How Derogation Works

“Delia, born in the USA of enslaved
African parents, daughter of Renty, Congo“

Which do you think is worse thing to hear come out of your child’s mouth? “Bitch” or “Fuck”?

There are a lot of really hateful and bigoted things to say out there and most of them are related to sexuality and race. Our insults display our prejudicial predilections.

Guess which one of these terms the FCC allows you to hear on regulated broadcasts?

I know you know the answer. Does it seem like it should matter?

Our boys watch Parks & Rec, which is, in the main, funny and also, mostly, a kind program where the meanness dissolves into caring and that meanness is exposed as a mask of self-protection. Good, good.

But, the word bitch is used with unfortunate frequency especially when Ron Swanson’s ex-wife, played by Nick Offerman’s real-life spouse, Megan Mullally, is in an episode. Further confusing that “comedy” is that she is a sexual predator and a consistently malignant character.

It’s not just “Tammy” that is described this way–also primarily a “crazy bitch” is Jean-Ralfio’s sister Mona-Lisa, also caricatured by being “over-sexed.”

These are extremes on the show, but the slur “bitch” is a commonplace (as it is generally on “family-friendly” television).

Is it odd that a “son-of-a-bitch” is a term of both derision and admiration?

Is there a slur for a man that isn’t tied to feminization? I don’t mean words that are generally tied to excrement (though I do think these are normally used on men). I suppose though “asshole” and “dick” might count as the primary derogatory terms often directed at men. I’m pretty sure though that no one’s sense of social value is at issue when being called a “dick” (which means, what, “unthinking” or “unthoughtful” or maybe callous?). Which is to say that the party in power cannot be demeaned by words

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Another example from a family-friendly and massively popular television program: when the character Phoebe on Friends called Monica and Rachel her “bitches” she explicitly tied it to a prison scenario and thus to a dominance relationship based on sexual violence or rape. I was reminded of this when viewing this commentary on the prison system by John Oliver.

What seems logical in this lexical strategy then is that a “bitch” is a person who is “deserving” of sexual violence. And in the Parks & Rec descriptions above, it is due to the overt and aggressive use of sexuality of two female characters. Of course Tammy Swanson and Mona-Lisa are horrible people, but the caricature would be clear without the expressions of sexual aggression; still Tammy IS represented by her uncaring dominance of Ron by basically fucking him into submission; or do we believe that he, being a man, must first submit to become submissive? And we could claim that Tammy is a real “dick” because she has made Ron Swanson her “bitch.” But really, she’s a rapist, as is Mona-Lisa. It is a further damaging representation that seems to assert that men want to be raped by women, or rather that a woman can’t rape a man; that’s just sex.

An exception to this would be, at least in terms of the dominant male culture, an anal rape; and worse still, exposing that event publicly. This would be the lowest form of social shame. This is why pederasty could be deemed the most demeaning and emotionally scarring act of sexual degradation and dominance.

I think finally that “bitch” as it is used in the culture generally means “person who deserves to be raped.” That is “rape” would put that person in her/his place.” As it is often a de facto term for a woman to many men we can readily understand how, by language use alone, “woman” is in the main understood to be a person deserving of rape. In some ways, all terms of derogation might be tied to this one understanding. I do tend to think that though all slurs intend to demean, those tied to sexuality and enslavement intend a deep negation evident in historical violence and dominance. This is to say as baldly as possible that to be black is to be “less than,” to be gay is to be “less than,” to be woman is “less than.” All slurs express this equation. And as there is a dominant race and gender in America (at least) that controls all discourse, all politics, all economics, all armed response, this simply means that most of us are conceivably “less than.” To be a white man is good. To be a rich white man is better. To be a politically powerful and wealthy white man is best. All the rest is “less than.”

And to be “less than” is to be nothing. And to beat, abuse, rape, torture, murder “nothing” is to do nothing wrong.

Is this understanding folded into, encoded and disseminated through, the words we use to designate social and cultural value, even “casually” via our entertainments?

It seems hard to answer other than “yes.”


Louis Agassiz exhibit divides Harvard, Swiss group

The 19th-century Swiss-born naturalist Louis Agassiz was a revered figure at Harvard University. He was also a racist who commissioned humiliating photographs of slaves and Brazilian natives.

A century and a half after their creation, the images still haunt: daguerreotypes and photos of people stripped ­naked and displayed like specimens. To Agassiz, the images were evidence for his belief that human races sprang from different biological origins.


Black Bodies, White Science: Louis Agassiz’s Slave Daguerreotypes

… Agassiz had visited several plantations in 1850 while in South Carolina to address a meeting of scientists in Charleston on the topic of the “separate creation” of the human races. That notion, which denied the unity of mankind, seemed to provide a scientific or natural basis for racial inequality and slavery. After the meeting, at which the Harvard scientist thrilled his Southern audience by endorsing the doctrine that mankind had no common origin, Agassiz expressed interest in examining African-born slaves.

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1 Comment

  1. Bitch July 24, 2014 at 11:52 am

    It isn’t just that our derogatory slang and general nature indicate that women are deserving of rape, it’s that we are also responsible for preventing it. We are taught either explicitly or through massive cultural implication that danger lurks on every corner; if we go out alone, we are putting ourselves at risk. We are armed with rape whistles and mace, which really just perpetuates the idea that it is in the hands of a woman herself to fend against the aggressive man who can’t control himself. We are both prized and demonized for dressing in certain ways. “She was asking for it.” Let’s not also forget the difficulty in actually taking legal action against an attacker.

    I run alone and think about this constantly. Whenever I am approaching, or being approached by a male, I immediately, and reflexively, form a plan: if he comes at you go for his eyes, throat, groin as hard and fast as you can. When I bought my first car as an independent woman after college, the salesman kept me for an extra 10 minutes post-sale to show me how to use my car key as a defense weapon.


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