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"Bitch" is an ugly word to throw around so casually.
August 28, 2011 8:52 PM   Subscribe

It's disheartening to read a bunch of users, particularly women, repeatedly refer to another woman as a "bitch".

Do you really need a lesson in the gender politics of "bitch"? If the post were written about a man, he'd be referred to as a "jerk", perhaps an "asshole", but because it's a woman, she's a bitch, right?

Do you think it makes it any better because it's one woman calling another woman that? Here's a hint: it's worse.

Just stop it.
posted by mkultra to Etiquette/Policy at 8:52 PM (546 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

I generally agree with you about the word, which I avoid, but I don't see why women are especially responsible for combating misogynistic speech.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:54 PM on August 28, 2011 [14 favorites]


Thanks for deleting mkultra's troll-post, mods. I was thinking oh crap, there goes any hope of good answers, and oh crap, now people are feeding him, then -- yoink! You rock!

Mkultra, go fuck yourself with your grandfather's dick!
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 8:56 PM on August 28, 2011 [21 favorites]


It's almost as if the drama spun up on cue after Irene (who was kind of a bitch) spun down.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:58 PM on August 28, 2011


Oh, wow.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:59 PM on August 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yikes. Yeah, I addressed the OP's comment. This feels a tad... over the top. :)
posted by Glinn at 9:00 PM on August 28, 2011


So whom may we call bitches, and under what circumstances? PLEASE TELL US
posted by hermitosis at 9:02 PM on August 28, 2011 [34 favorites]


It's disheartening to watch a person fall victim to the pieties of political correctness. But I don't feel compelled to start a MeTa about my grievances.
posted by dfriedman at 9:05 PM on August 28, 2011 [11 favorites]


Just stop it.

Excellent advice, all around!
posted by carsonb at 9:07 PM on August 28, 2011


You know what else is an ugly word to throw around? fuchsia. I mean look at it; that just doesn't make sense.

Also diahorrea/diarrhea, that is just a pain in the arse no matter which way you chose to go.

I'm also bothered by read and read being spelled the same between tenses, too, but maybe that's just me.
posted by smoke at 9:10 PM on August 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


hermitosis: "So whom may we call bitches, and under what circumstances? PLEASE TELL US"

Female dogs.

Especially if they're hogging all the snausages.
posted by Rhaomi at 9:11 PM on August 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh, for fuck's sake.
posted by honey-barbara at 9:15 PM on August 28, 2011 [10 favorites]


pH Indicating Socks: Mkultra, go fuck yourself with your grandfather's dick!

You are not as funny as you think you are.

Bitch is one of those words that rile people up. If you don't want people to get riled up, don't use that word. If you throw the term around, people's hackles will get raised. It's not that complicated.

Also, I know half the US has been stuck inside because of the storm, but there's no reason to go at each other.
posted by Kattullus at 9:18 PM on August 28, 2011 [19 favorites]


go fuck yourself with your grandfather's dick!

If, like myself, you were fortunate enough to read this choice quote in this thread before you read it in the AskMe thread, go ahead and have a click. Context works wonders!
posted by carsonb at 9:19 PM on August 28, 2011 [25 favorites]


The lesson I'm getting from this call-out is:

Men calling women bitches = bad.
Women calling women bitches = doublebad.
Anyone calling men assholes and jerks = acceptable.
Anyone calling women assholes and jerks = possibly also acceptable.

Assholes good. Bitches bad. Got it.
posted by katillathehun at 9:22 PM on August 28, 2011 [11 favorites]


If the post were written about a man, he'd be referred to as a "jerk",

Let s/he who is without misandry cast the first stone!
posted by gnomeloaf at 9:22 PM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


fyi your MeTa link in the actual thread goes nowhere, which I originally found deliciously ironic before realizing it was accidental.
posted by elizardbits at 9:23 PM on August 28, 2011


Context works wonders sure. But it still comes across as hugely unnecessary and aggressive here. And I don't even agree with the MeTa.
posted by 6550 at 9:23 PM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's been said before, by greater minds than mine, but seriously bitches ain't shit.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 9:25 PM on August 28, 2011


If you got girl problems I feel bad for you son. I got 99 problems but a bitch ain't one.

So says Jay-Z
posted by dfriedman at 9:27 PM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a faggot, may I occasionaly self-identify as a bitch for rhetorical flourish?
posted by hermitosis at 9:29 PM on August 28, 2011 [47 favorites]


It's been said before, by greater minds than mine, but seriously bitches ain't shit.

In times like these, it's important that we don't forget the important role that both hos and tricks play in our society.
posted by phunniemee at 9:32 PM on August 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


Boy, I'm glad to see such a vigorous defense of such a put-down.

the young rope-rider: "I generally agree with you about the word, which I avoid, but I don't see why women are especially responsible for combating misogynistic speech."

Because you're not appropriating the term, you're just perpetuating the idea that it's OK for anyone to refer to you as as bitch.

pH Indicating Socks: "Mkultra, go fuck yourself with your grandfather's dick!"

You know, I wasn't going to bring this up, but since you've decided to make this all personal-

There's nothing in your daughter's workplace incident that is particular to women. Men behave that way all the time. You are making it about "bitches" because of what is clearly your own personal baggage about relating to other women. You might want to examine why you feel compelled to act so angrily.
posted by mkultra at 9:32 PM on August 28, 2011 [22 favorites]


go fuck yourself with your grandfather's dick!

Absolutely do not do this here again. Not okay, period.

If this becomes some long thread where people attempt to out-bitch each other, we'll close it up. Feel free to discuss the topic, btu I'm really not up for a long "let's all cuss at each other" thread.

I do not think mkultra was trolling in the AskMe thread though I might be mistaken.

Here's a hint: it's worse.

That has not been my experience.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:33 PM on August 28, 2011 [20 favorites]


You might want to examine why you feel compelled to act so angrily.

And you, good sir, might want to examine why you feel compelled to speak for the plight of women with regard to being called unkind words, when we're more than capable of defending ourselves.
posted by phunniemee at 9:35 PM on August 28, 2011 [38 favorites]


I was absolutely not trolling in that thread. I think the OP's rush to dismiss to that person as a "bitch" just reinforces the idea that assertive women in the workplace are to be put in their place.

phunniemee: "And you, good sir, might want to examine why you feel compelled to speak for the plight of women with regard to being called unkind words, when we're more than capable of defending ourselves."

That's just garbage sophistry. You do it because it's the right thing to do, regardless of who you are.
posted by mkultra at 9:42 PM on August 28, 2011 [10 favorites]


In my experience, men who have strong opinions about how women should act or behave towards each other are usually doing the exact opposite of what they think they're doing.
posted by MadamM at 9:44 PM on August 28, 2011 [78 favorites]


Because you're not appropriating the term, you're just perpetuating the idea that it's OK for anyone to refer to you as as bitch.

By appropriating I think you mean "reclaiming" and agree with you that no one here is reclaiming the term. The idea that it's okay for women to use it among other women is another question which I don't feel inclined to address in the context of a man singling out women for extra chastisement.

Do you think it's the fault of women that men use misogynistic language? You managed to figure out that it's not okay, yes?

Why does the gender that has to deal with misogyny have to bear a greater responsibility for fighting it?
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:44 PM on August 28, 2011 [10 favorites]


What's wrong with bitch exactly? Please educate me.
posted by humanfont at 9:46 PM on August 28, 2011


MadamM: "In my experience, men who have strong opinions about how women should act or behave towards each other are usually doing the exact opposite of what they think they're doing."

Is there something you'd like to say to me less obliquely, or do you think it's OK to make personal slights like this as long as you say it that way?
posted by mkultra at 9:48 PM on August 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


And you, good sir, might want to examine why you feel compelled to speak for the plight of women with regard to being called unkind words, when we're more than capable of defending ourselves.

I partially agree--I really appreciate it when men call out other men for being sexist. Calling out women and saying that they're particularly responsible is not so great, though.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:48 PM on August 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


You might want to examine why you feel compelled to act so angrily.

Because the girls in question were so cruel they made his/her daughter break down and cry. Of all the times "bitch" is thrown around casually, you chose this one for your battleground?
posted by katillathehun at 9:48 PM on August 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


katillathehun: "Because the girls in question were so cruel they made his/her daughter break down and cry. Of all the times "bitch" is thrown around casually, you chose this one for your battleground?"

She had one brief run-in with one person.
posted by mkultra at 9:52 PM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you'd examine the dynamic laid out in the question, you'd see that the asker is the mother, who just wants to try to help her daughter deal with interpersonal bullshit that, given the ages and circumstances involved, she cannot directly deal with. We are therefore seeing her direct emotional response, replete with frustration and protective angst at seeing her child dealing with said bullshit. The daughter is not calling anyone names, but the mother, seeing distress and being at a complete loss to fix or assuage the situation is in high offensive mode, trying to get a grip on herself, and the situation. Perhaps for her, calling people names is cathartic, and belittling enough to lead to the end of this tempest for her, which is really the point of the question. It's not about what to do, it's about what to do with her frustrations.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 9:52 PM on August 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


phunniemee: "And you, good sir, might want to examine why you feel compelled to speak for the plight of women with regard to being called unkind words, when we're more than capable of defending ourselves."

Phunniemee, I may not always agree with you, but you write like an orator.

And seriously, I'm kinda sick of guys making rules about girls on this site. I remember reading some douchebag a few weeks ago on this website speaking on "behalf of women and children everywhere". What a douche.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:54 PM on August 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


Is there something you'd like to say to me less obliquely, or do you think it's OK to make personal slights like this as long as you say it that way?

I'll bite. Nobody cares about some thread where a dude is telling women to stop saying bitch to each other because he thinks its not the way they should be.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:55 PM on August 28, 2011 [24 favorites]


Good grief, the OP is expressing frustration and empathy for her daughter's bad day. "Bitch" is being used to characterize a type of unkind behavior; it's not being lobbed at another user as an insult. Do you even understand the dynamic the OP is describing?

Do you think it makes it any better because it's one woman calling another woman that? Here's a hint: it's worse. Just stop it.

Honestly, this reads as insultingly presumptuous and utterly not constructive. Instead of reacting to her language without context, maybe consider trying to be helpful? Something like this:

"I'd suggest that you try to back down from the name-calling? Calling these women bitches is understandably satisfying in a moment of anger, but it plays right into the dynamic of mean girl behavior, which is essentially rooted in sexism anyway -- we women can't fight honestly, we're sneaky and manipulative and cruel instead, amirite? There's much to be said for taking the high road. And living well is the best revenge."
posted by desuetude at 9:57 PM on August 28, 2011 [23 favorites]


What's wrong with bitch exactly? Please educate me.

Gendered insults bother me. The English language (and quite possibly even moreso for its idiomatic usage) has a shitty history of being pretty biased towards patriarchy. This tends to make me suspicious of gendered insults, because there's probably something going on in there. I'm not going to try to make an argument for why you shouldn't call someone a bitch, but that's why I don't.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:58 PM on August 28, 2011 [43 favorites]


I think mkultra's heart is in the right place, but my immediate reaction to the callout was that it was creepily paternalistic.
posted by gatorae at 9:59 PM on August 28, 2011 [12 favorites]


I'm a woman and I don't like the use of the word bitch. But when I started a thread here about the word whore, it didn't go much better. It seems people get attached to their own definitions of their words. Me especially.
posted by taff at 10:00 PM on August 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


If this becomes some long thread where people attempt to out-bitch each other, we'll close it up.

Well, you don't have to be a ...
Oh, nevermind, it wasn't that funny the first dozen times.
posted by Ardiril at 10:00 PM on August 28, 2011


I think the OP's rush to dismiss to that person as a "bitch" just reinforces the idea that assertive women in the workplace are to be put in their place.

This does not exactly seem like a case where the issue was a woman being "assertive" in the workplace.
posted by lullaby at 10:00 PM on August 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


When we finalize the list of words that are acceptable will someone please CC me? TIA.

/GiveMeAFuckingBreak
posted by schyler523 at 10:01 PM on August 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


Yep, here we go. Another man telling women how they should speak and behave to each other. Maybe mkultra should give us a list of acceptable behaviours so we can all learn to be good little girls in his eyes. Or was that too... bitchy...?
posted by Jubey at 10:03 PM on August 28, 2011 [16 favorites]


I was going to make a list of the things people have asked other people to stop doing in meta, but I lost my place in 2001 and lost interest. Words be words and there's a time for each one. I have my list of unacceptable words as do others. I'm sure there's probably a lot of overlap, but for the most part as soon as someone says we should stop using a word that makes me want to use it more.

Not fond of the word bitch when applied to a person, but as something one does I am fine with it. I don't mind a little bitching.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:09 PM on August 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Jubey, I'm not sure I agree. The part where he asks, rhetorically, if it's better coming from another woman is a derail to me.

I reckon the case can be made that no-one should be using that language. Out of respect. The fact that it's a man asking is irrelevant to me. It's a human being asking fir the tenor to be improved. And that feels good. To me.
posted by taff at 10:09 PM on August 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


My friend Angie's first car was a bright orange VW bug, and when we were seniors in high school someone keyed the word "BITCH" onto the door in huge unmistakable letters.

Her dad tried to schedule a time when he could take the car in to get the paint fixed, but Angie wouldn't let him. "It's free advertising," she said. She drove it like that for the next three years.
posted by hermitosis at 10:12 PM on August 28, 2011 [42 favorites]


Attention mkultra and anyone else offended by women calling other women "bitch": don't ever listen to Missy Elliott.

She's awesome, though.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:15 PM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


We're still allowed to skip threads we find offensive, right?
posted by cjorgensen at 10:16 PM on August 28, 2011 [14 favorites]


I did pause for a minute when I read the word but ultimately did not find find its use here offensive. Bitch is a word that can be used in very sexist ways, but to me, I'm realizing, it isn't inherently and always sexist.

I found this to be a not-sexist usage. As people point out often here, it takes oppression to make it racism or sexism. A woman deploying "bitch" on behalf of the new girl who is being mocked by an older girl seems less like someone maintaining structures of oppression and male privilege, and more like someone taking the side of the underdog in a knife-fight out in the alley.

Sure, even a low-status woman could reinforce existing power structures, but its meaning here and the intent behind the use seems not sexist. Calling Hillary Clinton a bitch? To me that says, "she's not being deferential like a woman should; get back in your place, woman!" There's not a male equivalent for that usage that I can quickly think of. Calling a lying and mean coworker a bitch? That says "I don't like your behavior and you are a woman," the way that "cocksucker" says "I don't like your behavior and you are a man."

So, taken in context, it ultimately did not bother me. And I guess I see this view as decently thoughtful. I could imagine good counterarguments or possibly coming to change my mind upon further thought. But this sort of "do you really need a lesson in gender politics?" framing seems unnecessarily disrespectful to those who might share your general goals and views but interpret a situation slightly differently.
posted by salvia at 10:18 PM on August 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Since we are doing songs now, I prefer Meredith Brooks.
posted by nooneyouknow at 10:19 PM on August 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Taff, yeah I probably am over reacting. But that'll happen when my day started off with a strange man walking up to me in the street to tell me off for drinking coffee while pregnant. Thing is, it's not even the first time. I'm kinda... over it. My issue.
posted by Jubey at 10:22 PM on August 28, 2011


That girl was a primo bitch, for real. There is simply no better word in the English language that describes her, sorry.

(I'm a chick -- the word 'bitch' doesn't bother me when used by women. Maybe it's not logical but there it is.)
posted by imalaowai at 10:25 PM on August 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


Shit Jubey, someone did that?!! Wow. Crap. A free pass to get stroppy all day now granted. (Hope you told him to go fuck himself.)

Congratulations anyway possum! How many weeks are you??
posted by taff at 10:26 PM on August 28, 2011


Isn't being pregnant annoying like that, jubey? For some reason I keep getting lectures about breastfeeding and how if I don't breastfeed I'm never going to bond with my baby etc. Where does this come from? I am not asking these people for advice.

Someone harassed me about coffee once and I lied and told them it was decaf. And organic. And the milk in it was organic. And it had DHA. For the baby's brain. Special pregnant woman coffee.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:27 PM on August 28, 2011 [25 favorites]


I'm a chick

Yay to the word "chick"! That's what we used to say when I was a teen back in Alabama (mid-70s), and it's high time it came back into regular use, as far as I'm concerned. Hey, maybe it is back in regular use, for all I know. (Now I'm old and I live in Tokyo)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:29 PM on August 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


In deference to the concerns over the patriarchical legacy of these terms I suggest alternative gender descriptive insults:
-vag-zilla
-dong-zilla

They are both conquest oriented but destructive. Dong/vag-zilla could be up in your face or holding a party behind your face. You don't want either of them up your ass. Equal opportunities or olfactory or age related offense are presented along with combinations e.g. that nasty stinky old dong/vag-zilla was all up in my ass over last weeks TpS report.
posted by humanfont at 10:29 PM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I always hesitate to use genital words for insults because I just love them so much.

Dongzilla does have a ring to it, though.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:32 PM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, bitch, bitch, bitch.

Bitch, please.
posted by Eideteker at 10:33 PM on August 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


@flapjax: Ha . . . I'm too old to be a girl and still feel weird calling myself a woman, so I always end up calling myself a chick. It seems like a happy medium.
posted by imalaowai at 10:35 PM on August 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


You got to mix it child
You got to fix it
Must be love
It's a bitch
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:37 PM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love chick. But not when used by men, for some reason.
posted by taff at 10:37 PM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


If we're talking about songs, I remember how offended I was at first by OutKast's 'Roses' (with bitch being bandied about over and over). But the more I listened to it I began to think, 'nah, that girl really is a bitch'.
posted by imalaowai at 10:39 PM on August 28, 2011


Lil Kim is also a frequent user.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:43 PM on August 28, 2011


I'm too old to be a girl and still feel weird calling myself a woman

So what you're saying is, you're not a girl, not yet a woman?

Anyway...pH, count me as finding the "grandfather's dick" comment freaking hilarious.
posted by naoko at 10:48 PM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm too old to be a girl and still feel weird calling myself a woman, so I always end up calling myself a chick. It seems like a happy medium.

Here's my rough outline...

Male or female, age 0-2: baby
Male or female, age 2-4: toddler

Male, age 4-17: boy
Female, age 2-17: girl

Male, age 17-30: dude
Female, age 17-30: chick

Male, age 30+: man
Female, age 30+: woman

Or, male, age 17+: guy
Female, age 17+: lady

And then, just to complicate things, I also use guy, dude, and bro to refer to people of both genders. Because I'm cool like that.
posted by phunniemee at 10:50 PM on August 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


Girl, you'll be a woman soon.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:51 PM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I see the word "bitch" in use like this, I just avoid the askme. I think that men should never use the word, and women should generally never encourage a man to use the word too. (My advice to men is to substitute the word "jerk".)

I have to assume that questions framed like this are girlzone questions.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:59 PM on August 28, 2011


According to phunniemee's outline I have been accurately labeling myself for ~12 years. And yes flapjax/Neil Diamond, I will be a woman soon!

Also, I totally agree with the dude thing. I also indiscriminately refer to random men as 'homie' or 'homeslice'.
posted by imalaowai at 10:59 PM on August 28, 2011


So the tone of the thread has moved far away from what I wrote, but since I wrote it:

The gender-specific (and IMHO problematic) framing of the MeTa aside, I have to say that I agree with salvia that "bitch is a word that can be used in very sexist ways, but to me, I'm realizing, it isn't inherently and always sexist." I agree that "bitch" isn't always sexist. But to me, in the AskMe, it's being associated with a very specific sexist interpretation of actions: not just a "that woman is an asshole, and the word for a female asshole is 'bitch'" question of language, but actually implying that the actions in question were unquestionably feminine in nature (and I consider that sexist). There are a lot of really specific, useful, helpful words to describe the kind of jerk that girl was being: mean, cruel, passive aggressive, underhanded, two-faced, belittling. There are a lot of really dismissive, unpleasant and misogynist associations with the word "bitch." I'd really prefer if the words that describe the actions of Heather be words that address her actions, not words that imply that that's just the way a lot of girls are. Not least because, in matters of advice, it's rarely helpful to totally write someone off and it's a lot more helpful to figure out how to address the specific actions that are pissing you off.

Usually, if a man is being mean, cruel, underhanded, etc. he's described by those adjectives, not called a bitch (in fact, a man being called a "bitch" usually means he's being weak or feminine); if a woman does those things, she's called a bitch or catty, both sexist dismissals of women as having a high propensity for sniping, underhanded behavior. I'm a woman, I hang out with, live with, and work with mostly women, and that shit does not come with the gender. It comes with a petty and aggressive personality. So address that, rather than throwing a bunch of stereotypes into the mix.
posted by verbyournouns at 11:02 PM on August 28, 2011 [87 favorites]


Verbyournouns..... favourited.
posted by taff at 11:05 PM on August 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm almost 31 weeks. Yay! And I can't really get stroppy all day, I just need to learn to get over it because as the young rope-rider demonstrates, it never really stops, from this point on with mothers, we're public property. Everybody has an opinion and seems to think it's fine to judge and share it with a complete stranger. First with the coffee (which my doctor told me is just fine, in small quantities!) then with the breast feeding, then god knows what. Oh, that's right, I've already been told I have to have another child because God forbid, this one shouldn't have a sibling. The person who told me this is in no way offering to help raise or pay for this imaginary second child but they will make me feel bad for not having it myself... Can someone give me a special meditation I can say to deal with these people because while telling them to go fuck themselves may feel good in the short term, it's probably not the best course of action! Ommm.....
posted by Jubey at 11:07 PM on August 28, 2011


mkultra, I missed whatever you wrote inthread that was removed, but I just want to say that I appreciate that you made this MeTa, because it always makes me like the world is a little better to see men even *caring* about feminist issues, much less taking the initiative to try to do something about them. I couldn't agree more with your first two lines:

"Bitch" is an ugly word to throw around so casually.
It's disheartening to read a bunch of users, particularly women, repeatedly refer to another woman as a "bitch".


I think one of the reasons you started getting so much pushback here is that this MeTa was framed in a way that seemed like angrily storming into people's faces and ordering them around. And I think for many people, ironically, it came off as that same old problem MadamM alluded to above that women have -- men telling women what to do and what they should think about things and how they're doing it wrong. Which can be particularly irritating when it's an issue that affects women much more strongly/much more directly/only affects women, it's an issue that women have much more experience with. For that to be the case, and for a man to tell women that his opinions on the matter are more correct or more considered than theirs, can be really calling.

Also: Do you think it makes it any better because it's one woman calling another woman that? Here's a hint: it's worse.

I think a lot of people would be strongly offended by the idea that one kind of sexism is better or worse than another, or that male to female misogyny isn't as bad as female to female sexism. Particularly when male to female misogyny, unlike female to female, is chiefly responsible for things like say, rape. I have no desire to get into a debate over this, suffice it to say, it's going to offend people if it seems you're implying one form of misogyny isn't as bad. And for those of us who have pretty much only been called "bitch" by men, particularly in situations where we were in fear of being assaulted by those men (or BEING assaulted by them), it's not going to go over well for you to say it's particularly disheartening when women say it.

I think this MeTa would have gone a lot better if you had not used the kind of commanding framing, and said:

"Bitch" is an ugly word to throw around so casually. It's disheartening to read a bunch of users repeatedly refer to another woman as a "bitch." If the post were written about a man, he'd be referred to as a "jerk", perhaps an "asshole", but because it's a woman, she's a bitch, and that deeply upsets me. I don't think I'm the only person who feels strongly about this word, and I'd appreciate it if we could a community discussion about the way it's being used here.
posted by Ashley801 at 11:09 PM on August 28, 2011 [22 favorites]


As long as the acceptability of language here depends on an escalating arms race of political correctness, rather than more commonly accepted norms of good manners in polite society, then Metafilter is always going to wriggle like a worm in the sun when this issue comes up.
posted by joannemullen at 11:14 PM on August 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


31 weeks... the downhill stretch! The best response generally depends on your personality. I can be a bit confrontational. And odd. You could always say , "Thanks for your concern. I"m don't actually speak English though, so I don't understand what you're saying."

A sweet smile and a "Fuck off and mind your own business" never hurts. Has to stop by the time your sproggle starts talking though. Bugger.
posted by taff at 11:14 PM on August 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


As long as the acceptability of language here depends on an escalating arms race of political correctness, rather than more commonly accepted norms of good manners in polite society, then Metafilter is always going to wriggle like a worm in the sun when this issue comes up.

How so? In which polite society is it a commonly accepted norm to refer to women as bitches?

Anyway, I think it's good for us to wriggle when this issue comes up. There are things that need to be worked out.
posted by Ashley801 at 11:17 PM on August 28, 2011 [14 favorites]


In my experience, men who have strong opinions about how women should act or behave towards each other are usually doing the exact opposite of what they think they're doing.

Use your words.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:17 PM on August 28, 2011


Jubey, I really can't come up with something non-pissy in the moment. Lately I've just gotten absurd with it and I say things like "I don't have nipples". When it's friends I try to keep myself from hating them with white-hot hate by reminding myself that they want the best for my baby even if they're being assfaces about it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:19 PM on August 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Am I the only one who'd call a guy who did the same thing a dick? I mean, really?

It's disheartening to read a bunch of users, particularly women, repeatedly refer to another woman as a "bitch".

It's disheartening to read a bunch of users, particularly men, attempt to police what words women should and shouldn't use when referring to each other. I think that it's safe to say that all the women here are well aware of the nuances of the word bitch and understand what they're saying when they use it.

And, for the record, I refer to myself as a bitch, frequently and proudly. I would also have called this woman a bitch, for completely different reasons. I don't feel that this is problematic, and I don't think that it's uncommon for a group to reclaim a word as a positive term while still using the less-positive meaning as a slur.
posted by MeghanC at 11:20 PM on August 28, 2011 [13 favorites]


Taff, yeah I probably am over reacting. But that'll happen when my day started off with a strange man walking up to me in the street to tell me off for drinking coffee while pregnant.

"Oh, you're right! I should dump it out. (on your head)"
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:27 PM on August 28, 2011


Rope-rider; next time some well meaning busybody feels free to attack you for not breastfeeding, burst into tears and thank them for bringing up such a painful topic, despite your best efforts, breastfeeding isn't possible for you and you're devastated about it. Anything else they'd like to talk about?
posted by Jubey at 11:31 PM on August 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Use your words.

This is a bit patronising, no?

IMO, MadamM's statement was very clear. She was pointing out that it's a pretty common thing that happens in discourse about gendered issues. A statement just about/to mkultra would not have had the same meaning. I suspect deliberate obtuseness here.
posted by lwb at 11:34 PM on August 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


What's the verdict on son of a bitch?
posted by Ironmouth at 11:43 PM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Really bad.
posted by taff at 11:45 PM on August 28, 2011


I think that it's safe to say that all the women here are well aware of the nuances of the word bitch and understand what they're saying when they use it.

This is absurd. Having a vagina does not magically bestow upon you the ability to understand your own feelings or relationship with your own vocabulary. It's not insane to believe that anyone using the word 'bitch' makes the world less welcoming to women in general, and I expect that quite a few women have not even entertained that thought, inculturated as they are.
posted by TypographicalError at 11:52 PM on August 28, 2011 [12 favorites]


verbyournouns has a good point. Even not considering the word "bitch," there is a lot of "all women are like that" in the thread.

I'm not offended by the use of a gendered word to describe negative behavior by someone of that gender in this situation,* but I am offended by comments that all people of that gender act in that negative way.

* I can see logically that having "separate but equal" insults for male and female bad actors is a slippery slope to having that female insult get freighted with the culture's misogyny, but I still don't feel that concerned about its use here for some reason.
posted by salvia at 11:59 PM on August 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


What's the verdict on son of a bitch?

I used to say, "You've met Mom?" Back in my misspent youth. Now, I lecture the offender on gender stereotypes. "What if I was a woman," I ask. "Would you call me daughter-of-a-bitch? I think not. Tell me: why are you afraid of strong women? Do you have a small penis and daddy issues?" Asa response, it takes longer, but maturity has taught me patience.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:04 AM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


more commonly accepted norms of good manners in polite society

I am unaware of polite society in which it is okay to call women bitches at all. However, the more relevant issue is that people don't even agree on terms like polite, or society or good manners and so we talk about these things and see what other people think they mean and then we can learn more about how to engage with other people.

Some people find this process noxious and they are more than welcome to not engage in it at all which is what I also tell people who show up in these threads with their tired "please remind me what I can and can't say here" comments. No one is making you read this thread. You can say whatever you want. However there are consequences to what you say. If you are not okay with that situation then you are welcome to try to change it. Saying "this is stupid" or some variant thereof is not actually trying to change anything.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:07 AM on August 29, 2011 [30 favorites]


I've used 'bitch' as an insult. I've used it as a compliment. Context is important in language use and whenever someone has tried to insult me with the word it's usually been in a situation where the gender issue is of little concern.

There are gender-specific insults for men (ie "dickhead") as well, last I checked.

But these days, when there are so many wonderful unisex insults you can always just use those. To wit: "fucknut", "dipshit", "no-talent-assed-clowns", etc.... By using such a wonderful modern vocabulary you will show yourself to be possessing an intellect to be reckoned with.
posted by Salmonberry at 12:07 AM on August 29, 2011


Oh dear. It's pretty terrible, this disheartening stuff, isn't it? We really must try harder to avoid saying or doing anything that might cause disheartenment in anyone.
posted by Decani at 12:09 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think we should take this opportunity to go 80s-style and bring back bitchin' as an exclamation of delight/approbation, especially since awesome has grown contentious.

I will not stop trying to make bitchin' happen.
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 12:11 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


We need an age checker at the entrance to this site just like adult only sites
posted by infini at 12:11 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


TypographicalError, I specifically said the women here--It's been my experience that Mefites are generally pretty well-versed in this sort of thing, if only by virtue of threads like this.

And I didn't say--or mean to imply--that it's insane to think that using the word bitch makes the world less friendly to women. It's a viewpoint that is obviously held by some people, including people who I quite like and respect. That doesn't give those people the right to say that everyone else must conform to their point of view, though, nor does it give them the right to say that those who feel otherwise don't understand what they're doing, which is what I felt that mkultra was doing. He's welcome to his opinions. He's not welcome to police my language because my word use doesn't mesh with his idea of what's appropriate, or, more offensively, his idea of what women should do.
posted by MeghanC at 12:20 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Some people find this process noxious and they are more than welcome to not engage in it at all which is what I also tell people who show up in these threads with their tired "please remind me what I can and can't say here" comments. No one is making you read this thread. You can say whatever you want. However there are consequences to what you say. If you are not okay with that situation then you are welcome to try to change it. Saying "this is stupid" or some variant thereof is not actually trying to change anything.

So if someone makes a strong assertion about what words and language are OK for people to use on the site in the place where site policy is supposed to be hashed out by the community, anyone who disagrees with the poster should shut up and go away?
posted by rodgerd at 12:25 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


That's not actually what those words mean.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:29 AM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Calling a non-familiar woman a bitch is an inherently ugly thing to do and is not a thing that is OK with me to have done in my presence, regardless of the gender of the speaker. I'm glad that AskMe was called out.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:29 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


jessamyn: Some people find this process noxious and they are more than welcome to not engage in it at all which is what I also tell people who show up in these threads with their tired "please remind me what I can and can't say here" comments. No one is making you read this thread. You can say whatever you want. However there are consequences to what you say. If you are not okay with that situation then you are welcome to try to change it. Saying "this is stupid" or some variant thereof is not actually trying to change anything.

rodgerd: So if someone makes a strong assertion about what words and language are OK for people to use on the site in the place where site policy is supposed to be hashed out by the community, anyone who disagrees with the poster should shut up and go away?

? Huh? I don't see that at all in what Jessamyn said. Where are you getting that from?

The sentence just before the part you quoted was "However, the more relevant issue is that people don't even agree on terms like polite, or society or good manners and so we talk about these things and see what other people think they mean and then we can learn more about how to engage with other people. "

It seems clear that she's saying -- if you don't like talking about what things like politeness, society, and good manners are, and learning how to engage with other people, then nobody is forcing you to do so. And complaining about how stupid it is to talk about those things won't change anything.

So basically, the opposite of what your reading was. It seems to be entirely pro-(civil)-hashing-out, not anti.
posted by Ashley801 at 12:38 AM on August 29, 2011


Some people find this process noxious and they are more than welcome to not engage in it at all.

The problem with that is that you then find site standards -- that everyone is expected to adhere to -- get dictated by a tiny minority who care sufficiently to squeal loudly and relentlessly for their point of view.

So noxious as it might be -- and I certainly find it so -- there's almost a moral obligation to engage in it if you don't believe in the principle that the squeaky wheel deserves the grease.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:40 AM on August 29, 2011 [15 favorites]


In total sincerity, PeterMcDermott, which site standards come to mind as having been dictated by a tiny minority who just squealed enough, while the majority of the userbase disagrees? I honestly can't think of any, but I would definitely be interested to know, if you have any in mind.
posted by Ashley801 at 12:42 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I dunno about the terminology of bitch, but it seems more wrong to me that the question is phrased in terms of "how to deal with the mean girls at work" and that the OP believes what her daughter has experienced is "strictly girl-on-girl kind of combat."

It seems an effective way to deal with mean girls at work is, for one thing, to stop thinking about this in "nice girl" vs. "mean girl" terms. I can't imagine a young person will learn to deal with things professionally if her mental paradigm is a Hollywood cliche.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 12:50 AM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


However, the more relevant issue is that people don't even agree on terms like polite, or society or good manners and so we talk about these things and see what other people think they mean and then we can learn more about how to engage with other people.

For me it's also very interesting to read discussions like these as a non-native English speaker, and as a translator, and as someone who enjoys reading and watching a lot of stuff that comes from the English-speaking world, it's always incredibly fascinating to me to notice how the insults are and can be translated. Especially in movies or tv dialogues.

In Italian we have gendered nouns and adjectives so it's easier, jerk/asshole is 'stronzo', which literally means 'turd', female version is 'stronza' (turdess? if English had gendered words) so there's a non-sexist option there. There is also another translation of 'bitch' as 'puttana', ie. 'slut, whore'. Obviously, 'son of a bitch' cannot be rendered 'figlio di una stronza' (son of a turdess!?), wouldn't make sense, you know? so it becomes 'figlio di puttana' (like 'hijo de puta madre' in Spanish). Anyhow, when 'bitch' is used by itself, like in that thread, about the manager being a mean jerk, then in the most common usage it's 'stronza', which is safe, it could never be controversial, because turds really cannot be in any way sexist, they're universal.

(That's no indication of the level of sexism in culture, unfortunately... it's just a lucky thing that the language provides some insults that are gender-neutral. )

I have lots of fun sometimes paying attention to dialogues with insults in them and how they're translated. Some are tough for translators (like 'motherfucker', there's no direct equivalent, it'd most often translate to 'figlio di puttana' or again 'stronzo'), but 'bitch' is easy.

Sorry for digression, please carry on...
posted by bitteschoen at 12:56 AM on August 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


We went a whole day without a MeTa thread, and this is what we get? Son, I am etc.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:56 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


So noxious as it might be -- and I certainly find it so -- there's almost a moral obligation to engage in it if you don't believe in the principle that the squeaky wheel deserves the grease.

If the sum total of your engagement is to say things like, "Remind me what we can and can't say on here, again," or announcing how stupid it is that the discussion is even taking place, then I'm not sure how much you can be said to have contributed to shaping site policy, or discharged a moral obligation to defend your preferred site standards.
posted by sophistrie at 12:58 AM on August 29, 2011


Welcome to Metafilter, sophistrie.

Just a friendly suggestion, though: you may want to summarily peruse the Metatalk archives for more on this topic (and others) before you start suggesting that folks who have been active members for 7 years have not contributed to shaping site policy through their participation.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:12 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oh fuck it, never mind. What am I doing breaking my own little policy and getting my ass in the middle of another one of these predictable circular firing squad sessions? Bad wonderchicken.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:16 AM on August 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


I wasn't suggesting that PeterMcDermott hadn't contributed - only contesting the assertion that Jessamyn's comment amounted to telling people who don't agree with proposed policy changes to shove it. I should have made it more clear that I was using general-'you', rather than specific-'you'; apologies.
posted by sophistrie at 1:18 AM on August 29, 2011


Yeah dude I dunno.

I get seven kinds of bristly and weary when people call other people fags (or cocksuckers) as an insult. I do in fact dislike it a great deal.

And yet I will titter with my boyfriend about how such-and-so is a complete fag.

I do not really feel comfortable using the word bitch, because I am a man and when men use it (even gay men, sometimes!) it is all up in some misogyny. So. I don't really use it. In part because in recent years I felt like I was using it a LOT and that maybe that was revealing something ugly about me, so in part I try to excise the ugly bits.

Although sometimes I will roll my eyes and say "bitch please" when someone is being ridiculous. Later I might feel guilty about it.

But if, in 14 years, when my niece is 18 and some mean girl at work makes her cry and my sister calls me and says "I could wring that little bitch's neck," I really don't think I'm going to say "Sister-mine, as you are a woman yourself, it is particularly upsetting that you use the misogynist term "bitch"". See?

Anyway, I feel for your position. Like I said, I really try to not call people, especially women, bitches. I have in fact become more hilariously PC in recent years than my highschool self would have believed possible. But I expend very little effort trying to convince others to be more PV.

Stavros: because what else are you going to do? Read a book? Psh.
posted by kavasa at 1:20 AM on August 29, 2011 [14 favorites]


That is to say, I meant, If the sum total of a given user's engagement [&c.], rather than, If the sum total of PeterMcDermott's engagement [&c.].

Obey me, syntax!
posted by sophistrie at 1:21 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't really think MetaTalk threads like these are so great, because the details of someone's life become the grist for discussing a really charged topic that is so much bigger than them. It just doesn't exactly feel right to have (what could become) a battle royale that puts people under the microscope when they didn't choose to be. I am too tired to try to fully articulate it, but it just feels wrong that this family already today dealt with a shitty day of crying at work, and they came here because the mother's goal was to figure out how to advise her daughter, and now because of word choice that some do not like, they're at the center of a discussion that is so much bigger than their question or even their word choice, and it's moved from the green where people have to provide feedback constructively, to the gray, where the gloves come off.

There are so many blog posts and news stories that could provide fodder for making the same point. Why not just make a post on the blue and reach more people?

So I kinda want to take back my own salvos above and am relieved to see jessamyn's comment:
If this becomes some long thread where people attempt to out-bitch each other, we'll close it up. Feel free to discuss the topic, btu I'm really not up for a long "let's all cuss at each other" thread.
posted by salvia at 1:24 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


On non-preview, kavasa said what I was trying to say but much more eloquently.
posted by salvia at 1:27 AM on August 29, 2011


So - it's very late, and I'm on a lot of pain medication, and there's no way I'm going to be able to stay up to respond at length, so I'm very hesitant to comment seriously here, but I do actually find myself wanting to open up the conversation a bit. So I'm going to risk it, and hopefully this won't be seen as a drive-by turd grenade. I'll try to respond in good faith when I can.

While I agree in principle that polite conversation shouldn't include terms such as bitch or dick, and while I also agree in principle that gender-specific insults are generally part of the problem, it also seems to me that there is more to the persistence of some gender-specific insults than simple sexism. I think that what some people sense is that there can be an actual difference in quality of the behavior being described that is not gender neutral, and is maybe more accurately described in the gender-specific sense. Now maybe, this is simply a case of wanting to use a stereotypical term to describe stereotypical behavior, and fueling the fire is bad, even when more accurate, but I'm not sure.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that to my eye and ear, when a guy is being a dick, it is not the same thing as being an asshole. It is not gender neutral. There seems to be something specifically testosteroney in his behavior. Dick measuring, dick swinging, male answer syndrome... these are all ways of identifying not just that a guy is misbehaving, but also that he is misbehaving in a stereotypical male fashion. Same with bitch. I think there can be a qualitative difference in the way in which males and females in our time period, at least in western culture, bully each other. Again - it may just be a way of identifying - and possibly even perpetuating - existing stereotypes. I'm not arguing that these are good things, or that we should champion them. I think that my point is that I'm not persuaded that there is no such thing as a bitch, as distinct from a dick. And vice versa. I think that we instinctively recognize when assholish behavior has a stereotypically gendered bent, and so it feels unnatural to think that we shouldn't openly identify it as such. Especially since it's not unusual to find women who self-identify as bitchy, or men as having balls, or some such.

Maybe I'm too tired, or my medication is making me cloudy, but I'm not sure if I've made my point clearly: I feel like some of the pushback is not just because some people who like their insults are tired of being told what they shouldn't say (To you I say: insults are supposed to be insulting, aren't they? Why argue that a term you used to insult someone shouldn't be considered offensive? Wasn't that the point of choosing that term?). I feel like some of the pushback may just be that the terms feel, in some way we may not necessarily be comfortable with... accurate?

Obviously, I don’t want to endorse being dismissive of anyone based solely on their gender. But we are talking about how we describe people who are being assholes to one another. Would it really be such a terrible thing if it turned out that men and women are sometimes distinctive types of assholes? I’m honestly asking. If a man calls a woman a bitch, it seems dismissive. But if a woman calls another woman a bitch… I’m not so sure. I feel like she would have a better sense of the accuracy of what she is describing than I would.

Okay – there have been a number of comments since I started this, so apologies if this comment is already passé. Apologies also if it offends anyone. That’s not my intention. I’m asking for responses, and I’m quite open to being convinced that I am wrong.

Thanks.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:32 AM on August 29, 2011 [46 favorites]


I am also about to zonk so I'll come back to this tomorrow if it's still alive, but you know, I think you're absolutely right that for most people, "bitchy" and "dick-ish" are describing two different types of behavior. Personally "Bitchy" strikes me more as, treating people badly, often in a cutting, petty way, and enjoying that. "Dick" strikes me more as, rolling inconsiderately through life and *not caring* if you treat people badly.

Where I take issue is the idea you floated that being "bitchy" is a particularly feminine way of behaving. Plenty of men are plenty bitchy. Especially before coffee. That's where I think the sexism and stereotyping come in.

And of course, plenty of women act like dicks nobody ever calls them that. If your arrogant rich uncle spent all night bragging about his new boat, you might think he was a dick, but if it was your rich arrogant aunt, I doubt that word would come to mind.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:50 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think that what some people sense is that there can be an actual difference in quality of the behavior being described that is not gender neutral, and is maybe more accurately described in the gender-specific sense.

To my mind, this is true - to a certain extent. It's not that those behaviours are intrinsic to any specific gender, but rather that men and women are usually socialised to express anger or aggression in different ways.

(And if a woman is aggressive 'like a man' - loudly, straightforwardly, or physically - then she is a ballbusting bitch instead of a mean-girl bitch, and if a man is aggressive 'like a woman' - passive-aggressively, manipulatively, pettily - then he is... well, he is also a bitch. Or a pussy. Or et cetera, et cetera.)

On preview, Ashley801's point is a good one as well.
posted by sophistrie at 1:59 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ashley801: Dickishness is much more aggressive than that to me, but I don't think that undermines your point at all, which is a good one. Certainly bitchy is a term that is not used exclusively for women, while dick is pretty much reserved for men. Not sure what that means, but I'll give it some thought. And definitely these terms are often used in sexist ways. I'm just trying to get a sense of whether people think we continue to use these terms because they really are describing something unique, or whether we're just being lazy and/or sexist.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:09 AM on August 29, 2011


And if a woman is aggressive 'like a man' - loudly, straightforwardly, or physically - then she is a ballbusting bitch instead of a mean-girl bitch, and if a man is aggressive 'like a woman' - passive-aggressively, manipulatively, pettily - then he is... well, he is also a bitch. Or a pussy. Or et cetera, et cetera.

Yes.

This also provides a good example of how I, personally, perceive dickishness. Then, I really have to get to bed:

A man who calls another man a pussy is a dick.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:15 AM on August 29, 2011


*sigh* In case it wasn't clear, my "yes" means that I agree that this is how people seem to be inclined to use the terms, not that they are true. Okay - three comments in a row. Bad sign. Really going to bed now. G'night.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:17 AM on August 29, 2011


Do you realise it was a distraught mother naming these people as bitches?

If the distraught mother told you this in public, not on the web, would you interrupt her concern with a diatribe about what words she would use?

Because if.you did I.think you'd get a slap.
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:29 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wasn't suggesting that PeterMcDermott hadn't contributed - only contesting the assertion that Jessamyn's comment amounted to telling people who don't agree with proposed policy changes to shove it.

I don't think that was what I was asserting at all. Rather, I was asserting that the assertion that if you think this kind of attempt to police people's choice language is noxious, that you shouldn't engage *is* tantamount to conceding the grease to the squeaky wheel.

I struggle to see what's in any way difficult or contentious about that.

In total sincerity, PeterMcDermott, which site standards come to mind as having been dictated by a tiny minority who just squealed enough, while the majority of the userbase disagrees?

I didn't say that they disagreed. What I was suggesting was that most couldn't give a fuck, one way or another.

The people who hang out here are actually a tiny proportion of the userbase, and it's incredibly rare that you get a consensus from them on anything. Which would imply that the majority of changes to site policy stem from a tiny proportion of people getting wound up about something.

Now that's probably how things are done everywhere, but suggesting that it's some 'will of the people' thing is just pure bollocks.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:35 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oh fuck it, never mind. What am I doing breaking my own little policy and getting my ass in the middle of another one of these predictable circular firing squad sessions?

And what's worse, it was defending me that sucked you into it -- despite the fact that I was determined to stay out of it as well.

Presumably we should just be taking jessamyn's advice...
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:40 AM on August 29, 2011


If this becomes some long thread where people attempt to out-bitch each other, we'll close it up. Feel free to discuss the topic, btu I'm really not up for a long "let's all cuss at each other" thread.

Alrighty, circle jerk it is!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:56 AM on August 29, 2011


Alrighty, circle jerk it is!

Dude, she said cuss at each other.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:13 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not insane to believe that anyone using the word 'bitch' makes the world less welcoming to women in general, and I expect that quite a few women have not even entertained that thought, inculturated as they are.

I'm a woman and don't see how the word has an inherent power to make the world less welcoming to women. Used in the wrong context, "bitch" can be awful -- but if we eliminate it from the English language, haters will still find a way to say gender-based hateful things about, say, Hillary Clinton.

The fact we have a gender-specific insulting term for mean women doesn't make the world less welcoming to all women (any more than "dick" makes the world less welcoming to all men). Misogyny is what makes the world less welcoming to women.

...although I could be missing something terrible/historical about the word bitch, in which case, I'd love to hear more.
posted by hungrytiger at 4:18 AM on August 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


Take this argument energy and be kind to someone with it.
posted by By The Grace of God at 4:19 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


General question: has anyone ever called a woman a dick or heard this being done?

I think I remember once calling something a woman did a "dick move"...
posted by likeso at 4:22 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm female and I'm glad mkultra posted this.
(I read the original AskMe, although I didn't catch mkultra's supposed "troll-post" - think it was deleted before I read the thread. I personally think "bitch" is a word best used to describe, well, female dogs.. but I realize not everyone thinks this way.)
Was somewhat shocked to see pH Indicating Socks responding to mkultra in the manner she did ("Mkultra, go fuck yourself with your grandfather's dick!"). Seems pretty mean and excessive.
posted by aielen at 4:24 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


She had one brief run-in with one person.

So, it is the length of contact and number of people involved that is the qualifier? Bish plz.

I used to be adamant about not using that word in reference to women until I had to deal with one up close and personal. And then another one. And then a few more. I got over it. However, I do maintain "cunt" on the no-fly list.

Am I the only one who'd call a guy who did the same thing a dick? I mean, really?

Nope, and I have. As far as I'm concerned, "dick" pretty much equals "bitch" and I have no problem with either. There are way worse things to call people or react to perceived social offenses.
posted by fuse theorem at 4:32 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Was somewhat shocked to see pH Indicating Socks responding to mkultra in the manner she did ("Mkultra, go fuck yourself with your grandfather's dick!"). Seems pretty mean and excessive.

aielen, I think that remark was tongue in cheek - it was as a result of this post in the askme.
posted by likeso at 4:35 AM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


The thing about winning arguments against people who aren't really interested in arguing is that you don't have to actually have an argument to make, nor do you have to really stay on-point or keep any kind of logical consistency.

Just to quote that in thread, and say that I utterly agree with it and also the general sentiment of Don't Please Tell Me How to Speak, I Know What I'm Doing and I'm Not Hurting Nobody.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:38 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


while dick is pretty much reserved for men.

See I guess it's pretty much just me then but I use 'dick' as a gender-neutral term.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:03 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


All this in response to a thread which asks "Women of MeFi, how can I help my daughter cope with the bad behaviour of other women in the workplace by framing it in terms of misogynist references to Hollywood movie stereotypes (because I think we can all agree, statistical outliers aside, that this is definitely female behaviour, amirite)?"

And the big argument isn't whether it's okay to express that kind of misogyny. With three exceptions, it's been about the appropriate choice of language to use to express that misogyny.
posted by tel3path at 5:08 AM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm hanging out here until George Carlin weighs in on this.

yes, I DO expect him to return from the dead to voice his opinion.
posted by tomswift at 5:11 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


That so many would so vigorously defend the ongoing use of "bitch" as an insult is a depressing reminder of how far back to the right the cultural pendulum has swung in the past couple decades.

"Bitch" used to have a very clear-cut pejorative meaning. As in, that woman is behaving like an uppity dog in heat, and should be disciplined like one. Women = dogs.

Over time, two things have happened. One, it's become a stand-in for describing any woman who achieves some degree of power by working within traditionally male frameworks. Roseanne Barr? Bitch. Martha Stewart? Bitch. Hillary Clinton? Bitch. I've regularly heard women in the workplace referred to as "bitch" when they dare tell a bunch of guys what to do. Why engage on substance when you can just dismiss someone as a bitch?

Two, the insult has become mainstreamed to the degree that women are basically encouraged to refer to each other as bitches in the same context, if not explicitly then certainly in the divisive spirit. I'm not talking about referring to yourself as a "bitch" as a form of empowerment, either. I was just watching some Pixar shorts on ABC Family yesterday, whose target demographic is female. Every other commercial was for shows called Pretty Little Liars and the The Lying Game, which is apparently what "family entertainment" is these days.

When you, as a woman, call another woman a bitch as an insult, you're playing right into the hands of powerful men who want to keep you in your place. You're sending a signal that it's OK for me as a guy to call you a bitch because hey, you're doing it too, right? I'm not simply being rhetorical here- that is an actual bona fide line of reasoning I've heard more than once.

Go on and call my argument paternalistic. I can take it. If it causes one person to rethink how they verbally treat (other) women, it's worth all the petty abuse that's been dished out here.
posted by mkultra at 5:34 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm getting a repetitive stress problem in my wrists from all the hand-wringing that goes on here.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:43 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Rather, I was asserting that the assertion that if you think this kind of attempt to police people's choice language is noxious, that you shouldn't engage *is* tantamount to conceding the grease to the squeaky wheel.

The abrupt drop in the use of "cunt" around this place several years ago gives the lie to that. It was exhaustively argued against vigourous defenders of free speech such as yourself and two or three million dissenting Americans that the word wasn't useful here. It just offended too many people straight blooody oop. I don't mean to give you any crap whatsoever, but I believe you are grievoiusly mistaken.
posted by Wolof at 5:46 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Bitch" used to have a very clear-cut pejorative meaning. As in, that woman is behaving like an uppity dog in heat, and should be disciplined like one. Women = dogs.

It also had the generic meaning of something unpleasant, without necessarily the connotation of dogs or discipline. Such as "that's how it is on this bitch of an earth" (Beckett, Waiting for Godot). Beckett isn't saying that the earth needs to be disciplined. It's just that life is not good.

Not to mention T.E. Lawrence's "The Letters": 'She' says the incarnate sailor, stroking the gangway of the Iron Duke, 'can be a perfect bitch in a crosswind'. Here bitch is used as somewhat of a synonym for hard to control or feisty. Which is again not necessarily positive, but it's not at the depths of depravity that you're asserting.
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:46 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


"grievoiiiiouusly", I say.
posted by Wolof at 5:46 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think that what some people sense is that there can be an actual difference in quality of the behavior being described that is not gender neutral, and is maybe more accurately described in the gender-specific sense.

While I think this is true, I don't think that makes it non-sexist.

Basically, we have words for describing the scenario in which someone of a particular gender is behaving badly in ways we imagine are set aside specifically for that gender. The words describe a stereotyped, gendered behavior, and then when we apply the words to situations in which a man or woman is acting in accordance with that stereotype, we reify the stereotype over and over. The behavior is different because the sexist, gendered stereotypes of what is 'normal' anger or superiority expression is different for men and women.

I guarantee you there are definitely times I act dickish - an incident remains prominently in mind from just last week and could not be called bitchy in any way - but the word's not likely to be used on me much, because I'm female and in doing that kind of behavior I'm acting against type, so the gendered insult makes no sense. I will probably go unscathed for that. Similarly, when men do things that might easily be called 'bitchy' - overbearing, malicious, competitive things - they generally don't get punished socially, because mildly expressed one-upmanship and direct aggression is considered within the realm of normal, if not especially pleasant, behavior for men.
posted by Miko at 5:53 AM on August 29, 2011 [15 favorites]


Also, things are not going well for mkultra, but I do appreciate anyone, male or female, raising the question for discussion.

I also agree with others that there's no reason to expect women to be less misogynist than men, or to place any special responsibility on women to conform with a single response to the question, so I also think it was unnecessary to lay that trip on the women here. But I've spent enough time on this site arguing that men should take on their part of the battle against patriarchy that I'm uncomfortable saying that men should not have a valid opinion on whether they want to hear the word used in a civil forum, or not. I think they are welcome to call out a word they take care not to use and raise the question.
posted by Miko at 5:56 AM on August 29, 2011 [11 favorites]


mkultra, I agree with the first two-thirds of your most recent comment. The word "bitch" when applied to a woman makes me angry. It has too many misogynistic overtones not to. (I understand that this is not everyone's perspective, but speaking for myself I find it an ugly, gendered insult, and I hate to see it pop up here.)

I wish you'd left the rest of your comment out, though. Your heart is in the right place, but by specifically addressing your remarks to women it comes across like a guy trying to police our behavior and words, and that's just as obnoxious as the word "bitch". If you'd left it as a general remark to the community at large, I don't think there would be nearly as much blowback.
posted by Salieri at 5:59 AM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


that you shouldn't engage *is* tantamount to conceding the grease to the squeaky wheel.



Pull up a chair with the rest of us and watch the cart rolling down the hill.
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:01 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


futhermucking bunavasitches

(that was a popular one in 4th grade)
posted by jonmc at 6:04 AM on August 29, 2011


How viscous is the grease?
posted by Horselover Phattie at 6:10 AM on August 29, 2011


My mom used to wear a kitchen apron emblazoned with "BITCH BITCH BITCH." My Dad bought it for her.
posted by jonmc at 6:14 AM on August 29, 2011


First, I think mkultra's heart is in the right place in raising the issue, although I agree with Ashley801 that the framing of the post is a little ham-fisted. Saying "just stop it" to mefites is akin to waving a red flag at a bull and pretty much guaranteed to raise hackles.

But I think the topic is perfectly valid for discussion, and I disagree strongly with those who criticize mkultra for bringing it up on the basis that he is a man or those who ascribe paternalism to his motives. In the many women-issue threads that were hashed out in excruciating detail, many women specifically asked men to participate in calling things out when they saw sexism on the site. So one can't on the one hand say "be participants" but then hang a "keep out" sign on free discussion. Women aren't immune from being sexist or perpetuating sexism.

As for the word bitch and its use in the original post: Personally, I think it was unhelpful to the daughter to have this framed as a mean girls or a "girl-on-girl kind of combat" issue rather than a more gender neutral framing of bullying or difficult coworker.

First, this type of framing can trivialize the incident and makes it too easy for other parties (eg the manager) to dismiss; Second, it puts the focus on the drama (jello fight!) and not the underlying bad behavior (bullying/rudeness) that triggered things. Third, while it may be unintentional, it perpetuates the "girls can just be catty/moody/petty/difficult/sexist-assumption-of-choice" thinking that many have. Fourth, it is a potentially unnecessary distraction, this thread being a case in point.

Instead of framing this for the daughter as "the bitches and their ways" and seeking a tool set for how to deal with this bitch, it is far more helpful to deal with the broader issue of bullies, aggressors, difficult coworkers, unreasonable bosses, etc. After all, it really doesn't matter if that other person were a host or a hostess, does it?

Now that being said, I know it was a Mom being reactive to a threat to her daughter and that "among friends" she did not need to put on kid gloves to ask for help in AskMe. I am sure she does not see things in the narrow frame that I just described because her comments show far more nuance than that. I am just discussing the idea that, whether or not you think that referring to the other party as a bitch is offensive, it just isn't particularly helpful and may indeed be a distraction.
posted by madamjujujive at 6:23 AM on August 29, 2011 [22 favorites]


shouldn't the squeaky wheel get the grease? i don't mean metaphorically. i mean - if you have a push cart and 1 out of 4 wheels squeaked, wouldn't you put grease on it? would you grease the other three wheels and leave the one squeaky just to show you can't be bossed around? it always seemed a silly saying to take the reverse position on, i.e "if you don't believe in the principle that the squeaky wheel deserves the grease."

as to the point of the thread - i think everyone should consider their gendered insults and i think that when men want to take on the charge of bringing up the topic they have to be extra super careful in framing and tone to not come off as white knighting or paternalistic. congrats on the first half! now, maybe work on the second.
posted by nadawi at 6:27 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Riding across the desert
On a fine Arab charger
posted by Meatbomb at 6:31 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


See I guess it's pretty much just me then but I use 'dick' as a gender-neutral term.

Me, too. Generally as "don't be a dick" or "don't do the dick thing" or "that was a dick move." Dickish behavior can be perpetrated by anyone.

Same with bitchy behavior. The only person I've used the term "bitch" to describe in recent memory is this guy I was semi-friends with in college and who I now pretty much only know through facebook. He started a really catty blog recently where he kvetches about how fat, smelly, and poor people get in his way on transit. I read one of his entries and thought, "man, what a bitch!" Because he sounds like [whips out dictionary] a malicious, unpleasant, selfish person.
posted by phunniemee at 6:33 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I disagree strongly with those who criticize mkultra for bringing it up on the basis that he is a man

from my reading of the thread, and also my reaction to the tone of the post, is that it's not that he can't bring it up because he's a man, but that this sentence specifically, Do you think it makes it any better because it's one woman calling another woman that? Here's a hint: it's worse is the problem. the rest of ashely801's comment that you refer to does a really good job of unpacking that statement.

the end of his post it can come off as "sure, it's bad when men call women bitches, but it's not as bad as when women call each other that." that's problematic and made a lot of people here who would normally agree with him get their fur up.
posted by nadawi at 6:35 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


> they have to be extra super careful in framing and tone to not come off as white knighting or paternalistic.

That's come up a few times in this thread. That's really silly, and just as gendered a bias as anything else. A man is somehow "creepily paternalistic" if he calls out usage of gendered words.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 6:36 AM on August 29, 2011


nope. he can come off as paternalistic if he tells women how to talk to women and indicates that it's a worse sin than all the misogyny that men foist upon women. i feel like that's been explained many, many times in this thread.

bringing up the usage of bitch: yay! join the fight!
Here's a hint: it's worse.: uh, what? really? worse? hrrrm.
posted by nadawi at 6:40 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


That's really silly, and just as gendered a bias as anything else. A man is somehow "creepily paternalistic" if he calls out usage of gendered words.

"Creepily paternalistic" refers to the creepy, paternalistic tone dripping from "Do you think it makes it any better because it's one woman calling another woman that? Here's a hint: it's worse." and the fiat "Just stop it."

So forceful, so commanding! I sat bolt upright when I read his vigorous post!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:44 AM on August 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


I think of bastard as being the equivalent to bitch when it comes to descriptions of a similar kind of behaviour.

Men can act bitchy and women can act like bastards; there's not really that big a difference.

The simple fact is that when you use either of those words you're not wanting to be particularly nice to whoever it is that's on the opposite end. Those people have pissed you off. Whether they were a man or a women determines the eventual epithet used.

It's an expression of disdain. One is associated with women, one with men (but not always exclusively). People use these words to cause offense. Telling someone they're being offensive because they've used a word that is intended to be offensive is pretty pointless.

As with everything, context is everything.
posted by h00py at 6:51 AM on August 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


> "Creepily paternalistic" refers to the creepy, paternalistic tone dripping from "Do you think it makes it any better because it's one woman calling another woman that? Here's a hint: it's worse." and the fiat "Just stop it."

Ok, but there's nothing particularly "paternalistic" about using those words. Anyway.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 6:53 AM on August 29, 2011


Everything everything everything
posted by h00py at 6:54 AM on August 29, 2011


Me, too. Generally as "don't be a dick" or "don't do the dick thing" or "that was a dick move." Dickish behavior can be perpetrated by anyone.

Also inasmuch as for unrelated reasons I don't use the term 'dick' to refer to anything anatomical, I pretty much sometimes forget that its being gendered even makes sense, so.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:58 AM on August 29, 2011


Ok, but there's nothing particularly "paternalistic" about using those words. Anyway.

Amazing.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:59 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


> Amazing.

Oh, get off it. Would a woman be "matriarchal" if she used forceful wording?
posted by Horselover Phattie at 7:02 AM on August 29, 2011


Oh, get off it. Would a woman be "matriarchal" if she used forceful wording?

It's disheartening to read a bunch of users, particularly men, repeatedly refer to another man as a "dick".

Do you really need a lesson in the gender politics of "dick"? "Dick" is a crude term for a part of the male anatomy. Calling someone a "dick" suggests that they are thinking only with their penises. It's perpetuating the stereotype that men don't have the same ability for thoughtful and reasoned discourse that women do, favoring instead boastful and brash behavior. It also makes men who don't act like "dicks" ashamed to have penises.

Do you think it makes it any better because it's one man calling another man that? Here's a hint: it's worse.

Just stop it.


Not what I really think, just trying to turn the argument around.
posted by phunniemee at 7:09 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I once had a boss, who introduced himself as "Richard, but you can call me Dick." You don't hear that much anymore.
posted by jonmc at 7:11 AM on August 29, 2011


I once had a boss, who introduced himself as "Richard, but you can call me Dick." You don't hear that much anymore.

Oh, I grew up in the preppie south: Dickie is still very much an acceptable nickname for a Richard Jr.
posted by phunniemee at 7:13 AM on August 29, 2011


Really? All the Richards I know are Richie or Rick.
posted by jonmc at 7:15 AM on August 29, 2011


Diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiick.
posted by griphus at 7:15 AM on August 29, 2011


Oh, get off it. Would a woman be "matriarchal" if she used forceful wording?

Yes and no. "Paternalistic" connotes the heavy handed tone of our metaphorical fathers. "Maternalistic" connotes the coddling tone of our metaphorical mothers. (I assume substituting "matriarchal" for "maternalistic" was an error.) These words have cultural and social meaning, and the archetypes they represent are as old as time.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:16 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Well, they're as gendered as anything else people bitch about here. That said. Dicks are evil.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 7:16 AM on August 29, 2011


Look, I certainly didn't mean to come across as glib, paternalistic, or anything like that. If it struck you that way, I apologize, and I hope my subsequent comments have clarified why I think women calling each other "bitch" is particularly problematic in our society. If, however, you want to go all the way around the bend into arguments that I can't say this because I'm a man, or that I'm somehow obliquely suggesting that it's ok for men to call women "bitch", then I think you need to step back and check your assumptions.

Also, "dick" is not in the same ballpark as "bitch", which has an inherent undercurrent of meanness that "dick" lacks in usage.
posted by mkultra at 7:18 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


I once had a boss, who introduced himself as "Richard, but you can call me Dick."

Funny, a friend of mine once had a boss named Dick whom my friend always described as "a real Richard."

Given the unpleasantness of the word "bitch," I would like to hear mkultra explain how the word is so much worse when a woman uses it than when a man does. mkultra's a guy, so he probably knows these kind of things.

> rather than more commonly accepted norms of good manners in polite society

Mr. B, what would you know about dignity?
posted by octobersurprise at 7:21 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, "dick" is not in the same ballpark as "bitch", which has an inherent undercurrent of meanness that "dick" lacks in usage.

That's when you use "cock".
posted by Aquaman at 7:24 AM on August 29, 2011


Can I please request that, from now on, I be referred to as HuronBob, a "creepily paternalistic old white guy"? I like the sound and it just carries more clout than being a plain old white guy.

But, when you do, please consider, for a moment, that perhaps using any derogatory term reflecting age, race, gender, ethnicity, orientation, smell, size, etc, etc, etc..may not be helpful to the conversation and may, in fact, take it in directions that detract from useful discourse.
posted by HuronBob at 7:25 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


octobersurprise: "Given the unpleasantness of the word "bitch," I would like to hear mkultra explain how the word is so much worse when a woman uses it than when a man does. mkultra's a guy, so he probably knows these kind of things."

Try reading the thread, instead of just dropping by to insult.
posted by mkultra at 7:25 AM on August 29, 2011


If the post were written about a man, he'd be referred to as a "jerk", perhaps an "asshole", but because it's a woman, she's a bitch, right?

Perhaps, but are you implying that criticism of him would be gender-neutral? Because I'd bet substantial sums that multiple answers would suggest the man's behavior will inevitably escalate to him assaulting the daughter violently or sexually.
posted by Dano St at 7:26 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, "dick" is not in the same ballpark as "bitch", which has an inherent undercurrent of meanness that "dick" lacks in usage.

Yeah, well, that's just, like, your opinion, man. Can you maybe see how other people can interpret different words in different ways?

(I sometimes catch myself using the term "dickhole". It's not intentional. But my brain says, "well, you use "hole" to make "ass" worse, so why not dick?")
posted by phunniemee at 7:26 AM on August 29, 2011


That's because you're a rabid urethraist.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 7:27 AM on August 29, 2011


Could be a sphincter thing?
posted by h00py at 7:30 AM on August 29, 2011


THis is a ridiculous thread. Some girls are bitches.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:31 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I see 'bitch' as a prime example of a word which has been successfully wrested away from the denigrators and which is now being used by the denigrated group for purposes of its own.
posted by jamjam at 7:33 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


MeghanC: "And, for the record, I refer to myself as a bitch, frequently and proudly."

Myself! In the heyday of the indie comics boom, my business card had the title : Publisher and Primary Bitch Goddess. My girlfriends and I call each other bitches when we're kidding; we call mean girls bitches when they're mean...we say it when exasperated: "bitch, bitch, bitch...jeez..."

Earlier in the thread, someone said something like "nobody is reclaiming the word"...but you know what; I will. Bitch is absolutely a term used primarily by the women in my cultural world. But were a man to use it; I wouldn't feel any more insulted by that term than I would by him calling me an asshole or a jerk. Some words; even when based in gender (female dog), can over time become a genderless word; i.e. "Damn, that bitch RuPaul is prettier than I am."

This reminds me of the times when I've had earnest young men try to educate *ME* about feminism. Me, who is old enough to remember the push for ERA. I squirm a little when I watch the Dick Van Dyke show, because I remember when the social rules were like that; when women were not allowed to have separate bank accounts and were expected to let their husband make all the important decisions...hell, my Mom got an "allowance" for household expenses.

So, it rubs me the wrong way when men try to tell me that I'm not allowed to say something, because it makes them uncomfortable.

Bitch. I am one. Bitching, an activity which I enjoy. And last, but not least; bitch, please.
posted by dejah420 at 7:36 AM on August 29, 2011 [22 favorites]


Try reading the thread, instead of just dropping by to insult.

Oh, there's no insult at all there! Just a genuine question. Why is "bitch" so much worse when a woman uses it than when a man does? And I have read the discussion (if quickly), but, silly me, I failed to see such an explanation. If you could point out where I missed it, I'd be grateful.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:38 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not that my thoughts are needed this late in the thread, but:

I am a woman.

I hate misogynistic insults and I'm trying to excise them from my own speech, although I slip up sometimes because I'm a human with longstanding habits.

However, I do not need or want a dude to tell me how I should or shouldn't fight the patriarchy.

mkultra, I absolutely get where you're coming from, but keep in mind that women's relationships with gendered insults are more complicated than your own. It's true that many women use words like "bitch" in an unexamined, unthinking way. But it's also true that most of us have thought about these issues A LOT, as we live them every day. I'd caution you (or anyone else reading this) against assuming thoughtlessness of strangers on the internet, particularly when the person you're chastising is a mother of an 18-year-old woman, who probably has more experience with the ill effects of the patriarchy than most people do.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:41 AM on August 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


the archetypes they represent are as old as time.

Yeah, not quite - in a specific culture, they're about as old as industrial society and maybe as old as agrarian society in some sectors, but there are plenty of cultures where maternal and paternal behaviors don't map onto ours, and plenty of cultures where to say someone is being 'matriarchal' means something quite specific and different to what it might mean to us. In other words, these aren't universals.
posted by Miko at 7:41 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


jamjam said: I see 'bitch' as a prime example of a word which has been successfully wrested away from the denigrators and which is now being used by the denigrated group for purposes of its own.

I wonder if you're significantly younger than I am because I don't see this at all. Maybe there's another reason. Maybe it's just that everyone experiences the world differently, even experiences the universal experiences differently. "Bitch" still makes me profoundly uncomfortable. When men use it around me, I am suspicious of whether they see me first as a person or first as object. When women use it around me, I am suspicious of whether they see themselves first as a person or first as an object. Both suspicions make me sad and angry, but in different proportions.

I like what shakespeherian said above about being generally suspicious of gendered insults. Of course, the older I get the more suspicious I find myself generally of lots of things: profanity generally, my assumptions about other people's motivations, the universality of experience. The left-overs in the vegetable drawer--I am very suspicious of those.

However, I am convinced that everyone chortles at the word "snausages".
posted by crush-onastick at 7:42 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


The fact that otherwise very smart people keep having this conversation on this forum is in part why my participation in this forum has dropped off over the last few months. When people here ask users to care about a topic enough to change their behavior it is an imposition on the reader. I have myself pointed out ideas I find ignorant and ugly here as well, the difference I hope is I leave it up to the reader whether or not they care enough about it to change their behavior. I don't presume to demand their obeisance to the popular opinion. This kind of thread is an example of telling people how to speak, and interact. I'm sorry to say I just don't care to be told how to speak by people on the internet. I have never, to my knowledge called anyone a "bitch" on this forum but as a 32 yearold I'll be damned if I'm going to be constantly lectured about etiquette every time I read askme or the front page. We're all adults here, feel free to make the point you feel strongly about, and or flag it and move on. Please stop trying to force your mores on the internet, it is both futile and boring as hell.

*returning to lurker status*
posted by nola at 7:42 AM on August 29, 2011 [30 favorites]


I'm sorry there are bitches, sweetie. They really should all be killed was all I could find to say,

I'm still trying to get my head around the fact there that 100+ comments over the fact that pH Indicating Socks called somebody a bitch, but nada over the fact that she advocated killing them all.

Perhaps because it was understood that her suggesting they all be knocked off was hyperbole. So why isn't the bitch part understood in that same light?

Personally, I recollect a time when some girls were particularly thoughtless, and my mom said all the right things on the phone, the soothing ones, about how their behavior was wrong, and it was going to be okay....and it was. But you know, I would have been rightly comforted in a laugh out loud sort of a way in that moment had she just calmly said: it's because they're bitches sweetie. They really should all be killed. It would have been the appropriate over the top response and pairing to my plaintive cries of "Whhhyyyyy did they do this horrible thing?"

I think pH's comment is particularly awesome because it makes quick work of focusing on the main point of the entire crappy situation: that it wasn't the recipient's fault, and that those women were responsible for their own behaviour.
posted by anitanita at 7:43 AM on August 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


I think we can reclaim "bitch" and still acknowledge that it's a hurtful and gendered term in other contexts. "That bitch RuPaul" works because RuPaul is a drag queen; it's much less likely that you'd say that about Ryan Gosling. When someone hisses "bitch" at me in the street, it's not because they're applauding how I'm an empowered, sassy woman. It's because they're "putting me in my place" as a woman, with a gendered insult. I'm not ready to wholeheartedly embrace bitch just because sometimes it's okay.

(As data, I'm 24, so I don't think this is an age thing.)
posted by verbyournouns at 7:45 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: demand their obeisance
posted by cashman at 7:46 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


When people here ask users to care about a topic enough to change their behavior it is an imposition on the reader. I have myself pointed out ideas I find ignorant and ugly here as well, the difference I hope is I leave it up to the reader whether or not they care enough about it to change their behavior.

I'm not sure I see how these two are different. I don't see any edicts coming down, so presumably, each of us will decide whether we care enough to change our behavior.

wonder if you're significantly younger than I am because I don't see this at all. Maybe there's another reason. Maybe it's just that everyone experiences the world differently, even experiences the universal experiences differently.


I'm not even sure the youth is a factor - I'm not sure how many younger women are into the reclaiming of " bitch." I see it as something that was certainly attempted, and especially remember in the mid/late 90s getting a special humorous 'yeah, so' charge out of it - like jonmc's joke apron thing - and seeing it used everywhere in a mildly defiant manner with this being a high-water mark, but my sense is that it has kind of peaked already. At the end of the day, the way we all use words can be pretty complex, but if the word is used to refer to my behavior in an insulting way intended to diminish my concerns, it still rankles and reveals the sexism of the speaker, and I don't like that. All the reclaiming in the world won't take that problem away - the only thing that might take it away would be for the word to fade into irrelevancy in the parlance, and I don't mind making a bit of extra effort to help speed that along.
posted by Miko at 7:49 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


salvia writes "Calling a lying and mean coworker a bitch? That says 'I don't like your behavior and you are a woman,' the way that 'cocksucker' says 'I don't like your behavior and you are a man.'"

The two aren't equivalent because cocksucker as a derogative towards men only works on the level where being homosexual is bad.

nadawi writes "shouldn't the squeaky wheel get the grease? i don't mean metaphorically. i mean - if you have a push cart and 1 out of 4 wheels squeaked, wouldn't you put grease on it? would you grease the other three wheels and leave the one squeaky just to show you can't be bossed around? it always seemed a silly saying to take the reverse position on, i.e 'if you don't believe in the principle that the squeaky wheel deserves the grease.'"

It's not that it's bad to grease the squeaky wheel. It's that it's bad to only grease the squeaky wheel. With items needing lubrication you should lubricate everything on a schedule not just when it squeaks because once it starts squeaking wear has already occured.
posted by Mitheral at 7:52 AM on August 29, 2011


When you, as a woman, call another woman a bitch as an insult, you're playing right into the hands of powerful men who want to keep you in your place. You're sending a signal that it's OK for me as a guy to call you a bitch because hey, you're doing it too, right? I'm not simply being rhetorical here- that is an actual bona fide line of reasoning I've heard more than once.

Yes, because men never called women bitches before women called women bitches. In fact, if women stopped calling women bitches, men would totally stop calling women bitches. They would not just find some other rationalization to call women bitches.

Also, if a man thinks it's okay to call a woman a bitch because other women call women bitches, the best way to address this to bring it up on a totally unrelated website, instead of talking to the dude about his sexist behavior and incredibly faulty reasoning.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:52 AM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


Yeah, not quite - in a specific culture, they're about as old as industrial society and maybe as old as agrarian society in some sectors, but there are plenty of cultures where maternal and paternal behaviors don't map onto ours

I am, of course, talking about the western cultures in which "paternalism" and "maternalism" are words. I had Zeus and Hera in mind, in particular (or Jupiter and Rhea, since these are Latinate words), and clearly the archetypes predate the mythology created to embody them.

This is why I specifically wrote "These words have cultural and social meaning," which you have inadvertently (I assume) omitted from your pull quote.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:53 AM on August 29, 2011


On one hand, the word does have some unpleasant connotations and framing.
On the other hand, people tend to choose insults for their rhetorical clout, and if they don't make people feel angry/uncomfortable/insulted, then they're not really doing their job.

I spent a few years trying really hard not to use insults that might be hurtful to any particular group. Now I just try not to be an asshole.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:54 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is why I specifically wrote "These words have cultural and social meaning," which you have inadvertently (I assume) omitted from your pull quote.

Your "as old as time" comment functionally negates any attempt you made to indicate the point was specific to Western culture since agrarianism.
posted by Miko at 7:56 AM on August 29, 2011


I thought this was all solved by Meredith Brooks in 1997 with her edgy song "Bitch," a smash single from her seminal work Blurring the Edges, wherein she successfully reclaimed the word "bitch" for all womankind.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:56 AM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


I am just constantly amused, and sometimes horrified, at the way Metafilter resembles a co-op home at a liberal arts college, ca. 1982 or so, or for that matter, a graduate seminar in a humanities program at any point in the 1990s (where many those college kids wound up if they were bright and creative but not too ambitious) in the naive, dubious belief that fierce criticism or advocacy for this or that word or expression being banned or promoted or whatever is even close to the equivalent of having a political commitment of any sort.

All of this says much more about who MeFites are than about politics, gender, or the English language.

That said, the English language is full of juicy insulting words. I do think "assclown" is the best of the new crop, and completely lacking in patriarchal implication.

But of course it's clownist language, and eventually someone will take offense and we'll have a 500 comment MeTa in which we are shamed for using it.
posted by spitbull at 8:01 AM on August 29, 2011 [23 favorites]


Hay guys did u hear about the asteroid?
posted by nathancaswell at 8:03 AM on August 29, 2011


Meredith Brooks in 1997 with her edgy song "Bitch,"

OMG that was such an earworm just reading those words it all came back, video included. Now I'm glued to youtube instead of working. Thanks a lot eh!

(and another tab opened asking wikipedia to tell me whatever happened to Meredith Brooks...)

posted by bitteschoen at 8:04 AM on August 29, 2011


Hm. What does a political commitment look like if not an honest effort to trying to consider, ascertain and then follow through with doing the things that best respect the full human rights of others?
posted by Miko at 8:06 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Mkultra, go fuck yourself with your grandfather's dick!
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 11:56 PM

you don't have to be a BITCH about it no matter what was done. So, we get free reighn in here now to call someone names.
posted by clavdivs at 8:07 AM on August 29, 2011


But of course it's clownist language, and eventually someone will take offense and we'll have a 500 comment MeTa in which we are shamed for using it.

When the pay gap between clowns and non-clowns reaches 21%, or when the overwhelming majority of sexual violence is directed by non-clowns at clowns, you may have a point. But I don't think you actually intend to argue in good faith here, since I can't believe you seriously think that you can just swap out "women" for any other random group and still make a valid argument. It definitely doesn't require a "graduate seminar at a humanities program" to understand these things, so perhaps you need to go spend more time at a liberal arts college yourself.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 8:08 AM on August 29, 2011 [12 favorites]


likeso, thanks for trying to clarify...
I did read that part of the AskMe before I posted my original comment, and I was aware that ph Indicating Socks' response was drawing from that part of the AskMe. But I guess I still don't think that response is warranted. Even placing it in the context of referencing that comment in the AskMe, that's implying mkultra's post is in the same category as "Heather"'s behavior in the AskMe, since that comment suggests responding in that way to "Heather"-like people.

I don't think mkultra belongs in the category of "unreasonable"/"lying sack of shit"/etc people that the comment refers to. As others have pointed out, his phrasing and approach may have been kinda problematic, but it seems he does have good intentions and some valid points.
posted by aielen at 8:08 AM on August 29, 2011


Your "as old as time" comment functionally negates any attempt you made to indicate the point was specific to Western culture since agrarianism.

That seems unlikely; you correctly understood I was not talking about cosmological time dating back to the Big Bang, but instead some human construct of time.

Cut me some slack here Miko, I was making the very point you are attempting to dismiss me for not having made.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:08 AM on August 29, 2011


I have a strong suspicion the "bitch bitch bitch" apron refers to this. (Simpsons, of course)
posted by norm at 8:10 AM on August 29, 2011


Is there any female gendered insult we can use on metafilter?

(And by "can use", I don't mean are allowed to use - I mean can use without provoking the wrath of 1st year feminists.)

I think the implication that a female-gendered insult is naturally sexist is pretty dangerous.

I get that we're down to a small hardcore of people complaining about specific phrases here, but at this point in this conversation, it feels as though we're heading for a situation where "male-gendered swears are the only swears we allow".

I'm happy to do this. I do think it's silly though, and I do worry that allowing dick over bitch and/or cunt (say) has the counter intuitive result of pushing both women and female sexuality back onto the goddess pedestal(*).

* - I don't know what else to call this. What I mean by Goddess Pedestal is that place of worship where women are magnificent/fragile/infant things that must not be exposed to that filthy, filthy male world where all the good stuff happens.
posted by seanyboy at 8:10 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can we talk about how the bad girl was called Heather. I'm hurt. (That movie gave all us Heathers a bad name. Literally.)

Heathers of the world UNITE! Let's show the world that Heather isn't a bad word! We are not all blond, mean, stupid, and most of all WE ARE NOT BITCHES!!!
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:13 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is there any female gendered insult we can use on metafilter?

Again, you're assuming massive bad faith on the part of a bunch of people here. Nobody is claiming you're not allowed to use these words. We're just saying -- don't be an asshole.

Or, put another way: I don't know, are there any racist/homophobic slurs you can use on Metafilter? I guess, but why would you? And why would you be so attached to them?

And by "can use", I don't mean are allowed to use - I mean can use without provoking the wrath of 1st year feminists.

Oh, I take it back. You clearly aren't interested in arguing in good faith at all. It's striking how you feigned interest in having a conversation in your first line and then revealed that you're really just interested in insulting people.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 8:14 AM on August 29, 2011 [15 favorites]


Cut me some slack here Miko, I was making the very point you are attempting to dismiss me for not having made.

OK, you might have been aiming toward that, but the phrasing of your comment appeared to do the opposite - suggesting that the Western archetypes of paternalism and maternalism are "as old as time," the way of the world and some kind of natural order of things. "As old as time" means literally what it says, and I did read it as meaning "since the dawn of time" itself, so I think if I misunderstood, it was a reasonable misunderstanding. If you want to talk about the human construct of time it might have been clearer to say "since the human construct of time," but even that is socially constructed so it's not clear that date would have been the same for non-Western cultures. To belabor the point.

It happens very often that people attempt to ground sexist reasoning about patriarchy in particular ancient social organizations that were foundations, really, for only our own dominant Western culture and the way that pair of dice rolled. Perhaps you are not doing that, but that's how I read the comment.
posted by Miko at 8:16 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


By the way - In case anyone misunderstands, that's not me complaining about how sexist it is to allow Dick when other female words are banned. It frustrates me that I can't use certain words, but I don't consider myself downtrodden by this position.

I think that certain people are getting to the position where any female-gendered word is automatically off-limits because {thing} is a beautiful thing that must never be sullied. That's the 21st century equivalant of me putting my cloak down for you to walk on. It's not a bad thing per-se but it speaks to patriarchal cliche.
posted by seanyboy at 8:16 AM on August 29, 2011


seanyboy: "Is there any female gendered insult we can use on metafilter?

[...]

the wrath of 1st year feminists.
"

Oh, the irony.
posted by mkultra at 8:17 AM on August 29, 2011


Is there any female gendered insult we can use on metafilter?

Can you give some examples of the kinds of female gendered insults you'd like to be able to use?

1st year feminists

Really, Seanyboy? If anything's "disheartening" here, seeing that is.
posted by Miko at 8:18 AM on August 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


This is one of those threads that I find incredibly annoying and exhausting yet I realize that it somehow changes me for the better because I either change a certain behavior or at least try to be more understanding of other people's point of view. Somehow these threads become much more important than those dealing with pony requests, moderation policy, etc because they deal with issues that are larger than Mefi. So thank you to those who kept their cool and argued well for us other to deliberate. Even if the discussion might seem tedious and repetitive I can assure you that they provide some insight to others.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:19 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Heathers of the world UNITE! Let's show the world that Heather isn't a bad word! We are not all blond, mean, stupid, and most of all WE ARE NOT BITCHES!!!

Yeah, all the Heathers I've known have been really nice people. They have all been blonde, though.
posted by phunniemee at 8:19 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, we get free reighn in here now to call someone names.

No. If I had seen that comment earlier I would have removed it but people had responded to it by the time I saw it [we had some weather here, you may have noticed] and so I left it and left a note. The bar is pretty high for comment deletion generally on MetaTalk which I think is how it should be. Sometimes we leave comments with a clear "Don't do this" and sometimes, more rarely, we delete them.

Is there any female gendered insult we can use on metafilter?

If I am parsing this with my good-faith ears on, it seems that you are asking whether there are insults one can use here that will not piss someone off [or perhaps just people whose opinions you may care about] and the answer to that is no, not predictably. This is true with just about any non-homogenous large group of people.

So, you can, as people have done forever, decide what you want to do with this information, decide whose opinions you care about this fact, and act appropriately. Some people decide to use fewer insults, some decide to use more insults, some decide to change which insults they use, and some decide to hang out here and ask grouchy questions about how they're allowed to talk to people, impliying both that they care about and also that they do not care.

While, sure I could see ways in which mkultra could have asked this question in MeTa slightly better, I think it's clear that he's concerned and also irritated and was trying to start a conversation. People who do not find this sort of discussion useful [and just FYI I think it goes without saying that bitch won't become one of the "Do not say this" words form a mod perspective, but determining how the community in general feels about its use is still an open question] are welcome to not engage in it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:21 AM on August 29, 2011 [11 favorites]


"We are not all blond, mean, stupid...."

You're right, I've known at least two that were redheads.
posted by tomswift at 8:27 AM on August 29, 2011


1. I don't consider "1st year feminist" to be a gendered insult. I'm talking hyperbolically to a cliche of someone (male or female) who looks at a skyscraper and declares it's a patriarchal symbol of oppression.

2. Yeah - It was a joke.

3. If that's the bit of my point you want to pick at, you're welcome. I happen to think I addressed more important points in the rest of the words I used.

Jessamyn - Thanks for the good faith ears. I understand that people will get pissed off about pretty much everything, but I was trying to talk about the assumption that any female-gendered curse-word is automatically sexist. It strikes me now that this assumption of sexism may actually be damaging to how women are perceived.

Of course, I also managed to accidentally drop in a couple of inflammatory soundbites. Didn't mean to wind anyone up. I just thought I was being funny.
posted by seanyboy at 8:29 AM on August 29, 2011


you don't have to be a BITCH about it no matter what was done. So, we get free reighn in here now to call someone names.

To the extent that we don't remove fighty stuff as easily from Metatalk as from other parts of the site, it's mostly with the hope that people will treat that as a different sort of outlier boundary for when things get a little bumpy rather than as an excuse or a prompt to intentionally push it just for show. If the way people react to it is to be provocative jerks about it on a regular basis, that makes having that flexibility for more actually organic kind-of-got-hot-there situations less practical.

Ideally this is the place where folks can talk out what they need to talk out, and talk about bad behavior elsewhere, and so we're not really inclined to remove stuff just because it has some jarring content if there's a good reason for that content. "Oh yeah well fuck you" and "here's my conspicuous use of bitch as an insult, so there" aren't really good reasons for that stuff.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:32 AM on August 29, 2011


1st year feminists

Dibs on that as a band name.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:33 AM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


1. I don't consider "1st year feminist" to be a gendered insult. I'm talking hyperbolically to a cliche of someone (male or female) who looks at a skyscraper and declares it's a patriarchal symbol of oppression.

Oh, I don't think it's a gendered insult. I think it's a knowing, direct, and mean insult.

I happen to think I addressed more important points in the rest of the words I used.

Unfortunately, when you open with a nasty attempt to demean the informed, experienced, and authentic views of others, it's hard to get your other points heard.
posted by Miko at 8:33 AM on August 29, 2011 [18 favorites]


I just thought I was being funny.

You'll be here all week! Try the veal! Take your wife, please!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:35 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm talking hyperbolically to a cliche of someone (male or female)

Who won that argument?
posted by octobersurprise at 8:35 AM on August 29, 2011


This thread is like quicksand for opinions.

So I'll tread lightly and only say that I think women should get to decide what it is or is not OK for women to say to each-other.

But I am a man, oops. I feel myself being sucked down!
posted by dickasso at 8:38 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


miko:

come on??? Hey??? That was funny???
FWIW - It wasn't directed at anyone. There was no desire to demean.

Can you give some examples of the kinds of female gendered insults you'd like to be able to use?
Sure. I like bitch, The C Word, twat, tit, cow. There may be more, but I can't think of them. Generally they seem to be either animals or body parts.

But - I don't use the C word on metafilter. This is in deference to the large American base. I'm not in agreement about it, but do understand the meaning is different between the US and the UK.
posted by seanyboy at 8:39 AM on August 29, 2011


octobersurprise: It's looking increasingly as if I did not win the argument.
posted by seanyboy at 8:40 AM on August 29, 2011


Nobody is preventing anyone else from using any words here on Metafilter, despite mkultra's "Just stop it" command. He doesn't have the authority to make anybody stop anything.
We're free to use the words we want and others are free to make MeTa posts about it until the mods decide to curtail those freedoms, which so far they haven't done.
posted by rocket88 at 8:41 AM on August 29, 2011


To overlook that little flap, and ask whether there's any female-gendered (or male-gendered) insult that's not, at the root of it, sexist, I think without considering each item singly on a list I'd have to say basically "No." Whether it's "biddy," "hen," "jailbait" or whatever you want to use, I think they rely on sexism for their power to insult.

If an insult is gendered, it inevitably arises out of a system which defines appropriate and inappropriate behavior or personal qualities based on gender. Insults are used to call out and punish negative behaviors or qualities. So when an insult is based on gender, it's basically saying "You're embodying negative stereotypes associated with your gender," and is reinforcing those stereotypes as essential to the gender. Because I'm not an essentialist, I don't think you can ever detach the insult from the sexist stereotypes that they reflect.
posted by Miko at 8:42 AM on August 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


In my opinion, the other hostess certainly lived up to the B-word. But although she was certainly over the top in that situation, I bet her attitude has proven very useful and being a bitch is definitely not a bad thing when one works in a restaurant - not a groundbreaking revelation but one the OP's daughter should keep in mind.

In my experience as a waitress, you hash out attitude with other waitstaff to toughen yourself up for the worst perpetrators: cooks. Sure, the other waitstaff can be bitchy but in the end it's front of house vs. back of house and you best not forget it. If the OP's daughter thinks that interaction was bad, just wait until the first time three cooks gang up on her and play off eachother's insults about her physical apearance, ability, sexuality, etc.The restaurant world is a complex system of alliances and even though myself and another waitress have it out, if the cook screams at her out of stress I'm going to throw it right back in his face.

/derail from a cynical cynical person.
posted by pintapicasso at 8:43 AM on August 29, 2011


1st year feminists

What is it about gender equality that makes people assume bad-faith sophistry? Why does '1st year feminists' parse as a condescending swipe where '1st year civil rights activist' doesn't? I've been a feminist for a lot longer than a year, and I'm proud to describe myself as such. I believe in equality. Feminism is the pursuit for gender equality. If you're the sort of person who thinks that 'feminist' can ever be used pejoratively, maybe you should consider what that says about you.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:45 AM on August 29, 2011 [24 favorites]


Pretty much every time anyone talks about the PC brigade or hand-wringing or angry feminists or really any of that, all I hear is Richard Littlejohn. Just saying.

If that's the rhetorical company you want to keep, then okay, but maybe think about it, is all.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:46 AM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


rocket88: "Nobody is preventing anyone else from using any words here on Metafilter, despite mkultra's "Just stop it" command. He doesn't have the authority to make anybody stop anything. "

Honestly, those three words are nothing more than the written manifestation of being exasperated at reading that thread. No one here should confuse me with anything resembling authority, and it's completely unfortunate that some people have chosen to vocally fixate on those three words as a lightning rod distraction from everything else.
posted by mkultra at 8:48 AM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


If an insult is gendered, it inevitably arises out of a system which defines appropriate and inappropriate behavior or personal qualities based on gender.

I disagree. If an insult is gendered, then it may start to reflect gendered qualities & behaviour. I'd be willing to concede that the word may alsoe reinforce certain unwanted qualities & behaviour. This may be reason to not use a word.

It's a stretch to assume that any gendered word arises out of the gender system. Point 1. The C Word. In the UK, it usually means an aggressive/hostile/forcefully unsocialised male. This is a swear word first, and its meaning has attached itself to a non-gendered trait afterwards.
posted by seanyboy at 8:50 AM on August 29, 2011


What's the verdict on son of a bitch?

Personally, I always preferred "son of a b-AAH-ah-AAH-ah-AAAHHHH"
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:50 AM on August 29, 2011


Heh. Littlejohn.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:50 AM on August 29, 2011


come on??? Hey??? That was funny???
FWIW - It wasn't directed at anyone. There was no desire to demean.


OK. I don't usually get surprised that people sometimes think the perfect time for some gender-based levity is in a serious and irritable discussion of sexism, but I was a little surprised about it coming from you. It sounded like something from right-wing talk radio, and I took offense because it conflates those on MeFi who might object to sexist terminology with the naivete and zealousness of a "first year feminist," when in fact, lots of us are of course umpty-ump-year feminists and not coming from that sort of place at all -if even there's anything wrong with coming from that place that should make those views in themselves less valid. It seemed like an attempt to demean any critical opinions as youthful and shallowly held. I hope that explains why this joke in this moment went over like a lead balloon.

I like bitch, The C Word, twat, tit, cow.

I've objected to "cow" and "heifer" in specific instances in the past. I'm not saying there maybe isn't a social place for these words among people who understand each other well. I think it's a lot harder where you're trying to have a civil discussion in which people come from a variety of perspectives. I sometimes use "bitching" myself as a verb, "bitching about X," but maybe I'll be thinking more about whether that's expressing what I want it to. I can control how I mean it but not how it is received. I am thinking more about what using words like this does in terms of signalling the general acceptability of sexism in society. When I have used these words I'm definitely thinking about gender, and classing the person they're directed at with a bad stereotype about women. When I think about it, it doesn't feel so hot to me that the effect of this is that basically I'm using that individual who has annoyed me as evidence to assist in reinforcing the stereotype, and I'm borrowing from a sexist stereotype to cast out the person I'm insulting. In both ways, I'm participating in the continuation of the sexist stereotype.
posted by Miko at 8:51 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wow -- just last week I got into an argument on reddit about whether or not it was okay for folks online to use 'fag' as insults or 'that's so gay' as derogatory because the people who were doing it weren't really homophobic, it's just the way language had evolved, etc. And I thought 'oh yeah, this is why I spend more time on MetaFilter." Alas...

Though mkultra's intent may have been lost in the way this callout was phrased, his original now-delted comment in the thread was much more along the lines of what The ____ of Justice said, which I will quote below, for truth and hope that it might sink in for those involved:
    It seems an effective way to deal with mean girls at work is, for one thing, to stop thinking about this in "nice girl" vs. "mean girl" terms.
Use terms like 'bitch' and 'mean girls' all you want. I'm certainly not suggesting the site be censored. In fact, not doing so is helpful -- from my perspective, it allows you to say a lot about yourself in one simple word. You see political correctness* gone amok preventing you from using it; I see misogyny when you do. Tomato, tomahto. Go ahead. Just realize a lot of people are going to view you and your opinions in a way that you might not appreciate after doing so.

* And speaking of judging people for their word choice, 'political correctness' as an insulting talking point? Jesus H. Christ, did last week's hurricanes and earthquake open up a portal to the 1990s that I fell through?

posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:57 AM on August 29, 2011 [12 favorites]


It's a stretch to assume that any gendered word arises out of the gender system.

But of course it does. How could it not? Without a gender system there is no need for words to specify gender. At any rate, we're talking about gendered insults, not just gendered words.

The C word's evolution has been discussed to death here. It became a swear word to apply to males because of its much older denigrating association with females. As you know, there are a number of insults aimed at men which derive their sting from their association with femininity.
posted by Miko at 8:57 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


some decide to hang out here and ask grouchy questions about how they're allowed to talk to people, impliying both that they care about and also that they do not care.

I don't think this and your 'tired "please remind me what I can and can't say here" comments' comment are really fair. The usage of 'bitch' in question seems to be in a context many in the community find tolerable (a woman asking for help in AskMe) but we still are told, quite specifically, that we cannot use the word. Period.

Given Just stop it and the many battles we've had here over specific words, I think complaints about the list of verboten words have a rightful place in the conversation. You and others may find such comments "tired" or "grouchy" but the tolerance of such should equal the tolerance of the "Don't say X!" threads themselves (because one directly causes the other).

That doesn't seem to be the case. Moderators always seem to want the community to be unquestionably open to complaints/discussion about specific language but not to ever discuss/complain about the idea that our "available" language is therefore constricted by policing.
posted by Dano St at 9:02 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


For those who are burning to know, this was my original comment in the thread:

pH Indicating Socks: "How did you, as a young woman, learn to deal with "mean girls" at work?"

I'm a guy, but I think you should start by not referring to women you don't like as "bitches". That's not at all helpful to this, or any situation.


(the first line is the question in the post I'm responding to)
posted by mkultra at 9:03 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


The funny thing is, the various permutations of the "well, what can I say on MetaFilter?/ how come I can't say [word] on MetaFilter?" - which comes up repeatedly, with c-words, n-words, q-words and so on - sets a standard massively above the average person's expectations of the actual world. It expects not just the suspension but the reversal of the Web's tendency to facilitate the free sharing of opinion.

Seanyboy already knows that nothing is stopping him, structurally, from using these insults. He knows he isn't going to get banned for it. It isn't going to be deleted without some aggravating element.
(And by "can use", I don't mean are allowed to use - I mean can use without provoking the wrath of 1st year feminists.)
What he wants is permission to use gendered insults without anyone thinking any less of him. That's kind of weird. I mean, some people have attempted to create a situation where others aren't allowed to express negative opinions based on analyses of their behavior - theocrats, dictators, feudal monarchs, that sort of thing - but I think the anxiety here is actually deeper than that. It seems to be not just "I don't want anyone saying that they don't like the way I behave", but actually "I don't want anyone not liking the way I behave". But, instead of looking at behavior which they think people might not like, instead they want to identify behaviors which people aren't allowed to dislike, and argue for the inclusion of what they want to do in that set.

It's odd.
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:03 AM on August 29, 2011 [22 favorites]


Dano St: "That doesn't seem to be the case. Moderators always seem to want the community to be unquestionably open to complaints/discussion about specific language but not to ever discuss/complain about the idea that our "available" language is therefore constricted by policing."

Poor you. Think of it as an opportunity to expand your vocabulary.
posted by mkultra at 9:04 AM on August 29, 2011


I use bitching too, and I usually attribute it to myself. Like, "I was bitching about work again, wasn't I."

Unless I'm talking about teenage girls, the phrase is definitely ungendered. "He's a bitch" feels as right to me as "She's a bitch". I don't know what my specific usage is though. I'd be suprised but you may see a bias in how I actually use the phrase.

My assumption is that for the most part, my usage of the word "bitch" is common for either the area I live in or the circles I move in. It's possible that I may upset someone who has a different sensibility, but given that everything (from showing the bottom ofg your shoes to finishing the food placed in front of you) has the potential to upset, I'll tend to start from an assumption that people have the same social mores as me and then apologise when it's obvious that I don't.

There's a local usage here where everyone used to call everyone love. Nationally during the 1980's, "Love" was deemed to be offensive and sexist. In Leeds, men would say it to men would say it to women who would say it back to both men and women. This still happens here with the older generations, but not with the younger. The insistence that this lovely, charming, day warming word was sexist has crushed it from local usage.

I think everyone wants to use it, but because they're scared of how it's going to be received, they don't use it. This is a loss.
posted by seanyboy at 9:05 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


sets a standard massively above the average person's expectations of the actual world.

No, in the actual world, pH Indicating Socks could expect to ask her question among friends without being called out and told how to speak.

Poor you. Think of it as an opportunity to expand your vocabulary.

I don't use the word myself.
posted by Dano St at 9:09 AM on August 29, 2011


I think complaints about the list of verboten words have a rightful place in the conversation.

Agreed. However, acting like someone wanting to talk about how we use language here is the same as someone handing out a list of "words that are not okay to say" from on high diminishes and demeans the conversation that some people are wanting to have. If you have a problem with these sorts of conversations, there are a lot of ways to explain that, as you just did, without acting like this is an onerous task you are expected to participate in and receive the party line about how to behave.

So complain all you want, but please understand that there is a large chasm between "Here are the words you are actually not allowed to say here" and "Here are some words that people find problematic in a MetaFilter context and we're having a conversation about a person or group of people's feelings about that" and that is actually where discussion should happen. Parodying the other side's approach to things, whichever side is "the other side", is rarely a good jumping off point to having a discussion that facilitates understanding. So this post started out in a way that could have been worded better, but it's what we have.

Maybe this is a little woo-woo, but it's frustrating to me to see what I consider to be bad faith approaches to a complicated topic from all sides of the debate and then when people walk away throwing up their hands, I frequently feel that many people weren't trying anyhow. It's fine to not want to try to have this discussion, a point I'm trying to make plain, but if you want to understand where people are coming from [and not maybe create more ill will as you do it] that is a thing that everyone has the ability to do, everyone.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:12 AM on August 29, 2011 [14 favorites]


In my experience as a waitress, you hash out attitude with other waitstaff to toughen yourself up for the worst perpetrators: cooks.

Yes, the male cooks are the source of all this. Clearly.
posted by Dano St at 9:16 AM on August 29, 2011


all I hear is Richard Littlejohn.

I'd never heard of this Littlejohn person before now, but he seems the ideal author of a book called The Book Of Useless Information.

Privately, mkultra has declined my invitation to exmansplain why the word "bitch" is worse from a woman than a man, telling me, merely, to find my explanation in this thread. Is that just especially Zen of him or his own idea of a good time? No answers in sight.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:18 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


sets a standard massively above the average person's expectations of the actual world. It expects not just the suspension but the reversal of the Web's tendency to facilitate the free sharing of opinion.

And it questions whether that unrestrained "sharing of opinion," which is a really nice way to describe some of the discourses on the web, is of independent value. I think one reason I love MetaFilter is the standard of discussion is indeed massively above what I expect to overhear on my train ride home tonight, for instance.
posted by Miko at 9:19 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dano St: "No, in the actual world, pH Indicating Socks could expect to ask her question among friends without being called out and told how to speak."

Ask Metafilter is pretty much the opposite of that place. It's completely public and full of strangers.
posted by mkultra at 9:20 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


> Privately, mkultra has declined my invitation

Maybe you could leave it in private, then, eh?
posted by Horselover Phattie at 9:23 AM on August 29, 2011 [11 favorites]


Given Just stop it and the many battles we've had here over specific words, I think complaints about the list of verboten words have a rightful place in the conversation.

The frustrating thing from my end is that there is no list. It's a phantom list, a thing mentioned to complain about something other than itself, which is misdirecting and reduces an otherwise potentially useful "why is one or another word or expression especially problematic in this/that/several contexts" discussion to an impossible-to-address "blacklisting!" allegation.

There is no word, not one, that can't potentially make sense showing up in a comment on this site in the right context. There's a pretty short list of words for which the right context is going to be pretty narrowly defined; those are pretty much charged racial/sexual slurs of the sort where "I am mentioning this word" can make sense whereas "I'm calling you one of these" is pretty much a no, go to some other website, have a nice day situation.

Beyond that, there's a lot more grey-area stuff, and this is where I'd put "bitch", where there contexts where it's understandable (in a strict "I can understand someone being motivated to use that word" sense, not in a "that is officially a great rhetorical choice, good job" sense) for it to come up in mention or usage but it's still pretty likely to piss folks off and be counter-productive to anything other than an attempt to provoke.

If there was A List, it'd be in the FAQ. If anyone needs help putting together an actual list of nuclear-grade racial epithets they shouldn't toss at other people, I don't think they're really in the right place but they can always risk asking someone they hope will be sympathetic. If anyone needs a list of things they should avoid saying if they want to never be on the business end of a dirty look and a rebuke, that seems like a much bigger and more complicated project.

In the mean time, what we actually have on this site is a whole bunch of people with differing life experiences and cultural experiences and feelings about specific usages, and we have Metatalk as a place where folks can talk that stuff out if they have an objection to someone's language or an objection to being objected to. It's not a list, it's an on-going conversation. It comes with the risk of causing offense, and no list is going to solve that problem—taking having offended gracefully and talking it out is pretty much the only forward-looking remedy to this stuff that we actually have.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:24 AM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


To clarify an earlier comment: there are certainly women reclaiming the word bitch.

However, no one in that thread was anywhere near doing so; reclaiming is different from one woman using it towards another.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:24 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


miko: Sorry - My assumption was that "arises from" was shorthand for "has the semantic meaning". Not, "Has the following etymology."

We've done the "Word {x} originally meant this, so we can say it" thing on metatalk before. Not sure where you tend in this particular argument, but my preference is to take the current meaning and discard anything that is no longer historically relevant.
posted by seanyboy at 9:27 AM on August 29, 2011


Maybe you could leave it in private, then, eh?

I like to share.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:28 AM on August 29, 2011


No, in the actual world, pH Indicating Socks could expect to ask her question among friends without being called out and told how to speak.

Sure. Communication is negotiated by context. There are words I might feel comfortable using with my friends that I wouldn't use when appearing in court. For that matter, if I were in the middle of the physical act of love, I might use words that I probably wouldn't use in a job interview, even if the same person were across the desk in both situations. This is all pretty intuitive.

However, MetaFilter is, as you say, not the actual world - it has a far larger audience and range of possible reactions than the same statement uttered in the company of a small group of people one already knows. So, whereas in that real-world scenario you get cues from general context (this is a group of friends, so there is social pressure not to take someone to task for word choice) and specific context (I know these people, and have a good sense of what they are comfortable with).

One doesn't have that on MetaFilter, and if one is talking about "first year feminists" as a group you don't associate with in the actual world but you encounter on MetaFilter, you know that. So., it's strange to me that the reaction to the posit "this huge, heterogeneous group of people is not responding to me the way my friends would" is "please give me the cheat codes which will make this huge, heterogeneous group of people respond to me the way my friends would". It just doesn't feel like a realizable aspiration.
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:29 AM on August 29, 2011


That girl was a primo bitch, for real. There is simply no better word in the English language that describes her, sorry.

Bully. She bullied her less aggressive coworker to cover her mistake.

The word "bitch" has no specific meaning, except maybe as a verb.
posted by zennie at 9:29 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


And seriously, I'm kinda sick of guys making rules about girls on this site. I remember reading some douchebag a few weeks ago on this website speaking on "behalf of women and children everywhere". What a douche.

Is there a large subset of women and children who enjoy getting punched in the face? Or do you think that getting punched in the face is really no big deal? And frankly, I did not make the "rule", and I'm not even sure what "guys making rules about girls" really means anyway. Please explain how you are not the "douche" here. You're getting GRAR about me calling out some straight bullshit. I feel sorry for the women in your life.
posted by Brocktoon at 9:32 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Crud... that wasn't a complete thought. The word has no specific meaning when cast at women, because it is used so often solely as an insult.
posted by zennie at 9:32 AM on August 29, 2011


I like to share.

Sharing contents of private MeMails is not considered OK here.
posted by grouse at 9:32 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


octobersurprise: "Privately, mkultra has declined my invitation to exmansplain why the word "bitch" is worse from a woman than a man, telling me, merely, to find my explanation in this thread. Is that just especially Zen of him or his own idea of a good time? No answers in sight."

In answered your question. I'm not sure why you feel compelled to drag a discussion I tried to move into MeMail- to avoid a derail back- into the public space, other than to perhaps gratify your own MEMEME ego. To your continued insistance that I take the time to point out to you what you refuse to just read for yourself, I simply offer up the time-honored response:

I'm afraid that won't be possible.
posted by mkultra at 9:35 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


cortex: I'm not sure that anyone is implying that there is a physical list. I guess, in my little world, The List is a list of those words, which when used on either metafilter or Ask will provoke a small number of people to either say "we had this discussion before, please don't use that word" or to create a metatalk post about it.

My use of "First year feminists" is based on a perception I have that any of my friends who does a first year feminism module at University becomes a little bit zealous in their interpretations of the patriarchy for about six months.

I've seen it happen quite a few times, and it's something I'd happily joke about in the context of friendly conversation. It doesn't diminish my view of those friends. I just think it's both vaguely amusing and common enough to be workable as a metaphor in a more public setting.

Now - Can we leave it.
posted by seanyboy at 9:38 AM on August 29, 2011


bitchin' thread dudes.
posted by GuyZero at 9:38 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't bitch about the thread, please.
posted by shii at 9:44 AM on August 29, 2011


Yeah, to me bitch is WAAAAAAAY less gendered than people here are making it seem. I call men and women bitches (when they behave in a bitchy way).
posted by 23skidoo at 9:45 AM on August 29, 2011


Yeah, to me bitch is WAAAAAAAY less gendered than people here are making it seem. I call men and women bitches (when they behave in a bitchy way).

Yes . . . and what is a "bitchy" way? If you imagine the stereotypical person who acts in a "bitchy" way, I would bet anything that you don't picture, say, a businessman in a suit; you probably imagine a woman, since that is the context that the word originated in, and the initial context that we all still think of.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 9:49 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


"Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, and Tits. Those are the heavy seven. Those are the ones that'll infect your soul, curve your spine and keep the country from winning the war."

Bitch isn't even included on "the" list, I'm thinking that if it could be used on TV 40 years ago and now we can't use it on Metafilter, we're either more enlightened or 40 years of evolution has really tightened our sphincters up a bit.
posted by tomswift at 9:50 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I call men and women bitches (when they behave in a bitchy way)

Right, but I think people are concerned that the definition of behaving in a bitchy way is a negatively gendered definition in the first place? Maybe?
posted by elizardbits at 9:50 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Bitch isn't even included on "the" list, I'm thinking that if it could be used on TV 40 years ago and now we can't use it on Metafilter, we're either more enlightened or 40 years of evolution has really tightened our sphincters up a bit.

Hey there aren't any racial epithets on that list either so let's get going.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:53 AM on August 29, 2011 [14 favorites]


When referring to other people:

Bitch =

Men I feel superior to

Women I feel inferior to

Life's a bitch, huh?
posted by Debaser626 at 10:00 AM on August 29, 2011


The frustrating thing from my end is that there is no list.

Or, rather, that there are as many lists as there are users participating on the site. Each with it's own prioritization and individual-specific contexts that are acceptable or unacceptable.

Scolding people for their word choices never really produces the desired result of elevating the level of discourse. It just produces more fighty MeTa threads.
posted by DWRoelands at 10:19 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


No, in the actual world, pH Indicating Socks could expect to ask her question among friends without being called out and told how to speak.

Sure. But when you post on MetaFilter, you're not asking your question "among friends," you're asking it among thousands of strangers around the world and possibly also some friends too. It's still a community, with friendliness and goodwill but it's a totally different animal than a tight group of IRL friends, and that's important because.

-It's not that your friends would never call you out and tell you how to speak. There surely are certainly things that could offend your friends, if your friends are like 99% of human beings. (E.g. If I were asking a question of my friends I wouldn't pepper it with racial epithets) But because you know them very well personally you know what those things are and you don't say them. And if you refused to curtail yourself from speaking to friends in a way that offended them you would eventually lose those friends. And in circles of friends those things are all similar so you know to avoid them. That's not at all the case here. You don't know what will offend any given person, and, people will feel all different kinds of ways.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:22 AM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


That's not at all the case here. You don't know what will offend any given person, and, people will feel all different kinds of ways.

The bottom of this slippery slope is that we should just all say nothing at all.
posted by GuyZero at 10:25 AM on August 29, 2011


DWRoelands: Scolding people for their word choices never really produces the desired result of elevating the level of discourse. It just produces more fighty MeTa threads.

I couldn't possibly disagree more. Think of say, the 5 large mainstream sites where the general public posts. When I do so, and I consider 1) the relative level of discourse on those sites; 2) The degree to which, as a site norm, it's important for people to consider their word choices (including hte offensiveness of those word choices), it seems like a pretty strong positive correlation.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:25 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Major exception: Jesse Pinkman is allowed and, indeed, encouraged to call everyone "bitch".
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:31 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Ashley801: That's not at all the case here. You don't know what will offend any given person, and, people will feel all different kinds of ways.

GuyZero: The bottom of this slippery slope is that we should just all say nothing at all.


Not sure I follow. That was a statement of fact, not an opinion on what we should or shouldn't do about that fact.

Ignoring that though, I'll say what I DO think is best to do about that fact:

You don't know what will offend any given person, and, people will feel all different kinds of ways. So everyone should talk it out and decide as a group what the most people can live with

MetaFilter has been around for a long time and that seems to be where the slippery slope ends -- when most people are okay with something, then that's the end of it. I have never ONCE seen a case where most people are okay with something, but a couple people don't like it so it's banned. I have also never seen a case where nobody posted on MetaFilter at all because anything they say might offend one random person. So, I totally disagree that that's the bottom of the slippery slope.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:33 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


So I'm kind of being a dick here, but:

I have also never seen a case where nobody posted on MetaFilter at all because anything they say might offend one random person.

I'm a little puzzled how you're going to prove this. Perhaps thousands of posts have been gone unmade because people felt they'd be criticized for them.
posted by GuyZero at 10:38 AM on August 29, 2011


I was referring to your line we should just all say nothing at all, meaning the entire site shutting down.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:39 AM on August 29, 2011


I dont' have a dog in this fight, but:

I have also never seen a case where nobody posted on MetaFilter at all

Well you wouldn't would you? Silence is silent, sort of definitionally. Chilling effects are hard prove, because there's no direct evidence, just absence.

As the mods have made clear though, there's no ban, or anything definite, just the usual proviso to be good to each other. If you're looking for a bright line, you're going to be disappointed. There are no rules, just guides.
posted by bonehead at 10:40 AM on August 29, 2011


The bottom of this slippery slope is that we should just all say nothing at all.

I think the bottom line of this slippery slope is that we should all be thoughtful about the language that we use, always aware that there are others around us with different opinions and experiences, and we should all be willing to acknowledge our failings and attempt to better ourselves through the strength of community.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:41 AM on August 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


Yes . . . and what is a "bitchy" way? If you imagine the stereotypical person who acts in a "bitchy" way, I would bet anything that you don't picture, say, a businessman in a suit; you probably imagine a woman, since that is the context that the word originated in, and the initial context that we all still think of.

Yeah, I'm not saying the word didn't USED to be very gendered, I'm saying that like many gendered words, it's become much MUCH less gendered.

You're right that I don't imagine a businessman in a suit when I imagine a stereotypical bitch. But you're wrong that I imagine a woman. The word as I (and many people I know) use it means "unpleasant, self-important, stubborn person of either gender".

We don't ALL think of the initial context when we use the word. Sorry.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:43 AM on August 29, 2011


So this thread will lead to either:

1. A metafilter silent spring of epic and tragic proportions
2. Nothing at all, it is a complete waste of time to discuss community norms

Interesting.

In terms of chilling effect, it's important to consider the people who won't post in a place where misogynistic language is rampant and unchecked.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:44 AM on August 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


or 3. there's a middle-ground between "political correctness" and free-form misogny that gets excluded from the debate because it takes good judgement and patience to define.
posted by bonehead at 10:46 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


My use of "First year feminists" is based on a perception I have that any of my friends who does a first year feminism module at University becomes a little bit zealous in their interpretations of the patriarchy for about six months.

Do you think that describes feminists on MetaFilter?
posted by Miko at 10:47 AM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


In terms of chilling effect, it's important to consider the people who won't post in a place where misogynistic language is rampant and unchecked.

Which is basically Metafilter. Sure.
posted by GuyZero at 10:47 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I dont' have a dog in this fight, but:

Why you gotta be assigning dogs to the violent role? How fair is that?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:48 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's also important to know what "rampant" and "unchecked" mean.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:48 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Which is basically Metafilter. Sure.

It was basically MetaFilter, and part of the reason it's not anymore is conversations like this one, and much more difficult too.
posted by Miko at 10:48 AM on August 29, 2011 [15 favorites]


or 3. there's a middle-ground between "political correctness" and free-form misogny that gets excluded from the debate because it takes good judgement and patience to define.

To my perspective, all in all, the site is pretty much in that sweet spot right now, or as close as it's ever going to get with such a huge and varied userbase.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:51 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Guyzero: I'm a little puzzled how you're going to prove this. Perhaps thousands of posts have been gone unmade because people felt they'd be criticized for them.


It's possible, but if you don't say something because it might offend one random person (Ashley801's phrase) out of the entire readership of MetaFilter, you're at Jainist levels of conversational non-violence. One can no more reorganize the site around the needs of someone who needs a guarantee that not one person will find what they are saying offensive than one can reorganize it around the needs of someone who is offended by literally every word in the language.

(Incidentally, not to put words in the young rope-rider's mouth, but on preview I think the point being made is that MetaFilter isn't a place where misogynistic language is rampant and unchecked, and therefore people who would experience that as a chilling effect feel able to speak more freely. It's a good thing about MetaFilter.)

Ashley801: I think maybe the difficult word here is "scold" - not just for its gendered history, but because I don't think taking people to task in a context where there is no negative consequence (that is, you can't be sent to bed without dessert) often leads to much more than greater intransigence. It's a relatively rare person who responds to being insulted or derided by not raising shields.

However, calling people on their word choices, or discussing their word choices, or pointing out how their word choices affect the people around them on MetaFilter (especially if they have not considered the difference between the community of MetaFilter and their personal peer group) can provide useful context and help them to make informed decisions about how they want to choose their words in future. I mean, look at "first year feminists". At the moment, Seanyboy is still giving reasons for why it is an acceptable - nay, affectionate - term to use, which is not working out well, but it might provide context for language choice in future discussions. On the other hand, there is the problem of people feeling these discussions or comments as scoldings...

So, thinking about the good-faith version of all this... it feels like mkultra's good-faith message was that calling the mean girls bitches was not a useful way to help pHis's daughter to deal with the situation in the longer term. The good-faith response to that is something like "Although the desire to combat misogyny is commendable, it feels unhelpful to see a guy giving a woman instruction about how to use language". Then there's a good-faith question about whether it's possible to use gendered insults (which could probably equally be applied to language around race or sexuality) in a way that will guarantee no negative responses from MetaFilter, which gets the good-faith answer "probably not, but one can apply common sense and think about the way terms are likely to be received in given contexts, and be open to people's responses. Discussing a news story where X has called Y a Z is different from calling Y a Z, and is different again from calling somebody else on MetaFilter a Z".
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:52 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


"So whom may we call bitches, and under what circumstances? PLEASE TELL US"

Alumnae and female students at UGA, otherwise known as the Lady Bulldogs, in all circumstances relating to the university and especially its sporting events. But as we're talking about a university with a prominent veterinary college, we really ought to be specific and make sure to call them Bitches.

Which is frankly a way badder-ass team nickname anyway. GO BITCHES!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:53 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


In terms of chilling effect, it's important to consider the people who won't post in a place where misogynistic language is rampant and unchecked.

This exactly.

MetaFilter is the only large-scale forum I participate in anymore, general interest or otherwise. This is largely due to it feeling like a space where I don't have to worry about various -isms being hurled at me from every direction, partly because of the efforts of the mods and partly because most people here seem to want to be decent to each other.

If things changed such that I no longer felt welcome? I wouldn't be here arguing about it. I would leave without comment.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 10:53 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Well I wasn't going to mention it, but I was a bit taken aback by a recent comment calling Rory from Doctor Who a "gormless twat". Can we add "gormless" to the list? That shit made me pull out the OED.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:53 AM on August 29, 2011


GuyZero: " The bottom of this slippery slope is that we should just all say nothing at all."

Yet, the site still stands.

Probably because we don't carry such things to extremes. Honestly, we don't carry them very far at all. Per the mods, Metafilter does not have a "verboten words" list and isn't going to be getting one. However, the way we treat each other is moderated. And I suppose it's worth mentioning that people can of course be nasty to one another without using harsh language.

It is possible to make an effort to be polite and friendly towards one another and not have the site implode over it. What's wrong with making an effort in that direction? Or at least, not going in the opposite one?

Personally, I don't use the word "bitch" all that often because when I think about it, the word makes me uncomfortable. I also tend to think that once a person breaks out personal insults, people are likely to start ignoring them. Why alienate folks if you don't have to?

mkultra: " Do you think it makes it any better because it's one woman calling another woman that? Here's a hint: it's worse."

I think your heart is in the right place. I do. But a man lecturing women about how they're perpetuating male oppression of their own gender is pretty patronizing, don't you think?
posted by zarq at 10:54 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you're not up to dropping "gormless" once in a while you're not up to fake-nice trash-talk. You fatuous, obtuse cretin.
posted by GuyZero at 10:56 AM on August 29, 2011


See, I knew what those meant, dont start dropping words like supercilious in the thread though. I still haven't gotten a chance to look that one up.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:59 AM on August 29, 2011


mkultra: "Honestly, those three words are nothing more than the written manifestation of being exasperated at reading that thread. No one here should confuse me with anything resembling authority, and it's completely unfortunate that some people have chosen to vocally fixate on those three words as a lightning rod distraction from everything else."

Um. The OP used the word "bitch" in exasperation at her daughter being treated poorly. She's not acting as an authority on the use of gendered insults in general. It's completely unfortunate that some person chose to vocally fixate on that word as a lightning rod distraction.

If only we could reverse time, perhaps you could reply to the Ask with empathy and a more constructive answer, then?
posted by desuetude at 11:00 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


a man lecturing women about how they're perpetuating male oppression of their own gender is pretty patronizing, don't you think?

Apparently, somewhere in this discussion mkultra has explained why that isn't so. Or so I have been informed.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:00 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


[IMG]
posted by Eideteker at 11:05 AM on August 29, 2011


It's hard and it is tiring. People feel strongly, and feel threatened or angered by the people on the other side of the debate. Some people feel that there really is one right way, and that doing it the other way is wrong, so the other people have to be educated.

We should talk it out, but it leads to frustration and bad feelings. Good people get fed up and leave. Maybe the culture gradually changes as a result, but the process is incredibly painful.

True, nobody has to be here, but here we are. Again.

Let's meet half way. People who want to use potentially hurtful language pledge to cut their usage by 50%. People who take offense at this language agree to make a public issue of the use of this language only 50% of the time they come across it.

Such a simple bit of restraint and tolerance will result in 400% fewer of these bug ugly fucking MetaTalk posts.

That is change we can all believe in people. Let's do this.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:06 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


The problem I have with these discussions is they are often framed as "stop saying X." If it were framed as "Saying X makes me uncomfortable" I'd be more sympathetic.

Too often the callout references the comment that instigated said and I read it and am shruggo, since I (as in this case) don't see the big deal. It was in a post written in frustration at a situation involving an emotional encounter. I don't expect the same rules to apply in these situations as I would in the workplace.

I also have the ability to move on.

I get frustrated at these posts because they imply the original use was incorrect. They are taking a judgmental stance on what someone has written, often with an attitude that the original commenter is ignorant of the words being used. I'm one of those Americans that hates the C-word (even writing that makes me feel dumb, since I hate having a code for a word I just don't use). I cringe when I read it. But I presume that when people use it they either know that people won't like it or there's a cultural gap.

Calling people's use of language out is denying a good faith expectation that the person knows damn well what is being written.

I'm willing to make some concessions for people when they say something make them uncomfortable. I'm seldom willing to make these concessions when there is a demand that I stop using a word.

And sometimes I come down on the side of it's time to grow up and understand people use words like piss and damn and getting upset by words is really the damage of the receiver.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:08 AM on August 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


The fact that otherwise very smart people keep having this conversation on this forum is in part why my participation in this forum has dropped off over the last few months. When people here ask users to care about a topic enough to change their behavior it is an imposition on the reader. I have myself pointed out ideas I find ignorant and ugly here as well, the difference I hope is I leave it up to the reader whether or not they care enough about it to change their behavior. I don't presume to demand their obeisance to the popular opinion.

Yeah – that's because this place isn't so much a discussion area as a giant Pokemon league, where each Pokemon is a grievance, bred for unique powers and lovingly fed power-ups.

When a topic comes up, out come the little balls with monsters and you never know what they're going to start chewing on first.

A little while ago, there was a link to Fark, which I hadn't read in a real long time. It's a big ol' smelly frathouse, of course, and they don't talk about very interesting topics mostly, but they do seem to have managed to avoid that dynamic, which makes me really not want to talk to anybody here ever. (It's probably the inline images that are the secret.)

*also goes back to lurking*
posted by furiousthought at 11:14 AM on August 29, 2011


octobersurprise: "Apparently, somewhere in this discussion mkultra has explained why that isn't so. Or so I have been informed."

He did. He said that calling out the comment was ""....the right thing to do, regardless of who you are."

Am mostly sympathetic to this statement: if a guy calls a woman a bitch, as a guy myself I don't see anything wrong with saying something. But a guy telling women that he knows better than them how insults against women should be handled is still patronizing.
posted by zarq at 11:15 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Eideteker: "[IMG]"

Is that really a tattoo? Because damn, grab a phone book.
posted by zarq at 11:18 AM on August 29, 2011


If only we could reverse time, perhaps you could reply to the Ask with empathy and a more constructive answer, then?

If Cher was in the drivers' seat she'd take it all back, because she didn't mean to be hurtful. She'd make this proclamation quite publicly, to the entire crew of a battleship, while wearing a revealing skin tight leotard and gartered stockings. It would be quite titillating because you'd totally be able to see her bare bum!
posted by Meatbomb at 11:18 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are words that are going to be sticking points for people. Bitch certainly has a bad history behind it, is specifically gendered, and, when used to put down women, even by women, is going to strike a lot of people as a bad word choice.

I imagine there are situations where it would be the ideal word choice -- I don't think we could have a discussion like the one that people in this thread are jokingly having, about pop music's use of the word, or its use in the gay (and especially drag performance) community. And I'd be surprised if anybody complained in those circumstances.

It's probably worth asking ourselves about the words we use in a public forum. Not because words are intrinsically good or bad -- a lot of that depends on context -- but because words are what we use to communicate. I have been trying to control what I saw when I feel angry, because words spoken in anger often shut down discussion, or side track it, or heat it up to a point where it is useless. It's hard to do, I know.

This seems like an example of a word used in anger, and the anger is certainly valid. But it was a gendered insult cast at somebody because of their gender, not because of their behavior -- I agree that bully is a much better word in this circumstance, albeit perhaps not as satisfying a word, because "bitch" has a quality of insult that "bully" does not, and, when you're angry, you want to insult.

It seems to me the question in this circumstance could be "Is this word choice, however satisfying, the best choice for encouraging discussion, or does it run the risk of derailing it." And then ask yourself how much you actually want to have a discussion, and make your word choice based on that decision. But if you go with the word that's likely to lead to a derail, because it's a word that people respond badly to, don't be surprised when that derail happens.

I would include "first-year feminists" in this list.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:18 AM on August 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


He did.

That's fine work, zarq. Could you find where he explains why it's so much worse for a woman to call another woman a bitch? That's also rumored to be around here somewhere.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:30 AM on August 29, 2011


octobersurprise: " That's fine work, zarq. Could you find where he explains why it's so much worse for a woman to call another woman a bitch? That's also rumored to be around here somewhere."

You get that I'm not defending him for doing so, yes?
posted by zarq at 11:32 AM on August 29, 2011


I do. I didn't think you were defending him.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:36 AM on August 29, 2011


Apropos of nothing that we're talking about right at the moment...

I keep seeing comments along the lines that if word choice/use on this site is called into question, it will ruin the site. Make it impossible for us to have high-level discourse on the site, or even shut down all discourse at all. And that therefore, being "too PC," worrying about offending people, worrying about sexism, etc., is detrimental to the site.

I think those people have it exactly backwards.

I think the primary reason we are ever able to have high level discourse on this site is that there are self-enforced community norms on how we speak to each other. And community norms that speaking in a considered way is desirable, that it is desirable to consider how one's words will be received, that it is desirable to be mindful of offending other users.

The internet is absolutely chock brimming full of places that aren't like this. If it's true that exhortation to consider one's word choice ruins high-level discourse, then 4Chan, Fark, Yahoo! Answers should be bastions of high-level discourse. So I wonder why people who don't ever want their word choice questioned come here, when they have those top-notch places to go to.

The other huge reason that I think MetaFilter is what it is, and that we can ever pull off the good conversations that do happen here, is that it is gender-balanced. And that's another thing you find almost nowhere else on the internet. As several people said upthread, if we stop caring about whether speech here is offensive to women, women will leave and the site will become like all the rest. So again, I wonder, when there are so many sites on the internet that are mostly male, or all male, if those places are so much more glorious, then why come here?
posted by Ashley801 at 11:42 AM on August 29, 2011 [23 favorites]


octobersurprise, he said it is worse when women do it because "When you, as a woman, call another woman a bitch as an insult, you're playing right into the hands of powerful men who want to keep you in your place. You're sending a signal that it's OK for me as a guy to call you a bitch because hey, you're doing it too, right? I'm not simply being rhetorical here- that is an actual bona fide line of reasoning I've heard more than once."

Mind you, I don't agree at all with that reasoning or this callout, but since you asked...
posted by dialetheia at 11:45 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a bit patronising, no?

No. It's a request to be explicit about her comment that calls mkultra a misogynist, or at least uses a cheap rhetorical trick to ascribe misogynist intent to him in a pretty underhanded, ugly and unsubstantiated way.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:27 PM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


octobersurprise: "I do. I didn't think you were defending him."

OK, thanks.
posted by zarq at 12:37 PM on August 29, 2011


I think the primary reason we are ever able to have high level discourse on this site is that there are self-enforced community norms on how we speak to each other.

I agree with this, but many of our norms date from all the way back to the boyzone era. Don't be a asshole and Signal, not noise are two prominent examples. The community has policed itself since the beginning and this is indeed a feature of the site. But it wasn't invented in 2007 (or whenever all that shit went down) and "don't ever say that word" is a more recent thing. It's one I personally decry because it's too rigid for a community committed to open discourse.

To me, it's no so much "that exhortation to consider one's word choice ruins high-level discourse" as much as "if you want me to check my language, you better be prepared to do the same". Doesn't mkultra share the same responsibility to consider his words as pH Indicating Socks? Does the framing of this callout seem like he spent a lot of time considering how his words would be received? Here's a hint: it doesn't. He probably didn't feel the need to, really, because he has the privilege of posting from the right ideology.

So again, I wonder, when there are so many sites on the internet that are mostly male, or all male, if those places are so much more glorious, then why come here?

This is an utter strawman, but I'll bite. Because this is my home on the internet and has been for a decade. As much as my family makes me roll my eyes sometimes, they're still pretty great people.
posted by Dano St at 12:57 PM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wish there was a MeFi's own Dr. Dre, so I could make a MetaTalk post about his AskMe question about bitchez.
posted by ignignokt at 12:58 PM on August 29, 2011


Doesn't mkultra share the same responsibility to consider his words as pH Indicating Socks?

Of course, which is why he's gotten so much pushback in this thread.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:03 PM on August 29, 2011


I love it. I absofuckinglutely LOVE the word "bitch."

I have it on a collar and a wristband and a coffee cup - two coffee cups, one broke. I have a t shirt that proclaims me to be the bitch who wrecked your life; b*tchwhowreckedyourlife was my IM and messageboard handle and was almost my name here. I think I have another one that just says "BITCH."

I like it as a verb. I think it's therapeutic, in moderation. You vent, get over it, and solve your problem.

I like it as a noun. I adore it as a noun.

I am usually called "bitch" when I won't let someone talk down to me or take advantage of me, or when I won't let them take advantage of someone else. I get called a bitch on a regular basis, and if that is the name you will give me because I dare say "NO" to you, then HELL yeah. I am a bitch. I am a great big bitch and there is not an instrument invented that can measure the immensity of the fuck I do not give.

That is my word, MINE! and from my cold dead hands will you pry it.
posted by louche mustachio at 1:06 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yet nobody has suggested to take his ass elsewhere.
posted by Dano St at 1:07 PM on August 29, 2011


d'oh...that was in response to shakespeherian
posted by Dano St at 1:07 PM on August 29, 2011


Yet nobody has suggested to take his ass elsewhere.

My ass, sir?
posted by GuyZero at 1:12 PM on August 29, 2011


Dano St: "Doesn't mkultra share the same responsibility to consider his words as pH Indicating Socks? Does the framing of this callout seem like he spent a lot of time considering how his words would be received? Here's a hint: it doesn't."

I'll bite at this. First of all, it's been oft repeated that MeTa has a much wider latitude of what's "acceptable" discourse than the other sites. I've also apologized for the way my post was framed, and clarified my position when it was called out.

pH Indicating Socks, when called out on her behavior in AskMe (and the subsequent pile-on of name-calling that ensued), responded with what is probably the nastiest, pettiest thing that's been said to me here, ever, and I've been here a while.

Dano St: "He probably didn't feel the need to, really, because he has the privilege of posting from the right ideology."

I don't even know what you're getting at here.
posted by mkultra at 1:13 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


To me, it's no so much "that exhortation to consider one's word choice ruins high-level discourse" as much as "if you want me to check my language, you better be prepared to do the same". Doesn't mkultra share the same responsibility to consider his words as pH Indicating Socks? Does the framing of this callout seem like he spent a lot of time considering how his words would be received? Here's a hint: it doesn't. He probably didn't feel the need to, really, because he has the privilege of posting from the right ideology.

Well Dano St., I completely agree with you there, so much so that in fact, I wrote several paragraphs of text to mkultra about the problems I saw with the framing of his words. Despite the fact that he was probably coming from an ideology that I agree with. And I would be pretty stunned if he really did not feel the need to consider those things in the future given all the blowback he's gotten for this thread. Personally, for whatever it's worth if anyone wants me to check my language, I'm fine with them asking me too. I may not do what they want in the end but what's the problem with just talking about it?

Also--

Yet nobody has suggested to take his ass elsewhere.

Not sure if this is in reference to anything I've said, but if so, I have never and would never suggest that anyone else take their ass elsewhere. I asked a question as to why people would want to stay on a site with such horrible policies that allegedly stifle discussion, when almost the entire rest of the internet doesn't have policies like that. It seems obvious to me that there's something here that's not there.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:17 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


TypographicalError, I specifically said the women here--It's been my experience that Mefites are generally pretty well-versed in this sort of thing, if only by virtue of threads like this.

Metafilter is not a great bastion of progressively-minded people; it just happens to be able to conduct itself at a level which sometimes approximates civil conversation. Most of the time, people here are quite awful to each other (but incredibly polite for the internet.) This is not to mention that the original poster has not been a member here for particularly long, and may not have gotten a thorough education in feminist issues simply by proximity; I certainly didn't get there myself until a few years have passed.

Which is all to say, I noticed your qualification, and I think that you are mistaken.
posted by TypographicalError at 1:26 PM on August 29, 2011


He probably didn't feel the need to, really, because he has the privilege of posting from the right ideology.


I like what you did with "privilege" there, but isn't it pretty clear that he wasn't? pH Indicating Socks raised the stakes with that grandfather's dick thing, but there's certainly no consensus that mkultra's callout was awesome, even from the people you would probably have on your PC list.

I'd be feeling somewhat chastened at this point if I were mkultra or pH indicating socks, but hopefully, because the criticisms have largely been thoughtful and interesting, and have largely refrained from name-calling, they can read the thread and work out what, if anything, they want to do in the way of course-correction in relative calm.
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:32 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yet nobody has suggested to take his ass elsewhere.

I suspect that this was in reference to Jessamyn's comment, and I think is a wrong reading of the comment. Jessamyn, from how I read it, does not have a problem with people disagreeing on this subject, and engaging it. She does, however, have a problem with drive-by "OMG the PC SQUAD keeping us down!" and faux-exasperated "So can we just put together a list of thing we aren't allowed to say?" and "THIS IS STUPID"-style comments. These sorts of comments strike me not just as disagreeing with the original callout, but actively expressing contempt, and I can't see how they would further any sort of conversation. Which, I imagine, is why Jessamyn suggests that those who are not actually interested in the conversation skip this sort of thread.

That's quite a bit different than"If you don't agree, leave." But if I am understanding this wrong, I am sure Jessamyn will clarify.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:53 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't even know what you're getting at here.

There's plenty of times I feel the same way about my comments. :)

What I think I'm getting at is the idea that too often the "consequences," nebulous as they are, of offending others are different depending on the ideology of the comment. If one is posting something decrying the patriarchy, for example, the consequences of tossing off a hasty bit of nastiness will be of less significance than, say, posting something about a woman who did something mean. So much less that one would probably not even think twice about it, even while advocating that others think twice about they say. I think.

I asked a question as to why

Ok, apologies for misreading your intent.
posted by Dano St at 1:59 PM on August 29, 2011


I suspect that this was in reference to Jessamyn's comment,

Nah, it referred to Ashley801. Some of the consequences stuff, on the other hand...

posted by Dano St at 2:04 PM on August 29, 2011


I'm suprised that people are still ascribing the worst possible motive to pH indicating socks comment. As far as I can tell it was a direct quote from the original question. I didn't like it first time I read it, but it's entirely plausible that the comment was made as a meta-joke about the original thread. It's entirely plausible that the malicious intent was low.

Of course, assuming the best of people isn't what metatalk is for. Making jokes in such an important conversation is not what metatalk is for.

Everyone's right. Everyone is wrong. There will be no leeway. There will be no capitulation or consensus.

It's utter bullshit, and it amazes me that I've not realised how humourless and unempathic this entire conversation is. And always has been.

First Year Feminists was wrong. It wasn't strong enough. With the odd exception, this entire thing is a cargo culted discussion taken to a ridiculous, over-liberalised and sanctimonious extreme.

Fucking idiots.
posted by seanyboy at 2:07 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


seanyboy, you're really angry and so you're calling all of us fucking idiots.

That doesn't really strike me at all as a humorous or empathetic way of having a conversation.

If you can just flip out and start calling everyone names when you get mad enough, how can you be pissed off at other people for being merely "humorless" over things that make *them* mad?

Whatever reason it is that you have been pushed over the edge into anger by this conversation and can't be humorous or empathetic about it anymore, that is the same reason why people were irritated by your "joke" about first year feminists, but at least they didn't call you a fucking idiot for saying that.
posted by Ashley801 at 2:19 PM on August 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


You seem to be of the opinion that it is everybody else's fault that you told a joke that fell flat.

Where do you plan to go with this? People have expressed well-considered opinions regarding the use of the word bitch. You dismissed them with your previous comment, although you claimed it was intended as a joke. But now your dismissal seems fortified, and yet all you offer are more words of dismissal in place of discussion or argument.

I might suggest you not use the word "sanctimonious," as it comes close to self-damning at this moment.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:19 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also seanyboy, it's really doesn't make much sense to say, "you're all idiots for being mad at my JOKE, which by the way was not only true but didn't go far enough in capturing all your horrible qualities."
posted by Ashley801 at 2:22 PM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Holy shit, finally one of these I can get behind!

Metafilter: A cargo culted discussion taken to a ridiculous, over-liberalised and sanctimonious extreme.
posted by nathancaswell at 2:27 PM on August 29, 2011


I was offended by the implication that I've only been a humorless unempathetic feminist for a year. I've been working on the humorless & unempathetic thing for decades.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:28 PM on August 29, 2011 [13 favorites]


At least you didn't call us "fucking bitches" so there is that I guess.
posted by madamjujujive at 2:28 PM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Today, we are all first year feminists crafting crude approximations of gender debates in the hopes that the gods will shower us with boxes of parachute favorites.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 2:29 PM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's utter bullshit, and it amazes me that I've not realised how humourless and unempathic this entire conversation is. And always has been.

Don't take yourself so seriously.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:30 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hang on... the "c-word" is cargo?

Is my face ever red.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:31 PM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't know which part of "maybe pH indicating socks was making a joke and you're all humorless idiots" got converted to "I'm sore because people don't think I'm funny".

If I want to talk about reactions to things I've said, I'll come out and say it. It says a lot about peoples reactions that they assume a default of passive aggressiveness.
posted by seanyboy at 2:31 PM on August 29, 2011


Metafilter: all first year feminists crafting crudeawfuckit.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:31 PM on August 29, 2011


It says a lot about peoples reactions that they assume a default of passive aggressiveness.

May I suggest another alternative: You're not communicating very clearly at the moment.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:32 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


seanyboy: "I'm suprised that people are still ascribing the worst possible motive to pH indicating socks comment. As far as I can tell it was a direct quote from the original question. I didn't like it first time I read it, but it's entirely plausible that the comment was made as a meta-joke about the original thread. It's entirely plausible that the malicious intent was low."

Haven't commented on it yet because it seemed to have been resolved. But in context, pH Indicating Socks' comment is not a joke and I see no reason to take as such. The comment is telling mkultra to go fuck himself in an "acceptable" way, because mkultra is unreasonable. Read the original comment.

So yes, it was a direct quote from the original comment. But I see no context which also makes it a meta-joke.
posted by zarq at 2:32 PM on August 29, 2011


May I suggest an alternative. You're not listening very carefully.
posted by seanyboy at 2:33 PM on August 29, 2011


It's also pretty much the height of passive-aggressiveness to couch insults as "jokes" and act miffed when people are insulted, IMO. (not referring to pH Socks.)
posted by Ashley801 at 2:34 PM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


But I see no context which also makes it a meta-joke.

I'm going to melt your mind here.

IT WAS BOTH.
posted by GuyZero at 2:34 PM on August 29, 2011


You're not listening very carefully.

It's a very long thread with numerous strands. The onus is on you to make certain you are understood. If you feel minsunderstood, a possible course of action would be to clarify what you meant. Another course of action would be to ascribe uncharitable motivations to people responding to you. Another course of action would be to sling insults.

One of these is likely to get your point across. Several are not.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:35 PM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


One of these is likely to get your point across.

This method could well be the flung insults. It depends what the point is.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:36 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


zarq: "Haven't commented on it yet because it seemed to have been resolved. But in context, pH Indicating Socks' comment is not a joke and I see no reason to take as such. The comment is telling mkultra to go fuck himself in an "acceptable" way, because mkultra is unreasonable. Read the original comment."

Are you seriously suggesting that her response to this callout was in any way acceptable? Please elaborate.
posted by mkultra at 2:36 PM on August 29, 2011


It depends what the point is.

THAT IS SO TRUE I CAN'T EVEN STAND IT.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:37 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


GuyZero: " IT WAS BOTH."

Even if that were the case, it's still a rather vicious insult and shouldn't be assumed solely to be humor, the way seanyboy is doing.
posted by zarq at 2:37 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are you seriously suggesting that her response to this callout was in any way acceptable? Please elaborate.


Those were scarequotes I think.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:38 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


mkultra: " Are you seriously suggesting that her response to this callout was in any way acceptable? Please elaborate."

No, I'm explaining her response to you through Civil Disobedient's comment in the original Ask thread, here. Nothing more.
posted by zarq at 2:40 PM on August 29, 2011


the young rope-rider: " Those were scarequotes I think."

*ding ding ding* And the lovely lady wins a prize. :)
posted by zarq at 2:43 PM on August 29, 2011


seanyboy - you said something, we took it at face value. you said Yeah - It was a joke. , then said it didn't refer to anyone, then said it was some sort of in joke, and then said that you were wrong, because we're actually worse than you said to begin with.

and then the kicker - you say we assume a default of passive aggressive. and say we're not listening very well.

you seem to be going out of your way to be misunderstood. if that's not your intent, maybe you can pick a narrative and stick with it for an hour, just to see how it feels.
posted by nadawi at 2:44 PM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


also: anytime that wonderful trope of humorless feminists comes out to play i listen to nellie mckay - mother of pearl.
posted by nadawi at 2:46 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why would you fucking idiots feel insulted?
posted by shakespeherian at 2:50 PM on August 29, 2011


shakes: Erhem.
posted by zarq at 2:52 PM on August 29, 2011


Seanyboy, I wrote this earlier, but figured we've moved on at that point. But maybe it will help you to look with a more empathic eye on people not being as amused by "1st year feminists" as you feel they should be. When you said:

My use of "First year feminists" is based on a perception I have that any of my friends who does a first year feminism module at University becomes a little bit zealous in their interpretations of the patriarchy for about six months.


I think that's not helping your case - because it means that you're identifying people who don't share your views about word choice as possessed by a virulent and artificially imposed strain of academic feminism, which is unnaturally sensitive (based on your anecdotal account of your perception of your friends, which is pretty much unfalsifiable), and among normal people fades fairly quickly.

It would be like one of these "first year feminists" looking at your views on, say, how political correctness killed the use of the word "love" as an epicene term of casual address in the north of England and calling you a "brainwashed Daily Mail reader" - that is, someone possessed by a virulent and artificially imposed strain of reactionary nostalgia. Not a useful thing to do, because it suggests a lack of respect for the person as well as the opinion they are expressing. It's not just a comment on what they think, but on who they are. Even if you were a Daily Mail reader, and indeed even if the people you think might criticize you on MetaFilter were indeed in the first year of a Women's Studies degree (as unlikely as either might be), the pejorative intent is independent of the bare facts of the description.

The idea that you were doing this as a joke, then, is a dangerous one if used to deflect criticism, because it doesn't give you anywhere to go. If people express unhappiness about the terminology, and the only response you have is that there are wrong to subject it to any examination because it was a joke, that makes it impossible to have a dialog about the implications of the phrase or your intention in using it. So, in the end, the only response you can offer to "this description is insulting to me" is "you have no sense of humor".

It doesn't have to be like that, of course - jokes can often cause unintended or unexpected reactions, and things can be funny and sad, or funny and thought-provoking, or indeed funny and offensive. But the problem is, "it was a joke" is unhelpful if it means "do not criticize my terminology", just as "what words are we allowed to use?" is unhelpful if it means "I don't want people to be able to criticize my word choice". That's where good faith comes in.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:01 PM on August 29, 2011 [12 favorites]


Okay, mkultra, I've heard your argument, and I'm prepared to make my ruling.

Whereas the Court recognizes that the use of the word "bitch" can be used to cause significant Emotional Distress when applied with Malicious Intent, my ruling is that you have not sufficiently established your case in this specific instance vis a vic the "just stop it" appeal.

To whit: In the event that pH Indicating Socks is a mother defending a (female) child against perceived harm, there is clear precedent to establish the "bitch" usage as an Acceptable form of Emphasis within the given Context.

For Case Law, I refer you to: Ripley vs the Alien Queen, "Get away from her, you bitch!", c.1986
posted by misha at 3:02 PM on August 29, 2011 [26 favorites]


The only thing I've got to say is out of all the places I've worked I've only seen two job categories where megalomania tends to run wild without much intervention: Boat Captain and Head Cook/Chef. Restaurant kitchens offer one of the weirdest dynamics that I've ever been a part of.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:03 PM on August 29, 2011


For Case Law, I refer you to: Ripley vs the Alien Queen, "Get away from her, you bitch!", c.1986

Woo! Now who wants a scone? (I have sour cherry and chocolate.)
posted by Glinn at 3:22 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


There are also those of us who hesitate to post comments on Metafilter not because of an atmosphere that is threatening in a misogynistic way, but because we are afraid that our words will be taken in the very worst possible light and ascribed motives that were never there. It is certainly a laudable objective to minimize the usage of gendered insults, but sometimes people on this site often don't seem capable of recognizing that we all have different realities and different perceptions when it comes to language. In many circles, the term "bitch" is not an oppressive tool of the patriarchy. It simply isn't. That doesn't mean it can't be, however. Since we're not capable of reading each others minds and knowing our different realities, it would be awfully nice if we could all assume the best and not immediately jump to be the first to call out a perceived language crime.
posted by Go Banana at 3:25 PM on August 29, 2011 [20 favorites]


This is a community of 40,000-plus. There is no way to be certain how anything you say will be interpreted. Some will read them in good faith, some in bad, and some will misunderstand. All we can do is strive to make ourselves understood, and part of that is through the precise use of language. We cannot know where you are from, and that in that place "bitch" is not gendered. Where I come from, it is. And so all we can do is choose the language that will be most appropriate, and best understood.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:41 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


For Case Law, I refer you to: Ripley vs the Alien Queen, "Get away from her, you bitch!", c.1986

Supporting case law: Molly Weasley vs Bellatrix Lestrange, "NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!", c.2001
posted by headspace at 3:44 PM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


What do the fellas form Screwball have to say about this?
posted by Hoopo at 4:11 PM on August 29, 2011


Cool. Then you all won't mind me using the phrase "that it so gay!" when I think something is rubbish.
posted by Brocktoon at 4:34 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Brocktoon: Cool. Then you all won't mind me using the phrase "that it so gay!" when I think something is rubbish.

Not at all. In fact, I'd be amused if you fucked it up like that out loud.
posted by gman at 4:40 PM on August 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


Cool. Then you all won't mind me using the phrase "that it so gay!" when I think something is rubbish.

if you want to make it a race to the bottom, hey, you win. Congratulations.
posted by GuyZero at 4:46 PM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


For Case Law, I refer you to: Ripley vs the Alien Queen, "Get away from her, you bitch!", c.1986

OVRRULED by a higher court, on grounds of being an old, but hip, fart. A more relevant cite is Mrs. Weasley's infamous "Not my daughter, you bitch!", c. 2011.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:01 PM on August 29, 2011


If I am parsing this with my good-faith ears on

Those ought to be in the dress code for MetaTalk.
posted by grog at 5:11 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


OVRRULED by a higher court, on grounds of being an old, but hip, fart. A more relevant cite is Mrs. Weasley's infamous "Not my daughter, you bitch!", c. 2011.

Res judicata.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:13 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


seanyboy:
Sure. I like bitch, The C Word, twat, tit, cow.

Off the subject a bit here, but could someone satisfy my curiosity about the connotations of "cow" as it's used as an insult in the UK?

In the US this would be used pretty much only to insult a person's physical appearance (in my experience). Not sure I've heard it used in reference to personality or behavior, but I get the impression it has a broader meaning across the pond. Is it equivalent to bitch? Is is exclusively gendered?
posted by torticat at 5:14 PM on August 29, 2011


it would be awfully nice if we could all assume the best and not immediately jump to be the first to call out a perceived language crime.

Not disagreeing specifically, just saying that the conflagration basically stops when someone can back up and say "Gee I guess I was sort of blowing that out of proportion..." whether it was the original offense, the offense at the offense, or the offense at the offense at the offense, or whatever. I get that there are a some people who are very comfortable with very strict rules and who wish we had them and/or people for whom any sort of negative feedback from other people is too much. I sympathize but at the same token I feel that to set expectations appropriately we have to tell those people that this place operates differently from the way that would make them the most comfortable and it's sort of on them to find ways to work within what we all have available to us. I'd like it if people were somewhat more decent to each other. I'd like it if people weren't, that other people could sort of roll with it for the most part and it didn't always become a thing.

Fucking idiots.


You are quite welcome to step away. If you decide to stick around and talk about things, this pretty much needs to stop.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:14 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Off the subject a bit here, but could someone satisfy my curiosity about the connotations of "cow" as it's used as an insult in the UK?

In the US this would be used pretty much only to insult a person's physical appearance (in my experience). Not sure I've heard it used in reference to personality or behavior, but I get the impression it has a broader meaning across the pond. Is it equivalent to bitch? Is is exclusively gendered?


I can't speak for the entirety of the UK, but my British friends seem to apply the word to men and women equally, instead of the much ruder "retard".

When I lived in Germany, I noticed that "doofe Kuh" (stupid cow) was applied specifically to women by folks of a certain age, but my friends used it for EVERYONE.
posted by MissySedai at 5:37 PM on August 29, 2011


Wow, I missed this thread. I saw the original earlier, winced, and decided it felt too prickly to participate in. But something that hasn't really been addressed are the answers that this was okay because it was a mother defending her teenage daughter and, I don't know . . .

Do you realise it was a distraught mother naming these people as bitches?

If the distraught mother told you this in public, not on the web, would you interrupt her concern with a diatribe about what words she would use?


If a distraught mother told me that, I'd probably be just as uncomfortable in person as I would on the internet, because it's an adult woman calling a teenage girl a bitch. I understand how hard it is with woman-on-woman cliqueyness and the baggage of high school bullying, too, but "It's okay; she's an angry mother" just feels kind of . . . wrong to me.

Also, it feels like mkultra really absorbed Tina Fey's speech in Mean Girls. And that makes me happy, even in spite of the unintended, "Ladies, please," stuff. Girls calling one another bitches doesn't help. And neither does moms participating in that behavior.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:42 PM on August 29, 2011 [20 favorites]


"Bitch" is a pretty ingrained word. "Dick" seems pretty analogous. In the thread, it felt pretty sexist, because there's this idea* that girls/women are especially mean to other girls/women. That hasn't been my experience. It's my experience that people are pretty mean to each other, and the ways people are mean to each other are context-sensitive. Females hang out with females. Meanness, esp. the power/control/dominance/social ranking variety happens. ooooh, girls bein' mean to girls. When a female boss is directive, demanding, expects a lot, she gets labeled a bitch. A male boss might be accepted, or might be labeled a dick. I work with a classic workplace bully who is female and a male person who hates me because I'm the supervisor. Lots of cultural influences come into play, but the bully is really just a bully, and the guy who hates having a boss would hate it differently with a male boss, but would still hate it (maybe not as much).

Me, I hate the word "catfight."


*From the thread:
You have to grow a very thick skin for the working world, especially when you're working with women.

Women can be SUCH bitches to each other!

posted by theora55 at 5:54 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


When the pay gap between clowns and non-clowns reaches 21%, or when the overwhelming majority of sexual violence is directed by non-clowns at clowns, you may have a point. But I don't think you actually intend to argue in good faith here.

Perfectly good faith, actually, and it's insulting to be told otherwise.

When using the word "bitch" (or not) on metafilter has anything to do with what women get paid (or whatever) I'll be sure to purify my language.
posted by spitbull at 7:41 PM on August 29, 2011


This is a community of 40,000-plus. There is no way to be certain how anything you say will be interpreted

Yeah, maybe, but really its's more like with 50 people who post dozens of times a day and seem to be the ones who get most worked up over policing other people's poltics.
posted by spitbull at 7:45 PM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Strike "with" and make "peoples' " plural/possessive.

Can we still say "people?"
posted by spitbull at 7:47 PM on August 29, 2011


PhoBWanKenobi: "Also, it feels like mkultra really absorbed Tina Fey's speech in Mean Girls."

Actually, I attribute much of it to reading Backlash, which back then felt timely but now probably seems depressingly prescient. Either way, it's a book more people should read.
posted by mkultra at 7:54 PM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


I've also apologized for the way my post was framed, and clarified my position when it was called out.

Where? Surely you're not referring to the pseudo-apologetic "I certainly didn't mean to come across as glib, paternalistic, or anything like that. If it struck you that way, I apologize" as an apology for how you framed your post.

Mostly what you've done in this Meta is stridently lecture people (to the extent that who agree with you have noted that they find this offputting.) Anyone attempting to engage you in any sort of actual discussion of the issue has been dismissed or ignored by you.

So far, you're apparently so concerned about how women are verbally treated that you can't be bothered to consider their perspective. I'm not sure how that's helping.
posted by desuetude at 7:56 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can we still say "people?"

As a visitor to this planet from a distant galaxy (I'm only temporarily appearing in the image of a "person") I resent being assigned to the "people" category, so I wish you'd refrain from use of the word.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:56 PM on August 29, 2011


desuetude, you've contributed nothing to this thread other than your own high-minded opinion about how I ought to be acting. If it makes you feel better, just pretend that none of that sentiment you find oh, so insufficient applies to you.
posted by mkultra at 8:06 PM on August 29, 2011


Yeah, maybe, but really its's more like with 50 people who post dozens of times a day and seem to be the ones who get most worked up over policing other people's poltics.

I'm not certain just making up a number and proposing a cabal of politically correct fussbudgets aids the discussion. If you'd like to go back to past threads that are like this, I think you'll discover it's more that your accounting of the matter is incorrect, and it's very hard to have a discussion with somebody who has invented a scenario, rather than is addressing the actual circumstance.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:16 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also worth noting is that once upon a time in ye olden days a woman would not have been able to use such language and keep her place in society. The difference in socially acceptable language from women over just the last 20 years is a complex sociological thing to consider. It's pretty awful to have no way to object to poor behavior without implicating oneself in it. Meanwhile, some of the more casual and less vitriolic uses of "bitch" have diluted the strength of the term as a specifically gendered epithet. Perhaps not the most noble sort of progress, but things do move along.
posted by desuetude at 8:17 PM on August 29, 2011


desuetude, you've contributed nothing to this thread other than your own high-minded opinion about how I ought to be acting. If it makes you feel better, just pretend that none of that sentiment you find oh, so insufficient applies to you.

mkultra, if you didn't want anyone to react to your opinion, posting a MeTa on the subject is a funny way of showing it. And I thought we were aiming for higher-minded discourse?

Is dismissal of my contributions for being merely "my own high-minded opinions" (presumably in contrast to your universal sage wisdom) supposed to be more respectful than using the term "bitch?"
posted by desuetude at 8:28 PM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


PhoBWanKenobi: Girls calling one another bitches doesn't help. And neither does moms participating in that behavior.

I understand what you are saying, but what word WOULD it be okay for the Mom or the daughter to call the girls here? The ideal answer would be none, of course. But they are human, the daughter is obviously distraught and feeling attacked, and Mom was trying to comfort her daughter and then, later, explain why she felt so helpless to the rest of us, so she expressed her frustration.

I can think of a lot WORSE things she could have called those girls. Calling teenage girls who act catty or bitchy by those names works too. And I think catty would probably have the same gender bias going for it.

And as far as the gender thing goes, it may be that bitchy has been used by men to put strong, assertive women down. In fact, I know it has. But women use it in a different way, in my experience.

What I personally have noted: mean girls like this particular Heather are fond of the character-assassination approach. They form alliances and backstab those that aren't in their clique. One day they're best friends, they next they hate each other, then they are best friends again. I have seen this played out time and again (and have always advised my sons not to get in the middle if two girls they are friends with are on the outs with each other, but to remain friends with both and not allow either to disparage the other when she isn't around).

To me, that back-stabbing character assassination would be what I personally describe as catty behavior, while doing the same thing more openly would be bitchiness. That's just my own feeling, but I'm seeing others here who I can relate to; I think we are coming from similar perspectives.

Words have power, but context matters, too, I think.
posted by misha at 8:48 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I understand what you are saying, but what word WOULD it be okay for the Mom or the daughter to call the girls here?

"Backstabber", "snake", and "Machiavellian" all seem fairly gender-neutral. And if using the latter means the daughter reads The Prince and finds something useful for her current situation, so much the better.

And at more length, from The Bias-Free Word Finder: A Dictionary of Nondiscriminatory Language entry for "bitch":
bitch (noun) … Sometimes the correct alternative to "bitch" is simply woman, person, individual. Sometimes use an inclusive noun: grumbler, grouch, griper, malcontent, sourpuss, sorehead, bellyacher, crab, crank, kvetcher. Other times you may want an adjective: hell on wheels, ruthless, aggressive, domineering, controlling, powerful, tyrannical, overwhelming, overpowering, spiteful, malicious, cruel, wicked, vicious, cold-hearted, hard-hearted, merciless. In the sense of a complaint, use instead gripe, complaint, problem, bone to pick, objection. In the sense of something that is difficult, unpleasant, or problematic ("a bitch" or "a real bitch") use tough row to hoe, tough nut to crack, heavy sledding, hornet's nest, between a rock and a hard place, bad news, bad one, killer, tough grind, large order, predicament, no picnic, thorny/knotty problem, uphill job, gutbuster, bunbuster, backbreaker, dilemma, bind, tangle, mess, find pickle, hell of a note.

bitch (verb) complain, gripe, kvetch, grouse, grumble, badmouth, harp on, sound off, beef, bellyache, carp, crab, criticize, denounce, disapprove, dissent, object, protest, reproach, backbite, bawl out, call/dress down, call on the carpet/mat, call names, cuss, make cutting remarks/dirty digs/cracks, give someone hell/the devil/a going over, lambaste, give someone lip, make it hot for, pick on, pitch into, put down, put someone in their place, tell someone where to get off. When you mean "to spoil or bungle" ("bitch something up") use botch.
English is such a rich and varied language that it's almost always possible to find a non-misogynistic (non-racist, non-homophobic, non-biased-in-general) replacement for a problematic term.
posted by Lexica at 9:15 PM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Anybody who tells you what words you can or cannot use is trying to control the way you think. When somebody starts telling me about how a given word is "good" or "bad", I become immediately suspicious.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:21 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Don't get me wrong; some words will certainly get you punched, or at least harassed. But the word itself isn't bad. It's the person using it.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:27 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I personally have noted: mean girls like this particular Heather are fond of the character-assassination approach. They form alliances and backstab those that aren't in their clique. One day they're best friends, they next they hate each other, then they are best friends again. I have seen this played out time and again (and have always advised my sons not to get in the middle if two girls they are friends with are on the outs with each other, but to remain friends with both and not allow either to disparage the other when she isn't around).

You know, I've had my share of encounters with mean girls, and I love me some Robber Bride and Cat's Eye, but it seems like, both in the original post and the comments that follow there's an awful lot of extrapolation about this girl's character used to justify name-calling and (from what I can tell) only partially tongue-in-cheek suggestions about how the girl can be killed. And there's very little in the post to imply that this is actually a pattern of pervasive behavior or regular bullying. We know nothing about this girl's behavior generally, not whether she's a character assassin or has done any of this alliance-forming or backstabbing that you seem really sure that she's done. We're reading in a whole lot of stuff into behavior that's not described any more specifically than "getting up in" the OP's daughter's "grill." Frankly, even the initial anecdote is kind of garbled--having worked in restaurants, I had those kind of things happen to me and people got snotty not because they were trying to assassinate my character but because restaurants are fast-paced, stressful environments where people get frustrated at one another and snipe and you have to be both efficient and kind of tough to weather that kind of work.

But even if I'm wrong, and the girl is a snipey little snot, I really don't see how calling her a mean-girl bitch on an internet site and musing about how this is uniquely female behavior actually helps the situation. It doesn't empower OP's daughter but rather encourages her to feel powerless and victimized by all the terrible girls in the world when the best advice actually has nothing to do with "bitches" but rather learning that there are terrible people in the world and all you can do is not emotionally engage with them, to know that they don't have the power to invalidate who you are, to do your work damn well. Those are the things you can control, anyway.

Anybody who tells you what words you can or cannot use is trying to control the way you think. When somebody starts telling me about how a given word is "good" or "bad", I become immediately suspicious.

I don't think I'm the only person who was unsettled by the entire rhetoric of "bitchy girls are mean bitches and should get killed" and the underlying attitudes represented by that speech and not, so much, the words themselves.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:30 PM on August 29, 2011 [16 favorites]


Yeah I dunno. I don't think of any words as bad. It's all in the intention of the speaker.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:35 PM on August 29, 2011


only partially tongue-in-cheek suggestions about how the girl can be killed
You really.... really?
posted by Glinn at 9:50 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a community of 40,000-plus. There is no way to be certain how anything you say will be interpreted

spitbull: Yeah, maybe, but really its's more like with 50 people who post dozens of times a day and seem to be the ones who get most worked up over policing other people's poltics.


Well, it could also be that frequent participants feel most comfortable with expressing views on how the site should be, since they feel more a part of the community. I definitely didn't feel comfortable at all expressing opinions in MeTa until I had participated a lot, for a while, out of respect for people who had been here longer and taken a more active role in creating this community; it would have felt like barging into a stranger's living room and telling them how to arrange their furniture.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:04 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


only partially tongue-in-cheek suggestions about how the girl can be killed
You really.... really?


I think the anger behind the statement was real.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:07 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maybe people should try on some new words. Like "She's such a Goop!"
posted by P.o.B. at 10:46 PM on August 29, 2011


Everyone has been arguing that the word choice is fine because the context and intent were fine. The context being that when a woman is aggressive towards the OP's daughter, she is a bitch engaging in female behaviour and this is a phenomenon we all recognize. Of course in a culture of misogyny, it's okay to use whatever choice of language to express hatred of women. Of course hardly anyone is questioning that or acknowledging that it's a problem. It's fine to burn witches, silence gossips with a scold's bridle, and agree that typical female Heather bitches should be killed, if those are the values of your community. Which, evidently, they are.
posted by tel3path at 10:47 PM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


now that it's the middle of the night i dare to ask ... what is a "cargo-culted discussion?"
posted by Ashley801 at 10:52 PM on August 29, 2011


It's when you talk things over wearing cargo pants that you're entirely over-invested in as a marker of your persona.
posted by Abiezer at 10:59 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


> what is a "cargo-culted discussion?"

I presume it meant that the discussion about gendered insults and the like wasn't even up to someone's standards of a proper "first year feminist" level, but was instead a crudely fabricated approximation done by primitives, with no actual content. It's a kind of odd criticism to make, but kind of hilarious in its own way.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 10:59 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Everyone has been arguing that the word choice is fine because the context and intent were fine.

Lots of people have said that the OP's wording was an overreaction. There's a lot of room in between "evil" and "fine."
posted by desuetude at 11:00 PM on August 29, 2011


Please forgive my total ignorance, but what do crude approximations and primitives have to do with cargo and cults? Is this a Britishism?
posted by Ashley801 at 11:01 PM on August 29, 2011


Look up "cargo cult". It's a specific thing that cropped up in the 20th century with the advent of air dropped supplies in remote areas.

Here's an amusing business strategy.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 11:09 PM on August 29, 2011


And Feynman's take, which is probably where seanyboy drew the reference.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 11:11 PM on August 29, 2011


Wow, that is actually really fascinating. Thanks for linking me.
posted by Ashley801 at 11:12 PM on August 29, 2011


Well, I would argue the context is fine. Here is the portion from the Ask that sparked the MeTa:

I'm hearing this, and feeling for her so much, because the bitches and their ways used to make me cry too, when I was an 18-year-old hostess -- but I don't know what to say. The bitches still exist, damn them, even in the professional jobs I have now, but they don't make me cry anymore -- but I don't know how that happened, or how to help her get there. I don't even know how I do handle them, other than to keep out of their way as much as I can, I guess. I'm sorry there are bitches, sweetie. They really should all be killed was all I could find to say, but it is not very much to the purpose.

And sorry about the incendiary language -- Men have ways of being horrible, too, certainly, but the thing my daughter experienced is, I think, a strictly girl-on-girl kind of combat. And I know Heather is only a young woman, too, and still learning, and probably deserving of some kind of compassion if bullying my daughter is how she needs to get by.

So, for me the context is of the OP using the "B" word to, a) give a factual account of her dialogue with her daughter b) give a subjective account of her own experiences and c) with her follow-up paragraph, show that OP is aware of the incendiary characterization, and using such strong language to parse some of her feelings in this charged situation and get the advice she seeks.

If this were happening in some boyzone flamewar on the blue, I might have different feelings about it. I do believe words matter, and I do appreciate the views of those arguing it is unnacceptable in any circumstances. But, in my reading of the entirety of the Ask, count me amoung those who did not see bad intent.

For me, katillathehun summed it up waaaay upthread:

"[The girl] in question [was] so cruel they made his/her daughter break down and cry. Of all the times "bitch" is thrown around casually, you chose this one for your battleground?"
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 11:12 PM on August 29, 2011 [9 favorites]


Right. I get that those are your values, and the values of your community, and the argument is over the choice of language used to express those values. I am disagreeing with those values and, therefore, questioning the premise of the argument.
posted by tel3path at 11:31 PM on August 29, 2011


Well, okay, so if the OP of the ask hadn't used (and subsequently apologized for using) "bitch," she should still be called out? Because her situation is expressing hatred "for women"?
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 11:40 PM on August 29, 2011


I really don't see how calling her a mean-girl bitch on an internet site and musing about how this is uniquely female behavior actually helps the situation. It doesn't empower OP's daughter but rather encourages her to feel powerless and victimized by all the terrible girls in the world when the best advice actually has nothing to do with "bitches" but rather learning that there are terrible people in the world and all you can do is not emotionally engage with them, to know that they don't have the power to invalidate who you are, to do your work damn well.

Saying she is a mean-girl bitch encourages the OP's daughter to be powerless, but learning there are terrible people is good? I'm sorry, I honestly can't follow that logic at all. You say looking at the behavior doesn't help but avoiding it takes their power away? Again, don't see how that follows.

tel3path: Of course in a culture of misogyny, it's okay to use whatever choice of language to express hatred of women. Of course hardly anyone is questioning that or acknowledging that it's a problem. It's fine to burn witches, silence gossips with a scold's bridle, and agree that typical female Heather bitches should be killed, if those are the values of your community. Which, evidently, they are.

That's quite a logical leap you are making there, too. I'm a woman and I don't hate myself. I'm not into burning witches and don't put much store in gossip one way or the other. Why are these kind of generalizations, by the way, acceptable to you? You really feel okay accusing anyone who uses the word bitch of being women-hating, witch-burning murderers? I don't think I want to subscribe to your magazine, thanks.

When Mom said "they should all be killed," she was not on her way out the door and headed to Walmart for rollback savings on shotguns for a little mother/daughter shootout, and you are perfectly aware of that. Your hyperbole is ludicrous.

And "hardly anyone is questioning that"? 400 comments in this thread. There's questioning.
posted by misha at 11:47 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


"You really feel okay accusing anyone who uses the word bitch of being women-hating, witch-burning murderers?"

No. I call myself a bitch. I am not questioning the language used to express the misogyny. I am questioning the misogyny. The vast majority of the 400 posts are questioning the language.
posted by tel3path at 11:49 PM on August 29, 2011


So, you think this Mom and her daughter are misogynists?
posted by misha at 11:52 PM on August 29, 2011


They certainly are expressing misogyny, in a way that is evidently socially acceptable in a misogynistic society.
posted by tel3path at 11:57 PM on August 29, 2011


Or rather, the Mom is expressing misogyny. The daughter hasn't expressed anything here directly.
posted by tel3path at 11:58 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think this argument has officially jumped the shark for me.

I just can't twist my mind to think so uncharitably of the OP and her daughter as either the language prescriptivists or the all-is-based-on-misogyny devotees, and I wouldn't want to, anyway.

I'm out.
posted by misha at 12:08 AM on August 30, 2011 [10 favorites]


I'm sure the mom is a really good person, who is just trying to protect her daughter, and is couching her attempt to do so according to widely accepted cultural constructs. When this is followed by several hundred arguments to the effect that "but women are like this!!! it is a girl thing!!!" I think it's perfectly reasonable to question that.
posted by tel3path at 12:16 AM on August 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


I checked out the Reddit thread on the 'Gizmodo writer insults Magic player' controversy and all the angry 'bitch' and 'bitches' made me uncomfortable. That said, I understand why people say that, and I will say it when out with my friends. I won't go around saying it on MeFi, though, because things are held to a higher standard here.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:20 AM on August 30, 2011


Saying she is a mean-girl bitch encourages the OP's daughter to be powerless, but learning there are terrible people is good? I'm sorry, I honestly can't follow that logic at all. You say looking at the behavior doesn't help but avoiding it takes their power away? Again, don't see how that follows.

Basically, what tel3path said. Teaching your kids that there are bad people is one thing. Teaching your kids that girls are mean, catty, back-stabbing, cruel, that this is uniquely female behavior, that it's a perpetual, ever-present, generational thing and that the appropriate way to react to this behavior is to resort to sexist name calling and wishing death upon them . . . is another.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:21 AM on August 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


Characterize me however you like. To the extent that I exist for any of you, it is as a collection of yeah, non-infrequently potty-mouthed screeds. And I know that continuous community discussion of the way we engage with each other is a big part of what makes MetaFilter great. This is MetaTalk.

My daughter, though, didn't write a word of my question, and I didn't quote her as saying anything. She will read the question. When she does, she'll see the Meta. I was wrong to ask your advice if the result is that she is mis-characterized as being a misogynist or whatever. I would not have done it, if I thought you would do that.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 12:48 AM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well like I said, your daughter hasn't expressed anything here, so I'm not characterizing her any way. I'm not characterizing you any way. I do think what you said was misogynist, though, and so were several hundred of the responses to it.
posted by tel3path at 1:03 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


tel3path, please don't call yourself bitch any more!

Even though you may not believe this is your intention, I have just learned that in doing so you are absolutely reinforcing the misogynist hegemony!!! MeTa showed me!!!
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 1:08 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well that's your opinion. I don't agree. I think context and intent are more important than choice of words.
posted by tel3path at 1:11 AM on August 30, 2011


I can add to the "cow" question. We use it here in Australia and appear to have much more, linguistically, in common with the Poms than Americans do. Eg that C word you dare not mention...it's bad, but not nearly do bad here as in the States. But I digress.

Cow is gendered. And often ageist. It's to describe an unhelpful, obtuse inflexible woman. Generally. Like a stereotypical bureaucratic DMV staffer who won't help, even if she could. As nimble and responsive as an actual cow.

My mum used to call people a "silly bloody moo" instead of cow. Or bitch. I liked it, she was a high school teacher and protected us from her fabulous, colourful potty mouth till we'd left school and couldn't repeat her wonderous, profane poetries.

So, that's what I believe I know of "cow". But I gauged "whore" a bit wrong so there may be differences that I'm not aware of.
posted by taff at 1:25 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Having just spent two hours with a formal logic textbook, I just want to point out that saying "some girls are bitches" is not the same as "all girls are bitches." I think there was some very sexist language in the thread (things like: you have to expect that when working with women, which does imply that most or all women are bitches). But calling one girl a bitch is not the same as saying all girls are bitches. "He's a dick" does not mean "all guys are dicks." Even the OP's comment that this is the kind of behavior you'd find strictly in a girls-only battle ("most bitches are girls" or "only girls display this particular kind of bitchy behavior" or even "only girls are bitches" / "all bitches are girls") does not logically equate to "all girls are bitches."

Oh, and I wanted to thank the person who pointed out the homosexual connotation of cocksucker above. Hadn't heard that. (I also found an interesting thread with loquacious quoting the OED to show its roots weren't always homophobic, but that's a word I'm happy to jettison.) What's interesting to me is that it's so easy to agree to not use "cocksucker" and so hard to agree with the callout here.

This has been said more eloquently above, but a big part of it for me remains the fact that these people already had a shitty day, and it's just not a good time to make the mother's thread Public Object Lesson #1 for the Pervasiveness of Sexism via a 500-comment thread. To me, that kind of disregard for the context and people involved undermines the idea of MetaFilter as a community. In real life, with people you cared about, I think most of us would either quickly interject "ugh I hate that word, let's call her scum of the earth-- so what did that jerkface do next?" or wait a few days and say, "hey, can we talk about something?" None of us would immediately get on a podium and denounce the entire dialogue and all who were participating.

Doing so seems to put an abstract principle above real people who are asking for help. And yes, real people are impacted by hearing the word "bitch," so part of my view here is the idea that this is not a super-egregious example (I know some will disagree), and also the fact that people hearing someone call a woman a bitch is not unique; they've heard it a hundred times and will hear it again (I imagine some will say the impact is cumulative, but I believe that the important thing is having the antidote, not how many times you have to use it). It does help to have an educational discussion, but a post on the blue would achieve that much benefit or greater. I'm left with the idea that there is this general social problem, perhaps evidenced by the AskMe question, and then there are real people having a particularly shitty time that we could either make better or make worse, and in my view, as a community, in this situation, it would be better to put the specific people first and not use it as the jumping-off point for a big contentious discussion on a pervasive societal issue.
posted by salvia at 1:48 AM on August 30, 2011 [14 favorites]


Jerome K. Jerome, "Second Thoughts of an Idle Fellow":
Man criticizes Woman. We are not altogether pleased with woman. We discuss her shortcomings, we advise her for her good. If only English wives would dress as French wives, talk as American wives, cook as German wives! if only women would be precisely what we want them to be—patient and hard-working, brilliantly witty and exhaustively domestic, bewitching, amenable, and less suspicious; how very much better it would be for them—also for us. We work so hard to teach them, but they will not listen. Instead of paying attention to our wise counsel, the tiresome creatures are wasting their time criticizing us. It is a popular game, this game of school. All that is needful is a doorstep, a cane, and six other children. The difficulty is the six other children. Every child wants to be the schoolmaster; they will keep jumping up, saying it is their turn.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:59 AM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm not going to comment on the word here, because for me it's complicated, and I don't have time right now to indulge myself in a long conversation. But.

I do want to say one thing (and now seeing salvia's comment above -- I agree): I do wish we would all think twice before using Ask Metafilter questions as examples of things we take issue with. Just think twice, that's all.

Sometimes it's a casual question that sets things off, which is one thing – but when the circumstances are such that the poster is very upset, emotional, distraught, why not let it be, or find another example? Everywhere else on Metafilter we have the luxury of taking our time to think carefully about what we want to post, how to frame it, what language to use, etc., but in Ask Me people are often in a very agitated state, and that's the worst time to attack them for perceived/possible impropriety.

If what they've said is insanely racist/misogynist/homophobic, it's going to be deleted anyway. If there's wiggle room, think twice. If, indeed it's a big problem that's worth discussing as a site, then one should be able to find examples elsewhere.
posted by taz at 2:06 AM on August 30, 2011 [13 favorites]


Having just spent two hours with a formal logic textbook, I just want to point out that saying "some girls are bitches" is not the same as "all girls are bitches."

Having spent much of my life dealing in formal logic, I just want to point out that I never said or implied this, and I never said or implied that anyone else said or implied it.

I also think it's perfectly reasonable to draw attention to a strand of misogyny running through a thread or pair of threads with posts running into the hundreds, even if doing so risks seeming unsympathetic to a distraught OP. Of course it won't seem "insanely racist/misogynist/homophobic" in a context where a certain level of racism/misogyny/homophobia is acceptable. What I'm questioning is whether the level of misogyny displayed is something we should accept. Apparently, the majority here think that it is, for whatever reason.
posted by tel3path at 2:18 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maybe the reason, tel3path, is that other people think it's ok if people who've also paid their five bucks have a different opinion from you. You're criticising several hundred people on these two threads for being misogynist, according to your very broad definition of the word, and clearly suggesting that such opinions shouldn't be permitted here. If you had your way presumably this thread would consist of you agreeing with yourself about how right you are. If I were a guy I'd suggest we sorted this out with fisticuffs behind the bike sheds, but I guess we're just going to have to taunt each other for weeks on end till one of us develops an eating disorder.
posted by joannemullen at 4:09 AM on August 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


Seriously Joanne?
posted by taff at 4:13 AM on August 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


If you had your way presumably this thread would consist of you agreeing with yourself about how right you are.

And that's distinguished from your input here how, precisely?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:14 AM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Misha: So, you think this Mom and her daughter are misogynists?


tel3path: They certainly are expressing misogyny, in a way that is evidently socially acceptable in a misogynistic society.


then:

Or rather, the Mom is expressing misogyny. The daughter hasn't expressed anything here directly.


joannemullen: You're criticising several hundred people on these two threads for being misogynist, according to your very broad definition of the word, and clearly suggesting that such opinions shouldn't be permitted here.

I know that, being human, we tend to personalize these questions, but it's more productive, I think, to look at what people actually said, rather than what it would have been convenient for them to have said.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:30 AM on August 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


If I were a guy I'd suggest we sorted this out with fisticuffs behind the bike sheds

Hmm... I'm a guy and I would never suggest such a thing.

Sigh. Sexism is everywhere.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:52 AM on August 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


A lot of people who are fixated on ideas like "context" and "one user expressing frustration" are missing the point that the post in question is not simply one user expressing frustration.

The entirety of the actual encounter, as related by the OP:

"She tells me about a confrontation she had with some other hostess, who sent her and a party of six to the wrong table, then blamed my daughter for it, then publicly derided her in front of a gaggle of waitstaff. My daughter asks Heather to just talk to her, so they can work this out, and (of course) Heather mocks her to her face, and tells her there is nothing *to* work out."

That's it. Those are the actual events everyone is arguing about. It was the OP who then brought it to the next level:

"I'm hearing this, and feeling for her so much, because the bitches and their ways used to make me cry too, when I was an 18-year-old hostess -- but I don't know what to say. The bitches still exist, damn them, even in the professional jobs I have now, but they don't make me cry anymore -- but I don't know how that happened, or how to help her get there. I don't even know how I do handle them, other than to keep out of their way as much as I can, I guess. I'm sorry there are bitches, sweetie. They really should all be killed was all I could find to say, but it is not very much to the purpose."

What happened next was not an "and now we can move on to talking about what happened" moment, but instead several other users who were all-to-eager to confirm that the co-worker in question was, in fact, a bitch, and offer up helpful advice on how young women should "deal with bitches".

The OP may have simply been revealing her own parochial worldview, which people do all the time across the site in different ways, but the group pile-on is what really sent it over the top.
posted by mkultra at 5:41 AM on August 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Hmm... I'm a guy and I would never suggest such a thing.

BUT ARE YOU MAN ENOUGH TO APPEAR IN FRONT OF A CROWD AND SING?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:54 AM on August 30, 2011


I would like to hear some Neil Diamond if requests are being taken.
posted by elizardbits at 7:00 AM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


but instead several other users who were all-to-eager to confirm that the co-worker in question was, in fact, a bitch, and offer up helpful advice on how young women should "deal with bitches".

Eh, these sort of interactions can vary between sexes. Man vs man, woman vs woman can be different than man vs woman. The OP was acknowledging that basic truth.

And really, "Heather" does sound like a bitch.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:13 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


BUT ARE YOU MAN ENOUGH TO APPEAR IN FRONT OF A CROWD AND SING?!

Only about 5 or 6 times a month, Brandon.

I know, I know, I should try to book more gigs... but a guy's gotta have some time to spend on Mefi, right?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:17 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Man can not live by MeFi alone. Woman neither.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:43 AM on August 30, 2011


Teaching your kids that there are bad people is one thing. Teaching your kids that girls are mean, catty, back-stabbing, cruel, that this is uniquely female behavior, that it's a perpetual, ever-present, generational thing and that the appropriate way to react to this behavior is to resort to sexist name calling and wishing death upon them . . . is another.

I am possibly going to go down in flames for saying this and lose every bit of feminist cred I ever had (and I very much consider myself a feminist), but...is this entirely wrong? We've all been to junior high (and I remember being bullied by both boys and girls in junior high), and I suspect that most of us, looking at our own experiences, would agree that the cruelties perpetrated have some tendency to take shape at least a little differently among boys vs. among girls. Am I saying that males and females are naturally or biologically different? Emphatically NO. Am I saying that ALL males are like x and ALL females are like Y? Also emphatically NO. However, I would argue that it seems entirely possible that on average, men and women express meanness and handle social conflicts in different ways in different ways because they have been socialized to do so. We should teach our kids that it doesn't have to be this way, that the media exaggerates these traits, that they personally can forge their own paths, etc., but that doesn't mean that the "mean girl" is an entirely imaginary phenomenon. Right?
posted by naoko at 8:32 AM on August 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Having spent much of my life dealing in formal logic, I just want to point out that I never said or implied this

Hmm. It sure would've been convenient if I'd quoted what inspired my comment there, huh? Since I read the last 150 comments at once, it's possible it wasn't something you said. (And I certainly am not trying to one-up anyone by mentioning my awesome 110 minutes of logic training.) Let me see....

It may have been inspired by the characterization of her statement as "but women are like this!!!" (tel3path) and/or PhoBWanKenobi's comment that "Teaching your kids that there are bad people is one thing. Teaching your kids that girls are mean... is another." Saying "there are mean women" and "this would happen only among women" may not be the most enlightened things ever said from a gender politics perspective, but it is not the same as saying "women are like this," the same way that saying "vampire attacks only happen at night" is not the same as saying that "nocturnal creatures are vampires."
posted by salvia at 8:42 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Queen Latifah's considered take.

Also, I think Joanemullen was pretty clearly joking and it was pretty funny.
posted by klangklangston at 9:05 AM on August 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Also, I think Joanemullen was pretty clearly joking and it was pretty funny.

FWIW, I thought she was probably joking as well. I mean, "bike shed"? No, no. Real men would do their fighting behind a tool shed. Everyone knows that.

posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:14 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks, klangklangston. Latifah:

There's plenty of people out there with triggers ready to pull it
Why you trying to jump in front of the bullet?

posted by Miko at 9:33 AM on August 30, 2011


It may have been inspired by the characterization of her statement as "but women are like this!!!" (tel3path) and/or PhoBWanKenobi's comment that "Teaching your kids that there are bad people is one thing. Teaching your kids that girls are mean... is another."

Oh jeeze. My mistake for participating at 2 a.m. I should have said, "teaching your kid that there is a population of people who it is okay to call 'bitches' and wish death upon based on gendered descriptions of behavior is another." I really do think that a lot of the problem here is that there's an us vs. them mentality reflected in the original thread that doesn't actually do anything to solve the problem, but rather plays into the idea that girls are naturally pitted against one another as rivals. Specifically, the OP's attitude casts herself and her daughter as victims, essentially powerless against the "mean girls," all of whom must be exactly alike (this girl must be just like the girls the OP dealt with a generation ago, for instance).

There's some good advice about how to deal with assholes in the thread--the stuff about being a victim vs. a player, about how to get along in restaurants, about not defaulting to an emotional reaction but instead holding your head high so as not to perpetuate the cycle of victimhood or even to pity people who would treat others that way. None of that advice need only be applied when a girl is the one acting "bitchy"--rather it's about dealing with and diffusing bullies. I think the mean girls suck rhetoric does the opposite--I think it makes the problem worse, not better.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:45 AM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


(And I certainly am not trying to one-up anyone by mentioning my awesome 110 minutes of logic training.)

And I'm going to be honest--it kinda sorta sounded that way. I mean, I have a minor in philosophy. I'm not going to deny that it was a logical fallacy. But it was also kind of eye-roll worthy pedantry.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:46 AM on August 30, 2011


'but that doesn't mean that the "mean girl" is an entirely imaginary phenomenon'

But it might mean that the "mean boy" goes unrecognized when using stereotypical "mean girl" tactics, leaving the "meanee" with even less recourse and informal social support than they might otherwise have had. This is bolstered by the stereotype that guys are insensitive and socially oblivious, making it that much easier for the "mean boy" to play dumb.

I personally have never had a meanness tactic used against me by a woman that was not at some point also used by a man, and vice versa.
posted by tel3path at 9:55 AM on August 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


[HUGS to all my bishes]
posted by 1000monkeys at 10:09 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Jesus, the amount of "women are THIS way" and this "THIS is how you deal with them" in the original thread is mind boggling.

Most sexist thread I've seen in Mefi in a while.


But it might mean that the "mean boy" goes unrecognized when using stereotypical "mean girl" tactics, leaving the "meanee" with even less recourse and informal social support than they might otherwise have had. This is bolstered by the stereotype that guys are insensitive and socially oblivious, making it that much easier for the "mean boy" to play dumb.

I personally have never had a meanness tactic used against me by a woman that was not at some point also used by a man, and vice versa.


Yeah, seriously. I can give you guys plenty of stories of all the histrionic psychos I've worked with who were male. But you know, women are like, different. Cause nobody is mean like a mean girl, right? Jesus.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 10:48 AM on August 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


I can give you guys plenty of stories of all the histrionic psychos I've worked with who were male.

The post wasn't about males or men. No one doubts that males can't be completely dickish assholes, but that wasn't the subject of the post.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:51 AM on August 30, 2011


The post wasn't about males or men. No one doubts that males can't be completely dickish assholes, but that wasn't the subject of the post.

But why frame things in terms of "how to deal with mean girls" as opposed to "mean people?" The implication is that mean girls are some special category of people. WHAT exactly, do we do when faced with mean girls, as opposed to mean boys?
posted by The ____ of Justice at 10:55 AM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


To make myself clearer, it's like the OP asked, "how do we deal with mean (insert ethnic/racial group or group of a particular sexual-orientation)?"

There is an implication in the way the question is framed that is problematic. And when you have a dozen or so answers going "THIS IS HOW YOU DEAL WITH THEM!!!" it's even moreso.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 11:00 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


(And I certainly am not trying to one-up anyone by mentioning my awesome 110 minutes of logic training.)

And I'm going to be honest--it kinda sorta sounded that way. I mean, I have a minor in philosophy.


Oh wow, that was not the spirit I meant it in. I meant it kinda apologetically like "I know that everyone's statements can't exactly be reduced to equations, and that this may sound both overly basic and overly pedantic, but I've been immersed in this kind of thinking for two hours and currently see everything with that lens." So, for instance, your 2 am comment was surely not crafted to have someone ask themselves about its contrapositive or whatever, as you point out. I realized it was a bit pedantic, academically abstract, and hair-splitty of me, and that was what my preface was meant to acknowledge. Sorry it didn't come out well; hope this better explains my intent. I am a first semester logician, you could say.

But I made the point because I do think it's important. This topic is really upsetting to some people, and it seems to me that rephrasing statements more offensively than they were said is probably not going to help all that much. I am tempted to say more here but will hold back, because I don't want to use that post as a case study in gender politics or for logic games.
posted by salvia at 11:07 AM on August 30, 2011


The implication is that mean girls are some special category of people. WHAT exactly, do we do when faced with mean girls, as opposed to mean boys?

Offhand, I think men tend to be more overtly threatening when mean, while woman tend to be more subtle, but no less mean. Dealing with different styles of attack in different ways is not unreasonable.

To make myself clearer, it's like the OP asked, "how do we deal with mean (insert ethnic/racial group or group of a particular sexual-orientation)?"

Different ethnic groups/nationalities whatever do tend to have different ways of insulting. The V sign in America will get you quizzical looks, while in England it's like what Americans consider the middle finger.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:08 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Offhand, I think men tend to be more overtly threatening when mean, while woman tend to be more subtle, but no less mean. Dealing with different styles of attack in different ways is not unreasonable.

Well, I guess I'll just say I disagree then, about your characterization of women and men here. I feel like it's a pretty broad brush, and not that helpful in the long run of dealing with people.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 11:15 AM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Bitch is a word used to describe someone left out of the overt power structure who nonetheless uses less-traditional methods of intimidation and gamesmanship to attempt to corral some fragment of power for his or herself. It's also used to describe someone within the traditional overt power structure, if the speaker wants to convey that that person should have been left out of it. And in the reclaiming, it's often used to indicate "Hell yes I am garnering power by non-traditional means. They're the only means I have available, and fuck you for pissing on me for using them."

Since those people have historically largely been women, there are major gender problems with the word "bitch." MAJOR. And it's definitely compassionate to try to remember that those participating in bitchery are doing so largely because they see it as their best option to get ahead in a system which disadvantages them. But at the same time, man, it is such a useful word. I suppose you could say "conniving little louse" and get the same idea across without the gender implications. But "bitch," in both the noun and the verb forms, seems to me to be a multivariate and deeply nuanced term, and I think there are times when it's the most accurate word to use.
posted by KathrynT at 11:25 AM on August 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


I feel like it's a pretty broad brush, and not that helpful in the long run of dealing with people.

My experience and observations say different. So it goes.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:44 AM on August 30, 2011


Not to be too glib, but I think a lot of people, me included of course, are coming at this from their own perspectives, life experiences etc. Trying to definitively say "women are like X and men are like Y and your counter experiences are wrong" doesn't really do much.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:50 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Offhand, I think men tend to be more overtly threatening when mean, while woman tend to be
more subtle, but no less mean."

Like serial sexual harassers or child molesters, you mean? As far as I know, women do not form the majority of either group, but both groups mainly operate by stealth.

I would also characterize yelling at someone in front of coworkers as overt, not covert aggression.
posted by tel3path at 11:53 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well. I think we can all agree that Kyle's mom is a bitch.
posted by mippy at 12:21 PM on August 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


The biggest bitch in the whole wide world?
posted by Justinian at 12:23 PM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Offhand, I think men tend to be more overtly threatening when mean, while woman tend to be more subtle, but no less mean."

Like serial sexual harassers or child molesters, you mean? As far as I know, women do not form the majority of either group, but both groups mainly operate by stealth.


How do you get from "men tend to be more overtly threatening when mean, while women tend to be more subtle, but no less mean" — which is most likely not an expression of gender essentialism, but is instead about how people-growing-up-male experience different social conditioning related to whether and how anger may be expressed than people-growing-up-female do, and as a result their behaviors may differ — to dragging in serial sexual harassers and child molesters?

It sounds like you're trying to imply a logical error on the part of the person you're responding to. Something like "you're saying that women are subtle and operate by stealth; serial sexual harassers and child molesters also operate by stealth; the majority of serial sexual harassers and child molesters are not women; therefore"... therefore what?

Not to get all Logic 101 here, but "Many women are [whatever]" does not mean "all women are [whatever]" and it doesn't mean "no men are [whatever]" either.

I don't understand why it's apparently so controversial to acknowledge that historically, women have been strongly discouraged from openly expressing anger or ambition, and that as a result women have often used roundabout, covert ("sneaky", "underhanded", "bitchy") ways to express themselves.
posted by Lexica at 12:28 PM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


And so do men, and they have the added protection of being able to call you a "bitch" for protesting - and to be believed.

My point is that stereotyping aggression per gender makes it easier to hide, and in some cases to make the target look like the aggressor.

Twenty years ago, most forms of nonphysical aggression and bullying weren't widely recognized as such. Adding layers of stereotyping not only do not help, they add more obfuscation to something that needs to be clarified in order to protect ourselves from it.
posted by tel3path at 12:39 PM on August 30, 2011


And so do men

Are you suggesting that men have historically been "strongly discouraged from openly expressing anger or ambition"?

That is so diametrically opposed to my own experience and just about everything I've read about history and politics that there doesn't seem to be any point in continuing the discussion.

I feel like I'm describing something as "blue" and you're describing it as "the square root of negative two".
posted by Lexica at 12:48 PM on August 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


how do we deal with mean (insert ethnic/racial group or group of a particular sexual-orientation)?"

How To Raise Two Boys That Aren't Jerks made steam come out of my ears. Like mkultra, I shat in the AskMe and then turned to MeTa after my shit was deleted (under a different username). I learned from a lot of good responses there that, yeah, it's our duty to help answer the question as is. Even if the question is offensive, our options as participants in AskMe are A) answer the question or B) ignore/flag.

In the case of the bullying hostess, answering the question means either accepting the premise that girl-mean is somewhat different than boy-mean or challenging the premise while still providing actual advice on dealing with the mean (bullying or however you want to classify it). Under these constraints, it's difficult to draw conclusions about the participants (both as individuals and community) from the answers alone.

The "dozen or so answers" that accept the original premise and that you find problematic could indicate a thread of misogyny worth examining. That's a better thread than "just stop it", and if this discussion turns that direction I will follow with interest.* But they are just as likely to indicate AskMe is working as intended and people are able to set aside the premise challenging as not relevant to the question.

* I pretty much buy into the idea that men and women are more alike than they are different, but I do also think believing in some broad sense of girl mean being different than boy mean is not necessarily misogynist. It's "common sense" in that the majority of people in our culture believe in it to some extent and so even if it's wrong, wrong, wrong, it's rather impractical to argue with it on the side in the green.
posted by Dano St at 12:54 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


No, I'm not. I'm saying the more we stereotype, the harder it becomes to recognize aggression in all its forms.

Additionally, if a "bitch" is someone who engages in covert aggression, then Heather is not a "bitch" because she's overtly aggressive.

I've heard a huge number of women tell me that they only want to work for men because if they work for men they won't get bullied. I hope most of them didn't get a nasty surprise.
posted by tel3path at 12:59 PM on August 30, 2011


As long as the acceptability of language here depends on an escalating arms race of political correctness, rather than more commonly accepted norms of good manners in polite society, then Metafilter is always going to wriggle like a worm in the sun when this issue comes up.

Aren't manners and politeness just the institutionalized "political correctness" (that is, sensitivity to the feelings of others) of past generations? The difference being that those who oppose what they love to dismiss as "political correctness" don't feel they should have to show good manners to people who they dislike because they are different (by virtue of disability, gender, lack of conformity to gender stereotype, sexual preference, race, or religion)?
posted by aught at 2:07 PM on August 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


I shat in the AskMe and then turned to MeTa after my shit was deleted (under a different username).

Isn't that a major no-no here? I thought sockpuppets could only be used when it's for the LULZ and obviously a sockpuppet (and even then it's a bit touch and go)?
posted by 1000monkeys at 2:30 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


He means under a previous username.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:39 PM on August 30, 2011


Ah, gotcha. Sorry. I read it as he shat the the AskMe in question.
posted by 1000monkeys at 2:50 PM on August 30, 2011


Like serial sexual harassers or child molesters, you mean? As far as I know, women do not form the majority of either group, but both groups mainly operate by stealth.

How could you know if both groups operate by stealth?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:52 PM on August 30, 2011


Alright, I'm going to close this bitch up.

[This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments.]
posted by Eideteker at 3:18 PM on August 30, 2011


(Please do not do there here)
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:20 PM on August 30, 2011


(Seriously, you said you were house trained, why are you ruining the carpet?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:21 PM on August 30, 2011


(Sorry, I was just excited to see you)
posted by 1000monkeys at 4:14 PM on August 30, 2011


tel3path, I'm trying to understand your argument. Is this what you're saying?

1) There is no "mean girl" behavior that is more prevalently found amongst women.
2) To claim (1) is to perpetuate a stereotype.
3) To perpetuate that stereotype is to perpetuate woman-hating.

Yes? No? Maybe?
posted by hungrytiger at 4:56 PM on August 30, 2011


if you want to make it a race to the bottom, hey, you win. Congratulations.

Um, I do? I don't think I do. No, I definitely don't. But if I were gay, it would totally be OK? Let me know.
posted by Brocktoon at 5:04 PM on August 30, 2011


But if I were gay, it would totally be OK? Let me know.

Why? Are you thinking of becoming gay?
posted by octobersurprise at 5:24 PM on August 30, 2011


Ooh, I could really use a new toaster.
posted by 1000monkeys at 6:32 PM on August 30, 2011


You don't need a toaster to get a grilled cheese sandwich.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:36 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


(I don't get it)
posted by 1000monkeys at 6:42 PM on August 30, 2011


So, no list then? Maybe if we get to 500 comments someone will make a great new list with examples and exceptions.
posted by schyler523 at 6:49 PM on August 30, 2011


The OP may have simply been revealing her own parochial worldview, which people do all the time across the site in different ways, but the group pile-on is what really sent it over the top.

Or those answering were not necessarily piling on to gleefully condemn women as bitches, but were recognizing 'the bitches' as shorthand for a recognized behavior type/role sometimes employed by women. If you don't see this nuance, you may have just not understood the question or the answers.
posted by desuetude at 7:13 PM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm happy to start a list:
Gendered insults

Racial insults
posted by taff at 7:23 PM on August 30, 2011


Actually, many times race and gender are not in any way salient to the question. I'd like it more if they weren't revered to unless necessary. But thats my druthers.
posted by taff at 7:25 PM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Refered to. Not revered.
posted by taff at 7:26 PM on August 30, 2011


Ah crud, referred to.
posted by taff at 7:32 PM on August 30, 2011


God people like arguing on the internet
posted by nathancaswell at 7:38 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


So do atheists.
posted by grouse at 7:48 PM on August 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


Whereas agnostics are usually pretty cool.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:53 PM on August 30, 2011


I don't know about that.
posted by Drastic at 7:59 PM on August 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


I do find some irony that when a person has decided to use an insult people question whether or not the insult is appropriate. If words no one had issue with were used it really wouldn't be much of an insult. The point of an insult is to reach down to that part of you that is pissed off and grab hold of a shocking word that conveys your feelings.

I do understand the sentiment here though. I hate the word "cocksucker" and every time I hear it used I try to chime in with, "You say that like it's a bad thing."

This said, Deadwood went a long way toward disabusing my sensibilities. I have a short list of words that bug me, and even they seldom bother me when they are used by other people.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:10 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


desuetude: "Or those answering were not necessarily piling on to gleefully condemn women as bitches, but were recognizing 'the bitches' as shorthand for a recognized behavior type/role sometimes employed by women. If you don't see this nuance, you may have just not understood the question or the answers."

Thanks for the backhanded swipe, but unless you're suggesting that "bitch" is some kind of inoffensive play term amongst women, this argument makes no sense. Multiple people have, in fact, made the clear case in this thread that calling someone a bitch carries a lot of weight that calling someone, say, bully does not. If you don't see this nuance, you may not have understand this post or the comments.
posted by mkultra at 8:43 PM on August 30, 2011


Guh? I wasn't making a backhanded swipe. You perceived the replies to the Ask as a shocking pile-on; I was giving you the benefit of the doubt and considering that perhaps you are not completely familiar with the dynamic described in the question. The OP referenced this directly.

I'm not suggesting that 'bitch' is a play term. It is, as cjorgensen notes, intended to be an insult. It is a stereotype of a certain type of behavior. The OP made this distinction, noting that "Heather" as an individual is likely immature and deserving of compassion herself.

Look, when someone has a bad day because of how others treated them, a friend might say "don't let the bastards grind you down." This is not generally taken to mean that the frustrations of the day are the fault of persons who are morally tainted by the alleged impropriety of their biological parents and are therefore rotten, and conspiring against the aggrieved in order to break their will.
posted by desuetude at 9:19 PM on August 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm not sure that analogy works. Bastard is not necessarily a gendered insult in the original context. Although it has, largely, become gendered in Australia.
posted by taff at 9:31 PM on August 30, 2011


I've never heard a woman referred to as a 'bastard', FWIW
posted by 1000monkeys at 10:00 PM on August 30, 2011


How about a parable then?

An artist, P, hangs a hook secured only with adhesive, onto a blank gallery wall.

A second artist, M, enters the gallery, sees the hook and says, "That is the perfect location for my 3-ton Bean Plate sculpture!!!"

P protests, as the hook was only meant for a polaroid. M insists that M's work, being of deep cultural significance, should take priority.

People who were invited to see P's work enter, and are disturbed that the P art they wished to interact with is being crowded out by the 3-ton Bean Plate. Devout followers of M rush to his defense saying his sculpture is of such overriding philosophical importance that of course it was M's prerogative to hijack the gallery wall and mount the 3-ton Bean Plate on the flimsy hook.

And, indeed, the 3-ton Bean Plate is an important work of art; provocative, challenging, worthy of pondering, and changing many a mind. Even so, does that give M the right to commandeer P's gallery space?
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 10:00 PM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


You guys are a bunch of goops!
posted by P.o.B. at 10:17 PM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Just wait, it'll catch on.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:18 PM on August 30, 2011


Hey, that's offensive to me as an adhesive epoxy polymer compound.
posted by 1000monkeys at 10:29 PM on August 30, 2011


Rube -

By that logic, no casual conversation should ever be 'commandeered' by the weighty metaphorical Bean Plate of someone calling the speaker out on *ist language. While I think that mkultra picked his battle poorly (even though I actually agree with his point), that should most definitely not be a universal principle.
posted by sophistrie at 10:31 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really liked taz's explanation on this issue above:

I do wish we would all think twice before using Ask Metafilter questions as examples of things we take issue with. Just think twice, that's all.

When the circumstances are such that the poster is very upset, emotional, distraught, why not let it be, or find another example? Everywhere else on Metafilter we have the luxury of taking our time to think carefully about what we want to post, how to frame it, what language to use, etc., but in Ask Me people are often in a very agitated state, and that's the worst time to attack them for perceived/possible impropriety.

If what they've said is insanely racist/misogynist/homophobic, it's going to be deleted anyway. If there's wiggle room, think twice. If, indeed it's a big problem that's worth discussing as a site, then one should be able to find examples elsewhere.

posted by salvia at 10:43 PM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Or those answering were not necessarily piling on to gleefully condemn women as bitches, but were recognizing 'the bitches' as shorthand for a recognized behavior type/role sometimes employed by women. If you don't see this nuance, you may have just not understood the question or the answers.

Or maybe it's not that you're too dense to understand the nuance, the question, or the answers. Maybe it's that experience has taught you that the perceived nuance doesn't negate the sexism.
posted by tel3path at 1:16 AM on August 31, 2011



tel3path, I'm trying to understand your argument. Is this what you're saying?

1) There is no "mean girl" behavior that is more prevalently found amongst women.


No, I'm not claiming that. I don't have enough citations to claim that one way or the other, but I would be surprised if it turned out to be true.

What bothers me is this: if a Gentile banker embezzles, he is a banker. But if a Jewish banker embezzles, he is a Jew. But then, you can also counterargue that since Jews historically were not allowed to own land, they had no choice but to make their living from capital instead, and the stereotype of Jews as moneylenders is an example of them getting blamed for the problem and then blamed for the solution. Therefore, if your job gets downsized and you appear on the green in a state of distress about it, why shouldn't it be acceptable to -

Oops, no, sorry, that's not what we were talking about. Here's what I mean: if a male coworker blames you for his mistake and yells at you in front of other staff, he is a bully. But if a female coworker does this, she is a woman, or a "mean girl" or a "bitch" enacting aggression using stereotypically feminine patterns which can be demonstrated to exist and can be explained in terms of historical power structures. Even though the example used actually isn't a stereotypically feminine form of aggression. But that doesn't matter, because a girl did it, therefore the problem is bitches in the workplace.

2) To claim (1) is to perpetuate a stereotype. It can be at times, and I think that in this case it is.

3) To perpetuate that stereotype is to perpetuate woman-hating. It can be, and I've seen that happen too many times to dismiss this as a theoretical issue. To the point of actually hearing hiring managers confide that they're going to hire a man this time because they're tired of dealing with "catfights" and women are just too "bitchy", to name but one example.
posted by tel3path at 1:50 AM on August 31, 2011 [9 favorites]


I believe I know of cow

Some think the thread will end with bitch,
some think with cow.
From reading mkultra's pitch,
I hold with those who favor bitch.
But I have read enough along
To know that cow is just as wrong
And should stop now.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 2:27 AM on August 31, 2011


Your rhythm on line two and line seven sucks dog balls.
posted by taff at 3:48 AM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Even though the example used actually isn't a stereotypically feminine form of aggression. But that doesn't matter, because a girl did it, therefore the problem is bitches in the workplace.

According to the original poster, her daughter "... has been there 3 months. This is only a representative sample of this girl, whose name is not really Heather, and who's been more or less in my daughter's grill since she started ..." So the OP has a 3 months of experiences to draw on and classify the behavior, hence the terms "bitches".

Since the post only mentioned that Heather blamed, then" publicly derided" the daughter, you don't know what actually was said, so don't know if the action was stereotypically feminine or not.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:11 AM on August 31, 2011


They're gendered insults, yes, but they have a lot of expressive power. I'm not one to use them much myself, as I find it works better to describe the behavior I find offensive; but my younger brother applies them to people of any sex, and if they find that more offensive because it casts them in the wrong gender role... well, that's rather telling of something. Whether it's my brother being a boor or his target-of-insult being insecure in their gender identity or both or something completely different, I'm not really sure.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:27 AM on August 31, 2011


Your rhythm on line two and line seven sucks dog balls.

That's a mean thing to say to Joni Mitchell. It's called syncopation.
posted by taz at 4:41 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah. And it sucks. In the nicest possible way, Taz! Try reading it out loud. It hurts the brain.
posted by taff at 4:50 AM on August 31, 2011


Take it up with Robert Frost, maybe?
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:02 AM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Since the thread started I've been trying to think of something woman-gendered that is a) usually considered positive and b) applied to men and women, along the lines of ballsy. I haven't been able to think of any but it kinda feels too chatfiltery for Ask. I'm convinced there must be a bunch that I'm missing because I'm dumb or they're not used in the UK or they've fallen out of favour or I'm dumb.

Genuine question. It's been interesting to see a number of people say they don't see bitching as a gendered word, and I've seen people talk about ballsy women before as if there's not something inherently male to that. So: curious.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:26 AM on August 31, 2011


Hysterical, as in "hysterically funny"? "Hysteria" derives from an outdated medical notion that women suffering from disturbances in their womb became emotionally imbalanced.

Now, hysterical (good) just means very funny, and hysterical (bad) just means suffering from an emotional breakdown. There's clearly no gender component to the former, though admittedly some to the latter (but the US doesn't seem to prize emotional men, and there simply are fewer depictions in the media of men in extremis (though I've been there)).
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:43 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


A bitch is one who bitches about things...

Unfortunately that is not even close to being the exclusive definition.

"Do you see the way he takes orders from Stacy? He really is her bitch."
"You'd never last in prison. You'd be someone's bitch by lunchtime."
"Hey beautiful! Where you going? Hey, I'm talking to you... stuck up bitch!"
"Bitches ain't shit but hoes and tricks..."

Seriously, unless you are dog breeder or zoologist, the word as a noun is too vague and inflammatory to have much "expressive power." Even dog breeders tend to use "she-dog" or "female" or "dam." Using the word as a descriptor of people may mean something inside your head, but many people are not of the same mind-- and are probably judging you for using the word.
posted by zennie at 5:57 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


You guys are a bunch of goops! Just wait, it'll catch on.

Too late.
"The Goops they lick their fingers,
and the Goops they lick their knives;
They spill their broth on the tablecloth,
Oh, they lead disgusting lives!"*
posted by octobersurprise at 6:17 AM on August 31, 2011


There's clearly no gender component to the former,

I have to disagree. There really is a gender component, whether or not it's something that everyone is consciously aware of.
posted by Miko at 6:42 AM on August 31, 2011


You and I know better, Miko, but words are used as they are used. "Hysterical" qua funny has no gender component in its current usage in American English.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:53 AM on August 31, 2011


Even though the example used actually isn't a stereotypically feminine form of aggression. But that doesn't matter, because a girl did it, therefore the problem is bitches in the workplace.

According to the original poster, her daughter "... has been there 3 months. This is only a representative sample of this girl, whose name is not really Heather, and who's been more or less in my daughter's grill since she started ..." So the OP has a 3 months of experiences to draw on and classify the behavior, hence the terms "bitches".

Since the post only mentioned that Heather blamed, then" publicly derided" the daughter, you don't know what actually was said, so don't know if the action was stereotypically feminine or not.


You guys seem more in agreement than you realize. I suspect tel3path is commenting on the tendency of those who read the question to accept that this girl is a "bitch" without evidence because she's a young woman doing "bitchy" (though very vaguely described) things. In fact, none of us know whether this behavior was stereotypically feminine or not, beside the OP, but many respondents were quick to pick up the gendered label, because that's how our society looks at bullying women--as bitches ("mean girls"), not as bullies.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:54 AM on August 31, 2011


You and I know better, Miko, but words are used as they are used. "Hysterical" qua funny has no gender component in its current usage in American English.

I'm just not sure you can make that statement in representation of everybody. It's definitely a vestige of the marginalization of women's experience, and once you know that, you can't un-hear it. I agree that it may not always be used as a gendered insult, but it's a word that arises from a gendered context and has a gendered history.

But besides, even though you may use it with male buddies ('that movie was hysterical!") I think you may not realize that it can still carry a special, focused weight when you are female and have been told, on occasion, "look, there's no need to get hysterical over this" or "you're hysterical, calm down." So there are contexts in which the word does carry a connotation of out-of-control emotion - whether laughter or otherwise - specific to females.
posted by Miko at 7:00 AM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I prefer this Hugo version of 99 Problems (but the bitch ain't one) to the original.

Hugo's version was used in the new Fright Night movie, which is good, btw. Not as much fun as the original, but still a good movie, unlike the Conan remake.
posted by misha at 7:13 AM on August 31, 2011


I think you miss my point; it's not a question of whether "hysterical" has a social or cultural context from which it is derived, and which educated people like you and I apprehend. Armyofkitten's question was whether there were any "female" words that were derived from a gendered space that are now applied to both genders, in the same way that "ballsy" is (despite more plainly being descriptive of male anatomy, since few speak Greek these days, o tempora o mores).

Hysterical, when used to mean "funny" in common American English usage, is used irrespective of gender. And, while I grant it is something of a tautology, the fact that people use the word to mean "funny" would suggest that they have no conception of its loaded, gendered origins, which was my point. When used to mean "funny," the word has been divorced of its former meaning for those speakers (though not for all hearers). We're talking descriptive versus prescriptive use; it's used how it's used, regardless of its origins.

Another word equally apt to both genders, despite its patent gendered origins is "patronizing," which I will contemplate with my "male buddies" as we swagger out of the multiplex guffawing about Hangover 3.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:33 AM on August 31, 2011


Hysterical, when used to mean "funny" in common American English usage, is used irrespective of gender.

I think I fully understand your specific point but I'm trying to make another, larger point. My point is that because "super funny" is not the only meaning of the word, even as it's used in common parlance, the word can still give rise to connotations of sexism even though it's not always used in a sexist way.

It's an admittedly much less extreme version of using "n_rtoes" to refer to Brazil nuts. No, it's not meant as a racist insult when it's used to describe nuts - my dad grew up with this as the common name of Brazil nuts. It wasn't directed at anyone and not intended to mean anything other than "Brazil nuts." But the word can't be divorced from its etymology - whether or not the speaker is aware of it, it has powerful connotations elsewhere, in its other uses. Similarly, people will often say that when they tell a friend they're "so gay," they don't mean it "that way" and aren't actually implying that their friend is homosexual. Similarly "retard." A word doesn't get redefined for all contexts just because users want it to be redefined and don't intend every meaning of a word when using the word.

I'm not saying that no one should use the word hysterical to describe something funny. What I am saying is that it's not possible to say the word is totally divorced from uses related to sexism in the ears of all people. It may be that it has never been directed at you in an insulting manner, so that particular sting is not apparent to you, but it does exist in some contexts, and because of that it's not totally neutral.

I'm talking about the way that gendered, often sexist language has deeply imbedded itself into our culture - just one indication of how deeply patriarchy is embedded into our culture - to the point where we can see things as neutral that really are not, and which derive their meaning from their original, sexist connotation. The usage of those words may evolve to the point where they lose their particular sting ("moron", "imbecile," "going Dutch") but their continued presence in the language is a vestige of culturally pervasive sexism.
posted by Miko at 8:07 AM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Miko: "I'm talking about the way that gendered, often sexist language has deeply imbedded itself into our culture."

Yeah, I'll happily admit that when originally reading this thread a hundred million years ago I had a whole unhelpful I'm so glad women gave the world "bitchy" and men gave the world "ballsy" AMIRITE? thing in the comment box that I didn't post in the end because I'm trying to cut down on my shouting and leaping up and down, but I still really can't think of any female-derived unisex-applied word like ballsy that's used to express approval and doesn't have a hundred caveats dangling off of it.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 8:33 AM on August 31, 2011


Taff: hamburger! {/}
posted by taz at 8:36 AM on August 31, 2011


Oval?

That sure is a perfectly oval shaped... uh... head you have!
posted by Ashley801 at 8:36 AM on August 31, 2011


Yeah, it's a hard question, kind of an interesting one.
posted by Miko at 8:48 AM on August 31, 2011


I wonder about "ballsy" vis-a-vis "gutsy". If I refer to a woman as "ballsy", isn't the implication that she's succeeding because she's really somewhat manly (and therefore less of a woman)?

Admiral Haddock: "Now, hysterical (good) just means very funny"

At the risk of stating the obvious, hysterical doesn't mean "very funny", it means it's so funny your laughter is uncontrollable. As in, it's so funny it makes you behave like a woman who can't control herself.
posted by mkultra at 9:23 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


It is an interesting question. Anyone inclined to post it to AskMe where it'd get the eyes of more linguists? (I used my question this week already.)
posted by salvia at 9:33 AM on August 31, 2011


yeah, because what the world needs is a third place on metafilter to discuss this issue.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:36 AM on August 31, 2011


Good point cjorgensen, I'll post it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:42 AM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Must...not...call...Brandon Blatcher either b-word..right now...even...as...joke.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:43 AM on August 31, 2011


Maybe save it for a little later in AskMe? Please?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:45 AM on August 31, 2011


Ok, it's up on AskMetafilter+ and I've shared it with the Cabal circles.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:46 AM on August 31, 2011


Unfortunately you used a pseudonym while posting, so your meta+ privileges have been revoked. We also shut off your home phone and shredded the files in the cabinet by the beer cooler.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:28 AM on August 31, 2011


Also, I drank your last beer.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:29 AM on August 31, 2011


We also shut off your home phone and shredded the files in the cabinet by the beer cooler.

I'm on several cells, the files were scanned and placed on Dropbox, that wasn't a beer cooler and it wasn't beer inside of it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:36 AM on August 31, 2011


Are you sure? It tasted exactly like Bud Light.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:41 AM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


How far back can we go on this word challenge? Would you accept fortune / fortunate / etc. from the Greek goddess of luck?
posted by salvia at 10:48 AM on August 31, 2011


Pedant's corner, but Fortuna is Roman, not Greek - the Greek goddess of luck was called Tyche. Or, more accurately, there was a goddess of luck who was called Tyche in Greek.
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:55 AM on August 31, 2011


I didn't know that. That's actually great.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 10:56 AM on August 31, 2011


On preview, you beat me to it -- Roman goddess for luck, I meant.

If Greek and Roman goddesses are fair game, I would be interested to know if any other words derived from Athena (perhaps "athlete"? Internet signs point to no), Hera / Juno, or any of the other badass Greek and Roman female deities.
posted by salvia at 11:02 AM on August 31, 2011


How far back can we go on this word challenge? Would you accept fortune / fortunate / etc. from the Greek goddess of luck?

The difference is that 'hysteria' has literally been used as a medical diagnosis to pathologise truculent, difficult, or simply noncompliant women as recently as the last century. The accusation of "being hysterical" is still used to dismiss or invalidate women who are expressing strong emotions or opinions. It is (pun intended) incredibly patronising.

I know you were only being glib, but it really drives me up the wall when I see people drawing these false equivalencies as though language like this isn't still being used to prop up sexist asshattery all the time.
posted by sophistrie at 11:23 AM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


(On a lighter note, though: aphrodisiac.)
posted by sophistrie at 11:24 AM on August 31, 2011


Friday comes from Frigg, and we all know it's the best day of the week.
posted by mkultra at 11:27 AM on August 31, 2011


Greek and Latin deities in particular often have names with uncertain etymologies which are also used to describe the objects of their responsibility. Fortuna is kind of half a name and half a concept to start with. She personifies turning, probably - Fortuna being derived perhaps from Vortumna, the numinous deity who turns the wheel of the year - hence the wheel of fortune, which brings people low or high.

(Which, if true, means that "fortune" shares an etymological root with "vortex" and "convert", incidentally. Latin. Fun, fun, fun, fun. You know what that is.)

"Fortunate" isn't exactly derived from "Fortuna", however, but from "fortunatus", the perfect passive participle of fortuno ("I cause to prosper", roughly) - which is derived from Fortuna, but you already have a bit of cognitive distance. I don't think fortunate is meaningfully a descriptive containing a gendered sense, the way hysteria is/has been - fortunatus/fortunata could be applied to either gender, after all (or rather, all three) - any more than "goddamn" is particularly gendered because the God it references is generally seen as male.

Angle brackets slash derail close angle brackets.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:08 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would be interested to know if any other words derived from Athena

Atheneum, of which we have bunches in old New England.

But I think Greek deities as word roots are essentially eponyms, and I'm not sure eponyms really fit the criteria. They're used to apply some characteristic associated with one well-known person to other people, and aren't necessarily gendered even when they are new.
posted by Miko at 12:24 PM on August 31, 2011


Even if Fortuna did not come from another root, but was only a name(thank you for dropping the classics on us running order), here's an analogy based on my eponyms-aren't-necessarily-gendered argument: Nicholas Chauvin, who gave us the word chauvinism. Like fortune, chauvinism is an abstract concept, expressed in a word related to an individual's name. But a chauvinist (originally describing jingoism, not sexism) can be of either gender.
posted by Miko at 12:29 PM on August 31, 2011


Atheneum, of which we have bunches in old New England.

And indeed Palladium.
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:49 PM on August 31, 2011


Too late.

Even better. I'm bringing it back!
posted by P.o.B. at 2:10 PM on August 31, 2011


sophistrie: I know you were only being glib, but it really drives me up the wall when I see people drawing these false equivalencies as though language like this isn't still being used to prop up sexist asshattery all the time.

What? Really? One, my goal was to quite sincerely answer the original word challenge, with information I found fascinating in its own right. Apart from, y'know, its utility in propping up the patriarchy, or however you took my comment. Two, I called out the temporal difference. That's kind of the opposite of trying to quietly slip some false equivalency past everyone. So I do not agree with nor appreciate your imputations of glibness, and maybe also deception and complicity.

I found it an interesting etymological challenge to think of a "female-derived unisex-applied word," and one for which I would like to have some actual examples. Thinking of word origins sent me mentally back to Greece and Rome, plus I enjoy thinking about powerful goddesses like Artemis and of course Amy Poehler on Parks and Rec.

Hysterical. Yes. Utilized to pathologize women and dismiss their legitimate statements. We are on the same page about that. And it's irrelevant to my comment. The difference you point to has nothing to do with the original challenge. ("Ballsy" was never used to medically diagnose and pathologize men either.) Hysterical was merely one suggestion offered up; I was looking for another. Just because I do not expound upon the wrongs done to women across the millennia, by the word hysterical or otherwise, does not mean I disagree they occurred.
posted by salvia at 5:10 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or maybe it's not that you're too dense to understand the nuance, the question, or the answers.

tel3path, where on earth do you get that I think this has anything to do with being "too dense?" I said no such thing.
posted by desuetude at 9:20 PM on August 31, 2011


Okay, sorry about that, desuetude.
posted by tel3path at 5:03 AM on September 1, 2011


Here's metafilter's own jscalzi on the subject of women bloggers & what they have to put up with.
posted by seanyboy at 8:09 AM on September 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


Velveeta "cheese" is crap, though.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:15 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Velveeta is totally crap. But in a pinch when making a roux is not possible, mixing some Velveeta in with the better cheeses as they melt can act as an emulsifier and prevent the dreaded cheese-seize.
posted by desuetude at 9:52 PM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some people like to use "bitch" as a compliment similar to "The Man". It only works sometimes, of course; only if the listener could reasonably assume that you think well of who you're talking about. Still, this is a pretty popular way to "reclaim" the word. Maybe it won't displace the established meaning, but it's something you can do. I think it's a fair sight better than castigating others for Speaking Language Wrong.

I think using "bitch" to mean "one who bitches" and not "one who submits" has pretty much the same effect, just subtler, and in a context that the complimentary use can't touch.

As I said, I don't use it myself; partly because I have a hard time reading the context finely enough to tell which way it will be taken. I don't think that's a good reason to suppose that anyone who uses the word in a way I would not use it is a misogynist.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:13 AM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think someone who uses the word is a misogynist from just using that word. I cringe inside and think they are using language that perpetuates misogyny. Sometimes it's obvious that it's just not a word that they have examined. And other times it's clearly a very deliberate gender slur.

But generally, one word, from someone I otherwise know nothing about, is not enough for me to label them misogynist.
posted by taff at 3:27 PM on September 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


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