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Author Topic: using gender/orientation/other group specific insults  (Read 28941 times)
Honest Abe
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« on: November 08, 2010, 01:49 pm »

it came to my attention during the whole "yowhound is racist" debacle, that people thought it was odd that i, honest abe, was taking offense at yowhound's blatant racism and homophobia due to the fact that i used to routinely call people "fag", and used "nigger" in an ironic way to make a statement. i believe the term "hypocrite" was widely bandied about. while i maintain during that time in my life, real and online, i was neither homophobic or racist, i have long since come to realize using this kind of language, even ironically and jokingly, is wrong and i attempt to no longer use it. i realize that the people who questioned my sincerity when calling yowhound out were not aware of my not really all that recent change in heart since i don't "hang out" with them much anymore, and my change primarily took place personally and not publicly.

i believe using this type of language, again regardless of whether it is ironic or joking and amongst friends who know you're not "really racist/homophobic/etc", perpetuates the idea, however unintended, that something is wrong with the people these insults are derived from. the whole calling things "gay" to mean "bad" thing.

i'm pretty bad at explaining myself about this issue, and i didn't start this thread to guilt anyone into changing their ways. i just believe it's important to evaluate the words you use and to understand why someone may object to their usage, and not try to justify using such targeting language when called on it. believe me, i still slip up occasionally, but i do not get angry if someone says "whoa that's not cool." currently i'm trying to stop using "retarded" and such as it falls in the same category, but it's much more reflexive than any of the other group specific insults i've used.
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Bettytron
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« Reply #1 on: November 08, 2010, 02:50 pm »

I went through likely every possible stage of using "gay" as an insult (unrelated to anyone's sexuality, just that blanket "this is stupid" thing that every 14 year old seems to love). When I was younger I threw it around all the time without thinking.  At a certain point I realized that it was probably offensive to a lot of people, so I stopped.  Aaaand then in college I thought it was edgy and pomo or something to use "gay" because it was so obvious that I wasn't actually homophobic. (I think this is related to the reason so many white college aged girls love Jay-Z or Kanye and call each other "nigga".)  After that I finally started learning about feminism and privilege* and why it actually IS important to care how other people see you, and not in some bullshit conforming-to-what-The-Man-wants kind of way, so I'm much more conscious of the language I use than I used to be.

I think it can be really awkward to approach in other people, especially friends, and especially if you know they're joking/not really homophobic/racist/whatever.  There's still a huge cultural stigma around the idea of P.C.-ness which is really damaging to level-headed, inclusive discourse.

*Speaking of, this is a concept that needs to be taught in elementary school, I think, because I still have conversations with reasonably intelligent, educated people about why it being inappropriate to use the n-word isn't depriving them of some fundamental right, which is a thing far far too many people still have issues with.  I also still feel guilty and uptight when I cringe at people using "bitch" in a hateful way.
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Ferik
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« Reply #2 on: November 08, 2010, 04:17 pm »

At least with the word nigga, there's some sort of contextual basis for it not being used in an offensive way.  A lot of people wh  use it are not using it in a negative way.  Being someone's nigga can be a good thing.

Gay isn't the same.  The term (except when used to describe an actual homosexual person, or in the oldfashioned 'happy' sense) is only ever used to describe something in a negative way.  Being described as gay is never good.  The same with fag.

That's not to say that people who use the term gay are actually homophobic bigots, but they definitely sound fucking stupid when they use either term.  I am not friends with anyone who regularly uses the term gay or fag in a negative way.

I often use the word retarded though.  Maybe I'm just trying to justify my own obnoxiousness, but if an idea or behaviour or action is illconceived or deficient in some way, then 'retarded' isn't a bad way to describe it or the person who performed it.  I wouldn't use the term to describe someone with a disability though.
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Bettytron
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« Reply #3 on: November 08, 2010, 04:31 pm »

At least with the word nigga, there's some sort of contextual basis for it not being used in an offensive way.  A lot of people wh  use it are not using it in a negative way.  Being someone's nigga can be a good thing.

Oh, I understand the positive connotations, but when it's co-opted by white people, there must be something else at play, right? It's definitely kind of tongue-in-cheek, and I'm sure there are people of color who would find it offensive.  You're right that it's not quite the same; it's probably more akin to what elyseface was saying in this thread.

I'm also guilty of using "retarded" even though I see over and over people who are obviously hurt by that, whether they have learning disabilities and have had the term directed at them in school, or whether they have friends or family with more severe development problems.  It's been used as a slur so often, and it's not up to you or I to decide whether it's offensive or not.  It's up to the people who the word would hurt.  (Also, that doesn't mean that we can go out and find a quote from a retarded person who calls herself retarded and says it doesn't bother her and use that to justify our use of the word.)
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drunkpiano
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« Reply #4 on: November 08, 2010, 04:45 pm »

I've been working on not using gay and retarded as insults anymore. I remember in middle-school and high school, I never used them because I made a conscious decision not to. When I did hear someone use them as an insult, I'd cringe a little. I'm not exactly sure when my attitude about that changed.

I guess with "retarded", I had always tried not to use it because my best friend's younger brother is pretty severely autistic. Not the same thing, obviously, but I was still concerned using the word retarded might offend him, since kids at school did call his younger brother "retard" sometimes and we both saw how much that hurt him. I think my attitude about it started to become more lax when I heard my best friend start to use the word retarded to describe things negatively pretty frequently. I realized even then that I was using flawed logic to justify using the word, but it just became a part of my vocabulary. Now I'm back to trying to eliminate it from my vocabulary, because it is a pretty inappropriate way to refer to a dumb movie or a shitty comedian or something.

With "gay" and "fag", I guess my experience was kind of similar. I avoided using it for years and then I made a few gay friends who would use those terms negatively. "What a fucking fag" is something that my gay friend Bob would say pretty often, when referring to someone that was nerdy or different or a dick. That started to seep into my vocabulary, and I used the same flawed logic to justify it that I did with retarded.

"Bitch" is a weird one for me. I find myself using it to describe people that are rude, even men sometimes. However, I don't use it to describe a guy that is weak or feminine. Using bitch in that context seems, to me, to imply that women are inherently weak, and that bitch is an okay thing to refer to them as, if that makes sense. I kind of have a hard time explaining my feelings on the word so I will leave it at that.
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Bettytron
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« Reply #5 on: November 08, 2010, 05:15 pm »

I most often hear bitch from my male coworkers, and always, always to describe a woman (generally a female producers from some other company we're working with at the time).  Sometimes the woman in question is being overly aggressive or much more demanding than maybe the situation warrants, but men are often just as aggressive, and that never inspires as much resentment.  Again, this is just from my experience- I know there are a ton of stereotypes about women being mistreated in professional positions and there are many anecdotes contradicting those.  This is what I've observed. 

So, anyway, it bothers me that not only is behavior from women treated differently than it is from men, but that there is a distinct word for it, a word that inevitably describes women who are, like, uppity or not docile enough or something.  I've also been catcalled on the street and then had "Hey bitch!" shouted at me repeatedly when I didn't respond. It is pretty menacing.

And like you said, even if you're careful not to use it in that way, the most common context for a man being called a bitch is to feminize him (i.e., "Stop being such a bitch").  So it seems like it's another situation where, even if it isn't motivated by misogyny or sexism, the use of "bitch" in any context really helps to normalize it.  Is that coherent? I don't have any formal sociology/women's studies education so most of my opinions are informed by experience/ladyblogs/books I've picked up along the way so I'm sure there are people with more mature/eloquently expressed views.  I think I'm on the right track though.
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Kybard
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« Reply #6 on: November 08, 2010, 05:32 pm »

Betty, I definitely understand what you're saying about how "bitch" holds its sexist connotations regardless of the context in which it's used. that's true of all words in this category, I think, which is why moral equivocation of the "well these people know I'm not really like that" is problematic.

I still use "fag" from time to time in #cracked, largely because it's been tossed around so much in there that it has no meaning to me in that context, but I couldn't bring myself to say it out loud or to anyone in any other environment. this is pretty lame of me but I can't even type the n-word unless I'm quoting literature that's using it for verisimilitude's sake. again, I think it goes back to the fact that we can't control the context under which other people interpret what we've said, and (with the exception of #cracked and here, I suppose, but even then only in limited cases) I'm very often hyper-conscious about language because of that unassailable gap between what you think you're saying and what others might hear.

sometimes I'll pardon comedians using that kind of language, especially if the comedian uses it because they're making that very point about the oddities of language and communication.

edit: when I say that the word has to meaning to me in #cracked that is not at all to justify its use; it just slips out with incredible, invisible ease without triggering the same mental block that happens everywhere else. definitely a weird phenomenon.
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« Reply #7 on: November 08, 2010, 07:15 pm »

I wouldnt ever use words like fag or racial remarks or anything like that with anyone but my close knit group of friends (and my family I guess) where hyperbolic humour and joking extremes would be taken as the nonsense they are. Like how I wouldnt talk about the holocaust didnt go far enough or that I think the Irish should be wiped out around... you know... anyone who didnt know I was joking. (Apart from about the Irish.) I see what you are all saying about how the "people know im not like that" argument is tenous, but I dont casually just throw around the words, I mostly call people gay when they refer to something heterosexual (you are trying to have a baby with marie? you fag) or whatever. I dont think some vocabulary adjustment is going to change the attitude that is part of casual prejudice, if you are using the words or not.

I know in the pwot/dm/irc community fag and such are thrown around a lot, but I have always assumed that was in the same sort of context. Playing around with the ridiculousness of them, not that people are going around using "gay" as a negative in normal conversation. Because thats not cool or a joke really. Context is important and situation, I wouldnt even really swear around strangers (who arent mugging me or anything) and I wouldnt use any sort of "charged" language when it wasnt part of a joke (that should be apparent in its hyperbole.) And not at all around people who arent used to my sense of humour and/or share it, because i've accidentally been overheard using inappropiate language before (actually not joking but quoting someone elses racism from work in a bar, realised I was shouting about black people far too loudly in a crowded place) and no you cant expect context to be implicit with strangers.

Also I genuinely hate the Irish.
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werty
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« Reply #8 on: November 09, 2010, 12:32 am »

The loss of some of the more delicate aspects of speech online kind of plays in to this sort of stuff. For example, if you say something racist or misogynist, but you put it in a heavy southern (US) accent, among the right people (friends who know you aren't a terrible person) you aren't really making a joke about the group it self, but the group who would honestly make the joke (dumbass hicks).

As a further example, if Mr Gale said "I genuinely hate the Irish" in real life, he'd probably throw in whatever the English equivalent of a backwoods redneck accent was.

But that's all highly dependent on situation, foreknowledge of the speaker's personality, and various context clues that don't really work over the Internet.
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Ferik
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« Reply #9 on: November 09, 2010, 04:03 am »

There's no question that it's a stupid word no matter who is using it.  But it isn't necessarilly hateful or even necessarilly ignorant.

Using the word gay to describe something in a generall negative way is different though.  As everyone knows - when someone tells their friend to "stop being gay." they are more than likely not telling them that they think thatthey are an actual homosexual, rather they are telling them to "Stop being annoying/stupid/innefective."  But by using the word gay in place of a negative characteristic, they are also saying that such an annoying/stupid/innefective characteristic is typical of gay people generally.  That's just retarded ignorant .

I've got no problem with the word bitch.  It's the word that I would use to describe a woman who has the same personality traits as a man that I would call an asshole or bastard (which aren't words that I would use to describe a woman).  I don't think that the word has any particular power or significance as for example, the word 'slut' might have.

When used to describe a man, it's just a homophobic slur - it's attributing the man the characteristics of the submissive partner of a homosexual partnering.  It's simply an insult to the man's masculinity.  I don't think that it's attributing to  the man the characteristics of a woman (except in as much as femininity might be associated with submissive gay men).  Any sexism is indirect.
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Bettytron
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« Reply #10 on: November 09, 2010, 08:22 am »

Yeah, but something that is "simply an insult to the man's masculinity" is sexist, by definition.  You're attributing submissive characteristics to him, as an insult, which means a couple things 1) that being submissive is inherently bad, and 2) that being submissive is unmasculine (or, feminine).  The conclusion from that slur is then that femininity is inherently bad. 

The reason calling a woman a bitch isn't equivalent to calling a man an asshole or a bastard is about balance of power.  It's the same reason "cracker" and the n-word aren't equivalent.  One group has historically held power over the other, so insults within that power group are different than those used to undermine those who already have less to begin with.
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Luna Fortuna
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« Reply #11 on: November 09, 2010, 11:40 am »

I'm not sure about that. The last time I supervised decks (mopping, stripping, waxing and buffing... worst traditional military duty) on a Saturday, I found streaks of white stripper left on the deck underneath the wax which was applied too early. I made them redo it completely which takes hours and I am certain "bitch" flourished while I was out of the room.

I relay this anecdote because there is no question in the MC who has power as rank is not open to interpretation; there is no disrespect leveled toward me as a female for doing the right (bitchy) thing. Asshole would work as well but bitch, in this case, means the same thing. No gender-based undercutting.

I agree that others' interpretations matter very much and I am glad to learn other women might have a problem with words which do not bother me. I would shut it down on behalf of someone else if the need arose.
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HyperGlavin
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« Reply #12 on: November 09, 2010, 12:24 pm »

That's just anecdotal evidence, though, and it doesn't stack up against hundreds of years of the use of 'bitch' to deride femininity.

Basically what I'm trying to say is that you're a dopey bitch.
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Luna Fortuna
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« Reply #13 on: November 09, 2010, 12:30 pm »

No need to be a little bitch about it.
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HyperGlavin
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« Reply #14 on: November 09, 2010, 12:32 pm »

I already made that joke. Get your own joke.
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Luna Fortuna
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« Reply #15 on: November 09, 2010, 12:40 pm »

There is a second lesson here in the nature of assholes and the valuable skill of not bothering with assholes who will be assholes no matter who is bothered.

I am the asshole, and I apologize for my traits.
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Honest Abe
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« Reply #16 on: November 09, 2010, 12:45 pm »

thanks for the jokes guys
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Bettytron
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« Reply #17 on: November 09, 2010, 12:56 pm »

@Luna - See, to me, it seems like the fact that there is this gender-specific insult is problematic.  It is probably the context in which I most hear these adjectives that informs my feelings about it.  Like, when I hear a coworker describe some guy (and it's always a guy, never a woman) as an asshole, it tends to feel dismissive, kind of eye-rolling "I can't believe we have to do this"- much like how you're saying "bitch" was likely used after you gave orders to redo the deck.  Whereas most of the time, when I hear a woman referred to as "bitch", there are definitely elements of resentment.  The power issue isn't necessarily one of rank or, in my case, who is who's boss, but just kind of the socialized idea of women needing to be softer or sweeter to get things done, where a man can be a hardass to a greater degree before getting serious negative reactions.  I'm sure the military does recontextualize that, though.  I understand that in general, bitch is seen as far less offensive than a lot of other slurs, and I try to make sure my reactions aren't kneejerk, so I really appreciate getting more perspectives.

Fake edit: You guys are all cunts.
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Luna Fortuna
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« Reply #18 on: November 09, 2010, 01:04 pm »

The context is the reason I enjoy reading your perspective and getting informed on normal speech in the normal world - I have zero days' experience as an adult outside of the military.
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Matt
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« Reply #19 on: November 10, 2010, 01:24 am »

Semantics is a bitch pain in the ass retar--...
Fuck semantics!

Everything is contextual and when you speak with another person you make assumptions about their attitudes. In regards to using 'gay' to describe something stupid/negative (and even my gay friends and Aunt do) it is rarely used with with any malice towards homosexual people. I think people realise that but get offended anyway because they've built it into their conscience that they should be offended. You shouldn't be. Meanings of words change. Even the homosexual meaning of 'gay' is the second meaning given to it after it was 'happy'. If people are getting offended because of its etymological origins (once again, when used in a non-menacing situation) I suggest they get over it.

Words and language are designed for communicating meanings and ideas between people and if there is no real bad meaning there then why add it?
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