Posts Tagged ‘gender prejudice’

There was a debate recently, on Nirmukta, about the usage of word ‘bitch’. Most people agreed that it was derogatory when used against a woman damning and vilifying her person; it’s even wrong to use against a man by trying to portray him as a woman, which again turns on its head that panders to the gender prejudice against women. However, traditionally ‘bitch’ is also used to refer to a female dog. I argued how it is wrong and uncivilized to use ‘bitch’ under any context and circumstance. Few people agreed with me, however, many didn’t. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough with my arguments. Anyway, now, in this blog post, I shall primarily present my arguments against the usage of word ‘bitch’ under any context and circumstance. I shall try to draw analogy from hypothetical scenarios and analogy from usage of other similar offensive words like ‘fag’, ‘kafir’ etc.

Merriam Webster gives us the following meaning of the word ‘bitch’. [1]

1: the female of the dog or some other carnivorous mammals

: a lewd or immoral woman b : a malicious, spiteful, or overbearing woman —sometimes used as a generalized term of abuse

3: something that is extremely difficult, objectionable, or unpleasant

Note that the second and third  meaning are already explained in the summary section of this post; and most people agree that it is a derogatory and offensive word to use against a woman and even against a man. There is not shred of doubt in it and it should be abhorred under all circumstances. However, when we consider the ‘first’ meaning conveyed by the word, the unanimity seems blurry and unclear. In simple terms, most people find it acceptable or rather, not offensive/objectionable to use  when referring to a female dog. Are they all right? Perhaps they are. After all a female dog can’t take offense and won’t know in any case what does the word mean? Will it be over sensitive when somebody takes an offense? Surely, people may be thinking, taking offense to this is a case of extreme sensitivity.

But , a glaring mistake is made,perhaps unconsciously, when people give a justification, since the female dog can’t take offense , it’s immaterial and not offensive if ‘bitch’ is used. The reasoning given is , ‘bitch’ is not used in a sense  to offend or denigrate but to identify the female of species ‘dog’ .

However, I shall argue why it can be wrong to use ‘bitch’ through  hypothetical scenarios and thought experiments. Consider the following scenario:

Scenario – 1

“You are jogging in a lawn and you encounter one of your female friends, jogging with her pet dog. Incidentally, the pet dog she carried her with is a female dog. You greet your friend, “Hello, good morning”. And, after exchange of greetings, you also ask her about her pet dog as, “How is that bitch doing?” Your friend gives you a puzzled expression hearing the word ‘bitch’. “

From the above scenario ,though hypothetical , but not highly unlikely , we get to learn that usage of word ‘bitch’ even while referring to a dog can distract one’s attention, and disturb the audience present , especially if there are women present among them . The underlining point that I want to stress is, words, with different meaning, out of which one can be used in an offensive and derogatory manner, even when used without such intention or context, can disturb the target audience.

I will further explain the ‘disturbing’ nature of such words using another example. This time with the word ‘fag’.

Now, the word ‘fag’ too has different meaning.  ‘Fag’ can mean:

1)      Cigarette

2)      A derogatory and offensive slang to denigrate homosexuals

Now, considering the following scenario illustrating the usage of word ‘fag’:

Scenario – 2

“You are having a good time in a coffee shop with your friends. One of them is a homosexual and you are aware of that. You feel the urge to smoke and you express it to your friends as : “Guys ,Let’s smoke some fags ! “   After hearing this, your homosexual friend gives you a concerned and puzzled expression as if to express his displeasure.“

In these above scenarios , the words ‘bitch’ and ‘fag’ were used in an apparently innocuous manner with no derogatory intent. Yet, they had the unintended effect of disturbing the target audience present. This shows that sometimes, not only intention, even mere usage of those heavily loaded words can be misleading and offending. People may end up hurting sentiments and offending people unintentionally.  The point that I want to stress is, why use words that have fallen into misuse, and can be misleading and offending even when used in seemingly innocuous manner as illustrated above!  Can we not use alternative words , phrases that is civilized and acceptable ? Think about it.

This becomes even more important in online social networking and chatting frameworks. People may feel restrained, in real life situations, from using these words, fearing consequences or caring for their ‘reputation’. In virtual world, there are no such inhibitions unless until they are participating in a properly managed and moderated group. People feel less inclined to rein in their verbal outrage and often blurt out words that they wouldn’t have used otherwise in a real life situation.

It is a well established and accepted fact that Internet is a media used by people from diverse economic background, class, gender,ethnicity and community. Often times in a public debate forum, we have a fair mixture of people participating, including male and female, heterosexuals and homosexuals.  Obscured by their privileged position , people regularly use words that can be and certainly is , offending to members from less privileged  and disadvantaged groups ; especially women , members from LGBT community , disabled persons , ethnic , religious minorities. Frequent and repeated usage of words, viz, fags, bitch etc., can be offending and disturbing to women, LGBT members, even when used in an unintentional and innocuous manner.To say about few downsides of these words apart from the already discussed ‘offending’ nature; usage of such loaded words may even derail the discussion and can even potentially distract member’s attention . Continued usage of such words doesn’t help in civilizing one’s vocabulary  when we target to promote secular humanism and equal representation. Such words don’t fall into disuse, and keeps them in tip of our tongue , only to come out at inappropriate times.

Prime objective behind prohibition of such words is not to offend a fellow human , and accept them as equal citizens and human beings. By , discouraging usage of contemptuous and offending words , we are not only promoting our cherished humanist values , we are also helping in making the usage of such words obsolete . Civilizing language is essential part of our free-thought movement , especially when engaging in public debates and discussions in community that aims to promote and cherishes equal representation and humanist values.

As a freethinker and humanist, we should keep this in mind that freethinking comes with certain responsibility guided by sensitiveness and ethical reasoning. If freethinkers chose to be insensitive and irresponsible in the language they use and views they express , then there won’t be any difference between freethinking and random ‘careless’ ‘insensitive’ thinking. Freethinkers should realize why it is imperative to civilize their vocabulary and sanitize their views; with self-scrutiny and adopting a self-questioning, self-correcting attitude. Remember, the whole point of this post is not to encourage censorship and micro monitoring in a free and democratic forum. There is a difference between censorship and civilized, sensitized language, and I hope I have appropriately explained that in this blog post.  It is to remind ourselves of our responsibility and to our practice of kindness, compassion, civility and acceptance of fellow members of disadvantaged groups, even if that means to sacrifice and dilute your privilege and advantage.

References :

[1]. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bitch


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