my last word on this subject as I think my position is clear but to sum up. This is one of the very rare occasions that I disagree with Ebon. Ad Hominem insults are always counter productive. If (big if) anyone wants to be an ambassador for atheism on a high profile blog site it would do us all a favour if they kept their arguments rational and impersonal. However, language is the currency of ideas, innovation and progress. It is beautififul, awesome, emotive, controversial and frustratingly ambiguous. Let’s keep it that way and allow every word and every nuance to be available to express our thoughts. Anything else is censorship. Ophelia, take offense at very semantic opportunity if you want to. Find insults whether they are intended or not, that’s your problem.

  • Entomologista

    Steve, you’ve only convinced me that you’re more concerned with whether or not you appear bigoted than whether or not you actually do bigoted things.

  • Mrnaglfar

    I need to echo the calls of so many people that words are no racist or sexist. Only people are racist or sexist. For instance, let’s examine comment #92:

    Because women never do sexist things that hurt other women and enforce the patriarchy.

    I could find sexist implications with the term “patriarchy”. It’s certainly not a gender-neutral word. It is used to disparage men in power, implying that they (and generally other men) are sexists with no regard for women who are seeking to control and harm other women. That sentence also paints any woman who does something to benefit a man as a sexist as well. Further, why should it even matter that the people in power tend to be male? Why should it matter if the people they hurt are men or women? Shouldn’t we really be discussing their policies? As a man, do I get to declare the term “patriarchy” sexist as well as its speaker?

    I didn’t see anyone from the camp claiming “bitch” was sexist jump on “patriarchy”. Shall I assume they don’t care about sexism directed towards men? Are they so sexist they only care if sexist is direct against women? If calling someone a bitch is sexists, and calling someone a nigger is racist (in both cases, irrespective of context), calling someone a patriarch is also sexist.

    Anyone examining the definitions of sexism or sexist will also find that many of those definitions are generally sexist themselves, as many make specific reference to women being hurt by men, and not men being hurt by women.(Source: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&rlz=1G1GGLQ_ENUS288&defl=en&q=define:sexist&ei=1xFNS-3YHMq0tgfX17nuDA&sa=X&oi=glossary_definition&ct=title&ved=0CAcQkAE)

    There’s a trend that extends across many areas of life which I find disturbing. I see it here, and it’s widespread among a good deal of the academic community. It resembles something of the opposite of the naturalistic fallacy. Committing the naturalistic fallacy involves trying to derive “ought” from “is”. To commit this reverse fallacy is the equally bizarre trying to derive “is” from “ought”. Perhaps we could call it the “reality bias” fallacy.

    The reality bias goes something like this: An assumed ought, such as “people should be all be treated equally”, translates into an assumed is, such as “there are no differences between men and women as populations”. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the same people who commit the reality bias fallacy will then commit the naturalistic fallacy, using that “is” they just assumed. The is of “there are no difference between men and women as populations” become the ought of “everything must be gender-neutral (even insults)”. Put it through the cycle again: the ought of “everything must be gender neutral” becomes the is of “anyone who isn’t gender neutral in all things must be a sexist bent on oppressing [men/women]”

    I raised that specific example because it can be an issue to even talk about gender, or race, even if one means absolutely no harm by it, without someone getting their panties in a twist (or undergarments if you want to be gender-neutral) and calling you their -ist of choice.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    Ah but I didn’t say anyone was illiterate – I said that pasted in quote was illiterate. I do realize that literate people post illiterate stuff when texting and tweeting and so on! That doesn’t mean it’s sensible to paste it in somewhere less…abbreviated.

    Hoist with your own petard eh – it’s all about intentions!

    Let’s keep it that way and allow every word and every nuance to be available to express our thoughts. Anything else is censorship.

    So you have no inhibitions about language at all, eh? You call people fat, ugly, stupid, lame, smelly if the thought crosses your mind? I don’t believe that – I give you the credit of not believing that. I don’t think you do that – yet you do defend sexist epithets – but not racial ones. You have a double standard, dude.

    What I was doing by calling your position ‘bottomlessly disgusting’ was not implying that you are a sexist but attempting to convey that you have a horrible blind spot on this particular subject. Epithets and insults are a bad thing; they are vicious, they are destructive, they exclude people. There’s a terrible moral blindness in insisting on brushing them off as trivial – especially when they are insults that you yourself are immune to. It’s too easy for you to be indifferent that other people are called vicious names! Fine; you’re indifferent; but at least don’t be proud of it.

    Ad Hominem insults are always counter productive.

    No; it’s worse than that. They’re ‘productive’ if what is wanted is to drive some people away. The point is not that they are counter productive, it’s that they’re morally despicable.

  • jemand

    @Mrnaglfar

    “why should it even matter that the people in power tend to be male?” and then characterizing anyone objecting to people saying there are natural differences between men and women as committing fallacious thinking….

    :boggles:

    You ARE just trying to demonstrate sexism right? You aren’t ACTUALLY that clueless and bigoted, right? Do you possess the capabilities of reading comprehension to realize that the term “enforcing patriarchy” which you quoted was, IN THAT VERY QUOTE applied to women as well as men? You realize that “patriarchy” is a SYSTEM, right? Not a person? I probably shouldn’t even waste my time…

  • silentsanta

    Ophelia, you’ve repeatedly asserted an equivalence between “nigger”, “faggot” and “bitch”. Do you believe there may be a difference in degree in the severity of contempt expressed by these words? (For example, I’m aware of people being lynched in the context of being labelled with the first two of these three words, but not aware of any examples relating to the latter case.). If you agree with me that there is a difference in severity, are you contending that this difference is not large enough that our treatment of the words should also differ?)

    From where I stand, I find Steve Bowen’s proposed “Stupid Bastard” vs “Dumb Bitch” equivalence far more convincing than yours. It is an easily observable property of insults that they are more effective the more specifically tailored they are to the person in question; we are not as inflamed by universals as we are by specifics that tie the negative quality more closely to us as the recipient of the insult. As an example, famous insults like “He is a self-made man, and [he] worships his creator.” (John Bright) derive much of their punch from their specificity.

    I therefore find it unsurprising that the garden-variety insults would come to have gender-specific variations, and I don’t agree that this inherently makes them sexist, though this of course does not mean we should discount the possibility.

    Additionally, I note that “intrinsically” sexist terms like “nigger” are sometimes used between African-American couples as terms of endearment; a use which I find both fascinating and in some ways inspiring. To me, that is an example of people throwing off a nigh-superstitious obsession with the power of symbols, and rejoicing in something far more immediate and far more transcendent. The term “nigger” when used this way derives much of its impact specifically by violating societal norms, and therefore conveying a level of intimacy between the two people that might otherwise be incensed by this term.
    This raises the intriguing possibility that it is only through the property of inappropriateness, through people becoming offended (sometimes out of proportion) that gives these words their appeal. In effect, by being so offended by the term “bitch” you may inadvertently be adding to the allure of the word. This is only a hypothesis I am raising; I have no idea whether it holds up under scrutiny or not. But the common connection with inappropriateness and the ‘taboo’ seems clear to me, as it was in the various etymologies and histories of the words “fuck” and “cunt“.

    A different kind of inversion of meaning already seems (to me) to be underway with the word “bitch” which is interpreted variously in this thread as implying subservience and yet(paradoxically) belligerence and aggressiveness.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    OK, Ophelia, I want to see if I understand your position better now that you’ve clarified it (and great comeback on the “illiterate” thing!).

    It seems to me that what you’re saying is that our Internet Mudslinger’s comment was sexist insofar as it displayed a tremendous ignorance of the effect it would have. IM didn’t just sling an insult, IM tossed out a really loaded term with no apparent regard for how anyone else would feel about it, or possibly even because of how women would likely feel about it; either way, whether IM was merely ignorant or deliberately provocative, it’s so far afield of constructive discourse as to be morally outrageous to you. And when others fail to display similar outrage – or worse, tell you that you shouldn’t be so outraged – you stop and think, “Wait, what?! Are we as a group really this far set back?”

    ‘Cuz if that’s what you’re saying, then I can get behind that. Yesterday, I would have called it “just plain rude,” but I can see the sexist thing now, if that’s what you mean by sexist. Yesterday, I would have said that in order to be sexist, something needs to carry at least an implication that one sex is superior to the other, and not just use loaded language – but now that I think about it, calling someone a nigger doesn’t logically imply anything all by itself, it’s just so out of touch that [yadda yadda as above].

    So how close am I?

    Quick Edit:

    Ophelia, you’ve repeatedly asserted an equivalence between “nigger”, “faggot” and “bitch”. Do you believe there may be a difference in degree in the severity of contempt expressed by these words? (For example, I’m aware of people being lynched in the context of being labelled with the first two of these three words, but not aware of any examples relating to the latter case.).
    – silentsanta

    …umm… have you never heard of queer-bashing? Or how about rape? You think nobody’s ever been called a faggot while being beaten to death, or called a bitch while being raped and/or murdered? C’mon.

  • Mrnaglfar

    @Jemand

    The first question was rhetorical. I was trying to make the point of the hysterics people get themselves into over talking about gender and the double standard they hold about sexism and word usage. On the one hand, they complain about terms like bitch being sexist (because it refers to one sex most of the time), but not terms like patriarchy (which is typically used in a way I find demeaning and stupid towards men).

    Kind of like the hysterics you’re getting yourself into over something or other. I don’t quite know what.

    And people who say there are no differences between men and women are generally thinking with bias and not with theory. People who are trying to derive objective oughts from those differences (i.e. one sex is better than another) are committing fallacious thinking.

  • jemand

    @silentsanta, a woman is most likely to be murdered by an intimate partner, and usually it’s justified by him because of her “bitchy” or “cunty” behavior. Society not labeling such murders as the hate crimes they are (while recognizing other hate crimes) kinda indicates it’s a socially widespread blind spot, so not surprising you didn’t think of it.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Dammit, I see now that silentsanta said “with the first two of these three words,” not just “the first of these three words.” The point on “bitch” remains.

    Your paradox at the end strikes me as a bit of a naive one, though. Typically, standardized insults mean “whatever it is that I don’t like about you at the moment.” You’re not making an argument or trying to prove anything, you’re just yelling at the person because they’re making you angry and you want to upset them back; objective meaning has nothing to do with it.

  • jemand

    @Mrnaglfar,

    I don’t think I understand what the hell you’re trying to say. And apparently vice versa. D’s post made sense.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Being a woman, I have a slightly different take. I don’t see myself as loitering around on the fringes of atheism hoping to be allowed in. I see myself as already in. But I also see atheism as infected in places by a stupid locker room atmosphere, which I avoid when I find it.

    Point taken, Ophelia. I should have been more precise – I know there are plenty of smart, tough women among the atheist community already, and they don’t need help from me or anyone else. But I also think there’s a larger number of women who are not yet part of the atheist community, but may be considering it. (As I mentioned in a post from last year, there is a pronounced gender imbalance among self-identified nonbelievers.) If these potential allies get the impression that sexist behavior is common among atheists, they may well be turned off from joining us, and I couldn’t entirely blame them for that. That’s why I’m so opposed to this kind of thoughtless bigotry: not only does it chase away people who might otherwise join us, it weakens the strength of our critique against the pervasive and vicious sexism that still exists in most religious traditions.

    Chet’s comment at #78 highlighted a point that I want to emphasize:

    Indeed – it is to infer either that a woman is being insufficiently submissive, or to infer that a man is being inappropriately submissive (like a woman is supposed to be.) The common thread in those two uses of the term is the promotion of the idea that a woman’s appropriate role is a submissive one, which is why the term is so profoundly sexist.

    Let me repeat his point, because it bears repeating: When you call a woman a bitch, it implies that she’s being insufficiently submissive. When you call a man a bitch, it implies that he’s being excessively submissive. That is the primary basis of why I object to this word: not because it’s a gender-specific insult for a woman, but because it reinforces an antiquated and sexist notion of gender roles – namely that men are properly strong and domineering and women are properly weak and submissive – regardless of whether applied to a woman or a man. That is the reason why it deserves to be banished from our language. (This is what silentsanta, #120, called “paradoxical”: it actually makes perfect sense when you grasp the overarching principle.) “Asshole” is a rude term and an insult, but it doesn’t carry the same weight of sexist stereotypes about a person’s character.

    As for the epithet being sexist and whether so-and-so is a sexist or not, well, I care whether individuals are sexist or not, and I maintain that words in and of themselves are incapable of being sexist. Or racist, for that matter.

    Of course, D, this is trivially true: strings of letters or phonemes don’t have malicious intent. The bigotry, or lack thereof, of a communication rests in the intent of the speaker. But this analysis needs to be carried one further step. Namely, just because a person doesn’t have explicit, conscious sexist intent, that doesn’t mean they’re innocent of the charge of sexism.

    We all imbibe a universe of ideas from our culture and surroundings, most of which enter our minds below the conscious level. With regard to my above comments about harmful stereotypes regarding gender roles, a person who observes how the word “bitch” and other sexist epithets are used to demean assertive women or submissive men, and then mimics that usage in his own speech, is thereby propagating and reinforcing those stereotypes – even if he didn’t deliberately intend to do that, even if he had no conscious malicious intent whatsoever. Be wary of those memes! Some of them can take on a life of their own.

    And lastly, I think this comment by Steve Bowen brings us right to the crux of the matter:

    In fact what you are doing by calling my position “bottomlessly disgusting” is implying that I am a sexist. I am not and WILL not be be brow beaten into saying I am. Neither am I racist or homophobic as any one who knows me will testify.

    This is really what it all comes down to, isn’t it? None of us like to think of ourselves as sexist, racist, or otherwise prejudiced. In fact, we tend to react violently to any suggestion that we might harbor unexamined prejudices. And I have no doubt whatsoever that the original commenter at RD.net who started all this fracas felt exactly the same way: he thought he was just having a bit of harmless fun, blowing off steam, colorfully expressing his disagreement. He didn’t think of himself as sexist, and he didn’t intend to denigrate women, of course not – he just reached out for the first insult that came to mind, and hey, for some unknown reason, it just happened to be that one! He didn’t mean anything by it! (See my above remarks about the unconscious adoption and use of memes.)

    And that’s where the trouble all started, because when he was called out on his bigotry by people who recognized it, he didn’t have the intellectual honesty to admit he was wrong. That’s too wounding to one’s sense of self. Instead, he dug in his heels, insisted that all those other commenters were overreacting, and found some friendly apologists who’d take his side and argue that the fault was all in the minds of the offended parties and nothing to blame on him. That’s the kind of soothing, self-justifying fiction that feels really good, especially because it also let him make a play for the moral high ground – and it’s also the kind of thing that atheists are very good at recognizing in other contexts. Unfortunately, as this thread has demonstrated, there are those of us who have similar blind spots of our own. And they can be very difficult to detect if you’re not specifically looking for them.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    I take it all back! I’ve seen the light! I was just having hysterics – thank you Mrnaglfar – and acting like a stupid bitch. Yes quite right – ‘niggers’ and ‘faggots’ get lynched but women don’t, therefore bitch is just a mild term like buffoon or turkey. I don’t know what I was thinking!

    Yo bitch – have a good evening bitch – if your bitch talks back to you slap her around some – don’t be a pussy now – keep those bitches in line. Bros before hos. Yee-ha.

    [Update: I posted that just after our host posted - it was my little mash note to the preceding comments.]

  • silentsanta

    @D:

    …umm… have you never heard of queer-bashing? Or how about rape? You think nobody’s ever been called a faggot while being beaten to death, or called a bitch while being raped and/or murdered? C’mon.

    I think you have misread me.

    @jemand:

    @silentsanta, a woman is most likely to be murdered by an intimate partner, and usually it’s justified by him because of her “bitchy” or “cunty” behavior. Society not labeling such murders as the hate crimes they are (while recognizing other hate crimes) kinda indicates it’s a socially widespread blind spot, so not surprising you didn’t think of it.

    I am talking about lynchings, etc which have the flavour: “this person is an X (eg “nigger”, implying African American), and we reckon that the only good X is a dead X”).
    While I appreciate that domestic violence and murder are important topics, there is something missing from your example. In mine, the murder is carried out because of a condemnation of what a person is, and with the implication that people that share that class or type also deserve to die. You are raising a different point (though no less appalling) that does not -to me- seem to be a condemnation of all women, but rather the specific woman in question. Please note that by distinguishing between these atrocious crimes, I in no way support the behaviour of domestic abusers or those who would murder their partner.

  • jemand

    no silentsanta, I think you missunderstand the dynamics of lynching. It was usually a *specific* black person targeted, for being “uppity,” for going outside the prescribed behavior whites “allowed” them. Same way *specific* women are targeted for rape and murder, for being too “bitchy” or “slutty” and “unrapeable.”

    ALSO lets not forget incidents such as
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89cole_Polytechnique_massacre
    and
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_Collier_Township_shooting

  • monkeymind

    Mrnaglfar:

    The word bitch is sexist not because it usually applies only to women, but because it has been traditionally used to demean a woman for qualities that would not be seen negatively in a man – i.e. any behavior that would distinguish a woman from a doormat. Likewise, calling a man a “bitch” or a “pussy” implies that he is weak or subservient, like a woman.

    Has anybody said there are no differences between men and women? Gender equity does not mean pretending men and women are the same, in fact pretending men and women are the same can lead to gender inequity, for example, basing medical treatment for women on studies made on male subjects.

    And FYI – patriarchy is harmful for everyone, not just women.I have worked with male rape victims from a very patriarchal society (Saudi Arabia), and as horrible as rape is for women, male rape victims have an extra burden of shame from patriarchal attitudes that are still entrenched even in our society. (If you don’t believe me, think about the acceptability of prison-rape jokes) On every measure of societal health, patriarchal societies do worse than societies that are closer to gender equity.

    People who talk about patriarchy aren’t necessarily trying to make you their bitch.

  • silentsanta

    I take it all back! I’ve seen the light! I was just having hysterics – thank you Mrnaglfar – and acting like a stupid bitch. Yes quite right – ‘niggers’ and ‘faggots’ get lynched but women don’t, therefore bitch is just a mild term like buffoon or turkey. I don’t know what I was thinking!
    Yo bitch – have a good evening bitch – if your bitch talks back to you slap her around some – don’t be a pussy now – keep those bitches in line. Bros before hos. Yee-ha.

    Thankyou for taking the nuance I was trying to incorporate when I said “If you agree with me that there is a difference in severity, are you contending that this difference is not large enough that our treatment of the words should also differ?” and responding with a bitter sarcastic caricature that shared precisely nothing with my post except some keywords.

    I feel like you have done me an injustice with your portrayal of my argument, but I’m going to ascribe it to the fact that you have been juggling many balls in this discussion with many different commenters (which I appreciate is tiring and frustrating), rather than presume to imagine that you might prefer to be offended rather than engage in meaningful dialog.

  • MissCherryPi
  • monkeymind

    Oh, I see that Ebonmuse made the point much better than me about the gender-specific connotations of bitch which explain the “paradox” someone else mentioned.

  • jemand

    @silent santa, I’m pretty sure Ophelia was responding mainly to the other commenter and got yours mixed up. Mrnaglfar basically threw down the “hysterical bitches” argument and Ophelia was probably seeing red.

    Can you reply to my last comment on the “severity” difference? I’m interested in your thoughts.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Here’s one place I feel this debate is really getting held up.
    @ebon

    Namely, just because a person doesn’t have explicit, conscious sexist intent, that doesn’t mean they’re innocent of the charge of sexism. We all imbibe a universe of ideas from our culture and surroundings, most of which enter our minds below the conscious level

    When you call someone a 'sexist' you're generally implying something very bad about their character, not just an unconscious bias in the way they tend to think about and behave men and women. You're implying something malicious.

    Here's a for instance: If a man and women go out on a date, and the man pays for the evening, was he behaving in a sexist fashion (albeit, not in a particularly harmful sexist fashion)? On the one hand, the typical expectation (the social role if you will) states that a man should pay for the date. If he pays without any thoughts of, let’s say, women are weak and need to be taken care of and provided for by men, was he behaving in a sexist fashion?

    Let’s turn to the woman’s point of view: If she expects the man to pay for the date, is she being sexist? What if her personal preferences just happen to be in line with the typical social role (that is, she wasn’t overtly influenced by the social role so much as the social role happened to match her own preferences)?

    Even if they weren’t behaving consciously with regard to thoughts of sexism, you could still claim they were behaving unconsciously in a sexist. Of course, to label such behavior as sexist labels most human thought and behavior sexist, and that diminishes from the verbal “punch” the term sexist packs.

  • silentsanta

    @jeymand.

    Thankyou for the link to the massacre at École Polytechnique, which was awful to read about and which I was unaware of.

    The Collier Township shootings I recall from when they happened, and I remember reading extensively from an archived mirror of Sodini’s website around that time. In this case, my impression was that the murders were reflective of his own lack of self-worth, rather than any deep-seated hatred of women; it seemed central that he first desired them and was consistently rebuffed.

    Regarding the dynamics of lynching, it is important to distinguish between the justifications that were present at the time, and those that are vocalized afterwards. It seems characteristic of gay lynching that an unprovoked attack will later be described as starting because the gay person made “sexual advances” towards one or more of the perpetrators, yet this largely appears to be more of a post-hoc rationalization (to minimize the social and legal consequences) rather than an honest
    evaluation of what happened or what went through the minds of the mob at the time.

    I make no claims to meaningfully know whether racially motivated lynchings were largely confined to “uppity” African-Americans or not, as I have looked into these in far less detail.

  • jemand

    @silentsanta, but he blamed them for being rebuffed, and decided to take his anger out on them instead of himself. So however low an opinion he had of himself, his opinion of *random women he had never met* was lower. I do think this reflects, if not a deep seated hatred of women, at least considering them something other than human, “things” which can be group-evaluated and judged based on how they fulfill *his* perceived “needs.”

    And I also was unaware of the Polytechnique massacre until this year– absolutely awful.

  • monkeymind

    In the interests of going beyond “words have no fixed meanings, so they mean whatever me and my friends decide”, here are some interesting results from searching for exact word matches on google for the following strings:

    345,000 for “stupid bitch”
    119,000 for “stupid bastard”

    3,210,000 for “life’s a bitch”

    1,050,000 for “she’s a stupid bitch”
    43 for “he’s a stupid bitch”

    2,160,000 for “he’s a pussy”

    11,900,000 for “he’s a bitch”
    107,000 for “she’s a bitch”

    2,290,000 for “she’s a fucking bitch”
    44 for “he’s a fucking bitch”

    The results for “he’s a bitch” kind of blew me away. Not sure what’s going on.
    It’s not like google is a an accurate reflection of word frequency. It can reveal rough trends, but the “s/he’s a bitch” results seem very disproportionate. Again, just because it’s applied to a man doesn’t mean a word is gender neutral.

    Some interesting thoughts from the editor of Bitch magazine:

    The B-Word? You Betcha!

  • Chet

    I could find sexist implications with the term “patriarchy”. It’s certainly not a gender-neutral word. It is used to disparage men in power, implying that they (and generally other men) are sexists with no regard for women who are seeking to control and harm other women.

    That’s not the meaning of the term “patriarchy”. “Patriarchy” refers to a sexist social system of shaming, opprobrium, and oppression that serves to benefit a small number of men at the expense of the rights, freedoms, and well-being of women (and some men.)

  • http://www.turntheclockforward.org/ TooManyJens

    Mrnaglfar @135:

    When you call someone a ‘sexist’ you’re generally implying something very bad about their character, not just an unconscious bias in the way they tend to think about and behave men and women. You’re implying something malicious.

    I’m not sure why you bring this up, because most of the arguments in this thread have been about the labeling of certain uses of language as sexist, not the labeling of people as sexists. People often respond to “what you said was sexist” as though they are being told “you are a sexist”, and it would be really helpful if they wouldn’t, because it both clouds the issue and turns the conversation around so that it’s All About Them.

    See also: “I didn’t stab you, I’m not a stabber!

  • Chet

    If he pays without any thoughts of, let’s say, women are weak and need to be taken care of and provided for by men, was he behaving in a sexist fashion?

    I notice that you quite easily conflate the idea of doing something sexist with the idea of being a sexist. Isn’t it possible for a person to behave in a sexist fashion without themselves being sexist? I would say that a man who always insists on paying for his date, never stops to examine that tradition or the position of privilege in which it puts him – he pays, so presumably he’s the one that picks the restaurant – and indeed becomes angry (as many men do) at the suggestion that the woman be allowed to pay (maybe she’s more affluent, and would like to eat at a more expensive restaurant without feeling that she’s putting a burden on her date), I would say that his behavior is definitely sexist, but he may not be.

    Behavior and character – they’re two different things. On the other hand, a man who quite consciously insists on paying, because he knows it puts him in a position of privilege from which he can control the course of the evening, is himself a sexist. He’s taking advantage of patriarchal attitudes in society, leveraging a system of control of women, in order to control a woman for his own ends. That’s pretty sexist.

    Let’s turn to the woman’s point of view: If she expects the man to pay for the date, is she being sexist?

    Again, it depends. What she’s doing is certainly sexist. Why the rush to conflate sexist behavior with sexist character, when one doesn’t necessarily imply the other? Is it, perhaps, so that you can manufacture charges of “sexism” (a name that no one has called you) in order to play the martyr?

  • silentsanta

    Same way *specific* women are targeted for rape and murder, for being too “bitchy” or “slutty” and “unrapeable.”

    I can concede that there is a significant amount of misogyny in our society- and perhaps I could conceivably be uninformed about the extent to which that underlies violence against women and their murder. (My last lecture on domestic abuse showed figures supporting the idea the violence rates across sexes were similar, but that men tend to do significantly more damage). However if you’re commenting on a social trend, it’s interesting that you decided to use this word “unrapeable” that I have never seen before and I have no idea what it means, nor can I conjecture a meaning that seems to work. If these attitudes were common enough to be a major influence in violence against women (which is surprisingly common, affecting over a third of women in my country, from memory), but yet the term you’ve used in support seems quite alien to me, it seems unlikely to me that whatever “unrapable” means it could describe an attitude responsible for such an (unfortunately) widespread phenomenon.

    Also for what it’s worth, I’ve been responding as fast as I can to different people here and have not had time to express that I find Ebonmuse’s and Chet’s distinction here to be very persuasive

    Let me repeat his point, because it bears repeating: When you call a woman a bitch, it implies that she’s being insufficiently submissive. When you call a man a bitch, it implies that he’s being excessively submissive. That is the primary basis of why I object to this word: not because it’s a gender-specific insult for a woman, but because it reinforces an antiquated and sexist notion of gender roles.

    This seems to me to be quite compelling. To test it, I was wondering whether “pretty-boy” is offensive in an equivalent manner, or with equivalent severity (I think probably not, but here because carries a far smaller and shorter historical usage). Can we examine this more – are there any other terms we can think of that have similarly differential gender-specific meanings? Are there any that are prejudiced towards males (spectacularly unlikely)?

    The best objection I can think of to Chet and Ebonmuse’s point is that innocuous and acceptable words like “lady” or “girl” also have differential gender-specific meanings when applied to members of either sex, “She’s a real lady” vs “He’s a bit of a lady”. This example is very sexist -but in this case we wouldn’t consider ‘lady’ a sexist word. We would, however, hopefully agree that the second use is troubling. Interestingly, if we wanted to describe a male as having effeminate characteristics, I’m unsure we have a way to do this in a manner that doesn’t seem pejorative.
    Suppose I went with the clinical “he has effeminate characteristics”, it could still be taken by the listener as a pronouncement or judgement that “effeminate characteristics” are an inappropriate thing for a male to have.

  • Chet

    The best objection I can think of to Chet and Ebonmuse’s point is that innocuous and acceptable words like “lady” or “girl” also have differential gender-specific meanings when applied to members of either sex, “She’s a real lady” vs “He’s a bit of a lady”.

    That’s just another example of what we’re talking about, though. It’s not any kind of “objection” to our argument, it’s more evidence in favor of it. Terms like “lady” or “lady-boy” or, hell, even “woman”, when applied to a man, are an attempt to establish dominance and put that person down by equating them to a woman.

    That’s pretty sexist, don’t you think? To imply that being a woman is inherently negative? Nobody calls another man a “little girl” and means it as a compliment, do they?

    Interestingly, if we wanted to describe a male as having effeminate characteristics, I’m unsure we have a way to do this in a manner that doesn’t seem pejorative.

    Why would we “want” to describe a male as having “effeminate characteristics?” Why wouldn’t we just describe his characteristics if we really wanted to objectively describe him, not put him down for being a sissy?

  • silentsanta

    @silent santa, I’m pretty sure Ophelia was responding mainly to the other commenter and got yours mixed up. Mrnaglfar basically threw down the “hysterical bitches” argument and Ophelia was probably seeing red.

    If that is the case, then I apologize for my misinterpretation.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Behavior and character – they’re two different things. On the other hand, a man who quite consciously insists on paying, because he knows it puts him in a position of privilege from which he can control the course of the evening, is himself a sexist. He’s taking advantage of patriarchal attitudes in society, leveraging a system of control of women, in order to control a woman for his own ends. That’s pretty sexist.

    QFT. That was superbly well said, Chet.

    To add my own answer to Mrnaglfar’s question: As always in these situations, it depends on context and intent. If a man pays for his female companion’s dinner because he wants to impress her as a kind and generous person, then no, I certainly wouldn’t call that sexist. On the other hand, if a man pays for his companion’s dinner because he views that as his role as a man – or worse, if he pays because he thinks that she then “owes” him sex in return – then yes, that is sexist. Usually, you can tell the difference by checking whether the man becomes angry if the woman insists on splitting the check.

    Let’s turn to the woman’s point of view: If she expects the man to pay for the date, is she being sexist? What if her personal preferences just happen to be in line with the typical social role (that is, she wasn’t overtly influenced by the social role so much as the social role happened to match her own preferences)?

    If a woman insists that a man always pick up the check because that’s a man’s job, then yes, that is also sexist. And while it’s technically possible, I tend to be skeptical of any claim that a person has engaged in a process of independent and critical self-examination which nevertheless brought them back to exactly the same positions that are widely held and believed in their culture. Consider, for example, the African women who insist that female genital mutilation plays a vital role in their sense of identity and fight fiercely against attempts to abolish it (yes, there are some people like that, even cosmopolitan, well-educated ones).

  • Jormungund

    Mrnaglfar,
    You really hit the nail on the head there. Now let’s wait for the accusations that you are a mean ol’ sexist to start sprouting up.
    From what I have seen here and elsewhere: If you can’t successfully argue against someone, just denounce them as an evil “ist” of some kind and declare them to be below you in some manner.
    “Oh, but your opinion doesn’t count because you are an —–ist and therefore are a moral inferior to me.” I think that is the unspoken argument behind all of the ‘ist’ accusations.

    “But I do believe there are people less irrationally set in their ways who can be enlightened”
    You seem to be implying that rationality necessarily leads to being politically correct and that enlightenment is necessarily a state of being politically correct. I am not politically correct, ergo I am irrational and unenlightened. Please tell me I am misunderstanding you on this matter.

  • http://www.turntheclockforward.org/ TooManyJens

    If you can’t successfully argue against someone, just denounce them as an evil “ist” of some kind and declare them to be below you in some manner.

    If you can’t successfully argue against someone, just claim that they called you a mean ol’ sexist and deflect the argument onto how badly you’ve been mistreated.

  • silentsanta

    @Chet

    That’s pretty sexist, don’t you think? To imply that being a woman is inherently negative? Nobody calls another man a “little girl” and means it as a compliment, do they?

    I did actually raise this issue in the two sentences immediately following that example. One difference here seems to be that we don’t object to the terms themselves.

    Why would we “want” to describe a male as having “effeminate characteristics?”

    Here is where I disagree. It’s an inarguably useful thing to be able to employ language to convey facts. Therefore, I would like a language that allows me to do so, rather than prohibiting this capability. I have the priviledge of sharing my apartment with several members of the LGBT community, and suppose I wanted to describe one of my gay friends to the others in order to see if they know him, I want to be able to explain that he is concerned with traditionally female precoccupations like fashion and shoes, and who walks with a gait that is more traditionally female, who concerned with knowing the current relationship statuses of every individual in his wide social network (the term “gossip” would be pejorative). This is not a value judgement on those things, it is a call for some short-hand term to concisely describing the “kind” of individual that my friend is (let’s call him James) a familiar battery of traditionally more “female” features that James is completely aware of and is happy to embody and participate in.

    So to answer your question “Why would we “want” to describe a male as having “effeminate characteristics?” I would say: because if we can’t, we are letting the hole in the language circumscribe or prohibit the thoughts that we are capable of, and not simply the tact with which we express them.

    Just as one further example, I’m interested in psychiatry. Let’s say that gay people are susceptable to a different pattern of psychological illnesses than heterosexual people, and conceivably within that, the personality type that James identifies with could be vulnerable to a different set of psychiatric conditions than the more subdued gay men, like my cousin. In this context it is useful to distinguish between characteristics, and we require language as a means to do so.

  • Chet

    “Oh, but your opinion doesn’t count because you are an —–ist and therefore are a moral inferior to me.”

    Boy, listen to them whine. Why, you’d think someone called them “bitches” or something!

  • MissCherryPi

    I make no claims to meaningfully know whether racially motivated lynchings were largely confined to “uppity” African-Americans or not, as I have looked into these in far less detail.

    Both black people who were murdered in lynchings and women who were murdered in witch trials were the ones who owned property.

    http://www.theauthenticvoice.org/Torn_From_The_LandII.html

    http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/salem/scholarship/karlsenrev.html

  • silentsanta

    @MissCherryPi:

    Thankyou for those informative articles, they are much appreciated, and I am reading them now.

  • jemand

    @silentsanta, unrapeable refers to the popular conception of a particular woman or group of woman as being impossible to rape because she is in a constant state of default sexual consent. This is typically leveraged against sex workers, or against women who dress scantily or behave provocatively or have a reputation of getting drunk and being “easy.” You’re right the term is not used very often, but the situation I meant it to describe actually is unfortunately widespread. I hope this helps?

    As for describing a male with “effeminate” characteristics, does metrosexual at all do the job? I’m not sure.

  • Chet

    One difference here seems to be that we don’t object to the terms themselves.

    I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean. Nobody objects to “bitch” as a term in and of itself; it’s calling women bitches to demean and belittle them, that we’ve been objecting to. Calling a breeding female dog a “bitch” isn’t something that anybody here has objected to.

    Here is where I disagree. It’s an inarguably useful thing to be able to employ language to convey facts.

    But “effeminate” isn’t a fact, it’s a judgement. Like I said – if conveying facts is our intent, why wouldn’t we simply list whatever qualities we meant to describe? To say that a man is “effeminate” is to make a judgement about his behavior, his station, and more importantly, the qualities “we” believe a woman “should have”. After all, if we called a man “effeminate” it wouldn’t be to indicate that he had breasts and a uterus, right? It would be to indicate that he had the qualities we think women should have. That’s not a fact, that’s a judgement – a judgement about what men and women “should” be like.

    I want to be able to explain that he is concerned with traditionally female precoccupations like fashion and shoes, and who walks with a gait that is more traditionally female, who concerned with knowing the current relationship statuses of every individual in his wide social network (the term “gossip” would be pejorative).

    If you knew that your friends would not be offended, why wouldn’t you just call him a flaming queer? If you were talking to strangers, why not just say “I know this guy who really knows his shoes!”

    It’s still not clear to me what you’re asking for. It sounds like you’re saying you want some way to call a man a sissy-boy without people thinking you’re a sexist. What you should be thinking about instead is why it’s so important for you to be able to call women bitches, or men sissies, without facing the opprobrium of your peers.

    This is not a value judgement on those things, it is a call for some short-hand term to concisely describing the “kind” of individual that my friend is (let’s call him James) a familiar battery of traditionally more “female” features that James is completely aware of and is happy to embody and participate in.

    So explain what the features are, if you want to give people an accurate idea about James. If he likes shoes, say he likes shoes. If he sashays all around the place, just say he does that. Why is it important to you that they’re “traditionally” female characteristics, if James is a man? Why is it necessary for you to fold in your judgements about what is appropriate male and female behavior?

    Just as one further example, I’m interested in psychiatry.

    No psychiatrist would diagnose based on as ambiguous and nonspecific a characterization as “effeminate.” If there’s a mental ailment associated with an obsession with shoes and prominent hip swaying, why not simply refer to those specific diagnostic indicators? Why the need to fold in your own judgement about what is appropriate male and female behavior?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Please tell me I am misunderstanding you on this matter.

    I couldn’t say, Jormungund. I’ve been using terms that I think have a fairly concrete meaning – “sexism”, “misogyny”, “bigotry” and the like – whereas you seem to insist that this is solely a matter of “political correctness”, and I really don’t know what that term means as you use it. How do you define “political correctness”, apart from “something that I can strike a brave pose against”?

  • jemand

    @silentsanta (again)

    still thinking about the words to describe your friend. Would “flamboyantly gay” be offensive? Descriptive? Widely understandable? I’m not even sure how I would describe such character traits in a female friend either. “Girly girl?”

    @Chet, I’m pretty sure silentsanta is simply after a descriptive, shorthand term. Not a way to call someone a “sissy boy” without people rightly taking offense.

  • Chet

    I’m pretty sure silentsanta is simply after a descriptive, shorthand term.

    One that folds in his judgments about what’s appropriate for men and for women. What he should be asking is why it’s so important to him to do that. If his buddy likes shoes, why not just say that? Why make it a thing about how it makes him like a woman?

  • Chet

    “But I could just save so much time if I could trade on insulting, offensive stereotypes about gays and women!” you seem to be saying. Well, yes, maybe you could. But there’s not going to be any way to consciously exploit the privilege afforded to you by sexism without being sexist. That’s kind of how it works.

  • jemand

    @Chet, I do think that silentsanta shouldn’t have labeled traits as “female” or “male.” But I think that the fact that other terms didn’t come to mind first (and they did’t immediately to me either) is more a commentary on society and the language we’ve created than the specific individuals here. It doesn’t save any more time to call santa’s friend a flaming queer than any of the pejoritive and sexist words, but it does save time to use that instead of a paragraph long description of shoes and sashaying. Saying “female traits” or “male traits” does entrench judgments about appropriate behavior, but working from a paragraph description of *actual behavior* to a more neutral term such as “flaming queer” is perfectly fine. If silentsanta digs in and defends the initial and (to me) rather clunky use of “female traits/male traits” as valid, then you have a totally good point. But I think that he’d probably abandon that immediately as being counterproductive to what he was trying to say.

    ETA, wait, are you saying flamboyantly gay and/or flaming queer is offensive? If it is, sorry, I won’t use those terms and I’ll go looking for another.

  • silentsanta

    > Why is it important to you that they’re “traditionally” female characteristics, if James is a man?

    It isn’t, I’m simply attempting to convey information about James in a shorthand manner; I want to be able to express myself without using three paragraphs.

    > Why is it necessary for you to fold in your judgements about what is appropriate male and female behavior?

    Given that the content of the example I raised is me specifically asking around for a more appropriate term to convey this information, it should be pretty clear that I’m not trying to “fold in my judgement about what is appropriate male and female behaviour”; when in fact I am making explicit and overt efforts not to do this.

    There is a case to be made for brevity; it should be clear that while people like Serenegoose self-identify as “trans persons”, a significant number of people using the word “tranny” instead (which Serenegoose and many others consider offensive) are doing so because it conveys their meaning in an extremely compact manner. It has the quality of rolling off the tongue.

    Jemand’s suggestion of “metrosexual” is easily the most useful word I have encountered for this purpose. It’s a fairly recent addition to the language, one that took a while to arrive in common use in my country, and one that I’m glad we now have. Now either “metrosexual” is an acceptable word (which I would hope it is), or the very idea of associating these traditionally/stereotypically homosexual attributes to males with this label is something offensive and that we have no business doing. What say you?

  • Chet

    @jemand – I feel like I anticipated your response somewhat in post 157. If it saves him time to say that James is an effeminate flaming queer, then I guess he should do so. But on what principle should he be insulated from the complaints of people who object to him making such sweeping judgments about what males and females “should be” like?

    I mean, part of the reason that people call women “bitches” and black people “niggers” is because those words are effective at compelling behavior, silencing dissent, generating negative consensus (view all the people who emerged from the woodwork to vocally agree that Holm was a “stupid bitch”) and reinforcing the superiority of the speaker over his victim. Sexism works, especially for sexist ends. There’s considerable power in it, and in other bigotries, which is why racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry have proven so resistant to eradication. They privilege the people who are prepared (and allowed) to embrace and deploy them.

    One of those privileges is that you can say something like “flaming homo” or “welfare queen” and everybody immediately knows what your talking about, and will often rush to reinforce your views (even as their own are confirmed.) People immediately perceive you as better than the target of your abuse. They get on your side instead of theirs. (Relatively few people volunteer to side with losers.)

    That’s why we call that stuff “privilege.” That’s why egalitarians talk about it so much, talk about examining and reconstructing it. Because it really exists, often in entirely invisible ways. (A lot of privileges are the things that reliably don’t happen to you, like not being pulled over for being a dark person in a nice car, or not having someone refer to you in racist or sexist terms, or not being expected to justify or defend the conduct of other persons just because you’re of the same race or gender.)

    A person who would knowingly trade on those unfair privileges, who would reinforce them for personal gain, at entirely the expense of other people – that person has some ethical introspection to do. But, hey, if they’re fine with it – why not own it? If they’re unabashedly ready to personally benefit at the expense of others by means of bigotry, why not just come out and say so? Why act ashamed? Sexists should own their sexism.

  • Chet

    I’m simply attempting to convey information about James in a shorthand manner; I want to be able to express myself without using three paragraphs.

    Let me refer you to post 157, then, where I, Svengali-like, have already addressed this point.

    Now either “metrosexual” is an acceptable word (which I would hope it is)

    I don’t think it is. I think it’s subtly gay-baiting. The word is meant to refer to straight men who take a considerable interest in their own personal appearance. What’s the association with sex? Why is the word constructed like a term for sexual preference when it, in fact, doesn’t describe one?

    Surely you don’t need it explained? Or did you even stop for a minute to try to unpack the term? Why does everybody know it refers to straight men with personal stylists and not people who are sexually attracted to cities, as its apparent etymology would suggest? What assumptions are being packed in to that word?

    Maybe, the assumption that a man who likes to get his hair cut and wear cologne isn’t a “real” man? Isn’t “really” heterosexual, and therefore should be described with a different term?

    Surely these sorts of thought processes aren’t alien to you. Or have you literally never thought about what words mean? If this is the first time you’ve been asked to examine the assumptions and judgments that are expressed by your language, then I guess I can understand your confusion.

    There is a case to be made for brevity; it should be clear that while people like Serenegoose self-identify as “trans persons”, a significant number of people using the word “tranny” instead (which Serenegoose and many others consider offensive) are doing so because it conveys their meaning in an extremely compact manner.

    Calling a woman a “stupid bitch” also conveys a great deal in very few words. The question is, what else are we conveying? Calling your buddy James a flaming faggot might very well communicate a lot of ostensibly true information about him, but it also conveys a great, great deal about your attitudes, your judgments about appropriate behavior of men and women, and the degree to which you are self-conscious of those judgments (i.e. not very.)

  • jemand

    @chet, by the time you get down to the end, you are still talking to me right? And I assume by saying I have privileged in not being referred to in racist or sexist terms, you are assuming that “random person on the internet” is white and male? I don’t believe I’ve *said* anything on either of those. I’m in fact, white and female and straight, and somewhat well versed in discussions of “privilege.” (and have also been on the receiving end of some sexist shit, too).

    I don’t know if you are male or female. I don’t know if you are white or black or another ethnicity. I don’t know if you are gay or straight. I really don’t care and I try not to assume. Anyway, just wanted to point out that assuming that someone was of a demographic that hadn’t been on the receiving end of such epithets, without me actually saying anything about my demographics, was kind of unconscious, easily slipped into, socially accepted sexism (and racism.) I really don’t think silentsanta’s initial post about “female/male” traits was any more conscious than your assumption. It’s the *reaction* to such an unconscious assumption that matters. Once it’s pointed out, if santa continues to assert that there is no problem in categorizing traits by gender, then we have a problem. Right now, it’s a learning opportunity. That’s the difference I see.

  • jemand

    @silentsanta, oh PLEASE do not say tranny. That actually really IS offensive, and really, how much shorter is it than “trans”? Not really. You aren’t saving time and there is a *significant* number of people who will be hurt by hearing you use that term.

  • Chet

    @chet, by the time you get down to the end, you are still talking to me right?

    I’m talking to you but not necessarily about you. Sorry, I guess I said “you can say” when what I more properly should have said was “one can say.” Apologies for the confusion. It’s my hope that we can continue in the tone we’ve established – civil, but probing.

  • jemand

    @chet, oh, of course. I’m enjoying this discussion.

    As for metrosexual, in all the contexts I’ve heard it used, it is a positive thing, not used as a pejorative at all. In fact, if a guy wasn’t “metrosexual,” it might imply he had less than ideal grooming habits and was probably dirty. I’m not yet convinced it’s harmful, as I don’t think the word may have enough history to properly decide by common usage yet. But I’m open to being persuaded on that front.

  • Chet

    But I’m open to being persuaded on that front.

    Oh, I don’t doubt you can make your own mind up. I’m not so put out by the word that I feel the need to convince anybody.

  • silentsanta

    > @silentsanta, oh PLEASE do not say tranny.

    I do not use this term; I was making a point about the appeal of / popularity of terms being influenced by conciseness/brevity, rather than endorsing this term.

  • Mrnaglfar

    @Chet:

    Behavior and character – they’re two different things. On the other hand, a man who quite consciously insists on paying, because he knows it puts him in a position of privilege from which he can control the course of the evening, is himself a sexist. He’s taking advantage of patriarchal attitudes in society, leveraging a system of control of women, in order to control a woman for his own ends. That’s pretty sexist.

    When people started telling me “patriarchy” isn’t a word loaded with sexist overtones, I need only refer to it’s use in the following fashion. Patriarchy has become linked in meaning to the idea of men trying to control women for their end owns. Not just men using power to control other people.

    What it seems to boil down to is the intent of the actor. If there is malicious intent on their part directed towards one sex, we call them a sexist. If there isn’t, we don’t call that person a sexist (even in this case if the malicious intent ends up being “decides where to go pay for dinner”, which, on it’s own, is not an attitude that should be rightly called “sexist”. Shouldn’t the person who’s paying get to decide where they go?).
    But let’s look at this another way. The man is not “controlling” the woman in that scenario. He’s extending the invitation to a woman to join him for dinner. Nothing is stopping her from declining the invitation or leaving midway through.

    Of course, one could make the case that men in situations like that only behave in a ‘sexist’ way because many women expect them to. It’s not as common that women approach men and ask for a date. If they’re on a date, most women want, and indeed expect, that the man will pay for the dinner. They expect that a man will propose to them with a big old [insert stone] ring. It’s not something that most guys relish the thought of or just do to feel better about themselves. “Oh boy, I can’t wait to use my male position of power in order to pay for someone elses’ dinner in the hopes that she might develop a sexual interest in me”; “I can’t wait to approach and try to control many women who will blow me off because I can’t afford to take them out”; “I can’t wait to devote weeks of savings from my salary to buy a shiny symbol of my commitment that may well not meet the expectations of my girlfriend because she won’t marry me without it”. Does every woman expect these things? No. Does that mean that most don’t? No – they do. What they expect may vary from culture to culture, but the undertones are the same.

    I guarantee you that if an attractive woman asked a man out, insisted on paying, and was interested in sex after wards, the vast majority of men would be delighted by the offer. Nothing is stopping women from physically doing this either. They don’t do it because most of them have no interest in doing it – they simply don’t want to. It’s not just a cultural thing either; this occurs across all known cultures. Most men only pay for dates because they hope it will increase the chances that the girl will be interested in them. Which it generally does; at the very least, it rarely hurts their chances.
    Besides that, plenty of women even use “the patriarchal attitudes of society” to exploit men, even if this type of relationship is rarely publicly decried. They will go out with guys they don’t like because they want what the guy can buy them.

    Why the rush to conflate sexist behavior with sexist character, when one doesn’t necessarily imply the other? Is it, perhaps, so that you can manufacture charges of “sexism” (a name that no one has called you) in order to play the martyr?

    The reason I bring it up is because either the intent of the action matters more than the action itself, or the term ‘sexist’ applies to so many things it loses all meaning. The same goes for words. As many people have pointed out, people use the term bitch to refer to any number of things. It’s not the words which are sexist, it’s the intent with which the words are said. If you eliminated the word “bitch” from language as we know it tomorrow it wouldn’t change the social landscape one iota. People are trying to communicate something via language. If you change the language at a superficial level, people will just a fine a new word to express what they were trying to.

    What this whole issue seems to trace back to is the fear that men and women may actually tend to be different from one another. That every human want and attitude is not shaped by some arbitrary superbeing called “culture”, but rather that “culture” may simply reflect human nature, albeit it even if it gets pushed a little in certain directions. The fear is that idea of separate (or in this case, different) can never be equal; that some aspects of people’s attitudes some find distasteful aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. (Is it unalterable? No. But you need to understand what you’re capable of changing, how much you can change it, and how to do it effectively) If men and women aren’t the same thing (which they aren’t), people are afraid they won’t be equal. Of course, “equal” means different things to different people. For some people, equal means you can sue a fire department for not hiring a woman because she couldn’t pass the entrance test. For other people, equal means there needs to be exactly as many men doing any job as there are women.

    If this rambles, that happens. Too many ideas trying to come out at once.

  • Mrnaglfar

    @138

    It’s interesting that people seem to use the term “bitch” most often to try and describe men, rather than women.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    That’s the kind of soothing, self-justifying fiction that feels really good, especially because it also let him make a play for the moral high ground – and it’s also the kind of thing that atheists are very good at recognizing in other contexts. Unfortunately, as this thread has demonstrated, there are those of us who have similar blind spots of our own. And they can be very difficult to detect if you’re not specifically looking for them.

    I had bowed out of this discussion but I can’t let this go. This and most of the comment it is taken from is question begging. It takes as its assumption that “bitch” really does have the sexist overtones you ascribe to it. I do not believe it does for all the reasons I’ve tried to explain. But then when I defend myself against an implied charge of sexism you say “look he has a blind spot and doesn’t realise he’s a sexist for defending the word”. I hate this line of reasoning, I hate it whether it is directed at me or anyone else because it assumes people do not have the capacity to examine or understand their own motives or attitudes. I am fully aware of dangers of being a white , middle aged, middle class, heterosexual male in a diverse modern world. I know i’m not a racist, but I also know I am not colour blind either and am careful to check my assumptions when I meet people of other ethnicities. I know I am not sexist, full stop. I know these things because I have lived long enough to have experienced the social changes and advancements that have made gender and racial stereotypes as unnacceptable as they are today. We need to go further of course, there are still issues to address, but we won’t solve them by imbuing language with meanings that the average person does not recognise or intend. When people use the word “bitch” in any of the plethora of meanings it has acquired over the last few decades they either intend it to be a sexist slur or they don’t, if they don’t it’s not, because they have semantically stripped the word of the “women are meant to be submissive” meaning, or more likely never attributed that meaning to it in the first place. I don’t expect this to change anyones mind and I suspect this is an un-winnable argument on both sides, buthen lifes a bitch sometimes.

  • http://www.turntheclockforward.org/ TooManyJens

    Mrnaglfar @168: What it seems to boil down to is the intent of the actor. If there is malicious intent on their part directed towards one sex, we call them a sexist. If there isn’t, we don’t call that person a sexist

    I’m going to try this one more time:

    * The intent of the actor is not the be-all and end-all. A person without sexist intent can act in a way that is sexist.

    * Once again, people saying “that’s a sexist act” are being met with “You’re calling people sexists!” That is both inaccurate and derailing. Why do you keep doing it?

    ( Ebon, thank you so much for installing the script that shows the content of our comments if we don’t uncheck the box! )

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    * The intent of the actor is not the be-all and end-all. A person without sexist intent can act in a way that is sexist.

    I still don’t think so. I think a person without sexist intent can act in a way that some people will interpret as sexist. If it was me commiting this act, I would apologise for the offense caused by the misunderstanding and expect them to move on.

  • monkeymind

    It’s interesting that people seem to use the term “bitch” most often to try and describe men, rather than women.

    That’s an unwarranted conclusion from my sketchy attempt at adding some quantitative data to the discussion. I was also surprised at how frequently “he’s a bitch” appears, but keep in mind that there’s no way to search for strings containing proper names, or for when “bitch” refers to the subject of another clause or sentence. Also, look at the actual results for “he’s a bitch”. They suggest that “bitch” is used to describe gay or effeminate men, and the results are heavily weighted toward rap/hip-hop culture, in fact there are multiple instances of the same song lyric.
    Again, just because the person described is male, doesn’t mean that the word is not sexist or gender-neutral, as has been pointed out multiple times, very clearly.
    Look at the extremely disparate results for “s/he’s a stupid bitch.” They certainly suggest the pattern of using “bitch” to undermine a woman’s authority is not a thing of the past.

    Finally, attacking patriarchy doesn’t mean “pretending that men and women are the same.”

    Besides that, plenty of women even use “the patriarchal attitudes of society” to exploit men, even if this type of relationship is rarely publicly decried. They will go out with guys they don’t like because they want what the guy can buy them.

    Dude, this is an example of patriarchy. You’re just advertising your willful ignorance.

  • MissCherryPi

    When people started telling me “patriarchy” isn’t a word loaded with sexist overtones, I need only refer to it’s use in the following fashion. Patriarchy has become linked in meaning to the idea of men trying to control women for their end owns. Not just men using power to control other people.

    Patriarchy describes a systemic sexual hierarchy. This can be taken advantage of by men or women for individual pursuits for good or bad, but it also has broad societal impacts. I don’t know why that is sexist or somehow anti-men.

    If someone said that racism is both individual behavior like screaming epithets or refusing to rent to someone of a different race and also subtle, unconscious behavior that can be detected by an implicit association test or the way resumes get reviewed or children get their IQ test scored, would that statement be racist or somehow anti-white?

  • Chet

    If this rambles, that happens. Too many ideas trying to come out at once.

    It’s not the “ideas”, Mrnaglfar, it’s the sexism that makes your post all but incomprehensible. You’re referring to a world that exists only in the mind of the sexist – a world where sex is always a transaction where women give it up in exchange for something else, where men, despite all the structural, financial, and political advantages enjoyed by them, are somehow slaves to women via their libidos.

    It’s impossible to have meaningful communication with you because your remarks only refer to a world that simply doesn’t exist.

    People are trying to communicate something via language.

    Yes. What they’re trying to communicate when they call a woman a “bitch” is that that woman has transgressed the boundaries of her appropriate, submissive role.

    That’s why it’s sexist to call a woman a “bitch.”

  • Chet

    If it was me commiting this act, I would apologise for the offense caused by the misunderstanding and expect them to move on.

    And what “misunderstanding” do you think occurred, Steve, when critics of a woman called her a “stupid bitch”? When her male critics expressed their displeasure not only at her argument, but that a woman had the temerity to make it?

    I think Holm is an idiot, let’s not have any “miscommunication”. But it’s only because she’s a woman that the connection is drawn between her intelligence and her gender. That’s why it’s sexist to call a woman a “bitch.” Full stop.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    And what “misunderstanding” do you think occurred, Steve, when critics of a woman called her a “stupid bitch”?

    None at all, “stupid bitch” is an intentional insult whether you read sexism into it or not. With that in mind..

    When her male critics expressed their displeasure not only at her argument, but that a woman had the temerity to make it?

    I must confess to not having followed the whole thread through on RDnet but is this explicitly true, or are you just deriving this from the use of the word “bitch” and engaging in the same circular argument.

  • http://www.turntheclockforward.org/ TooManyJens

    “I think a person without sexist intent can act in a way that some people will interpret as sexist.”

    That’s like saying that a person who’s distracted and not watching where they’re going can act in a way that some people will interpret as having their feet stepped on.

    Also, I’m curious as to why someone who is trying to communicate and not act in a sexist way would use language that many women do consider sexist.

  • Serenegoose

    #167, SilentSanta. Certainly in my experience, the ‘I’m just abbreviating it, it’s not offensive’ is the most common argument from ignorance that I hear. It’s something that crops up so often that it’s very difficult for me to address. The problem with educating about trans people is, relative to most every other minority, we’re tiny, and lots of us hide away for good reason, making us appear even smaller. the cisgender majority doesn’t ever get educated (infact it is vigorously misinformed by various cisgender sources about who we are, what we want, and what to call us) which makes it difficult. So many people genuinely -don’t- know that ‘tranny’ is an offensive term, whilst to me it’s well, obvious.

    this raises a problem when there are people who know fine well that it is an offensive term and then hide behind the defense. It can lead to a lot of tensions. However, in my experience, the education doesn’t work. On more than one occasion I’ve had people who seemed genuinely interested in being educated, and then often as soon as one day later will reiterate the old transphobic tropes that I just warned them off like they’d never heard them before.

    Much as I’ve deviated from the original short point, I’d like to come back to it with my own response. “Nigger is shorter than ‘person of colour’”. there is absolutely no excuse to abbreviate to a term that’s offensive just because it’s convenient for your tongue. I’m the one who has to live with it.

  • Chet

    I must confess to not having followed the whole thread through on RDnet but is this explicitly true, or are you just deriving this from the use of the word “bitch” and engaging in tthe same circular argument.

    Of course it’s explicitly true. That’s what the word “bitch” means. There’s nothing circular at all about interpreting words to mean something. That’s what words, after all, are for.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    @Chet, I thought so. Question begging it is.

    @TooManyJens

    That’s like saying that a person who’s distracted and not watching where they’re going can act in a way that some people will interpret as having their feet stepped on.

    Nicely put, but no. It is like someone walking with reasonable care finding that some people insist on putting their feet in the way

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    But then when I defend myself against an implied charge of sexism you say “look he has a blind spot and doesn’t realise he’s a sexist for defending the word”.

    No; that’s wrong; that’s not what I said. In fact I explicitly disavowed that in the very comment where I said you had a blind spot.

    What I was doing by calling your position ‘bottomlessly disgusting’ was not implying that you are a sexist but attempting to convey that you have a horrible blind spot on this particular subject.

    This has never been about saying person X is sexist, it has always been about saying sexist epithets are sexist.

    You seem to be a bit self-obsessed, frankly – you seem to think the whole discussion is about You. It’s not about You – it’s about ‘stupid bitch.’

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    This has never been about saying person X is sexist, it has always been about saying sexist epithets are sexist.

    You seem to be a bit self-obsessed, frankly – you seem to think the whole discussion is about You. It’s not about You – it’s about ‘stupid bitch.’

    O.K let’s step back a bit. I don’t think this thread is about me at all. It is about whether a certain type of language is intrinsically sexist. I accept that you did not intend to call me sexist so we’ll leave that. However Ebon picked up on the “blind spot” comment, and reiterated that some of us (which must include me because of my position on this)suffer from this inability to understand we maybe being sexist. This is just wrong, it’s not a blind spot, I just don’t accept the premise that “Bitch” or even “stupid bitch” is intrinsically sexist because I do not accept that “bitch” necessarily has the meaning being ascribed to it. It may well be that the insult that kicked off the debate was made with sexist intent, but I don’t know that and neither do you. It was a bloody awful thing to say either way.

    Where we seem to fundementally disagree is that I maintain that for an action or statement to be sexist it has to have sexist intent. I know that “bitch” is not universally interpreted as being sexist, I hear it used in all sorts of contexts by all sorts of people who are clearly not expressing the particular meaning you and others want it to have for the pupose of this discussion.I do accept that some people use it that way and others hear it that way but it is not always or even often the case.

  • http://www.turntheclockforward.org/ TooManyJens

    Steve, given the choice between “people sometimes do things that hurt women without meaning to” and “women are going out of their way to be hurt,” why do you assume the latter?

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    This has never been about saying person X is sexist, it has always been about saying sexist epithets are sexist.
    – Ophelia Benson, #182

    Ophelia, I think we’ve all agreed that calling Holm a “stupid bitch” was out of line (though we’re quibbling over just how and why), and that it’s just not cool to call anyone a bitch in public (though we’re quibbling over just how and why for that, too). The thing seems to be (for Steve and, formerly, for myself as well) that all definitions of sexism have relied on a belief or attitude, whether consciously held or not. Because words can’t have mental states, this would exclude words from being sexist.

    However, as many people have pointed out, that’s not the whole story. There’s also this definition of sexist (second from the last):

    All attitudes, procedures and patterns – economic, social and cultural – whose effect, though not necessarily whose conscious intention, is to create, maintain and extend the power, influence and privilege of one group of people over another.

    So let’s say that sexistB (for belief) means “possessed or indicative of a belief that one sex is inherently inferior to the other.” And we’ll say that sexistP (for pattern) means “tending to perpetuate sex inequality.” Since Steve is not sexistB, then what he says cannot be sexistB because there is no such belief for anything he says to indicate. He can’t “give away” an attitude he doesn’t hold and vehemently rejects.

    But Steve, if a word/phrase/gesture/behavior is sexistP, then whether you’re aware of it or not, it has the effect it has, and refusing to acknowledge that just makes you look like an asshole. You’re not sexistP, Steve, and nobody has said that you are; but the word “bitch” has been used by sexistsB in a sexistP fashion for so long that it can no longer be used in public without provoking certain people to anger. It is now unfashionable to use this word, and there’s nothing you can do about that – the state of etiquette has changed and probably without your knowledge or consent (mine, too, dammit!). You can get with the program, or whine about how you shouldn’t have to change your language just because the culture is changing around you – which approach do you think is going to do you more good in the long run?

    I know that racism and sexism are different (they’re different words, after all), but consider transposing this conversation to a time before “nigger” was phased out. If “bitch” is going to be similarly phased out (and it looks like it is), then the options are to get ahead of the curve or willfully hold it back.

  • monkeymind

    Steve Bowen:
    “It is about whether a certain type of language is intrinsically sexist.”

    No, it’s about you insisting that “stupid bitch” is free of sexist connotations, based on your gut feeling and the responses of your dinner party guests. There is a huge middle in between “words have no fixed meanings” and “words have only the connotations that I think they have.” All the evidence points to the fact that “bitch” has a huge load of sexism, and the recent use of it to apply to men, with its context of violent rape, does not make it any less problematic.

    And, yes, some feminists are reclaiming the word as a positive term for a powerful or assertive woman, but there is no way you can argue that “stupid bitch” is using the word with this meaning.

    D:
    “Because words can’t have mental states, this would exclude words from being sexist.”
    Huh? Sexist, as an adjective, can definitely be applied to words. In fact, there are many style guides and resources for writers on how to avoid sexist language and even educate themselves about the sexist connotations of certain language they may not have considered sexist. What a concept.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    I just don’t accept the premise that “Bitch” or even “stupid bitch” is intrinsically sexist because I do not accept that “bitch” necessarily has the meaning being ascribed to it. It may well be that the insult that kicked off the debate was made with sexist intent, but I don’t know that and neither do you. It was a bloody awful thing to say either way.

    Eh? Why? Why is it a bloody awful thing to say if it’s not sexist or something so like sexist that it might as well be sexist? Why is it a bloody awful thing to say if it’s not charged in some way? If it is charged, how is it charged if it’s not charged in a sexist way?

  • Entomologista

    How often can you use misogynistic language before you are defined as a misogynist? INTENT IS NOT AN EXCUSE. Tekanji says it rather well, so I’ll just quote her:

    For the most part, I believe that all human beings have the best of intentions. Most of us don’t go about our days seeking to hurt people with words or actions. But, the result of our actions can be that it causes hurt/offense to others. So, while malicious intent may add icing to the cake, it does not dictate whether or not an offense has been made. “That wasn’t my intent,” all too often translates into “your reactions to what I did are invalid because I didn’t mean any harm.” The result is that it’s a defensive reaction that silences discussion on the issue and puts the words/actions above criticism. It, in essence, privileges the sayer/doer’s opinion/feelings over that of the non-privileged person or group that they have offended.

    Also, some reading because it’s impossible to hold a conversation about the patriarch with somebody who doesn’t even know what it is:

    What is patriarchy?

    Feminist perspective on bitch and other terms

    Is sexism a matter of opinion?

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    I also don’t get what’s at stake here. I don’t get why there is such passion invested in saying ‘yes it’s a bloody awful thing to say but no it’s not sexist.’ Why bother? What difference does it make if one already thinks it’s an awful thing to say?

    A useful thought experiment is to imagine yourself a temporary resident in a foreign country, with pretty good knowledge of the local language. You pick up a word that seems to be a generic mild insult, and you start using it, then a black friend gently informs you that it’s a racist insult and not really all that mild. Do you argue? Do you insist that that’s wrong and that you’re going to go right on using it?

    I wouldn’t, at any rate. I would blush and apologize and quit using it.

    I think that is the polite and reasonable thing to do in general with fraught insult-words of this kind. I just don’t think anything of substance is lost in not using them, and I think a lot is gained by not mulishly insisting on one’s right to use insult-words that piss other people off.

  • Chet

    Where we seem to fundementally disagree is that I maintain that for an action or statement to be sexist it has to have sexist intent.

    Why? Can you address the argument I made against this specific point? For instance – what if you’re simply repeating someone else’s utterance, using it in the same way they did, because you’ve misapprehended their original meaning? If they intended sexism, and your intent is to repeat their meaning (at the same time, not truly understanding their meaning) then how is that not inherently sexist?

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Huh? Sexist, as an adjective, can definitely be applied to words. In fact, there are many style guides and resources for writers on how to avoid sexist language and even educate themselves about the sexist connotations of certain language they may not have considered sexist. What a concept.
    – monkeymind, #186

    Keep reading, friend. I later go on to distinguish two different senses of “sexist,” one of which I was completely unfamiliar with. My problem was that I was only familiar with definitions of sexism which required an intelligent agent to hold a belief in order to apply. If X means “a belief in Y,” then a word can’t be X all by itself because a word can’t believe at all; I simply didn’t know that there were other definitions that lacked such restrictions.

    I had previously thought that for there to be sexism, there must be sexistsB; words are not sexists, though, so there is no sexismB in them. And whatever words a sexistB uses to communicate his/her sexismB would only be “sexist” insofar as they were being spoken by an actual sexistB. But this was an incomplete definition on my part, which I acknowledged when I realized that it’s not the mental states of the speakers that Ophelia et al. have a problem with, but the baggage that comes with the words (and to which the speakers are being oblivious or at least indifferent). I didn’t know that was a big deal. I do now that I’ve integrated sexismP into my conceptual hierarchy of the whole blah blah blah.

    Wow, an issue of semantics cropping up in a discussion centered around the use and meaning of words. What a concept.

  • Chet

    Agreed, Ophelia. I’d like someone to explain exactly what we’d lose by a consensus culture that we don’t call women “bitches”, enforced by nothing but social opprobrium. Does our language and discourse lose richness because we can no longer discourage the input of women and minorities by calling them “bitches”, “cunts”, and “niggers”?

    Some people find it incredibly important, I guess, to gain all of the privileges of wielding sexism, but can’t stand to be called “sexist.” There’s no one as thin-skinned as a bigot.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    Maybe this is the core.

    I don’t think this thread is about me at all. It is about whether a certain type of language is intrinsically sexist.

    No it isn’t. That’s not the issue. This isn’t about realism v nominalism. Of course no type of language is intrinsically anything – that’s just a red herring. Language is social, not intrinsic. You’re banging on an open door. No of course ‘bitch’ isn’t intrinsically sexist – it’s just a collection of five letters in a particular order. Hticb isn’t intrinsically sexist either. But that’s not the issue, so we really don’t care. Meaning is social. Red lights don’t intrinsically mean ‘stop,’ either, but that’s not a reason to ignore their social meaning.

    You apparently think the social meaning of ‘bitch’ is never (? or seldom?) sexist. Well, it should occur to you that you might not have the best radar for deciding that. That’s about it, really.

  • monkeymind

    Sorry D, skimmed over the rest of your comment.

    My problem was that I was only familiar with definitions of sexism which required an intelligent agent to hold a belief in order to apply

    But sexist, as an adjective, never had this sense you ascribe to it, as far as I know.

    sexist: (adj)pertaining to, involving, or fostering sexism: a sexist remark; sexist advertising.

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sexist

    Also, I don’t think the sexist connotations of the word “bitch” are anything new:

    As a term of contempt applied to women, it dates from c.1400; of a man, c.1500, playfully, in the sense of “dog.” In modern (1990s, originally black English) slang, its use with reference to a man is sexually contemptuous, from the “woman” insult.

    “BITCH. A she dog, or doggess; the most offensive appellation that can be given to an English woman, even more provoking than that of whore.” ["Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue," 1811]

    Used among male homosexuals from 1930s. Insult son of a bitch is O.N. bikkju-sonr. Bitch goddess coined 1906 by William James; the original one was success.
    bitch (v.) Look up bitch at Dictionary.com
    “to complain,” attested at least from 1930, perhaps from the sense in bitchy, perhaps influenced by the verb meaning “to bungle, spoil,” which is recorded from 1823. But bitched in this sense seems to echo M.E. bicched “cursed, bad,” a general term of opprobrium (e.g. Chaucer’s bicched bones “unlucky dice”), which despite the hesitation of OED, seems to be a derivative of bitch (n.). And cf. the mid-19th century U.S. blackface minstrel song verse about women’s rights movement:

    When woman’s rights is stirred a bit
    De first reform she bitches on
    Is how she can wid least delay
    Just draw a pair ob britches on.

    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=bitch

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    I also don’t get what’s at stake here. I don’t get why there is such passion invested in saying ‘yes it’s a bloody awful thing to say but no it’s not sexist.’ Why bother? What difference does it make if one already thinks it’s an awful thing to say?
    – Ophelia Benson, #189

    Ophelia, would you be OK with calling “all bloody awful things to say” sexist statements? That strikes me as patently absurd. Consider for a moment that Steve’s definition of “sexism” requires there to be a sexist around – he’s said as much. His definition of a sexist statement requires that the statement reveal or be informed by sexism on the part of the speaker. On that view, if someone says a sexist thing, they must perforce be a sexist first – it is logically necessary on Steve’s definition. If sexism requires sexists, then you can’t call a person’s behavior sexist without implying that that person is a sexist. (And so Steve’s definition sets him up for cognitive dissonance when the possibility that he’s wrong is raised – and that’s what you’re up against, not any deliberate antagonism on his part.)

    But Steve, while there are no sexist beliefs per se that inhere in the word “bitch,” just as no racist beliefs per se inhere in the word “nigger,” both words have accumulated so much baggage over the years that they have acquired the taint of bigotry. I was saying, “Why take it that way if you don’t have to,” which works fine for steeling oneself against playground insults, but that’s blind to the baggage and the baggage counts. The baggage is the pattern that the word perpetuates – whether you, or me, or anyone likes it or not. The baggage is the sexismP I distinguished earlier from sexismB.

    Monkeymind, I was working with these sorts of definitions (emphasis mine):

    If you describe people or their behaviour as sexist, you mean that they are influenced by the belief that the members of one sex, usually women, are less intelligent or less capable than those of the other sex and need not be treated equally.

    a man with a chauvinistic belief in the inferiority of women

    Sexism, a term coined in the mid-20th centuryShorter Oxford English Dictionary, 6th edition, refers to the belief or attitude that one gender or sex is inferior to or less valuable than the other.

    The belief that people of one sex or gender are inherently superior to people of the other sex or gender

    Sexism is a manifestation of stereotypical attitudes towards women.

    Conversely, if a person does not hold such beliefs or attitudes, then that person cannot reveal that s/he holds beliefs or attitudes that s/he does not in fact hold; this would preclude such a person manifesting such beliefs (since they’re not there to begin with). As I said, though, this is not a complete definition; it was just the only sort of definition I had ever come across and internalized, and so it was the one I was exclusively working from.

    Steve Bowen seems to have the same problem here: he’s either unwilling or unable to accept that sexism has a broader meaning than he’s used to it having. It may or may not have anything to do with an unconscious resistance to changing his thoughts/behaviors and admitting to wrongdoing he wasn’t even aware of perpetrating in the past. But whether Steve likes it or not, his behaviors look a lot like he’s denying the social reality because he doesn’t like it, intellectualizing the impact of the word to avoid acknowledging the impact it has upon others, and thereby rationalizing away his guilt for past usage of the term. Or maybe that’s just what I was doing and now I’m projecting on him because I used to identify with his position.

    Maybe.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    D, of course not, but nothing I said implied that.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Right, but the point is that “bloody awful” and “sexist” are not synonymous. If we can drop the awful/sexist distinction because it’s not important here, then it’s a slippery slope, argumentum ad absurdum and yadda yadda. The point is that the distinction is a meaningful one, and so that’s why people (say they) are arguing over it: to see whether this bloody awful thing is sexist or not. And I think it’s a legitimate concern – imagine we were having this discussion over “stupid fuckwit,” and people tried to say it was sexist when it’s not. Still bloody awful to say, but not sexist.

    People want to be able to be colorfully mean and rude without being bigots, myself included.

  • monkeymind

    Conversely, if a person does not hold such beliefs or attitudes, then that person cannot reveal that s/he holds beliefs or attitudes that s/he does not in fact hold;

    Because of course, all our beliefs and attitudes are under our conscious control.

    D, I think you are actually over-intellectualizing. Language can be hurtful, patronizing, racist or sexist, without any intent on the part of the speaker, and that’s always been the case. Until recently, I used the word “midget” without any idea that it was offensive to people with dwarfism. When it was pointed out to me though, I didn’t whine about how it was offensive to be called on my offensiveness, and insist that I was better qualified to judge its offensiveness than a person with dwarfism. That’s what Steve is doing.

  • Sarah Braasch

    D, I just want to say that I love that — what a fabulous goal for this discussion:

    We want to be able to use foul and colorful language without being bigots.

    Something everyone can get behind. Or, at least, I can.

  • jemand

    @D, but *IS* “stupid fuckwit” a bloody awful thing to say? I don’t really think so. It targets *specifically* the person you are calling out, with no possibility of spreading to insulting a group. In fact I quite like that insult.

    @monkeymind, please read carefully, your last few posts at D have been in *complete* agreement with her. She is trying to explicate the stance she had at the beginning of the argument, one which she now thinks is incomplete and false. It’s just an attempt to clearly state the other position that *neither of you* currently hold. Talk to Steve and the others who still hold that position.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    Well I use a good deal of foul language myself; I occasionally get told off for it; but I have zero desire to go on using tendentious group-specific epithets (like nigger, faggot, bitch) that piss people off in a particular, political way. I think there’s something badly wrong with the thinking of people who do have such a desire – something callous and self-regarding.

    ‘Foul and colorful language’ is one thing and targeted insults are quite another.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    D, you have a mind like a fucking razor and you could convince me, really you could.

    Let me try and explain why I care about this. It’s not just an intellectual exercise because, frankly, I get very nervous when we try to solve social wrongs by creating taboos. I don’t think it is healthy although it seems to be the accepted way we do this. Back to “nigger”. Over the last few years it has become socially unnacceptable to use or write this word in almost any context. How often have you seen n****r in print or heard a commentator refer to th “N word”? ridiculous I know, because we all know what it says, but no matter how racially neutral the context, people won’t publish it. The problem with this isn’t just practical, the assumption then grows that if you are comfortable with saying or writing the word “nigger” in a neutral way you as an individual must be in some way racist. “Not consciously racist? but you’re subconciously racist, admit it”. If you don’t believe me try looking at the content of racial awareness courses, which give a big FAIL to any white person who doesn’t admit their racism.
    This isn’t the answer. Sure “nigger” has loads of baggage, and let’s assume for the moment that “bitch” has similar sexist baggage. The grown up thing to do would be to decouple the …ism from the word. Black culture is beginning to do this for “nigger” internally and while it’s true that for now “only a ginger can call another ginger, ginger” (hi Ritchie!), It would not be impossible for it to emerge back into mainstream use stripped of all the negativity.
    So let’s accept that whatever cultural baggage “bitch” may or may not carry, it has meanings (amply listed on this post)that, while potentially derogatory do not have to reinforce sexist stereotypes if we don’t want them to.

  • http://www.turntheclockforward.org/ TooManyJens

    What is your solution, Steve? Women should just suck it up and deal with the use of language that perpetuates harmful attitudes toward us (and that has nothing to do with whether we want it to, Jesus) so that you can feel free to use the word in whatever ways you consider neutral and appropriate?

  • monkeymind

    jemand, I see that I’m broadly in agreement with D, I just don’t think “intent on part of the speaker/actor” was ever part of the definition of “sexist” or “racist.” She’s trying to defend Steve (and her former opinion) by making the case that Steve is using some legitimate alternate, though incomplete, definition of “sexist”, and I think that just isn’t the case.
    Steve is making claims about the terms “stupid bitch” and “sexist” that just can’t be supported, they’re not incomplete, they’re just wrong.

  • monkeymind

    let’s assume for the moment that “bitch” has similar sexist baggage.

    How about instead of assuming, let’s do the minimal amount of research needed to establish that it does have sexist baggage?
    “Bitch” is definitely a word in flux, and there are less taboos on its use than ever before. It’s increasingly applied to men as well as women, but in a way that is not gender-neutral. There’s been some progress toward a positive redefinition by feminists, but we’re not there yet. And there is just no way that anyone can, with a straight face, say that “stupid bitch” has no sexist connotations.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Steve, I’m going to defend you. I’m feeling that. I thought that was very nicely worded.

    That describes well my discomfort with this discussion at the beginning — but I have to say it has evolved nicely into a conversation where everyone can participate and no one dictates, which is what I was arguing for all along.

    I had emailed this to Ebon on the subject:

    “I also don’t buy the whole argument: we’re not saying make a law, we’re saying respect the taboo.

    There’s essentially no difference. Most of the rest of the world recognizes “customary law”. There is such a thing as international customary law.

    Laws don’t have to be written down on paper to be laws.

    I have a real problem with people saying that we have to respect this taboo, because we respect other taboos.

    Well, there are a lot of taboos all around the world that are not worthy of respect, like not drawing depictions of Mohammed, and non Muslims using the word Allah.”

    I think it was Chet up above who said — what’s wrong with saying that calling women bitches is wrong, as long as it’s enforced by nothing more than social opprobrium?

    Well, nothing.

    That’s the public discourse in the marketplace of ideas at work. (I guess someone could argue that that is the same thing as a taboo, but I see it as something else entirely.)

    I feel like we might actually be getting somewhere.

  • Mrnaglfar

    @171

    A person without sexist intent can act in a way that is sexist.

    I require them to have intent before their behavior is characterized as sexist. The only reason people consider terms like nigger and bitch to be offensive in the first place is because people who typically held racist/sexist views used those words to express those sexist/racist views. I want to be crystal clear on that point: The ONLY reason a term like nigger would be offensive in and of itself would be the correlation between the attitudes of people and the meaning they tried to convey with the term.

    If one can talk like a sexist without being a sexist, and if one can act like a sexist without being a sexist, then all you’re left with is intent. I think the point has been ceded that words are not inherently anything. They only carry meaning insofar as they express something about the speaker. The people defending the term “bitch” as not sexist correctly realize this, noting that it is used across many situations in different ways and does not always mean anything about the way people view the opposite sex. People who condemn the word insist that it MUST mean something sexist (some underlying bias, conscious or not, in the speaker), and that the speakers are implying one sex is better than another. This is just nonsense. It’s going from Ought to Is.

    Here’s an overlooked, albeit extreme, example of sexism: sexual preference. Almost everyone on the planet discriminates on the basis of gender when it comes to choosing sexual partners. To prefer one gender over another, indeed to be disgusted by the idea of personally engaging in intercourse with a member of a certain sex, is to behave in a sexist fashion. An EXPLICITLY sexist fashion.

    So if you remove the intent clause that I value in the term “sexist”, you’re left defining a good deal of human behavior (I’d bet even most human behavior) as sexist. Both men and women. Sexist no longer ‘means’ anything. It’s like saying that having a mustache should be considered bad because of the association between brutal dictators and them.

  • http://www.turntheclockforward.org/ TooManyJens

    I require them to have intent before their behavior is characterized as sexist.

    Do you think it’s possible to harm someone without meaning to?

  • jemand

    see, my problem is people like Mrnaglfar and Steve are identifying with the *actor* not the *receiver.* They are caring only about the mental state of the person committing the sexist act, or saying the sexist phrase. They do not consider or care about the disparate impact and harm such actions and phrases have on others. That is beneath consideration for them, because what ONLY matters in their mind, is the mental state of the one committing the act. Otherwise “it’s not sexist.”

    I think that is the wrong perspective and is indicative of unexamined personal privilege.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    What is your solution, Steve? Women should just suck it up and deal with the use of language that perpetuates harmful attitudes toward us (and that has nothing to do with whether we want it to, Jesus)

    Partly yes. Think Tai Chi instead of Kick Boxing as a technique to fight this kind of thing. The more you anatagonise against “bitch” as sexism loaded, the more loaded it becomes. The number of other ways it can be used will eventually swamp the sexism if you let the unintentional sexism go. (Damn you D, see what you’ve done? I am now assuming your argument holds water and such sexism is real. I’ll get you at playtime!!)
    And let’s be clear, I don’t condone calling anyone a bitch so I have no vested interest other than to avoid the unnecessary stigmatisation of language (and the people who use it) that may be perfectly fine in other contexts.

  • http://www.turntheclockforward.org/ TooManyJens

    Steve @210: let the unintentional sexism go

    Spoken like someone who isn’t hurt by sexism, unintentional or otherwise.

    jemand @209: Yes. It’s All About Them.

  • Sarah Braasch

    But, jemand, you know what the solution to that is: more open and honest discourse — not less, not taboos.

    No one has the right to not be offended, BUT

    if someone is offended — they can tell the person who offended them.

    Taboos foment shame, and shame stops the victim from speaking out and empowers knowing perpetrators.

  • Mrnaglfar

    @147

    If someone said that racism is both individual behavior like screaming epithets or refusing to rent to someone of a different race and also subtle, unconscious behavior that can be detected by an implicit association test or the way resumes get reviewed or children get their IQ test scored, would that statement be racist or somehow anti-white?

    If you want to look at unconscious racism, you’ve just displayed an example of it. Why is the only racial group you mentioned “whites”? Why do you lump all “white” people in which each other? The undertones are “white people are the racists/more racist”. I know you better than to call you a racist, but there are some biases I see in your thinking. For instance, scoring on IQ tests. Should we expect for all populations to score identical on IQ tests? Before any arrows start getting launched, I don’t feel someone’s score on an IQ test holds any implications as to how we should treat them with regard to rights, protection under the law, etc.
    But let’s say you have ethnic populations X, Y, and Z of people living in America. If they tend to score differently on a standardized IQ test, what does that mean? What it means is that we now have a number of hypotheses to test. Is it cultural or economic? Is it racially biased? Are there any underlying differences (without using differences to mean better or worse, just different)?

    In the same way, people tend to associate patriarchy with stereotypes of men. They typically only make mention of “men oppressing women”, not “men oppressing men” or “women taking advantage of men”. This is then unconscious sexism, and the term itself may be unconsciously sexist. Patriarchy has been blamed for a good deal of gender differences in behavior. The value judgment normally directed towards patriarchy is that it’s a bad thing and that anyone who might act in a way that perpetuates it is a bad person. I’m not saying that all people do this. I’m saying that a lot of them do. We see examples of it here.

  • monkeymind

    I require them to have intent before their behavior is characterized as sexist.

    You may require it, but the English language doesn’t require it, nor does the law, so your requirement is self-referential.

    The people defending the term “bitch” as not sexist correctly realize this, noting that it is used across many situations in different ways and does not always mean anything about the way people view the opposite sex.

    Nobody is denying that the word bitch has multiple meanings. The meanings derive from the context, not the intent of the speaker. All we have to judge the intent of the speaker is their language.

    It’s even possible for a person who harbors sexist attitudes to use the word “bitch” in a non-sexist way: “Semantics is a bitch.”

  • Sarah Braasch

    I feel like you guys can stop taking jabs at Steve now.

    He has participated in this entire conversation. He has taken it seriously. He has taken all of you seriously.

    He has been respectful. He has listened (read) and spoken (typed) thoughtfully and honestly.

    Even when he was being told repeatedly that his opinion was worthless.

  • jemand

    @sarah, EXACTLY, which is why, consistently, I have said that the bigger problem in the thread at RD net, *wasn’t* the initial use of the term “stupid bitch.” It’s that when someone expressed offense that there was no apology given, and people reacted as if she was making a huge deal out of nothing. *That’s* what I consider the biggest problem, dismissing people’s feelings and ignoring the patterns of sexism, not the initial insult which may or may not have been wielded with conscious sexist intent. Just say sorry, and stop hurting people.

  • monkeymind

    Sarah, if a person with dwarfism told you that being called a “midget” was demeaning, would you insist that you didn’t mean to demean, and your intent was the main thing?

  • Mrnaglfar

    @208

    Of course. See below.

    @209

    They are caring only about the mental state of the person committing the sexist act, or saying the sexist phrase. They do not consider or care about the disparate impact and harm such actions and phrases have on others. That is beneath consideration for them, because what ONLY matters in their mind, is the mental state of the one committing the act. Otherwise “it’s not sexist.”

    I think that is the wrong perspective and is indicative of unexamined personal privilege.

    Of course, we don’t extend that same consideration towards offending the religious, do we? The original article that prompted the “stupid bitch” comment was saying that same thing: the cartoonist should have understood that other people would find what he did offensive and hurtful. That he should have been giving their feelings more consideration. So one involves some people’s feelings about gender and the other involves people’s religious or moral convictions. So what? What’s the difference? Is the offense felt somehow different when it comes to one topic or the other? Is one somehow more “genuine” an offense?

    The exact same thing happens. When anyone speaking against islam gets labeled an “islamophobic”. Google censors search suggestions for “islam is” compared to those from “atheism/christianity/etc is”.

    Do you think this is the wrong perspective? I do. I don’t feel the need to censure my speech to consider the feelings of people around me because someone may not like the language I use or the ideas I express. No matter what you say or how you say it, you’re going to offend some people somewhere.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    @TooManyJens
    Aw c’mon, you’re better than that! If you’re going to quote mine to score points at least give me the benefit of a whole sentence.
    Why do you think I am not affected by sexism? I have had loved ones who have been sidelined at work, missed deserved promotions etc. I don’t live in a vacuum. Sexism is everyones problem, not just the preserve of the immediate victims.

    @Sarah

    But, jemand, you know what the solution to that is: more open and honest discourse — not less, not taboos.

    Yes, because that is the best antiseptic for this infection. But to be fair to Jamand he is representing my previous arguments pretty accurately if not my actual opinion. My fault. I accept that people can be hurt by language, it’s a given for me which is why I didn’t stress it. It’s why it should be used carefully, but it is not a reason to supress it.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I have to disagree with you jemand —

    I read the entire thread at RD.net.

    The argument that got out of hand wasn’t about what is and is not sexist language.

    The commenters there were being told that they didn’t have a right to engage in a discussion on the subject, because their opinions were meaningless, because they were men.

    They were being told that they simply had to respect the taboo, no questions asked.

    They were being told that only the victims (women) had authority to determine what is and is not sexist language.

    That’s what was happening here too, at the beginning, but I am starting to feel like we moved past that and engaged in a real exchange of ideas.

    So much more effective that way.

    Do you really think Steve or anyone other man on this site will ever address a woman for the rest of their lives without giving some serious thought to the impact of their words?

    I don’t.

  • http://www.turntheclockforward.org/ TooManyJens

    Even when he was being told repeatedly that his opinion was worthless.

    Jesus Christ, I give up. Why is it so hard not to misrepresent other people’s arguments?

  • monkeymind

    #218

    When anyone speaking against islam gets labeled an “islamophobic”. Google censors search suggestions for “islam is” compared to those from “atheism/christianity/etc is”.

    In case anyone takes this as gospel:
    http://searchengineland.com/islam-is-blocked-by-google-suggest-bug-32921

    Also try “Islam must” or “Islam should” and see the suggestions. They don’t seem censored to me.

  • Mrnaglfar

    @222

    If it was just a glitch, then fair play on that. I didn’t know. The points, however, still remain.

  • jemand

    @Mrnaglfar no. Whether or not we should be intentionally offensive to religious people *is* a point of debate in the atheist community, with some people choosing to be “friendly atheists” and others not so much. That one can and should recognize that you may be giving offense, wasn’t the problem with the original article. The problem was that if you give offense, you should expect and accept VIOLENT PHYSICAL ATTACK. And that the violent physical attack would be your fault. And besides, those who choose to be purposefully offensive to religious people have pragmatically decided that is the best way to get those religious people to change their minds and stop being religious. Is the intent of offensive sexist language *really* attempting to get women to have sex changes? Or is it to “keep them in their place.” The differences are many and shouldn’t be that hard to see.

    @steve “Yes, because that is the best antiseptic for this infection. But to be fair to Jamand he is representing my previous arguments pretty accurately if not my actual opinion. My fault. I accept that people can be hurt by language, it’s a given for me which is why I didn’t stress it.”

    Thanks so very much for this. It is very problematic and hurtful for me to be in an argument or discussion on these subjects, and to get the feeling that someone else in the debate is identifying specifically with the one who is likely to be doing the hurt (and worrying only about their state of mind), to the exclusion of the one who is getting hurt. It’s a bias which, when I start to notice it, really makes me wonder about the kinds of people I’m talking to. PLUS, it starts to go off into “thought crime” territory when all that’s focused on is mental states, instead of the concrete, real world hurt sexism causes to those it’s aimed at. The fact that you note this as an omission on your part is very big of you and I really appreciate it. Btw, I’m a she ;)

  • monkeymind

    Steve:

    How about “You say she’s a bitch like it’s a bad thing!”

    Reclaiming/redirecting “stupid bitch” is a bit harder.

  • Mrnaglfar

    @224

    no. Whether or not we should be intentionally offensive to religious people *is* a point of debate in the atheist community, with some people choosing to be “friendly atheists” and others not so much.

    Note the emphasis. If someone is being intentionally offensive seems to matter as opposed to whether one is unintentionally offensive. There are people who will be offended by your statement that their deeply held convictions are based on no evidence. Some people say that because it’s the truth, some people do it just to get under other’s skin, some because of both.

    If you want to self-censor yourself because you’re afraid of hurting other peoples feelings, fine. But no matter what you do, intentionally or not, you will end up offending someone.

    That one can and should recognize that you may be giving offense, wasn’t the problem with the original article. The problem was that if you give offense, you should expect and accept VIOLENT PHYSICAL ATTACK. And that the violent physical attack would be your fault.

    Of course that’s a problem. No one should be physical attacked. It’s also problematic when people try to label me a sexist because they try to tell me what I should/do mean (consciously or unconsciously) when I say a word, even if I don’t intend that meaning. Even if I tell them I don’t intend that meaning.

    Is the intent of offensive sexist language *really* attempting to get women to have sex changes? Or is it to “keep them in their place.” The differences are many and shouldn’t be that hard to see.

    Or maybe the language isn’t sexist. Maybe it’s not being used in a sexist fashion. Maybe, just maybe, some (most) people aren’t trying to “keep women in their place” or express harmful sexist attitudes by saying “bitch”. I know I’m not. I can’t think of anyone who ever has that I know in my personal life. I don’t think they’re asking women to have surgery on their genitals to make them resemble a man either. No one with more than half a brain should think that.

    Maybe, just maybe, this discussion should focus on people’s actual ideas about women. Not the language they use. Maybe this whole thing is a giant knee-jerk offense reaction by people trying to make a big to-do about showing everyone just how gender neutral they can be.

    I’ll go out on a limb here and I’ll bet that there’s probably a correlation between people who say “bitch is a sexist word” and those who express the idea “pornography is degrading to women”. Would I be a bad person for assuming that?

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    @jemand

    Btw, I’m a she ;)

    You know what? that occurred to me with ten seconds of edit left. Apologies Jemand but at least it means I don’t assume all feminists are female :)

    @TooManyJens

    Even when he was being told repeatedly that his opinion was worthless.

    Jesus Christ, I give up. Why is it so hard not to misrepresent other people’s arguments?

    I never got the feeling people were saying my argument was worthless; just wrong. Which is fine. That’s how enlightenment comes. Whether it is yours or mine time wil tell :) But don’t give up. I was at that point last night when I got the feeling Ophelia was getting all Ad Hominem on my ass. Which she probably wasn’t. Not intentionally anyway.

    @ Sarah

    Do you really think Steve or anyone other man on this site will ever address a woman for the rest of their lives without giving some serious thought to the impact of my words?

    I sincerely hope it is a long time since I addressed anyone, of any gender pursuasion without giving some serious thought to the impact of their words. But thank you for the sentiment.

    Anyway, as Ophelia said, this thread is not about me ( don’t worry my bruised and battered ego will recover… eventually :sigh!) and I really have run out of steam ATMO…

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    That was “my” words not “their” BTW. Has anyone noticed that edit is a bit odd when there is lots of HTML in it? G’Night

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Now watch: sixty years from now, stupidity will be seen as a crippling disability, and will acquire all sorts of social baggage. The best part? We’ll be able to say that calling someone “stupid” is an insult to stupid people everywhere, and it will be literally true.

    Jemand (#200), I think “stupid fuckwit” would be an awful thing to call my brother (and mean it). In fact, I think he’d be more hurt if I called him that than any kind of slur – hearing a slur from me would probably just make him laugh. Man, now I wanna test this… Also, what’s your problem with monkeymind? Speed-reading people’s posts allows you to participate in so many more internet discussions at once! (My favorite part: calling me out on something I already admitted to doing.)

    To the Back-On-Topic-Mobile! @ Steve Bowen (#210): Steeling oneself is an excellent way to cope as an individual. But now consider the issue in this light. Using the word “bitch” as a personal insult forces people to either ignore their feelings to steel themselves against the baggage of the term (which the speaker might not intend to bring up at all, to be sure), or let those feelings get hurt.

    Why on Earth would anyone want to put someone in such a position?

    People shouldn’t have to steel themselves against such knife-twisting. But we do. We also shouldn’t have to watch our mouths just because of centuries of oppression we played no role in causing. But we do. And it would be awesome if people didn’t get offended over mere words, without first trying to establish the intent behind those words. But we do. These are facts about us, and ignoring them (or acting as if they weren’t true because they shouldn’t be) is to stick one’s head in the social sand. As a matter of pragmatics, if nothing else, we should recognize that using “bitch” as a personal insult makes it easier for real sexists to fade into the background and brings up painful baggage – refraining from using the word negatively will accelerate the healing process, but telling people to ignore the wound will only retard it.

    Re: Islam! Yes, it is possible for an atheist to be a religious bigot. If anyone mistreats anyone else solely on the basis of religion, that would be one way to do it. Bringing up a history of oppression, such as by calling a Jew a “kike,” is another way (because Judaism is a religion, not a race). However, pointing out that the founding member of a religion is a pedophile is not bigotry – it’s not even unfair.

    It is honesty to tell a Muslim, “Look, I don’t like your religion, and I find your beliefs to be worthy of ridicule.” It is rude to tell a Muslim, “You’re a fuckin’ idiot, and your prophet eats dog-shit.” It is bigotry to tell a Muslim, “Step outta line, and I’ll go Abu Ghraib on your ass.” Sure, Abu Ghraib was used for a whole bunch of other things, but it will have more impact on Muslims because of specific bits of history – rather than bring it up again, we should try to distance ourselves from those sorts of things.

    But making fun of violently fanatical Muslims for being violent fanatics is no more intolerant than making fun of thuggish rappers for being thuggish. The point is that you confine the insults to things that are actually worthy of ridicule (an admittedly shifting target that depends way too much for my taste on the cultural fashions du jour, but that’s my row to hoe), and you don’t include irrelevant characteristics of your target in your insult.

  • monkeymind

    You’re a mensch, Steve. And I mean that in a totally gender-neutral way.

  • monkeymind

    Sorry if I offended, D.

  • jemand

    @Mrnaglfar

    That limb you’re out on just cracked, because I do not believe porn is degrading to women. Society’s current reaction to porn stars is immensely problematic and I imagine there may be some problems in some porn production companies with respect to recruitment and benefits (especially for less well known/new stars) and work should be done to correct these problems, but there is *nothing* intrinsically degrading about porn. I bet there are more work-related abuses in the production of your salad or chocolate cake than your porn.

    And just from a logician’s standpoint, how could gay male porn POSSIBLY be degrading to women? Is that not an example of porn? I don’t think ANYONE could say that all porn is always degrading to women. At MOST people might say some specific kinds of porn are degrading to women.

  • Mrnaglfar

    @232

    That limb you’re out on just cracked, because I do not believe porn is degrading to women

    Correlation, as I said. That a particular man is shorter than a particular woman does not disprove that men tend to be taller than women. Likewise, that you don’t hold that view does not mean others don’t, or that knowing one view may allow you to more accurately predict whether someone will hold the other.

    I’m with you that porn isn’t degrading though.

  • jemand

    @Mrnaglfar, I said cracked, not broke completely. You don’t have ANY evidence in your favor, and at least one example against.

    But discussing porn might be fun since I *think* we’ve just about exhausted everything we can say on the last topic.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    While this thread seems to be winding down a bit, I have a few more points to make.

    First off, there’s this comment by Ophelia:

    A useful thought experiment is to imagine yourself a temporary resident in a foreign country, with pretty good knowledge of the local language. You pick up a word that seems to be a generic mild insult, and you start using it, then a black friend gently informs you that it’s a racist insult and not really all that mild. Do you argue? Do you insist that that’s wrong and that you’re going to go right on using it?

    I didn’t have anything to add to this; I just wanted to quote it again because it’s such a beautiful analogy. I note that no one has answered the questions she posed. If you take a position opposing hers, I encourage you to address this.

    Second, I wanted to address something Sarah Braasch said – but before I do that, I want to clearly acknowledge that you, Sarah, have done more to advance the cause of feminism than I ever will, and I have tremendous respect for you because of that. That said, I do think this statement is a mischaracterization of the situation:

    The commenters [at RD.net] were being told that they didn’t have a right to engage in a discussion on the subject, because their opinions were meaningless, because they were men.

    They were being told that they simply had to respect the taboo, no questions asked.

    If it were a matter of one group – women, say, or Muslims – arbitrarily picking out a certain word, asserting that members of that group had the sole right to determine how and by whom that word could be used, and attacking anyone who didn’t follow suit – then I would agree that this is indefensible. But I don’t think that’s what’s going on here.

    As I know you know, probably better than anyone else here, women have been and still are oppressed in numerous ways by bigots who don’t recognize that they possess the same rights as men. This kind of prejudice is unacceptable, and people of good will should be working to eradicate it. Whenever and wherever it appears, whether in explicit or in subtle ways, we should be pointing it out and criticizing it. And that’s just what’s happening here.

    Our criticism, in other words, is founded not on unverifiable religious doctrine, as with Muslims who demand that no one but themselves use the word Allah, but in something factual and empirical: the evidence of harmful sexism still ongoing in the world today. And what we saw, on RD.net and elsewhere, was a symptom of this sexism. It’s not that the word “bitch” is itself intrinsically evil or taboo, but that casually using it as an insult tends to signify an attitude which leads, directly or indirectly, to the perpetuation of sexist practices. And the second part of this critique, which I note some other people still refuse to grasp, is that this attitude doesn’t have to arise from a conscious desire to discriminate. It can just as well arise from memes that people unconsciously absorb from their culture and then retransmit. (Compare: “Why are you accusing me of giving you a cold? I didn’t mean to make you sick when I sneezed on you!”)

    By pointing out when people use sexist language, we hope to raise their consciousness and enlighten them to the existence of subtle prejudice that they themselves may not have realized they were holding. What we’re asking for is not self-censorship, in other words, but self-examination. We don’t seek to make people afraid to speak certain words, but to divest themselves of the harmful attitudes that would cause them to speak those words in the first place.

    Also, as regards this comment by Mrnaglfar:

    I require them to have intent before their behavior is characterized as sexist.

    I wonder if you’ve fully thought through the implications of this position. For one thing, it would mean that Muslim zealots who confine women in burqas and ban them from driving or getting an education, or fundamentalist Mormons who coerce young girls into slave-like polygamous marriages, aren’t being sexist or acting immorally if they genuinely believe that God commands this and that it’s best for everyone if people obey his commands. Is that the position you would take?

  • Mrnaglfar

    @235

    They would most certainly be behaving in a sexist fashion because of their conscious belief that men are ‘morally better than or superior to’ women. Whether this belief comes from a religious text, political pamphlet, or whether it is a pre-existing belief that someone came to all on their own is largely irrelevant. What is relevant in labeling someone as a sexist is the conscious endorsement of such an idea, not its source.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    No offense taken, monkeymind! Just a little good-natured ribbing; I’ve mixed up what other people say, too.

    SPEED EDIT @236: I propose a new religion… Fislam. Fislam says that men are morally equal to women, and the Fuslims who believe it all consciously avow such equality. Yet they still treat each other inequally, and everyone’s fine with this, nobody gets hurt. There’s sexism without intent or even harm: it’s sex-based inequality, and it’s endemic to Fislam. Fuslims eat, breathe, and sleep sexism every day of their lives without knowing or caring.

  • monkeymind

    Thanks for the reassurance, D! They say ability to multi-task deteriorates with age – I’m living proof!

  • Sarah Braasch

    I think everyone involved in “that thread” over at RD.net (the big melee 2010) should come over here and see how it’s done.

    Although, after reading the commenters at B & W on Ophelia’s post on our thread here (don’t read it, Steve), I’m guessing they wouldn’t agree.

    Ebon, now I’m worried that you’re worried that I’m going to cross you out or something, because you disagreed with me. Not at all.

    Our differences just bring us closer, like me and D. Night all.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    They would most certainly be behaving in a sexist fashion because of their conscious belief that men are ‘morally better than or superior to’ women.

    But if you read the fundamentalists’ literature, that’s not how they justify it at all. Christian conservatives, for instance, say that men aren’t morally superior to women, it’s just that God has given them different roles: the role of men is to have all the money and the power, while the role of women is to stay home and have babies. Similarly, Islamic fundamentalists say that the reason women wear burqas isn’t to oppress them, but to protect their modesty from men who would otherwise be driven to uncontrollable lust by the sight of them. Are these valid arguments if they’re not driven by a conscious belief in the inferiority of women?

  • MissCherryPi

    If you want to look at unconscious racism, you’ve just displayed an example of it. Why is the only racial group you mentioned “whites”?

    Because they are the dominant racial group in America right now and I’m making a parallel with you saying that the word patriarchy is sexist towards men, the dominant sex. I thought very carefully about my word choice, but since you didn’t say that the word patriarchy was offensive to women I used whites as an example.

    For instance, scoring on IQ tests. Should we expect for all populations to score identical on IQ tests?

    I don’t know the answer to that, but many IQ tests have some aspect of subjectivity in their scoring so if a majority of people harbor an unconscious bias it might come out that way.

    In the same way, people tend to associate patriarchy with stereotypes of men. They typically only make mention of “men oppressing women”, not “men oppressing men” or “women taking advantage of men”.

    I didn’t say that. I said:
    Patriarchy describes a systemic sexual hierarchy. This can be taken advantage of by men or women for individual pursuits for good or bad, but it also has broad societal impacts. I don’t know why that is sexist or somehow anti-men.

    I also provided a link to pages that discuss the idea of “patriarchy hurts men too” because it does.

  • Chet

    To prefer one gender over another, indeed to be disgusted by the idea of personally engaging in intercourse with a member of a certain sex, is to behave in a sexist fashion.

    Only if you believe that having sex with you is such an incredibly positive experience that to be denied the opportunity is to suffer substantially. While it’s obvious that you hold such an inflated opinion of yourself, none of the rest of us do. It’s not sexist discrimination to refuse to have sex with someone.

  • Chet

    I’ll go out on a limb here and I’ll bet that there’s probably a correlation between people who say “bitch is a sexist word” and those who express the idea “pornography is degrading to women”

    Well, pornography is frequently degrading to its participants, especially the women. There’s nothing inherent in the idea of pornography that makes it degrading to women – it’s hard to see how male gay porn would degrade women, exactly – but in practice, it trades pretty heavily on a sexual ethos of female sexual subservience to men.

    In regards to something you said earlier, M, who are you calling “bitches” when you say you use the word?

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    Yeah, Chet, that makes perfect sense. So if women aren’t allowed to be garbage collectors, that’s not sexist, right? After all, it’s not a positive experience to work with trash all day, it sucks and makes you smell bad. This also isn’t sexist towards men, either. It’s totally not sex-based discrimination to not want to have sex with someone based on their sex, just like it’s not sexist discrimination to refuse to let women get their hands dirty. Not one bit.

    I just can’t argue with logic like that. I really can’t. You’re contributing so much to this discussion, I don’t know what we’d do without you. I mean, you really put me in my place at 114, way to go. And now that you did that, I understand perfectly: sarcasm equals pushback, clarifying my position equals complaining, and trying to understand the people who disagree with me equals howling my disapproval at being labeled as a bigot.

    It’s OK, I didn’t expect you to try to understand where I was coming from or anything. How could I expect you to try to meet a bigot on common ground, and work from there? You don’t know bigots, and you don’t want to know ‘em. Right?

  • jemand

    wait, I must have missed something.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    Allow me to explain, jemand. I got angry at Chet yesterday, then waited patiently for an opportunity to jump down Chet’s throat for slipping up. When I thought such an opportunity had arisen, I pounced… but it wasn’t what I wanted. Now I feel bad for stewing instead of saying something, and even worse for acting on the grudge instead of letting it go or being more constructive. And like a jerk for trying to make someone feel bad over the internet.

    I’m sorry, Chet. Friends?

  • Mrnaglfar

    @240

    Christian conservatives, for instance, say that men aren’t morally superior to women, it’s just that God has given them different roles: the role of men is to have all the money and the power, while the role of women is to stay home and have babies. Similarly, Islamic fundamentalists say that the reason women wear burqas isn’t to oppress them, but to protect their modesty from men who would otherwise be driven to uncontrollable lust by the sight of them. Are these valid arguments if they’re not driven by a conscious belief in the inferiority of women?

    It doesn’t matter if someone thinks god gave men and women differ roles or if someone thinks men or women are just evolved gender differences and then commits the naturalistic fallacy. The source of the sexism is not as important to me as the conscious endorsement of sexism itself.

    Let’s use the burqa example. If someone feels that men will be driven wild by the sight of women and rape them because of it, it’s obvious from the evidence in our world that this is patently not the case. If they wish to protect women from being raped, well that seems like a noble purpose that I can’t argue against. There are a number of ways to do this, some more pleasant than others. They can feel free to suggest that a woman wear the burqa, but they should also respect that the woman gets to decide whether she wants to. I have no problem with women wearing burqas so long as they want to wear them.
    But what about if a man suggests that a woman not walk alone at night because of the risk she may get raped; is that sexist advice to give if it tends to be given on the basis of gender? Follow up question: Is it wrong to offer such advice in the first place?

    @241

    I don’t think you harbor any ill will towards men or race. I know you don’t actually. But if we’re talking about unconscious biases that people tend to hold when they’re thinking about race (even if those can be eliminated by the right experimental setup) or gender, we’re certainly not in the position to judge whether we ourselves harbor such unconscious biases.

    @242

    Only if you believe that having sex with you is such an incredibly positive experience that to be denied the opportunity is to suffer substantially. While it’s obvious that you hold such an inflated opinion of yourself, none of the rest of us do. It’s not sexist discrimination to refuse to have sex with someone.

    I saw D gave you a nice spanking for that. D, there’s no need to apologize – you were spot on. I’d just like to add that you know nothing about me, yet feel free to assume all sorts of things about me.

    @243

    I don’t really know. I called my game on my cell phone a bitch last night. I generally reserve the term for my friends. It’s not often I just go around calling random people bitches.

  • Chet

    So if women aren’t allowed to be garbage collectors, that’s not sexist, right? After all, it’s not a positive experience to work with trash all day, it sucks and makes you smell bad.

    No, that would be sexist. It may not matter, there may not be women who want to be garbage collectors, but a social or even legal rule against it would be sexist.

    It’s totally not sex-based discrimination to not want to have sex with someone based on their sex

    Yes, it’s totally not. If you’re a gay man, it’s not sexist for you to decline offers of sex with women. What’s sexist is putting people in positions where they cannot decline offers (commands, really) of sex; rape is sexist, for that reason, indeed rape is often used to enforce sexist, patriarchal norms. It’s another way of putting a woman in her “place.”

    I’m not surprised to see people co-opt the language of feminism and anti-sexism to try to shame people into having sex with them, though. It’s the same mode of thought that leads to calling something like the Pussycat Dolls “empowering for women.”

    . How could I expect you to try to meet a bigot on common ground, and work from there?

    You seem to be under the strange opinion that it’s my responsibility to help you divest yourself of bigotry and become a better person. Sorry, I’m just some asshole on the internet, not your own personal Gandhi. Your private self-improvement is going to have to occur on your own time.

    I’m sorry, Chet. Friends?

    Yeah…no.

  • Mrnaglfar

    @248

    Only if you believe that having sex with you is such an incredibly positive experience that to be denied the opportunity is to suffer substantially. While it’s obvious that you hold such an inflated opinion of yourself, none of the rest of us do. It’s not sexist discrimination to refuse to have sex with someone…

    It may not matter, there may not be women who want to be garbage collectors, but a social or even legal rule against it would be sexist.

    So it’s not sexist for me to not have sex with members of a certain sex just because they’re a member of a certain sex, even if none of them “suffer” because of it.

    However, it is sexist to deny someone a job just because they’re a member of a certain sex, even if they may not want to do it.

    Perfectly consistent. Yup.

  • Chet

    But what about if a man suggests that a woman not walk alone at night because of the risk she may get raped; is that sexist advice to give if it tends to be given on the basis of gender? Follow up question: Is it wrong to offer such advice in the first place?

    Well, it depends. I’m informing you now that a woman is actually at greater risk of rape from her acquaintances than from a stranger; she’s likely to actually be safer alone. Women are frequently raped in their own homes, so it’s not really a matter of “being out at night” or anything. Women are raped because a rapist succeeded in raping them, not because of anything they did.

    The question, though is this – now that you’ve been told all that, are you still going to tell women that they should always be afraid of rape? That they should always be on the lookout for the stranger who’s about to rape them, and that they should always accept the service of some chivalrous man – presumably, you – who’s offered to “walk them home”?

    If so, then yes, that’s sexist advice – because its being offered not for the woman’s own good, but to influence and control her behavior. Preventing women from going anywhere without a male escort is a fairly effective way to marginalize and oppress them, as we see in Muslim countries.

    If men wish to take actions to prevent women from being raped, the most important thing they could do would be to stop raping them. If you’re already not raping women, then the next step is to make sure your friends aren’t doing it either. Once you’ve done that start refusing to allow people to affirm rape or blame victims in your presence. Rape will stop when rapists stop raping women. It’s important not to pretend that rape is some kind of natural disaster that happens without human agency. Rape happens because of the actions of rapists. Shouldn’t it be their actions we try to change? Why put the onus of stopping rape on its putative victims?

  • Chet

    So it’s not sexist for me to not have sex with members of a certain sex just because they’re a member of a certain sex, even if none of them “suffer” because of it.

    “Even if”? I feel pretty confident that nobody’s suffering by the lack of having sex with you. Yes, it’s not sexist for you not to want to have sex with men, or with women, or with black people, or Jews, or what have you. You’re free to consent, or withhold consent, to sex with literally anyone you want.

    However, it is sexist to deny someone a job just because they’re a member of a certain sex, even if they may not enjoy it.

    Yes, exactly. It’s sexist to refuse to hire persons of a certain sex, except – maybe – when there’s some kind of logical reason why literally no woman could perform a certain job. If you’re the casting director for Puppetry of the Penis, it’s not discrimination when you turn women away at the door.

    Perfectly consistent.

    Yes, it is perfectly consistent. Nobody has a right to demand sex from another person; people do have a right to demand fair consideration from their putative employers.

  • Mrnaglfar

    @250

    Here’s a possibility you have discounted: Women do not get raped by strangers more often because they behave in ways that minimize the chances that they are. Of course women are raped because rapists succeed and not because they’re “asking for it”. But if you’re going to sit there with a straight face and try to tell me there isn’t anything at all women can do to minimize those chances, you’re just being ignorant.

    If so, then yes, that’s sexist advice – because its being offered not for the woman’s own good, but to influence and control her behavior. Preventing women from going anywhere without a male escort is a fairly effective way to marginalize and oppress them, as we see in Muslim countries.

    All advice you offer people is an attempt to manipulate their behavior. Most everything you do with people to attempt to manipulate their behavior. Why can’t you be trying to manipulate someone’s behavior for their own good? If a mother tells a child not to touch a hot stove because it’ll burn them, she’s trying to manipulate that child’s behavior.

    Of course, no one is suggesting that a woman needs to have a man walk with her. It’s a suggestion that many men and women would probably suggest. No one is suggesting we legislate that. Which is why I added that little clause about having freedom.

    But great advice. If I want to stop rape I should just be sure that I don’t rape anyone. It’s such simple advice, it’s a wonder that rape isn’t a thing of the past.

  • Chet

    Women do not get raped by strangers more often because they behave in ways that minimize the chances that they are.

    That makes zero sense.

    But if you’re going to sit there with a straight face and try to tell me there isn’t anything at all women can do to minimize those chances, you’re just being ignorant.

    I’m not telling you that. I’m just noting that you’re not making a very good case for you not being a sexist when your first and immediate reaction to the problem of women being raped is to make women alter their behavior to suit you.

    All advice you offer people is an attempt to manipulate their behavior.

    What an incredibly mercenary view you take towards human interactions. Is that all people are to you? Puppets to be manipulated? I dunno, I’ve given advice for plenty of reasons besides I wanted to change how someone was behaving to suit myself – for instance, because they asked for advice. Actually, now that you mention it that’s about the only time I give advice.

    If a mother tells a child not to touch a hot stove because it’ll burn them, she’s trying to manipulate that child’s behavior.

    Quite. And that maternal parenting relationship is completely appropriate between a mother and her child. It’s not appropriate between an adult man and an adult woman. Treating a woman like a child who needs to be told what to do for her own good is sexist. Pretty damn sexist, in fact.

    If I want to stop rape I should just be sure that I don’t rape anyone.

    It’s hilarious to me how angry you get at the mere suggestion that the responsibility to combat rape doesn’t begin and end with women – that you, yourself, might have some part you could be expected to play.

  • jemand

    @Mrnaglfar, women are not often raped by strangers because rapists nearly always do not consider themselves to be rapists. When a man grabs a woman off the street, he is less likely to be able to justify that to himself. There are THOUSANDS OF TIMES more men who can justify coercing a woman into getting drunk and ignoring her very drunk and slurry “no” than feel comfortable attacking a woman off the street.

    http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist/2009/11/12/rapists-who-dont-think-theyre-rapists/

    Your “advice” is really pretty worthless and ignores the *greatest* threat or rape women face– rape by their “friends.”

  • Mrnaglfar

    @251

    “Even if”? I feel pretty confident that nobody’s suffering by the lack of having sex with you.

    Except anyone who wants to have sex with me who I turn down because of gender. It’s so nice to see people expressing some none bigoted insulting assumptions. At least it wasn’t a sexist insult, otherwise I might have had to of been annoyed.

    Yes, it’s not sexist for you not to want to have sex with men, or with women, or with black people, or Jews, or what have you. You’re free to consent, or withhold consent, to sex with literally anyone you want.

    Just because it’s a right doesn’t make it not sexist, or racist. Non-sequitor.

  • Mrnaglfar

    @253

    It’s not my fault if I get mugged. If I walk around a low-income area alone counting a large wad of 100 dollar bills, or if I walk through the same area with friends with no visible signs of wealth, do you suppose I’m just as likely to be mugged in either case?

    I’m just noting that you’re not making a very good case for you not being a sexist when your first and immediate reaction to the problem of women being raped is to make women alter their behavior to suit you.

    I start with that suggestion because women can alter their behavior more than they can probably alter the behavior of would-be rapists. I would also suggest that if women are concerned about getting raped that they not accept drinks from strange men, as they could be drugged. Not because they’re “at fault” or need to “learn their place”. If you knew a thing about me you’d know I hold the exact opposite view. It’s not their fault. They don’t need to learn their place. Their only place is doing what they want to do. Just like men

    Quite. And that maternal parenting relationship is completely appropriate between a mother and her child. It’s not appropriate between an adult man and an adult woman. Treating a woman like a child who needs to be told what to do for her own good is sexist. Pretty damn sexist, in fact.

    You really see sexism around all corners, don’t you? Are you seriously suggesting that friends have NO PLACE offering advice to other friends? Who cares what sex is offering advice to which sex? Is anyone who is offering advice to someone else “treating them like a child”? Of course not.

    @254.
    Rethink that first sentence and get back to me.

  • jemand

    http://www.holysmoke.org/fem/fem0286.htm

    “One out of 12 men admitted to having fulfilled the prevailing definition
    of rape or attempted rape, yet none identified himself as a rapist.”

    “The good news is that 80 percent of the men said that “rape” was never
    justified – under any circumstance. The bad news is that 20 percent felt
    that, in some instances, it was. Most of these men held traditional views
    of sex roles. They believed that a woman was leading a man on if she asked
    him for a date, went with him to his apartment or allowed him to pay for
    all the expenses. Most traditionalists, and even some nontraditionalists,
    believed that this implied a sexual invitation, which the woman had no
    right to withdraw later on.?”

    Mrnaglfar, please read that last bit carefully. YOU were the one who brought up the “men pay” trope, and then when called on the sexism of it (men get to choose the restaurant) acted like that was a silly question. OF COURSE he would get to choose the restaurant! Don’t you think that attitude just feeds into the 20% of men who think rape is *ACCEPTABLE* in some cases, if he thinks a woman has “led him on”? Don’t you think these attitudes perhaps should be the FIRST thing you should attack if you truly want to stop rape, these attitudes which bolster a full one FIFTH of the male population believing that actions which are legally considered rape (these men don’t use the term) are justified, instead of trying to manipulate female behavior even further, making them feel scared and vulnerable alone, when they are in fact in more danger around these people holding “traditional” attitudes about sex roles.

    Do you see a manipulative statement aimed at making women feel scared and vulnerable on their own, and in constant need of male protection, is MORE likely to make them be raped by their male “protectors” than a random bogey man in the bushes? And that men will justify their rape as “not rape” since, damit, he’d been PROTECTING her, he EARNED it!

    ETA, what the hell is wrong with the first sentence of my last post? Want to try again, and maybe put forward a constructive argument this time?

  • jemand

    oh wait. Are you holding the same standard here as you did earlier? It doesn’t count as rape unless he in his mind intends to rape (and calls it that)? Just like it doesn’t count as sexism unless he in his mind intends to be sexist?

    Lovely. You’re farther gone than I thought. Goodnight.

  • Mrnaglfar

    @257

    Of course the woman has a right to withdraw her consent at any point she wants. I actually said that. It’s also not sexist if whoever is paying for dinner ultimately decides where to pay. If women want to pay, there’s nothing stopping them. Of course, most women do not want to pay. Those that do are welcome to, but many don’t. If men wants to pay, there’s nothing stopping them. There’s also nothing making men or women accept either offer. If someone offers to take someone out for dinner anywhere and pay, the person to whom the invitation was extended can say no. There’s no force involved, and I highly doubt men want to pay just to try and control women. I also don’t think many women want men to pay to be controlled.

    Don’t you think that attitude just feeds into the 20% of men who think rape is *ACCEPTABLE* in some cases, if he thinks a woman has “led him on”?

    Is there any indication that such attitudes cause people to rape, or simply that more rapists hold sexist attitudes? It also doesn’t examine actual patterns of rape, just when some men think it might be acceptable (when it isn’t).

    I’ll join in the attack against the idea that a man should be the one who has to pay. I don’t think they should be expected to. I have pointed out that the idea is sexist. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t realize that most men pay because most women expect it. Doesn’t make that expectation right or wrong, but that is largely the reason. I’d bet if women were more interested in taking men out on dates and paying while still maintaining interest in the man, more men would be being taken out instead of doing the taking.

    @258

    Rape may or may not be sexist to the extent that sexual preference may or not be sexist. If a mans rapes a woman and goes to jail, and while in jail proceeds to rape men, then while such behavior is abhorrent, it’s not sexist. If a man rapes women because of a deep seated hatred for women, then that is a sexist intent in rape.
    However, rape does not require sexist intent to be rape. Language does require context to be judged as sexist or not. The two are not the same thing.

  • D-train

    I’m still not sure what the problem is here. The history of a word is irrelevant to the argument. The only factor is it’s common *current* useage. To give a few examples of words that were once offensive but are now simply nonsense I present:
    Humbug, balderdash, and poppycock. These are words we can only determine the meaning of from context and the cute rare useage by the elderly. They have no current useage (except that one is a staple of a beloved Christmas story and another is now a snack food.

    To give examples of words that have current meaning nearly unrelated to their historical useage I present:
    Nigger, faggot and bitch.

    The first is currently used as a way to identify a member of an in group (“Carl Sagan is my nigger!”), or as someone involved in mindless/tedious manual labour (“I hate litter pick up, it’s nigger work”).

    The second is used to identify someone who is socially clueless and or inconsiderate of others ([guy cuts you off on freeway to work]-[you say to yourself] “fag.”)

    The third is used to identify a woman in a way in which you want to be profane or insulting based soley on the basis that you don’t like her (“Stupid bitch”). It has several other commonly accepted meanings as well, such as identifying any woman in a way you wish to be profane but not nessisarily insulting (“That bitch at the bus stop”/”I think this bitch at work likes me.”/etc.)

    Language changes over time and with any transitional word you can only understand its meaning in context. In the context given cited in the article the use of “bitch” was quite clearly simply used to identify the person being spoken about in a gender relative way. This argument would have arisen if he’d called her a stupid anything that identifies her as a woman.

    Now, in the instance of a word having only one common useage, for instance “fuck-wit”. The ability to redefine that word does not lie with the speaker or the listener. It lies with the community as a whole that uses that word.

    The entire argument for classifying “bitch” as a sexist word is built on a premise that ignores it’s frequent useage given the context, and is therefore invalid.

    If anybody feels the need to attack me based on my points here I feel I should give you some extra data. I’m 19, so there might be a generational gap in the common useage of the words I cited. I live in rural Canada, so perhaps my definitions of the word nigger might be regional (I’ve never seen it used in that context in mainstream media), and I’ve grown up in an environment where racial and gender equality have been basic assumptions, so to assume sexism or racism based on the use of a word alone is a pretty sparse argument.

  • Caiphen

    I haven’t had a chance to read all the comments so this may have been mentioned before.
    Considering the language most speak, the argument against the use of the word bitch is quite weak but very correct. If you want to stop it’s use then we need to tackle society’s foul language in general. Don’t you reckon? If atheists united were to try to implement a positive change like this, imagine how many more people would consider atheism. Using rationality alone doesn’t work on everyone. This is a fantastic opportunity for us. If we did this, societal stereotypes on atheists would start to break down as we tackle first the bad language, then another cause, then another.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    Caiphen
    Well good luck with that, but if the above thread has shown us anything it is that atheists can only be guaranteed to share their views on religion but rarely on anything else (you will have come across the herding cats analogy). I would be someone you would have to convince that foul language is necessarily a bad thing (I don’t mean that insulting people is good, just that foul language isn’t actually foul). Sometimes the only appropriate response is an epithet. If there is no word that will shock, it becomes impossible to shock and sometimes being shocked is a good thing.

    Take away the right to say “fuck” and you take away the right to say “fuck the government.”
    Lenny Bruce

  • Sarah Braasch

    Why does the phrase — atheists tackling the problem of obscenity — read like an oxymoron to me?

    I’m a huge fan of obscenity myself.

    Do you really think atheists fighting “the obscenity problem” is going to win hearts and minds?

    Was this a joke?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Chet, I agree with most of what you’ve said in this thread, but D offered you a sincere apology. The least you could do is accept it.

  • MissCherryPi

    Is there any indication that such attitudes cause people to rape, or simply that more rapists hold sexist attitudes? It also doesn’t examine actual patterns of rape, just when some men think it might be acceptable (when it isn’t).

    Here’s a correlation for you. In the United States, rape rates have gone done dramatically since the 1970′s.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/18/AR2006061800610.html

    At the same time, the number of women in high profile positions in politics, business etc. has increased as have beliefs about feminsim and women’s equality in the general population.

  • Caiphen

    Sarah

    ‘Was this a joke?’

    There was a little tongue in cheek, solely in the last 4 sentences. I have to say though, there is a language problem in western society. Saying bitch nowadays is nothing. To me it would be nice if language today wasn’t so bad but swearing does have a place though. Eg. When talking to creationists I just can’t help myself. Maybe when the bitch word was used in the thread, she just couldn’t help herself too.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Don’t worry about it, Ebon. What Chet did is better anyhow, because it absolves me of all feelings of guilt and prevents us from further risking our feelings in a non-adversarial relationship. Besides, re-reading Chet’s comments last night, I found that he actually did contribute significantly to the discussion – I was just reading it wrong because he only plays nice with people who already agree with him.

    Anyway, Chet’s made it clear that he’s not interested in helping or improving things, all he wants to do is pontificate upon his peerless rectitiude. That’s just so… rectal. Whatever, I’m over it, I have some very important coloring to do.

  • monkeymind

    #260 D Train – your idiolect is not the language. I agree that word meanings can be lost or completely replaced over time, but we’re not there yet with the words you mention.

  • Chet

    I was just reading it wrong because he only plays nice with people who already agree with him.

    I’m sorry, but I make no apologies for unabashedly defending my position or for vociferously opposing bigotry any time it’s presented to me. You say I pissed you off somehow, and then you were mad and gunning for me for an entire night, and then one hour later you’re sorry? I don’t think there’s anything sincere about your “apology”.

    But who gives a fuck? Like I said I’m just some asshole on the internet. My opinion of you can’t possibly matter, and we can never possibly know enough about each other to even be acquaintances.

    Mrnaglfar -

    I start with that suggestion because women can alter their behavior more than they can probably alter the behavior of would-be rapists.

    Why should women be expected to alter the behavior of would-be rapists? I’m saying rapists should be expected to alter their own behavior. But look how quickly you push the conversation back to women being expected to solve the “rape problem.” It literally never even occurs to you that anybody but women should be doing something about rape.

    I would also suggest that if women are concerned about getting raped that they not accept drinks from strange men, as they could be drugged.

    From which it follows that a woman who does accept a drink from a stranger – as there is enormous social pressure to do, or be called a “bitch” – is just “asking for it”, right? Is obviously not concerned about being raped?

    You really see sexism around all corners, don’t you? Are you seriously suggesting that friends have NO PLACE offering advice to other friends?

    There is an awful lot of sexism, that’s for sure. Especially in your posts. And no, I’m not saying that friends have no place advising their other friends. But sometimes, we should be skeptical about our reasons for offering advice. We should be skeptical about our need to play the wise mentor to someone else’s student, since that’s a power relationship. We should occasionally wonder if we’re really giving advice out of a genuine concern for the other’s well-being, or because they’re doing something we don’t like and we’re giving advice hand-in-hand with the threat of rape to control someone else’s behavior.

    There’s also nothing making men or women accept either offer.

    Well, but that’s the point – frequently there are things making women accept overtures that they’d rather not. Things like a power relationship, where she feels that her job or future is on the line. Things like a man physically intimidating you and angrily calling you a “bitch” to your face because you didn’t want to go on a date. Or things like the veiled threat of rape, used to justify a “protection” that’s really a kind of stifling prison.

    It’s all sexist. I don’t think you have to be a woman to notice, but your eyes have to be open – not closed by the assumption that something that has never happened to you can’t be happening to other people.

  • monkeymind

    Caiphen – “Considering the language most speak, “, also D-train’s comment.

    I have to think there’s a generation gap issue here and that most of the people who think bitch isn’t a sexist word are under 30. Am I right?

    One thing I’ve learned from doing my google language corpus research for this thread is that “bitch” is being used quite often as an insult for men, that young people use it freguently, indiscrimminately and non-reflectively, and that it can be a positive term in the right context. Probably the strongest trend is for it to be used as an insult for weak men, followed by the trend to redefine as a positive term for a strong woman. In my book, these trends make the sexual politics of the word even more complex than before. A man calling a woman a “bitch”, expecially a “stupid bitch” will still look like a sexist trying to undermine a woman’s authority just because she is a woman.

    Bottom line is that older people should learn that a younger person could use the word without intendingto be sexist, but that young people should realize that it will be seen that way outside their peer group.

  • jemand

    “I’d bet if women were more interested in taking men out on dates and paying while still maintaining interest in the man, more men would be being taken out instead of doing the taking.”

    Your attitude that women will dump men who wish to relate to them in an equitable fashion is feeding rape culture. These attitudes are very similar to those that rapists use to justify their behavior, and you are providing cover for them, and simultaneously offering “rape reduction” advice that does no good and distracts from the *real* problems and causes of rape.

    Furthermore, if you look at the research, you will find that date rapes are usually carried out by a small but significant minority of the male population that rapes repeatedly– each time finding a vulnerable woman. Your advice is just to a *particular* woman to be marginally less vulnerable. It’s like the guy who’s not trying to outrun the bear, just his companion. There are thousands of women more vulnerable for things that they can’t *possibly* control, a dysfunctional childhood, low socioeconomic status, childhood abuse, mental disability, being from a minority racial group, physical disability, etc. Unless the behavior of the MEN who rape can be altered, rape will continue. Your “advice” does nothing to stop rape and everything to distract from the real things that COULD help stop rape. Like not assuming women are mostly out to use men for their money and would dump them otherwise, and promoting that assumption.

  • monkeymind

    Mrnaglfar – how many times has a stranger asked you to smile and then called you a bitch when you ignored her?

    Also,here are some Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    You know Chet. We live in a world where women are genitally mutilated, forced into Burkha, forbidden to drive, and stoned for adultery all in the name of religion. You want to get really riled up about sexism? Contemplate on that. Or maybe talk to Sarah Braasch about her work with Ni Putes, Ni Soumises. Sure sexism still abounds in the west, but as a society we’re on it and what is left is really just the stubborn arse end of it. It doesn’t help anyone to see sexism in every male/female interaction as you seem to.

    A little anecdote for you: In the early eighties I lived in London. On a crowded tube (subway) train I offered my seat to a woman with a heavy rucksack and was immediately berated for my “sexist” behaviour. Not by the woman herself, who seemed grateful enough, but by an obviously commited but over-zealous feminist sitting across the aisle. Apparently I was “scum” for assuming a “mere woman” couldn’t stand up with a rucksack.

    Now, what do you think that episode did for my opinion of feminism? Looking for mal-intent or even unconcious sexism in innocuous things like opening doors, walking friends home or whatever is crazy and wins over nobody.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    My opinion of you can’t possibly matter, and we can never possibly know enough about each other to even be acquaintances.
    – Chet (#269)

    Well, not with that attitude, we can’t. Does that go for any two people on the internet? I guess I’m not really friends with anyone here, then; we just act like we know and care about each other, but we couldn’t actually mean it or anything. Man, and here I thought “making friends” just meant “being friendly.” Silly me.

    You say I pissed you off somehow, and then you were mad and gunning for me for an entire night, and then one hour later you’re sorry? I don’t think there’s anything sincere about your “apology”.
    – Ibid.

    ‘Cuz it takes at least two hours to recognize that one has done something wrong, otherwise it doesn’t count.

    Seriously, I can understand your suspicion, but the fact is that I spent that time reading what you wrote and realizing that you actually made some very good points, so I thought I should acknowledge that I was out of line, as part of the mutual concession give-and-take that makes for good faith dialogue. But it backfired. Darn. I still feel bad for mischaracterizing your position, but that’s fading every time you snap at me, so… thanks? Perhaps you’re a friend in disguise… we can be super-secret BFFs, with secret handshakes an’ codewords an’ everything!

    Of course, you could just be a troll who cares more about making points than influencing people with those points, because trolls care more about arguing itself than the people involved in the arguments, because trolls just like to hear themselves talk since they already have all the answers. And as long as you argue correctly and never back down when you know you’re right, everything else is fungible, yeah? I’ll bet your favorite parts of The Big Lebowski were when Walter would shout, “Am I wrong?!”

    Trolls also have a hard time making friends over the internet, because the water under the bridge is all they ever think about.

    @ monkeymind: That link was awesome, thanks for sharing!

  • jemand

    @Steve, it’s a legitimate disagreement within the feminist community whether one should attack the *worst* abuses first, or the *closest* abuses to you. And furthermore, if we manage to create a *truly* nonsexist society anywhere, without even the “little things,” it will be an example to the rest of the world. (if there was a skinny guy with a huge backpack beside the woman on that train, and you never considered giving your seat to him, I suppose that was sexist. Otherwise people without heavy things should let people with heavy things sit down, it’s just polite.)

    Furthermore, I think it’s kinda silly to try to say any sexism should get a pass just because there’s worse sexism out there. By THAT metric, I dunno, we shouldn’t worry about date rape in the US because there are honor killings in Jordan. So let’s not go down that road.

  • jemand

    oh and BTW, I don’t think chet is a troll, nor do I think he wants to be best buds with anyone here, and can we stop snipping amongst ourselves on that topic? It’s not really helpful. Just let it drop PLEASE.

  • monkeymind

    Steve, maybe it’s true – maybe feminism is just an excuse for people to be mean to you.

    But consider for a moment that maybe those mean feminists might have something to do with the fact that genital mutilation is seen as mutilation.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    Steve, maybe it’s true – maybe feminism is just an excuse for people to be mean to you.

    No I don’t think so, but then “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

    Seriously though, sometime things really just aren’t sexist. Just in the eye of the beholder.

    Oh and I think I would have offered my seat to the skinny guy too, and let him be the sexist. :)

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    @ jemand (#275): The problem about prioritizing is that something gets put to page two, and then someone’s going to say that it ought to be on page one, and things get derailed. The trick is to figure out how to maximize simultaneous progress on all fronts, rather than thinking that one approach should be used to the exclusion or marginalization of another (it’s just a shift in emphasis/perspective, but those make such a big difference sometimes!). And the problem with setting an example is that there’s no such thing as perfect, only less wrong. While we may be able to minimize institutionalized bias to such a degree that it’s negligible, there will always be de facto norms and customs, and those norms and customs will themselves constitute a bias.

    Now that I think about it, though, we might be able to eliminate sexism altogether by simply doing away with distinct sexes, e.g. if everyone were magically fertile hermaphrodites. But apart from that, it looks like every difference between people will cause people to think in terms of those differences, and some people will make value judgments about and between those differences rather than valuing all the differences equally.

    @ monkeymind: It’s more complicated than that. Some individuals use inequality as an excuse to take revenge. And that does socially lower all members of the opposition to that inequality. I think the important thing for Steve is whether he decides to hastily generalize all such opposition as mere vengeance-seeking, or join the opposition while simultaneously decrying abuses of that position (which is harder because it runs the risk of being hastily generalized for opposing your own position simply because you’re criticizing some abuses of that position).

    There are plenty of bad ideas out there that deserve criticism. But when we criticize them, we shouldn’t do it in a way that cedes the moral high ground, or that insults or alienates people whose sympathies were already with us. Nor should we tolerate others who do these things. Even the gentlest declaration of atheism is going to anger many irrational people, which is unavoidable and is no reason for us not to speak out. But we shouldn’t compound that offense unnecessarily if we want atheism as a movement to flourish and succeed.
    – Ebonmuse, OP

    QFT. We all fuck up from time to time, and that won’t stop until you die; the key is in recognizing it and admitting it when it happens, and then trying to be a little less wrong.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Dammit, that makes it sound like it’s an open question. It’s obvious to me that Steve is trying to do the right and thoughtful thing, I was just using him as an example because he raised the point that there are some people who want to get even instead of make things better.

  • jemand

    @D, oh, my point about prioritization was that those who prioritize one way, should work on that list, and those that prioritize another way should work on THAT list and they shouldn’t undermine each other by infighting, as that will reduce the effectiveness of BOTH of them. And then everything gets done, too, though maybe slower than some people would like because resources are more spread out. But as long as someone’s work is on your list of priorities *somewhere* I’d say don’t spend to many resources trying to get them to stop working on that and start working on your favorite project.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Oh, then we agree completely! Awesome! I guess I’m just so used to seeing false dichotomies that I thought you must have been advocating for one. My bad.

  • monkeymind

    D (and Steve):

    Yes, I’ll reconsider my snark. I personally am frustrated that people seem to be universalizing from personal experience, e.g. the way me and my friends use a word is its “current definition”, people who talk about patriarchy are sexist because they won’t buy me dinner, etc.

    Steve: re: the skinny guy w. backpack on the train – I would have at least thought about offering him my seat, but issues of masculine pride can be pretty hard to parse, too.

  • Entomologista

    You know, I think this has actually been an interesting, productive discussion. Arguing with my fellow atheists is so much more rewarding than arguing with other people.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    Steve: re: the skinny guy w. backpack on the train – I would have at least thought about offering him my seat, but issues of masculine pride can be pretty hard to parse, too.

    Yes, and if I had offered the skinny man the seat (please remember there wasn’t actually a skinny man, although I have a horrible feeling 30 years from now I’ll remember there was) and his masculine pride, predictably made him offer it in turn to the woman, would I be sexist by proxy?

  • D-train

    @ #268 (monkeymind)

    Please don’t call me an idiot. That word has an offensive history.

    Also, with concern to your argument that we aren’t there yet with the words I cited, I will concede that we may perhaps not be there with “nigger” (after thinking about it, I can’t think of it having ever been used outside my particular region and age group with the meaning I gave).

    However, the definitions of “faggot” and “bitch” I gave are in fact common uses of the words. I never said that they couldn’t still be used with their original meaning, but that they are words in transition. And for any word in transition the only way to discern it’s meaning is in context. The context given in the OP was fairly clearly not a derogatory slur against all women, but a derogatory slur against *this* woman. The use of the word “bitch” was intended and I’m sure understood by many to mean that he was identifying her in specific.

    The only point I was making was that a lot of people seem to be insisting that his mere use of the word denotes him as sexist when I’m almost certain he is not. These are serious accusations to make of a person and should not be taken lightly. I just don’t think we really need a sexism witch hunt.

  • monkeymind

    D-train – Look up the word “idiolect”.

    Honestly, there are tools, other than introspection, for studying how language works.

  • D-train

    You’re quite right about the word “idiolect” I apologize for taking pseudo-offence. The only explanation I can give is that I am on my cell phone and am thus limited to one page at a time. I chose to go with my gut instinct on that one, obviously a mistake.

    However I can assume from your silence on the matter that you have no problem with my defense of the mans language?

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    The only point I was making was that a lot of people seem to be insisting that his mere use of the word denotes him as sexist when I’m almost certain he is not. These are serious accusations to make of a person and should not be taken lightly. I just don’t think we really need a sexism witch hunt.
    – D-train, #286

    You are correct that merely using the word “bitch” does not mean that the speaker believes that women are inferior to men. But this is beside the point, which is that the taboo exists. While it’s OK to defy the taboo in certain contexts, and other contexts may lack it entirely, it looks really bad to respond to, “That’s taboo,” with, “It shouldn’t be.”

    Violating social taboos is like walking right into somebody on the street: it’s not harmful per se, and you might not have meant to do it, but the socially appropriate thing to do is to apologize and get on with your day. Imagine that your friend bumped into someone and you say, “You should say you’re sorry,” and your friend says, “That person shouldn’t be bothered by being bumped into.” True, it happens all the time, and getting butt-hurt over it is pointless – but it’s still rude to refuse to acknowledge that you violated someone else’s personal space. And if someone demands an unreasonable amount of personal space, picking on them will make you look like a real shit; you should instead simply avoid that person.

    You know, I think this has actually been an interesting, productive discussion.
    – Entomologista, #284

    I second that! I got my mind changed and everything!

    @ monkeymind (#283): It’s cool, these things get really complicated (as you and others have noted). There’s often no telling what’s going to rub someone the wrong way. A lot of it comes down to simply respecting comfort zones, finding ways to get along without always getting your way.

  • monkeymind

    D-train – what D. said. The conversation was about whether epithets can be sexist, not whether anyone is a sexist. “Bitch” is a word that still has sexist connotations, and that’s just a fact about the English language.

  • monkeymind

    And to refine what you said D – I don’t think it is about “taboo” or obscenity per se, either. It’s about being in control of your language use. If you don’t want to use words in ways that make you look like a sexist, find other ways to express yourself, whether you choose to use obscenities or not. If you really care about not being a sexist, you’ll be able to take on board new information about the topic and do some self-reflection without defaulting to a defensive position.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    “Bitch” is a word that still has sexist connotations, and that’s just a fact about the English language.

    [sings] This thread is a circle, without a beginning and nobody knows where it really ends. It all depends on where you are in the circle that’s spinning around, half of the time you are upside down [/sings]

    shuffles off to buffalo stage left trying to remember what song he’s parodying

  • monkeymind

    Steve- I said connotations, not denotation. And I took it as assumed that we are talking about the use of the word as a personal epithet, not the meanings “female dog” or a “difficult or unpleasant thing”.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    It sounds like the Grateful Dead, and that can’t be good.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    Sorry Monkeymind. I’m halfway down a bottle of merlot and didn’t have the self control not to post the first drivel that came into my head. You have to admit though we’re covering the same script but with different actors.
    For what it’s worth, I’m still pondering some of D’s comments and I a have a horrible feeling her conversion may be justified. I’m just wondering how reductio absurdum the argument can get. I’d kind of like a response to my sexism by proxy crack ‘cos it wasn’t entirely fascile.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Well, I for one haven’t faltered. I stand by my views. I refuse to be converted. Even by Ebon himself.

    But, I have to go work on something. I just want to push the thread over 300. Is that a record?

  • monkeymind

    Re song: I’m thinking Judy Collins.

    Re: sexism by proxy: could you possibly be overthinking? You can offer your seat to whomever you would like. What would be sexist is if you called a woman “a bitch” for not gratefully accepting your offer.

  • monkeymind

    Converted? to what? to the idea that language isn’t your bitch? (figurative use of the alternate meaning of bitch meaning a submissive person, usually male, from prison slang.)

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    Sarah I’ll add one more not that this thread needs the help.

    I’m curious though. If you were to sum up this thread, what would be your conclusion? some of this is subtle which is why a lot of people who probably broadly agree are sniping at each other. I ask you only because I know you work with these issues daily. Others here may be as well qualified but if they are I’m not aware.

  • Sarah Braasch

    This is my, and only my, opinion. I am scared that if I open the box, Pandora will come out.

    I have to be honest — when it comes to freedom of expression — I approach the issue more as a first amendment lawyer than I do a feminist women’s rights activist. Thus, the reason why my views part company with many of the feminists on board here. I am ferocious and intractable when it comes to defending freedom of speech.

    Ok, here it is: I think we determined that we want a free and open public discourse in a marketplace of ideas — and all of the haters and assholes get to join in too — BUT we are free to chastise and mock and condemn the use of any language we deem to be sexist, racist, or otherwise.

    I think we also determined that language can be sexist in and of itself, but that it can also be misinterpreted as such.

    It’s a complex and thorny issue, because language constantly evolves, as does culture, and as do we.

    The best thing is to keep the communication flowing without restrictions.

    I can hear Pandora know. Good night. I’m outta here before she shows up.

    Yay! 300

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    Re: sexism by proxy: could you possibly be overthinking?

    I should be so lucky :)

    You can offer your seat to whomever you would like. What would be sexist is if you called a woman “a bitch” for not gratefully accepting your offer.

    Absolutely, but remember the context of my anecdote. I was accused of being sexist by a third party for doing what came naturally to me at the time. Now let’s assume it is reasonable that I actually was being sexist for assuming this woman was more in need of a seat than me and lets paint in the hypothetical skinny man. So, as athought experiment, it is not thirty years ago, it is tomorrow and my experience on this thread has made me hyper aware of causing sexist offense. Same situation, same woman + Mr Skinny. I won’t offer the seat to the woman because I know I’m perceived a sexist if I do. I don’t offer the seat to the man because I suspect I may offend his sensibilities. So I get out of my seat, gesture vaguely at both of them, pretty secure in knowledge that Mr Skinny will give the seat to the woman, although I don’t really care which of them has it. Am I behaving in a sexist way?

    It’s not a trivial question because the thrust of the arguments from Chet and to some extent Jemand is that sexist behaviour is sexist behaviour no matter how far removed emotionally or intellectually the actor is from the act. It’s interesting philosophy but how do we apply that rule in the real world ?

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    Sarah – congratulations on 300!
    I am pleased to say that I agree with Sarah’s last commment 100%. Which is not to imply she is in agreement with anything I’ve said. Complex and thorny? hell yeah!

  • jemand

    @Steve, ok, no merlot here but I am getting kind of random– socially, it’s true that smiling at people in general *is* going to make a good number of them smile back. So if you go around smiling at everyone you meet at the bus and train, you’re going to see a lot of smiles. That’s general nice behavior and makes the world a happier place even if you are happier to see women smile back than men. Going around authoritatively telling attractive women “Smile!” in a demanding tone is sexist and yet is done, and if the woman doesn’t comply, some will call her a bitch.

    So by just a social action thing, getting out of your seat and rustling about and waving at two heavy laden people has a nonzero likelihood of getting another non-laden person to *also* get up, so the people carrying heavy things both get to sit. So your action is nice and contributes to a happier society even if prior to it you had a debate about sexism and whether it was sexist 20 years ago or if thinking about whether or not something is sexist is making you behave with respect to sex when you wouldn’t have otherwise and blah, blah, etc overthinking, and now maybe I DO need a drink…

  • monkeymind

    Steve, I don’t know about Chet or Jemand, but it’s not that a person’s intent doesn’t matter – it’s just that we don’t always say what we intend. If someone points out that something you said is hostile to a group that you don’t want to be hostile to, it might be better to listen to what they have to say rather than insisting that you know the word is benign, based on no evidence outside your gut feeling. That’s it.

    Consider also the possibility that the woman on the bus was just some woman on a bus, and not feminism incarnate. Sometimes our good deeds are punished, that’s just the way the world is.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    Jemand, I’d offer you a drink but just got to the bottom of the bottle.

    I think you just proved my point though. There must be a threshhold where perception of sexism and the real intention of sexism overlap and somewhere in that muggy hinterland someone has to have the benefit of the doubt. My natural inclination is to assume most people have good intention. That’s not wishful thinking, we have evolved as a cooperative species, our ethics are cooperation friendly and we don’t in general benefit ourselves by deliberately offending random strangers.

  • Mrnaglfar

    @265

    That’s a correlation. To the best of my knowledge there’s also a correlation between the availability of pornography and rape. It’s a negative one, last I heard. I’ll bet you could find all sorts of correlations. If you want to try and find causality, you need more than that.

    @269

    Why should women be expected to alter the behavior of would-be rapists? I’m saying rapists should be expected to alter their own behavior. But look how quickly you push the conversation back to women being expected to solve the “rape problem.” It literally never even occurs to you that anybody but women should be doing something about rape.

    Rapists should alter their behavior. I’m with you there. I know that you have no issue making wild assertions based on no evidence, so this is expected. Are you trying to honestly tell me what may or may not have occurred to me?
    I never said I ‘expect’ women to alter their behavior. I merely suggested that if they wanted to minimize the chances of getting raped, it’s probably a good idea to be wary of certain situations. If you’re trying to say that women should not even pay risky contexts any mind because being raped is not their (which it isn’t), you may end up exposing more women to the risk of being raped. Think carefully about which is worse.

    From which it follows that a woman who does accept a drink from a stranger – as there is enormous social pressure to do, or be called a “bitch” – is just “asking for it”, right? Is obviously not concerned about being raped?

    The only that that follows, judging from this response, is that you’re being intentionally dense. It’s one thing to make silly arguments about how “bitch” is an inherently sexist word (which it isn’t). It’s another to assert that I endorse rape, or that it “logically follows” from my position. Quit being a moron.

    You never answered my point regarding how having a right to deny someone the consideration of sex because of their gender makes it not sexist to do so. I assume because you have no argument against that.

    You’re not arguing in good faith. You’re just trying to take offense at the sexism you seem to see everywhere. You seem to have a bias you should examine.

    @271

    Your attitude that women will dump men who wish to relate to them in an equitable fashion is feeding rape culture.

    That isn’t the point I’m raising. That is simply the attitude most women express. Many women want men willing to invest in them. Not all, but most. The extent varies across women and context. But believe me, men aren’t dying to pay. It might be one way men hope to impress women, but if women were indifferent to the idea, most men would be right on board on letting a woman front half the bill. Not all, but most. Of course, women could also propose to men. It happens, but rarely. You may want to begin by examining the likely reasons that these patterns develop. Once you have a handle on why they exist, you can get a better grasp on how to react to them and how to change them if you see fit.

    I also don’t think there is an established ‘rape culture’, and were their one, I highly doubt rapists would insist on paying for a date. They’re probably skip the date part altogether and just attempt to rape the girl.

    Like not assuming women are mostly out to use men for their money and would dump them otherwise, and promoting that assumption.

    Where do you find this assumption in my writing? Do all women do this? No. Do some women do it? Yes. Did I say most? Never. You need to respond to what I write, not what you think I wrote.

    @272

    how many times has a stranger asked you to smile and then called you a bitch when you ignored her?

    None have ever asked that of me in the first place.

  • monkeymind

    Mrnaglfar – you mean total strangers don’t feel free to loudly comment on your bodily dimensions, clothing, facial expression, and laugh and jeer at you if you object? Amazing!

  • Mrnaglfar

    @307

    You draw some odd conclusions from the fact that strange women haven’t approached me and asked me to smile.

    When did I say anything that would lead you to your conclusions? Comments have been made, positive and negative, about all of those things, by men and by women.

  • jemand

    Jemand: “Your attitude that women will dump men who wish to relate to them in an equitable fashion is feeding rape culture.”

    Mrnaglfar: “That is simply the attitude most women express. Many women want men willing to invest in them. Not all, but most.”

    Jemand: “Like not assuming women are mostly out to use men for their money and would dump them otherwise, and promoting that assumption.”

    Mrnaglfar: “Where do you find this assumption in my writing? Do all women do this? No. Do some women do it? Yes. Did I say most? Never.”

    I dunno Mrnaglfar, where the hell could I POSSIBLY have gotten the idea you say most women want men to pay for them?

    And for the LAST time, you are so off base here it’s unbelievable: “I highly doubt rapists would insist on paying for a date. They’re probably skip the date part altogether and just attempt to rape the girl.”

    As has been REPEATEDLY pointed out on this VERY thread, date rape is WAY WAY more common than stranger rape. Most rapists, in fact DO take their victims out on a date before they rape them. Furthermore, rape is about control, and stubbornly insisting on paying for a date is ALSO all about control. It’s a HUGE red flag that you are dealing with someone dangerous– someone who is more likely to rape than a stranger in the night. You have been told over and over and been shown statistics again and again to show that rapists don’t want to think of themselves as rapists, and raping a date is both easier in convenience and to justify to themselves, PLUS there are people like you who conveniently don’t think that’s how rape operates. Thus, they are less likely to be punished. MOST RAPES are date rapes. You repeatedly REFUSE to acknowledge this BECAUSE you are part of rape culture. That’s also why you don’t see rape culture.

    P.S, you are the only one on this entire thread who I honestly believe is arguing in bad faith. Your repeated retreat to tropes on rape, refusing to face the real facts about it, make it *very* hard to believe you are arguing in good faith.

  • monkeymind

    Mrnfalgar:

    You never answered my point regarding how having a right to deny someone the consideration of sex because of their gender makes it not sexist to do so.

    I know you consider this some kind of reduction ad absurdum for the very idea of sexism, but it’s not. It’s like saying it’s sexist to not give women prostate exams.
    I refuse to engage with you anymore. You’re not making serious arguments, or bringing anything new to the table. All your weighty pronouncements are based on n=1 as far as I can see. For instance, it’s just not true that as a general rule men are expected to pay for dates all the time anymore. Maybe it’s still expected for the first date, but it’s not de rigeur after that, and a quick google of current dating advice bears me out.

  • Mrnaglfar

    @309

    emand: “Your attitude that women will dump men who wish to relate to them in an equitable fashion is feeding rape culture.”

    That’s not my attitude. Glad we cleared that up.

    where the hell could I POSSIBLY have gotten the idea you say most women want men to pay for them?

    This is my attitude. It is not one just pulled out of mid-air. These are attitudes women express the world over. Why do you suppose men typically end up paying? It’s not something they relish the thought of. We don’t dream of dropping money on women so we can control where to go out to eat with a sinister intent. If a man really wanted to control a woman, or another man for that instance, why not make them pay as well?
    I guarantee you if women wanted to pay, they could. They could insist, as part of the agreement for going out, that they be allowed to pay for what they order, or even the whole thing if they wanted. What’s stopping them?

    Furthermore, rape is about control

    Rape is predominately about sex. The extent which control is involved varies from context, but the control is incidental to the goal of sex.

    You have been told over and over and been shown statistics again and again to show that rapists don’t want to think of themselves as rapists, and raping a date is both easier in convenience and to justify to themselves, PLUS there are people like you who conveniently don’t think that’s how rape operates.

    So they don’t think of themselves as rapists. I said that shouldn’t matter. Even if paying makes it easier for them to justify to their stupid little selves, it still doesn’t justify it. Ever. I’m not condoning rape

    Do not presume to tell me what my own views are. You keep doing it, and it needs to stop.

    Most rapists, in fact DO take their victims out on a date before they rape them.

    And most murderers know their victim. All that means is that rapists rarely rape at random. They (generally males) target women (or their preferred gender) specifically. I’ll bet most men who take others out on dates are also not rapists, nor will they ever be. I don’t think they justify the abhorrent behavior of others through trying to impress a date (who does want to be impressed).

    You repeatedly REFUSE to acknowledge this BECAUSE you are part of rape culture. That’s also why you don’t see rape culture.

    Do tell me, what is my role in ‘rape culture’ and what exactly is ‘rape culture’? I’d sure like to know more things about myself you seem to be so astute at noticing, given your past track record of being so on point about my views.

  • Mrnaglfar

    @310

    I know you consider this some kind of reduction ad absurdum for the very idea of sexism, but it’s not. It’s like saying it’s sexist to not give women prostate exams.

    Discrimination based on gender isn’t sexist? That’s news to me. How about having different sporting teams for men and women? That sounds pretty sexist.

    What this seems to be about is the idea that any and all discrimination based on gender is wrong. I agree that a great deal, most, nearly all of it is wrong. But there are some cases where people are perfectly happy to discriminate against people based on gender. Sports is one instance. Sexual preference is another. We rarely (don’t) identify those as being “sexist” even though they fit the definition of discrimination based on gender.

    I would hazard a guess because that might introduce the idea of sexism that you yourself may engage in from time to time. It might make some forms of sexism sound more ‘acceptable’. We don’t want to think of ourselves as sexist and we don’t want to accept sexism. Believe me, neither you nor I want that to be the case. We want to reserve the term sexist/m for truly harmful behaviors and attitudes. We want that word to really mean something. We don’t want it to become something just thrown around at all attitudes (or words) we don’t like. This is why I’m so insistent on the clause involving a conscious intent before we label something sexist.

    I’ll fight against sexism, but I will also fight against inappropriate charges of sexism.

  • monkeymind

    Oh for fuck’s sake, Mrnagifar. It’s simply a fact that the word bitch is and has been used to denigrate behavior (assertiveness, authority, sexual aggressiveness or sexual unavailability) that would not be denigrated in a man. Conversely, and confusingly for people who cannot hold two thoughts in their head at the same time, it’s increasingly used to denigrate behavior in a man (weakness, submissiveness) that would not be considered unacceptable in a woman. It’a a potentially hurtful word* for both men and women.
    It’s a sexist word because it slaps them back into traditional gender roles.

    Do the fucking research.

    This isn’t about seeing sexism around every corner. It’s not about banning words, but about using language more effectively. Did you actually read Ophelia’s comment? All she did was suggest it might be better to find other ways of disagreeing with a woman than calling her a stupid bitch. That’s it. Is that worth a flame war?

    It’s you who is trivializing the concept of sexism by saying sexual preference is tantamount to sexism.

    And now, I really am not going to respond anymore, I don’t think I can put it any clearer.

    * when used in this sense (not the other senses of a difficult thing or a female dog, for all you pedants out there)

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    @ Mrnaglfar (#306): You mentioned the inverse correlation between the availability of porn and the occurrence of rape. I just thought about what would happen if prostitution were legalized – all of a sudden, one can just go find a prostitute one likes and pay for what you want to do. Amazing how things clear up when you communicate your expectations.

    Anyway, I think the “bottom-line” sort of pragmatic reality you’re failing to grasp is that a lot of people (some of whom I bet you respect) will think you’re a shit-head if you insist upon exercising your free speech to use language that others would prefer you not use in certain ways. I know, I know, it’s viciously arbitrary and it means that you’ll sometimes have to refrain from doing what you’d like to do for what seems like no good reason. I feel the same way every time I want to say something outlandish when my grandma’s visiting, and yet I can’t even mention that it grosses me out when she chews with her mouth open at the dinner table. Boy, those double-standards are killers!

    Point is, one of these days, you’re going to have a conversation like this:

    Your friend: Hey, uh, do you think you could not say that?
    You: What? Why not? I got free speech, right?
    Your friend: Yeah, you do; but I’d still prefer you didn’t say that.
    You: Well, what the fuck, man? Why you gotta make me censor myself?
    Your friend: Censorship is the institutionalized banning and punishment of certain words or ideas. I’m not trying to ban anything and I’m not threatening you with punishment. I’m politely asking you to please not say that word around me. I don’t think this is that big of a deal.
    You: But if it’s not a big deal, why don’t you just change your attitude instead of asking me to change my speech?
    Your friend: Because it really bothers me, and I thought that you – my friend – would maybe be a little more thoughtful about my feelings.
    You: I do care about your feelings, though.
    Your friend: Just not the ones that actually require you to do anything differently, ever.
    You: Hey, I never said that!
    Your friend: Then what’s the problem?
    You: You’re the one who’s bothered here – what’s your problem?
    Your friend: That you’re refusing to do this one thing differently, even though I’ve asked you politely.
    You: But you still haven’t given me an objective reason not to do it, you’ve only told me that it hurts your precious fucking feelings.
    Your friend: Yeah, I thought that meant something to you. Fine. Fuck you, I’m outta here. Have fun, asshole.
    You: You’re the asshole here! Yeah! That’s right! You walk away, asshole! Yeah! I sure showed that asshole what’s what, right guys? …guys?

    Does the conversation really have to go all the way to “fuck you?”

    Also, in #311, you said, “Rape is predominately [sic] about sex. The extent which control is involved varies from context [sic], but the control is incidental to the goal of sex.” You have it precisely backwards; get thee to an educationery:

    There were no rapes in which sex was the dominant issue; sexuality was always in the service of other, nonsexual needs.

    Either you have been misinformed, or you jumped to an intuitively obvious conclusion that happened to be dead fucking wrong.

  • Mrnaglfar

    @314

    Believe you me, I have done plenty of research into rape. I’m sitting next to stacks of research articles about it. Actually planning on examining facets of it which have never before been examined. I could recommend tons of interesting articles if you’re so interested. The prevailing notion that “rape isn’t about sex, it’s about violence” should have been discarded long ago. Why people have so much of an issue understanding that rape, non-consensual sex, may be tied to sexual motivation is beyond me, quite frankly.

    As for the use of language, I actually have had discussions almost just like that before. In one case, a female friend of mine asked me to not call her a bitch, since her boyfriend was just yelling at her over the phone (a fact I wasn’t privy to at the time). While I used the term playfully, he didn’t. I apologized to her and haven’t caller her one since. She never told me I shouldn’t use the term, or that it was sexist, or that I was sexist for saying it. She just asked not to be called one (not even jokingly) and I agreed.

    I still use the term playfully with my friends to joke with. I did even when she was around. Sometimes to express complaining/a complainer. Sometimes I use it ironically with sexist overtones as a joke. Sometimes I just mindlessly use it to express frustration. I laugh when I see other people using it in such a fashion.
    When I don’t laugh is when someone lets on that they actually believe one sex is better than another, or one should be barred from certain activities. When it goes beyond comedy into seriousness. However, what bothers me there is not the language they use but the views they hold.

    I don’t believe the language is capable of being inherently sexist. When it comes to sexism, language is only sexist insomuch as it reveals (conscious) endorsements of sexism.

    That said, I believe you to be one of the most sensible people in this debate. I enjoyed very much what you had to offer.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    I’m sitting next to stacks of research articles about it.

    Really? Cool! If my shit’s outdated, then I wanna know about it. Can you name or link some of those articles so that I can read them for myself?

    I still use the term playfully with my friends to joke with.

    That’s perfectly fine (really, I’m the same way), so long as that’s part of your comfort level with those friends. What seems to get to people is the assumption that one has such a degree of familiarity when in fact one does not; taking that for granted is a faux pas. I also share your view that ideas make a person sexist, but language is not inherently sexist all by itself – however, I’d like to draw attention again to the sexismB/sexismP distinction above (all the way back at 185). You’re missing the P part, when that’s like the only thing people are saying is a problem with non-sexistsB using the loaded language. This is what I mean when I say people are talking past each other: one group says, “That’s sexistP,” and the other replies, “Is so not sexistB!” The two different senses of the same word are causing confusion.

  • Mrnaglfar

    @316

    There is plenty of interesting work, but in the hopes of not giving out a ton of papers I’ll focus on some of the most relevant work.

    Obviously, there’s A Natural History of Rape by Thornhill and Palmer. To supplement that book, I’d recommend articles by both authors (they disagree with each others views), though I do tend to side with Palmer on the issue so far:

    -Is rape a cultural universal? A Re-examination of the ethnographic data – Palmer

    -Twelve reasons why rape is not sexually motivated: A skeptical examation – Palmer

    -Rape in nonhuman animal species: definitions, evidence, and implications- Palmer

    Thornhill and Thornhill also did a series of 4 articles examining Psychological pain following rape. I only have two sitting on my desk (which I’m in the process of reading), but I’d recommend them as well. An Evolutionary analysis of the psychological pain following Rape is the title they’re under.
    Other articles deal with a number of other facets about rape:

    These articles are unrelated to the topic at hand, but interesting none-the-less, so I enjoy sharing them.

    Gottschall and Gottschall. Human Nature, Vol 14. 2003 p.1-20
    – This article is one of the launching points for my research into semen chemistry. It regards pregnancy rates from rape.

    Petralia and Gallup. Evolution and human behavior, Vol. 23, 2003, p.3-10
    – This articles regards handgrip strength changes in women in response to rape scenarios across the menstrual cycle.

  • Polly

    @D,

    Does the conversation really have to go all the way to “fuck you?”

    Off topic. A conversation like that really did happen to a guy I know. It wasn’t about sexism (hence, off-topic).

    The guy I know was the offender in this case. He was told repeatedly by a friend of his to stop saying something – it was like a nickname or something – and the dumbass guy didn’t get it. The friend told him seriously that he really didn’t want to hear it anymore.
    To make a long story short: The guy lost a friend. Over his stubborn insistence on using a word.

    Mystifying.

    I’m not saying anyone here is doing that. I was just reminded of that by your little example dialogue(#314). [These post numbers are GREAT!] Anyway, carry on.

  • monkeymind

    What I still find amazing and a little frustrating is that so many people are content not to explore the large, interesting, and complex territory outside “words have no inherent meanings, so they mean whatever I want them to mean.” Why not look for some evidence, other than your own personal gut feelings, about the meaning of your words? Semantics doesn’t mean just “pointless dithering about word meanings” it’s a branch of the science of linguistics.

    The strongest evidence that the word bitch is (among other things) a sexist slur is the fact that feminists feel the need to reclaim it as a positive term for an assertive, powerful woman. Only slurs need to be reclaimed in this way.

    And as for the folks who claim to be such poor speakers of English that they can’t differentiate when a word is being used as a slur, consider this. The reclamation of the word “queer” has been hugely successful. Yet of these 2 sentences:

    1. Andrew Sullivan is a stupid queer.

    2. Andrew Sullivan does not speak for the queer community

    No one here would have the slightest difficulty identifying 1. as a homophobic slur.
    But my hope that restating this for the nth time will get anyone to see the point is probably in vain.

    Finally D. in #316:

    What seems to get to people is the assumption that one has such a degree of familiarity when in fact one does not

    That’s a very good point. Lots of languages have a familiar and respectful forms of “you”. Using the respectful form with intimates sounds cold and distant, using the familiar form with people you don’t know well can be very insulting. English doesn’t have that formal marker, but most English speakers are perfectly able to negotiate varying levels of discourse and understand that certain words can be used one way in an intimate context and another way in a more public forum. That is, they understand the rules implicitly but cannot talk about them explicitly in a meaningful way.

  • Moondog

    I’ve been a regular reader here for a long time, and I feel kind of bad that this is my first post. But, I just have to toss in my support and say that after reading 98% of the posts in this thread, I find myself agreeing mostly with Steve Bowen. Many people here insist that the word has sexist connotations. Reinforces sexist ideas about women. And, although I can see that that might be true of it’s history and I can see its sexist roots when I examine use of it today, I don’t think that sexist ideas are implied or inferred by most people, anymore. Bitch is losing its bite. I’ve talked to a few friends about the ideas expressed in this thread and most of them agree that common usage is not intentionally sexist. And I doubt its usage is a contributing factor to the ongoing unequal treatment of women. I just don’t see it.

    People have pointed out that “bitch” has not totally lost it’s sexist connotations yet. Well, the best way to prevent that loss is to force people to admit that it is sexist, teach the younger generations that it is and should remain sexist. If you want to encourage that loss of sexist connotations, then stop making such a big deal about it. Right? Am I really being such a cold-hearted bastard about this?

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    Monkeymind, your first point in #319 was a good one! The use and meaning of words matters when we’re talking about what words mean, and insisting that one’s private usage should be immune from the “corrupting influence” of jerks is simply naive.

    Mrnaglfar, thanks for sharing those resources, I look forward to catching up on the literature. I may even have to go to the library again! That’ll be awesome!

    And, although I can see that that might be true of it’s history and I can see its sexist roots when I examine use of it today, I don’t think that sexist ideas are implied or inferred by most people, anymore.
    – Moondog, #320

    I recognize that that’s your experience, and that is a good and positive thing. Really, it’s awesome that in your social circles and in your experience, the use of the word “bitch” has not been a hurtful sexist thing – that’s great, and it would be great if the whole world was like that. But it’s not.

    Imagine that your standard greeting was to slap someone on the shoulder. Not painfully hard, just heartily playful. One day, you slap someone’s shoulder, and he asks you not to do it because when he was a child, he was held down on the playground while people repeatedly punched his shoulder. He’s got permanent shoulder injuries because of it, it’s still a little painful to get slapped on the shoulder (not harmful or dangerous, it just hurts a little), and bringing up the memories sucks. Now, this guy has an uncommon background with what is, for you, a completely acceptable and totally uncontroversial part of your experiences. It’s good that shoulder-slapping doesn’t affect you negatively, as it does for him with his particular experiences.

    But you still should respect that person’s request if he asks you to kindly not slap him on the shoulder. For him, it carries with it a whole load of context that you just can’t identify with – but the context is there, it is real, and it’s what matters when we’re talking about this person’s comfort level. And maybe “bitch” isn’t as painful for you as it is for some people, but that doesn’t change the fact that it really is more painful for some other people and all they’re asking is for others to be a little more careful when they speak. I think “not twisting the knife” is worth that teeny tiny little consideration.

  • monkeymind

    Ha ha, Moondog, thanks for confirming the point I made in the comment directly before yours. I suspect you’re perfectly capable of grasping the senses of the word “queer” in the example I gave above and are perfectly capable of using it without making homophobic slurs. I suspect also that even if the word “bitch” disappeared from the English language people would still find a way to make sexist slurs, and other people would still be wondering why women are still making such a big deal about it.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    Andrew Sullivan is a stupid queer.

    Barack Obama is a stupid nigger.

    Nancy Graham Holm is a stupid bitch.

    And we’re supposed to believe that the first two are obvious ‘ist’ slurs and only the last one is not?

    Please.

  • Mrnaglfar

    @323

    http://vodpod.com/watch/1756476-chris-rock-niggers-vs-black-people

    I’m sure you’re familiar with that video. Chris Rock talking about “niggers vs. black people”. You’ll notice the crowd is laughing their ass off. Is Chris Rock being a racist there? Could a comedian of any other race have pulled of that routine so successfully? What do you suppose his distinction between “black people” and “niggers” is?

    Unless you think Chris should have been shouted off the stage and shunned for using such awful language, answers to those questions are likely to be revealing.

    http://vodpod.com/watch/2814841-can-white-people-say-nigger-
    Food for thought

  • Anon Ymous

    Steve:

    “somewhere in that muggy hinterland someone has to have the benefit of the doubt”

    I think the main thing you’re not realising here is that, in almost all cases where you get called out for using sexist language or doing sexist actions, you *are* being given the benefit of the doubt.

    In this case, what I mean is that a person telling you that something you have said or done was sexist, I believe they are almost always assuming that a) you did not know that you were being sexist, and b) that you are a nice enough, caring enough man to want not to be sexist.

    I’m basing this from my own personal experience, here. If I tell a sexist arse that he’s hurt me, I’m opening mysellf up for a lot of hurt. I’ve done it before, I’ve learned my lesson, I’m not doing it again. On the other hand, if I tell a genuinely nice guy that he’s just accidentally hurt me, there’s a reasonable chance that he’ll respond with an apology and attempt not to hurt me in future. This is a more positive outcome, and one which I will try to repeat.

    More specific to this thread: I’m addressing you and not Mrnaglfar. This is not because I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and not you – quite the reverse. He has demonstrated himself to be a tortucan, sexist arsehole. Actually, when I read his post accusing feminists of being “hysterical” about this issue, I was almost 100% sure that he was deliberately trolling – and so he isn’t worth my time to try to talk to. More than that, he argues a lot like my brother does about his creationism – making logical errors that he refuses to acknowledge, clearly shut in his rut. So, since I don’t have the family bond to Mrnaglfar that I do to my brother, I just choose not to talk to him. I give him no benefit of doubt.

    You, on the other hand, seem slightly slower than D on the uptake, but you seem like a genuinely nice guy who actually wants to understand other people, and so I give you the “benefit of the doubt” that you are not being deliberately sexist, and actually bother to talk to you.

    Does that make any sense? Or am I just filling the comments thread some more to no effect?

    :)

  • Moondog

    @D I’m all for being aware of your environment and the potential effect of the language you use. If someone asked me to not use a certain word around them because it offends them, I would generally be sensitive to them and not use it. If someone had psychological trauma associated with the word “dog” and asked me to not use it around them, that’s cool. But I still don’t agree with the idea that the word “bitch” is inherently sexist and promotes unconsciously or otherwise sexist treatment of women in society.

    @Ophelia & monkeymind et. al. You say it is sexist. I say it’s not. You say, but look at the history and usage and you’ll see overt sexist implications. I say, that’s interesting. The roots of words and their usage is interesting. Good thing the meaning is changing and no longer promotes sexist ideas about women. You say, but it hurts my feelings when you call me a bitch because it still has strong sexist implications to me. I say, ok, I won’t call you a bitch or use it around you. You are incredulous that I can’t see that the word is sexist. I’m incredulous that you insist on preserving such a meaning for a word that left alone has already largely lost it.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    Anon Ymous, it makes perfect sense to me, and it’s yet another unique and good way of explaining the situation. The problem, as you’ve noted, is the tortucan rut of, “Well, I wasn’t trying to do this bad thing, so nobody should blame me for it and I shouldn’t have to change my behaviors. It’s up to the rest of the world to understand my meaning, and not up to me to tailor my message to my audience.”

    I’m also glad to see the tortucan terminology get involved! More people need to be aware.

    Mrnaglfar, I would say that Rock’s consideration of whether white people can say “nigger” is similar enough to whether male people can say “bitch,” that his answer applies equally to both: not really. Besides, you should know that there is exactly one time when it is objectively acceptable for a white person to call a black person a nigger. At all other times, it depends on the comfort level of the people you’re around.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    @ Moondog: You said, “But I still don’t agree with the idea that the word ‘bitch’ is inherently sexist and promotes unconsciously or otherwise sexist treatment of women in society.” Great! Then we all agree! People have conceded over and over that words are not inherently anything, and that the problem is that saying the word brings up the baggage. It’s a reminder of the problem, not the problem itself. We’re in agreement!

    (@ Ebonmuse: The last 30 seconds of comment editing don’t seem to work.)

  • Mrnaglfar

    @327

    I noticed you’re not saying Chris Rock should have avoided saying nigger. Just that white people shouldn’t. I forget which comedian said it, but it was something along the lines of “white people have had their nigger privileges revoked”.

    Telling someone what they can and can’t say or what they can and can’t do on the basis of gender or race is sexist or racist respectively. It’s just accepted/acceptable racism, in this case, to tell a white person they can’t say something because they’re white, and that word has baggage because ignorant white racists used it. Kind of like how it’s generally accepted sexism to have different sporting teams for men and women. Or for people to discriminate on the basis of gender for their sexual partners.

    People have conceded over and over that words are not inherently anything, and that the problem is that saying the word brings up the baggage. It’s a reminder of the problem, not the problem itself. We’re in agreement!

    I would certainly agree with all of that. Couldn’t have said it better. On a logical level, people know that. Unfortunately, as 325 shows, people are still willing to make staggering assumptions about the character of others (in this case, mine; a character that they have absolutely no knowledge of) and taking things out of their original context/intent and placing them into a perceived or imagined intents of their own .

    Sure, calling someone a bitch has its contexts where it expresses sexist views and is used in a demeaning fashion. No one is defending that usage or those views. But there are also contexts where it does not express sexist views, yet others feel the need to impute them, which in turns leads someone to label the person who said bitch (or defended its use) a sexist.

    While there is a lot to be said for considering your audience and the effect your words will have on them for using a term with baggage, there is also something to be said for considering the effect calling someone a sexist/racist has on them. There are some women who take offense at being called a bitch. There are some black people who take offense at being called nigger. There are homosexual people who take offense at being called queer. There are people of all genders and races who take offense at being called a sexist or a racist.

    So for all those people saying “you need to consider the effects your sexist words have on other people, you sexist pig”, you may do well to consider your own advice as well.

    Here’s another use of the exact phrase:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GXW-CALxmw

    Yes, it’s comedy. Is the man trying to express a generally demeaning view about all women in it’s use there, or is he using it to express his frustrations with the behavior of a particular woman? In the same way, is Chris Rock using the term nigger to express a hatred of black people and belief that they are inferior, or to express a dislike of a certain type of person, who in this case just happens to be black?

  • monkeymind

    No, Moondog, you miss the point. Again. It’s not about about calling people bad names or people’s feelings getting hurt. Expressing disagreement with a distinguished journalist (however abhorrent her views) by calling her a “stupid bitch” is going to be understood as a sexist slur, whatever the guy “meant”.

    Imagine this scenario:
    A: Andrew Sullivan is a stupid queer!
    B: Hey, can we disagree without calling him a queer?

    Would everyone have descended on Person B as the hateful busybody killjoy PC police out to ruin everyone’s good fun with language? Not likely.
    And all those things you say about “bitch”, Moondog, are true for “queer” as well: it’s just that you apparently aren’t all that bothered by sexist slurs.

  • Moondog

    No. See. You’re saying that “bitch” is a sexist slur. I’m saying it’s not. You’re saying it’s the equivalent of saying queer. I’m saying it’s not. And D at least seems to agree that it doesn’t have an inherently sexist meaning. You say “Expressing disagreement with a distinguished journalist (however abhorrent her views) by calling her a “stupid bitch” is going to be understood as a sexist slur, whatever the guy “meant”.” I say that that is only true for people who have the related baggage with the word bitch. And I don’t think I’m alone in disagreeing with you on that point.

    In my experience, the phrase “stupid bitch” doesn’t mean “stupid AND an uppity woman who isn’t being adequately submissive” or some such nonsense that could be extrapolated based on its etymology or past use or whatever. In the phrase “stupid bitch”, “bitch” is merely a vulgar way to emphasize “stupid” that may or may not be gender specific depending on the situation.

  • Anon Ymous

    Moondog: have you ever heard “stupid bitch” refer to a man? I know “bitch” often refers to a man, but that’s been covered over and over again. Have you read the comments thread? You seem to be repeating stuff that’s been covered, and if you have an issue with how it’s been covered, asking your questions (or making your statements) in a way that shows you’ve actually followed along might get you a little more understanding and a little less exasperation.

    If that’s what you want, of course. If you’re getting exactly the result you wish, by all means carry on.

    Oh, and by the way, the “no inherent sexist meaning” is basically the same as saying “no inherent meaning at all” – completely true, and also a completely useless observation. All meaning is by accepted agreement. And people making use of a word as a slur are accepting the baggage that comes with it, whether they consciously agree to it or not – it’s kind of what a slur *does*, really.

  • Nes

    Sorry, it’s been a few days and over 300 comments, so maybe I missed this or forgot it. If these questions have already been answered, please point me to the answers then slap me silly for being such a dolt.

    What is the solution supposed to be?

    Am I supposed to just stop saying “bitch” entirely because I might offend some random thin skinned person on the internet? Am I supposed to apologize every time some random stranger is offended by its use, despite the fact that I have never used it in a sexist manner? (In fact, I wasn’t aware that it even had that baggage at all until now.) Do I need to link to definition 3a every time I use it?

    Is it still okay to refer to men who are malicious and so forth as bastards, or is that sexist too?

  • Moondog

    And by going back through the OP and the first 50 or so comments I can see that I’m not adding anything new to this discussion. And that other people have said how I feel about this topic better than I can. But, I just wanted to add my support to Steve Bowen and others who have stated adequately (IMO) the reasons why the word “bitch” isn’t sexist per se.

    I’m sorry if I make a bad first impression here, and although I disagree with him on this point I do want to say a very hearty thank you to Ebonmuse for having created and put so much effort into this site and also ebonmusings. I came here about 6 months ago something of a moral relativist and agnostic (though very reluctant to admit to my own deconversion from evangelical Christianity) in search of an atheist defense of objective morality among other things. Now, I’m an atheist (though it still doesn’t come easy to me to say) and I’m here almost every day. Ebonmuse and other commentators here have been a huge huge help to me along the way. In fact I’ve been a silent observer for so long, I’m a little starstruck to actually be having a conversation with you all… if that makes sense.

  • Moondog

    First, good questions, Nes (#333).

    Second,@Anon Ymous: Actually I had read almost all of the comments before commenting myself, and I knew I didn’t have anything terribly original to say, but I felt strongly the desire to say that after reading so many comments, the arguments of those who said “bitch” is not sexist seemed the most correct to me. And that the common use meanings of it that I and my friends are familiar with supports the claim that it isn’t sexist. But, anyway, forget about me and just answer Nes’ questions at #333. What is the proposed enlightened course of action?

  • monkeymind

    Can you guys manage to disagree with someone without calling her a bitch?

    That was the question (more or less verbatim) that started the flame war. Those who would greet such a statement with howls of outrage and wounded pride, and those whose sympathies are with the howlers and not the original reasonable objector, are not my intellectual companions. Conversations where they are allowed to dominate tend to be not very enlightening, in my experience.

    That sums it up for me.

    Congratulations on your deconversion, Moondog. If you want to be understood in the way you would like by a wider audience than just your circle of friends, maybe it makes sense to take into account other people’s opinions? Do you really think bitch’s baggage is consigned to the trash heap of history? Speed the day, I say, but it’s not going to happen by going into denial when it’s used as a slur. I highly recommend this article by the editor of Bitch magazine:The B-Word? You Betcha? Not exactly ancient history.

    Is it still okay to refer to men who are malicious and so forth as bastards, or is that sexist too?

    #333

    Thanks for the laugh, Nes, though I assume the irony was unintended.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    @Ophelia & monkeymind et. al. You say it is sexist. I say it’s not…You say, but it hurts my feelings when you call me a bitch because it still has strong sexist implications to me.

    No I don’t. I haven’t said one word about ‘it hurts my feelings’ – I hate that formula. It’s not about me in particular, it’s about women in general.

    And D at least seems to agree that it doesn’t have an inherently sexist meaning.

    Everybody agrees that, but that is not the issue. No words have ‘inherent’ meaning; inherent meaning is not the issue; social meaning is the issue.

    You’re unaware of the sexist meaning of ‘bitch.’ That’s nice. Are you very young? Maybe you simply don’t know everything? Maybe the word really does have connotations that you are not aware of? Maybe it’s worth erring on the side of not using a word that quite a few people seem very convinced is a sexist slur, as opposed to erring on the side of using a word that quite a few people seem very convinced is a sexist slur.

    Ditto to what monkeymind said – all these people going to great trouble to insist on their right to use a word that some people consider a strongly sexist slur, are not my intellectual companions. Instead they are depressing symptoms of a repellent kind of ‘fuck you I’ll say whatever I want to’ selfishness and conceit that turns my stomach.

  • Mrnaglfar

    A useful thought experiment is to imagine yourself a temporary resident in a foreign country, with pretty good knowledge of the local language. You pick up a word that seems to be a generic mild insult, and you start using it, then a black friend gently informs you that it’s a racist insult and not really all that mild. Do you argue? Do you insist that that’s wrong and that you’re going to go right on using it?…I haven’t said one word about ‘it hurts my feelings’ – I hate that formula. It’s not about me in particular, it’s about women in general.

    Think about that scenario you proposed in a different way – in this case, you’re the person entering the new country. You hear people using a term that sounds like a highly insulting term to you, except they don’t mean it as you think they do. Do you insist that they really mean to use the word the way you think they do?

    I don’t think “women in general” are offended by the term, nor do I think people in general use the term in a sexist way*. Got anything to back that assertion up or are you just crusading under the banner of “women everywhere”, irrespective of their views on the subject?

    Does it have a history involving its use in sexist ways? Sure. Must that mean it can never be used in any other non-sexist way? Obviously not.

    Do white people in America have a history of owning black slaves and oppressing black people? Sure. Must that mean white people can never relate to black people without overtones of racism? Obviously not.

    Instead they are depressing symptoms of a repellent kind of ‘fuck you I’ll say whatever I want to’ selfishness and conceit that turns my stomach.

    Yet you have no issue labeling people who defend the term as sexists and morons. Did you ever stop to consider the effect of calling someone who isn’t a sexist a sexist?

    *When concerning the term “bitch” as applied to women, Alex said it better than I did here:

    On the other hand, I’m intuitively sympathetic to the argument that referring to people exhibiting equivalent behavior as “bitch” in one gender case, and “prick” or something similar in the other, is not inherently more sexist than addressing a person as “Mr.” in one gender case and “Mrs.” in the other – the key being consistency in applying pejorative epithets to a person exhibiting the given behavior rather than having a double standard where, for instance, arrogance or bullying is tolerated in men but not women.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    Yet you have no issue labeling people who defend the term as sexists and morons. Did you ever stop to consider the effect of calling someone who isn’t a sexist a sexist?

    Excellent point! Except for the tiny fact that I haven’t done that, and for the other tiny fact that I explicitly disavowed that at least twice on this very thread. Apart from that, your point is enormously telling.

    For at least the third time – I really don’t care about defining you or any of your allies. I don’t care about you or your allies. I care about the epithets. I care about being able to participate in interesting intellectual discussions without having to wade through a blizzard of hostile contemptuous dismissive epithets for women.

    On the other hand I do think this obsessive vanity and self-concern about what you are called coupled with this aggressive defense of calling other people ‘bitch’ is revolting. Ow ow ow you have a hangnail, whioh is much more important than that bitch over there with the broken leg.

  • Mrnaglfar

    I care about being able to participate in interesting intellectual discussions without having to wade through a blizzard of hostile contemptuous dismissive epithets for women.

    I see you ignored the point I bolded from Alex; I still refer you back to that point.

    We all want to be able to participate in discussion without having to deal with insults – sexist, racist or otherwise. What is up for discussion here was whether ‘bitch’(in particular ‘stupid bitch’), as directed towards a woman, is sexist. However…

    I’m really profoundly uninterested in your opinion of what is and isn’t sexist.

    You’re don’t seem to be interested in having a discussion so much as you are interested in telling other people what is sexist and what isn’t. Your dismissive attitude is the same attitude you’re complaining about.

    I didn’t catch the comments in the RD forum, since they got deleted before I could see them, but the general consensus among the people who had seen them was apparently you were telling men (or other people who disagree) they have no say in the matter as to whether the term ‘stupid bitch’, as directed towards a woman, was sexist. This seems reasonable, given quotes like this:

    Why does he get to decide more than a white person? Because he is part of the group covered by the epithet. Same with ‘stupid bitch.’ I get to decide because I don’t want to be called a stupid bitch any time someone disagrees with me.

    I refer you back to 324 & 329. And the section I bolded in Alex’s brilliant post back in 35. I also refer you back to this little gem:

    Satirical criticism of Mohammed and Islam are not insults directed at actual people. (Some believers insist that they are, of course, but they’re wrong.)

    You’re not part the group of believers in question, yet you feel you have the ability to step in and tell them what they should and shouldn’t find offensive. If you expect a courtesy you don’t extend, that’s being a hypocrite.

    You don’t want to be called a stupid bitch? That’s fine. I haven’t seen anyone call you a stupid bitch here. However, because you have issues with it does not mean all women or even most women have the same problem. So you can put down your banner of:

    It’s not about me in particular, it’s about women in general… Why are women’s objections considered so laughable and trivial?

    Women’s objections are not considered laughable and trivial to the best of my experience. However, these are not “women’s objections”; these are your objections. If other women (or men) have issues with the term bitch, they can speak for themselves.

    You apparently think the social meaning of ‘bitch’ is never (? or seldom?) sexist. Well, it should occur to you that you might not have the best radar for deciding that.

    It should also occur to you that maybe you don’t have he best radar either. You don’t get a monopoly on the discussion, as you seem to think you should (as evidenced by your “I’m really profoundly uninterested in your opinion of what is and isn’t sexist”).

    You insist your views on the subject are beyond questioning. You say you don’t even care about having a discussion about it. If anyone doesn’t agree with you, you simply claim they “have a blind spot”, or “aren’t part of the group who should get to have any say in the matter”, or “don’t have the good radar for figuring out what is and isn’t sexist”.

    On the other hand I do think this obsessive vanity and self-concern about what you are called coupled with this aggressive defense of calling other people ‘bitch’ is revolting.

    I wasn’t defending calling people ‘stupid bitch’ in intellectual debate. I’m saying it’s not always sexist. I know you don’t care.

    You also generalize to that group of people (despite your insistence that you don’t):

    all these people going to great trouble to insist on their right to use a word that some people consider a strongly sexist slur, are not my intellectual companions.

    We all want to have good intellectual debate with any insults of any kind and without having our view points dismissed. I think we all agree on that point. However, your dismissive attitude is very troubling to intellectual discourse.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    I don’t disagree that it’s not always sexist. I disagree that it’s never sexist. I disagree that it wasn’t sexist in the instance at RDF. (The comments there weren’t deleted, they were moved. My comments were neither deleted nor moved.)

    these are your objections.

    No. That’s wrong, of course. If I were the only person on the planet who thought ‘stupid bitch’ was sexist, you would of course be right, but I’m not. There are several people even on this thread who think ‘stupid bitch’ is sexist. (Other things being equal. Yes of course it’s possible to come up with a context in which it isn’t – in which it’s ironic, between friends, campy, etc etc etc. That wasn’t the case when it was flung at the author of that execrable article.)

    You insist your views on the subject are beyond questioning.

    Not quite, but something perhaps close. I do maintain that the burden of proof is on people who insist on using epithets that others really do consider systematically insulting. I do maintain that when there is disagreement, the way to err is on the side of not risking being the kind of fucking asshole who shouts ‘You stupid nigger!’ at people.

    If you don’t – there’s something wrong with your thinking.

  • Mrnaglfar

    I disagree that it’s never sexist.

    I do too. Who ever said that it wasn’t ever sexist?

    There are several people even on this thread who think ‘stupid bitch’ is sexist

    I know. And those are their views. Anyone who claims to speak for “women in general” is not just expressing “these are my personal views”.

    I do maintain that when there is disagreement, the way to err is on the side of not risking being the kind of fucking asshole who shouts ‘You stupid nigger!’ at people.

    Generally, I would think I’m on the side of not trying to insult people in any way which isn’t lighthearted or comedic in nature is a dick move. However, I maintain you should probe deeper and ask the person what exactly they meant by it and not assume what they meant. Gather more evidence before jumping to a conclusion.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    I already had evidence; it wasn’t a jump; there is a lot of casual sexism in comments there (and Richard dislikes it); I’ve heard from several women who’ve stopped going there because of it.

    So: nobody says ‘bitch’ is always and invariably sexist; nobody says it’s never sexist; so all these thousands of words you’ve typed boil down to saying I shouldn’t have said ‘can’t we criticize an article without calling the author a sexist epithet’ and instead I should have said ‘what did you mean by calling the author a stupid bitch?’? Seriously? You really think it’s that important?

    If that is all you’re saying: I disagree. I think people of good will decided a long time ago that it’s not okay to sit politely silent while people of ill will talk about niggers and kikes and faggots and bitches. I think that comment was unambiguous and sexist and misogynist, and I fucking refuse to smile nicely and let it pass, or ask the commenter if it was intentionally sexist.

    I notice that you and your allies still pretty much don’t address the whole double standard problem. Nigger, no no; bitch, oh sure unless you have a signed affidavit from Chief Justice Roberts that it was intentionally sexist.

    I call bullshit.

  • Mrnaglfar

    If you can link to where the comment and subsequent responses to were moved, I could make an accurate assessment as to whether the use was sexist.

    so all these thousands of words you’ve typed boil down to saying I shouldn’t have said ‘can’t we criticize an article without calling the author a sexist epithet’ and instead I should have said ‘what did you mean by calling the author a stupid bitch?’? Seriously? You really think it’s that important?

    It boils down to this: “stupid bitch” is not always sexist epithet. If you said “can’t we criticize an author without trying to throw around ad hominems?” I’d be right on board. What this is about is the charge that it’s sexist language. If you can think of a use of “stupid bitch” that isn’t sexist in your mind, then we can have a better discussion. If you can’t, then you have assumed that all uses of the term “stupid bitch” are inherently sexist (a point you seem to deny).

    Again, I refer you to the bolded section from Alex’s comment in 35. If I called Ann Coulter a “stupid bitch”, it would not be because I’m trying to make a generalization about all women (or even most women, or even women at all), or make a political statement about gender, or imply that genders should have different roles, or anything of the sort. I would be calling her a “stupid bitch” because she’d be a particularly unpleasant person with view points I find abhorrent. If I was consistent in leveling slurs against people who displayed those same traits, it shouldn’t matter whether they typically refer to one sex or whether they’re gender neutral.

    Would such a comment be particularly useful intellectual discourse? Of course not. But it’s not always sexist. Mr. and Mrs, to the best of my knowledge, have sexist histories (the idea that a wife was the property of the husband). Does it still carry that same meaning? I don’t think it does.

    I fucking refuse to smile nicely and let it pass, or ask the commenter if it was intentionally sexist.

    I know. You also don’t care about what other people’s opinions are as to what is sexist currently and what isn’t. You don’t care if he’s actually trying to express sexist views. You just assume it and will not be told otherwise.

    I notice that you and your allies still pretty much don’t address the whole double standard problem. Nigger, no no; bitch, oh sure unless you have a signed affidavit from Chief Justice Roberts that it was intentionally sexist.

    I did. You ignored it. See 324 and 329.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Ophelia,

    I don’t know if I really want to jump back in here, but there is something that is really bothering me.

    I keep thinking about why I am so uncomfortable with your arguments. And, it’s because I’ve heard so many Muslims make all of the same arguments with respect to depictions of Mohammed.

    Now, I know that you have this whole system worked out that categorizes insults as either internal or external to the person, but I don’t think it’s nearly as clear cut as you make it out to be.

    There are no immutable characteristics. All of our group identities, be it religion or culture or ethnicity or nationality or sexual orientation or race or, even, gender are just ideas that we have about ourselves. All of these identities are at least partially imposed (because none of us is divorced from our social circumstances), but may also be at least partially selected and self cultivated.

    You keep emphasizing the taboo against the use of the word nigger, but I’m not sure it serves your point.

    Race is a social construct. Racial identity, like all other social constructs, is partially imposed and partially self cultivated.

    How is this any different than religion?

    I know you want to say that nigger attacks the person and not the ideas they espouse, but I’m not so sure that that is true. All of our group identities are just ideas we have about ourselves and others. Some of it is imposed and some of it is self-actualized. But, this is true of every group identity, even gender, and I don’t see any clear cut distinction between attacking someone for who he or she is and attacking someone for his or her ideas.

    I’m not saying it’s a good thing to call someone a nigger or a bitch — not at all. I’m also not condemning blasphemy. I abhor religion and criticize it at all possible opportunities.

    But, I am saying that your insistence on respect for the bitch taboo, because we respect the nigger taboo is a dangerous path for you to tread, especially in light of your disregard for religious taboos.

    If we respect one taboo, why not another? Then, why not religious taboos?

    I don’t see the clear cut distinction between race and religion that you seem to see.

    Which leads me to read your posts as hypocritical.

    Aside from the condemnation of the escalation to violence, your posts could just as well have been written in support of Nancy Graham Holm, instead of in condemnation of her.

    I know that you would make a distinction between, say, screaming terrorist in a Muslim’s face and drawing a cartoon of Mohammed in front of them, but the Muslim doesn’t see the distinction. His or her identity and ideas are one and the same. And, they’re right. Because identity is an idea or an assortment of ideas.

    Which is why I get nervous with all of this talk about the nigger taboo.

    Nigger or Allah or bitch or cunt or a stick figure drawing of Mohammed. I’m not seeing any clear cut distinctions between one or the other.

    Do you see what I’m saying? Just a little?

    Maybe only the sexist and/or racist assholes are in agreement with me, but that’s a risk I”m willing to take.

  • jemand

    @Sarah,

    I’m not coming up with too many specific examples, but I know there are words which describe *people* of a religion with despicable history. (Is “kike” one? I think it is. “Mohomadian” might also be getting there.) Such words are bigoted and don’t have a place in civil discourse. It’s throwing an epithet in someone’s face, and that’s not a thing that furthers discussion. Pointing out religion’s unearned protected space in public discourse is different than throwing a hateful insult at a person.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    I’ve been giving some thought to Ophelia’s objection at # 343

    I notice that you and your allies still pretty much don’t address the whole double standard problem. Nigger, no no; bitch, oh sure unless you have a signed affidavit from Chief Justice Roberts that it was intentionally sexist.
    I call bullshit.

    I think the difference is subtle, but pertinent to this whole discussion. In calling someone “nigger” you are explicitly denigrating their race. What you are saying is that “you are a less worthy person because you are black, because all black people are less worthy”. Notice you can condemn a whole group of people by implication just by the word alone. It doesn’t need “stupid” or “uppity” or any other qualifier to make it a slur on all black people.
    “Bitch” on the other hand is a specific insult to a specific person and is indicative of particular character traits or behaviour. Calling someone a bitch, while it may carry sexist assumptions (as I am now prepared to concede, mainly due to D’s input) doesn’t tar all women with this trait. It says, “I don’t like you because you are mean “, not “you are unworthy of my respect because you are a woman”.
    Now, I will concede that to a sexist, any woman not conforming to a perceived gender role might appear a bitch. But this is a special case and does not necessarily apply in normal usage.

  • http://prinzler@calpoly.edu Paul

    Steve, #347 is a subtle point, maybe too subtle. The distinction you are making is between (1) a word that applies to an entire class of people and seeks to denigrate an individual because of they are a member of that class, and (2) a word that applies only to an individual but is only directed at an individual of a certain class of people in order to denigrate him or her.

    I’m not sure that distinction is significant. In either case, the word is still directed at a member of a class of people because (at least in part) they are a member of that class of people in order to denigrate them.

  • jemand

    I disagree with Paul that it would be a distinction without a difference, but I disagree with you that “stupid bitch” isn’t a slur against all women. What I get from that is something like the following “Well, no WONDER you come up with such a stupid idea, you’re a woman, after all.” It disparages all women who try to participate in public discourse, not just the one.

    After all, if the word contains specific sexist assumptions, wouldn’t throwing that word down support those implicit sexist assumptions? And don’t such sexist assumptions apply to *all* women negatively affected by such assumptions? That’s why I think it would affect all, it would be a slur against all women. That’s why I don’t like the use of the word, if you were right, if I DID only think it affected that specific woman, I’d have no problem with using it.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    Sarah – yes I see what you’re saying, though I could do without “Which leads me to read your posts as hypocritical.”

    I realize that some people like to elide all categories in such a way that everything becomes a personal insult, but I disagree with that move. I think there is a very real and substantive difference between sets of ideas on the one hand and congenital qualities on the other. I think ideas should be and have to be wide open to criticism; I think it’s both absurd and cruel to ‘criticize’ people’s race or gender or nationality etc. Yes I know some people claim that their religion is their identity in just the way their race or gender is. But that’s an illegitimate move, that’s all. There’s nothing hypocritical about saying that.

  • Polly

    350 comments and counting. This issue’s a real bitch.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Polly, are you suggesting that this issue is difficult to deal with by likening it to women who don’t fulfill their typical gender roles, which suggests that such women are difficult to deal with, in order to make some kind of a political statement about women and their rightful place, you little sexist you?

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com Ophelia Benson

    This issue’s a genuine tedious verbose self-important whiny wooden-headed pompous penis.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Oy.

    So, I’ve been away for the weekend and have only been checking comments sporadically, and I’m pretty amazed that this argument is still going on. I’m pretty sure we’re breaking records here.

    So, here’s the deal: In the name of this flamewar not using up all the oxygen on my site (or all the bandwidth on my web host), I’m going to close comments on this thread in, let’s say, about 24 hours from now. I’m pretty certain that just about everyone has made their points as strongly as they’d like to, but if you still feel you haven’t had your full say, consider this my invitation for you to put in your closing statement.

    This won’t be the last time this subject comes up on Daylight Atheism, I’m sure (in fact, there’s already a whole new thread just waiting to be filled up), so don’t take this as a statement that this topic has been exhausted. Have at it!

  • Nes

    Ophelia… I may not exactly be in complete agreement with you regarding the word under discussion (and I can’t really comment one way or another regarding the specific situation that lead to this post, not having seen the comments in question), but that last comment made my day. Hilarious!

  • Polly

    One last oh so crucial point.
    @Mrnaglfar,
    Far from it! I find women totally awesome and bitchin’.

  • Scotlyn

    Chet

    If men wish to take actions to prevent women from being raped, the most important thing they could do would be to stop raping them. If you’re already not raping women, then the next step is to make sure your friends aren’t doing it either. Once you’ve done that start refusing to allow people to affirm rape or blame victims in your presence. Rape will stop when rapists stop raping women. It’s important not to pretend that rape is some kind of natural disaster that happens without human agency. Rape happens because of the actions of rapists. Shouldn’t it be their actions we try to change? Why put the onus of stopping rape on its putative victims?

    (from somewhere around the 250 mark).
    Chet, I’ve just skipped over the rest of this endless thread to say thanks for saying this. I’ve rarely heard any man cut through the bullshit that gathers around a discussion of rape as clearly as this. Thanks…now I’m going back to reading where I was…


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