Alex Blaze

Ban the B-word?

Filed By Alex Blaze | August 09, 2007 12:28 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: language, New York, New York City, slurs

The city of New York is thinking about a symbolic ban on the b-word [Note: Bitch, not bisexual], just like the one that they did for the n-word last year. From the NY Times:

The term is hateful and deeply sexist, said Councilwoman Darlene Mealy of Brooklyn, who has introduced a measure against the word, saying it creates “a paradigm of shame and indignity” for all women.[...]

And Ms. Mealy admitted that the city’s political ruling class can be guilty of its use. As she circulated her proposal, she said, “even council members are saying that they use it to their wives.”

Context is everything, I suppose, but I'm wondering in what context these councilmen (I'm going to assume the NY City Council isn't filled with committed lesbians calling their partners "bitch") are using that word. Could it be that context?

It's an interesting thought here, but...

Well, even the council member who thought up the ban knows that it's unenforceable. But one of the easiest ways to enforce such a thing would be to stop mailing magazines with the name on the cover, like, of course, Bitch. I don't know if that's a part of this proposal, but I sure hope that the council isn't going to make a decision that the magazine Bitch is derogatory to women!

The article does talk about how some people find the term positive, and while I don't know if all the quotations they found were from gay men, well, it's strongly implied. Take this one from Michael Musto:

“Half my conversation would be gone,” said Michael Musto, the Village Voice columnist, whom a reporter encountered on his bicycle on Sunday night on the corner of Seventh Avenue South and Christopher Street. Mr. Musto, widely known for his coverage of celebrity gossip, dismissed the idea as absurd.

“On the downtown club scene,” he said, munching on an apple, the two terms are often used as terms of endearment. “We divest any negative implication from the word and toss it around with love.”

And this one from a man in a West Village piano bar:

Darris James, 31, an architect from Brooklyn who was outside the Duplex, a piano bar in the West Village, on Sunday night was similarly opposed. “Hell, if I can’t say bitch, I wouldn’t be able to call half my friends.”

And this one from a well-dressed fashion magazine editor with a penchant for drag culture:

“I think it’s a description that is used insouciantly in the fashion industry,” said Hamish Bowles, the European editor at large of Vogue, as he ordered a sushi special at the Condé Nast cafeteria last week. “It would only be used in the fashion world with a sense of high irony and camp.”

Mr. Bowles, in salmon seersucker and a purple polo, appeared amused by the Council measure. “It’s very ‘Paris Is Burning,’ isn’t it?” he asked, referring to the film that captured the 1980s drag queen scene in New York.

So the author doesn't really have to say "gay" to mean "gay".

But I don't use that term with my friends, and honestly my friends don't use that term with me. It's not like I don't hear it, but it's definitely not half my vocabulary.

The article cites it's usage amongst hip-hopsters as the source of the idea for the ban:

The measure, which 19 of the 51 council members have signed onto, was prompted in part by the frequent use of the word in hip-hop music.

The word was apparently not so bad when used by the council members, or when it's used by gay men, but when hip hop artists use it, it's worthy of a ban.

And, yes, I realize that the context in which many hip hop artists use the word isn't positive at all. Perhaps I'm just saying that it's a term that changes meaning from context to context (think about its use at dog shows), but what defines one context as appropriate and another as inappropriate? Why is a council member calling his wife a "bitch" OK but a hip hop artist calling his girlfriend one not? Why does one feminist magazine get to use that word on the cover even when many feminists find that slur completely unacceptable?

Of course such symbolic bans do little to actually change anything, so it would probably be better to focus on education about the word and the idea of slurs, since if "bitch" were actually successfully banned, a new word would pop up to take its place.

Maybe they could require women's studies 101 of all high school seniors?


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Lynn David | August 9, 2007 7:19 PM

I know some women who revel in the idea that they are "bitches." But call them that and you risk singing soprano the rest of your life.

And it wasn't until I got to the last in the first NY Times piece quoted, when it ended in "they use it to their wives," that I realized the 'B'-word you were talking about wasn't "Bisexual." All along I was thinking why should the word "bisexual" be offensive, especially to women? That's what being in that LGBTQ mindset can do for/to you.

Thanks, Lynn. I updated.

I get the same thing when I cross-post to our diaries at MyDD and Kos - "I thought HRC referred to Hillary Clinton!"