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Reclaiming “bad” words

September 26, 2007

*Warning, this post contains words you may consider offensive*

Let me just put it out there: I don’t think there is anything to gain by identifying yourself with words typically used to oppress you. I’m talking about women who try to reclaim the words “bitch” and “cunt,” gay men and lesbians who call themselves “fags” and “dykes,” black people who use the word “nigger,” or any minority who tries to take the power out of a word by repurposing it as a “good” word. Don’t try to repurpose it, throw it out! I’m still working on why I feel so strongly about this, though, so help me out if you have any ideas. I think that if we try to redefine “bitch” to mean an outspoken, assertive woman (in a good way), all that happens is that outspoken assertive women get labeled bitches in the traditional way, which also means malicious, domineering, and mean. Nothing really changes, except that those trying to redefine the word get put on the same team as those using it in it’s original, offensive way.

There is nothing wrong with some words being offensive. I think that “nigger” should be seen as an offensive term. It was coined for racist reasons, used with terrible effect, and needs to be consigned to the trash heap of history. I would rather say “nigger is a terrible word people used to use, but we don’t use it anymore” than “we took the shit they gave us, and polished it up nicely so that we could use it.”

Tamara Strauss reports that:

Women like former New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen have argued that equating lipstick with empowerment, however playful or ironic, and reclaiming such words as bitch and slut make a mockery of feminism’s longtime and still unachieved goals of social and economic equality.

On the other hand, of course, there is Bitch, PhD:

So I think that’s kind of the thing about bitching. If you’re doing it all alone, and it’s falling on deaf ears, and you feel powerless, it’s easy to feel like bitching is pointless. And that, of course, is why some people call other people bitches–to try to isolate them, marginalize what they’re doing, keep other women from joining them in bitching. But when bitchy women start bitching at each other, and then bitching together in a kind of bitches coven, it does make a difference. It makes you realize you’re not alone, and you do have the right to feel ticked off about whatever’s twisting your knickers, and hey, now that you mention it, my panties are in a bunch too, and why the fuck don’t clothing manufacturers make underwear that doesn’t ride up your crack?

9 Comments leave one →
  1. September 26, 2007 9:09 pm

    I had someone ask me today if the “bitch” in my blog title was a noun or a verb. I claimed it as both because I proudly own that title.

  2. September 26, 2007 9:17 pm

    You obviously feel strongly about that. If I may ask, why do you think it’s good or important to own the word “bitch?”

  3. maffersalmon permalink
    September 26, 2007 9:55 pm

    I have never understood the usefullness of “owning” a title, be it positive or negative. Perhaps that is because i have never, as a WASP, never been marginalized. Sad really

  4. lmw permalink
    September 27, 2007 12:17 am

    I am not a fan of “reclaiming” oppressive, derogatory words. I think it sends the message that you’re okay with being called that and gives others license to call you that…whatever “that” might be. I actually get really bent out of shape about words that I consider to be offensive and people who can’t figure out why I would be offended by them. Namely, if I am complaining or whining, I’m “bitching,” and if I’m being weak, I’m a “pussy.”

  5. September 28, 2007 1:42 am

    Hi Natasha. I’m just trying to understand: why do you dislike Oprah? What has she done to you personally that makes you dislike her? I’m simply asking to gain understanding because I really don’t see anything Oprah has ever done to someone such that they would dislike her.

  6. September 28, 2007 2:31 pm

    Thanks for clarifying. I just wanted to understand the basis of your ‘dislike’. I cringe whenever I come across strong feelings or words against other human beings that communicate negative energy. I think most human beings do a lot more good than bad and we tend to focus on the bad. We live in a world in which we have created walls between ourselves and others because of minor differences when we can find a lot more things in common to bring us together. I’m not in any way defending Oprah. Her work is legendary but I also believe every human being who is making a difference, whether known or unknown, is legendary. I think you are legendary. It takes courage to publish your ideas to the public arena. Keep on writing!

  7. September 28, 2007 3:19 pm

    I think it is important to own the word bitch because it is a word that is used in order to make me stop what I am doing, saying, or how I am behaving. If I own it, you will have to find a better way to argue with me and win.


  1. Random Musing about Bad Words
  2. Girls Guide to the Galaxy » Blog Archive » Random Musing about Bad Words

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