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21 April, 2009

Just Another Talking Cunt

Belledame's post about language and dehumanisation and ... stuff has finally shaken me loose of the dithering about whether or not I wanted to post this here.

This is the text of a post I did not make to usenet earlier today, because I knew that whatever response it got would be entirely too depressing, and I'd rather be working on my wedding liturgy than flail at people who refuse to wrap their heads around things.

The context is whether insulting people with the word "twat" is misogynistic, by the way. And whether pointing out such use of language, even if accurate, is something worth concerning oneself about. It is perhaps unsurprising that it's the same usenet group as this one. I suspect, after nine and a half years there, it's coming up on time for me to give up and find some other writers' kibbutzing group.



Actually, this is one of those things that's fairly fundamental, from the right perspective.

I grew up in a culture in which words with a female gendering association were used as significant insults to imply that people were subhuman. (Likewise, I grew up in a culture in which words referring to disabilities were used to imply that people were subhuman, and I live *now* in a culture in which words referring to sexual orientation are used to imply that people are subhuman.)

The flavor of the discourse is such that I am *constantly* reminded of my second-class status in many contexts. One newsgroup I read is only manageable because I killfile for such sexist comments on the first offense. The insult discourse is, to me, *the same thing* as the treatment of traditionally female-gendered labor as less important and less worthy of remuneration than traditionally male-gendered labor, to pick a for-example. Womanness is less worthy than maleness; thus, womanness is an insult and woman-work doesn't pay well.

All of these are rooted in the notion that femaleness is less valuable than maleness, intrinsically a marked case, something of low status and low worth. And in a "you've got to be carefully taught" kind of way, people who can inanely parrot language without thinking that reinforces that notion create, reinforce, and support a systematic setup in which not only is femaleness something shameful - and thus something that women are obligated to feel bad about - but one in which I could, say, get excellent general medical coverage to address my prostate problems but coverage of my pregnancy is a special interest costing more.

I don't have the luxury of being able to treat it as a separate, minor issue; it may be tiny, but if it is tiny it is only so because in this context we are looking at something that's only three iterations of the fractal pattern. It's not a different fractal from the same pattern at a thousand iterations, and, being a fractal, it looks *exactly the same*.


I live in a world where my fundamental worthlessness is taken as a given, and where that message constantly reinforced by sexist-rooted invective among many, many other things.

Building a world where I am a valuable human being requires challenging the subtext of an entire culture. Sometimes I'm too tired to fight the same damn battles again and again, because it never ends; there's always someone who thinks that having my _existence_ treated as sufficient background to formulate an insult is not a real problem worth being concerned about.

I don't know; I kind of value my existence. Having it framed as degrading by default gets wearing.

No, womanness being used as an insult is not the biggest problem in the universe, but a world in which womanness was not immediately siezed upon as one of those high-calibre heavy hitters would necessarily be a profoundly different one than this one.

9 comments:

devastatingyet said...

This is why I gave up "bitch" as an insult a few years ago, though I've since loosened up and will use it in certain contexts where I am sure it will be understood as intentionally transgressive. I think it's basically like "kike" or faggot." Now I just call everyone assholes.

(I do also call people - mostly myself - "dicks." But I'm not as concerned about language that is about men, I guess.)

But, agreed that "twat" and "cunt" are not borderline cases. Not a bit.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

A while back I realised that the words for female genitalia that are used as insults typically connote weakness, uselessness, and contemptability, while the words for male genitalia used as insults typically connote rudeness, obnoxiousness, and stupidity.

devastatingyet said...

That sounds about right. Nice world we live in, ain't it?

labrys6 said...

I think an interesting and distressing side light to this is the fact that "female" insults are always degrading---"reclaiming" the word bitch has not made it sting-free. "Male" insults on the other hand, I find often make those so-named puff up with pride as if being a dick is an accomplishment above and beyond!
That said, yes, I confess I have called women "cunt"...rarely, but for those cases when I feel said woman has betrayed her gender by being nothing except a sexual receptacle. (My favorite recipient of this insult is Ann Coulter, btw) Not right, but we work with what we have.

MP said...

Hell, I do it myself (I'm a guy), and I catch myself now that I've been reading more feminist voices.

It's wrong of me to do it, and I know it was wrong of me to do it before now.

I also find myself using the word "cocksucker" as an insult, even though, frankly, it's enjoyable to have that performed on me, and I know many people whom I respect who enjoy doing it.

It shouldn't be an insult, but - welcome to Boston driving and my road rage issues.

SunflowerP said...

Fractals - excellent analogy!

Sunflower

Anonymous said...

My $0.02, from a really warped perspective...if you discount the sexism and look strictly at the anatomical factors, it makes no sense to use slang for female genitalia to denote weakness. After all, the uterus is strong enough without any prior conditioning to squeeze a full-term infant out of a passageway normally the width of the average human penis. That passageway is pretty damned strong and resilient, too.

The human testes, however, shrink up into the nearest body cavity at nothing more than being submerged in cold water at the beach.

I rest my case.

MP said...

Testes and uterus comparison is apples and oranges, however.

devastatingyet said...

The functions of female and male genitalia are so different that I don't think it makes sense to compare their "strength" or other value-laden characteristics. Both can bring pleasure to their possessors and their partners, and participate in reproduction, which is all pretty good stuff.