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“Racist Pussy”: Gender Slurs from the Left

 Last weekend I caught the riveting movie Fair Game about the Bush Administration’s illegal outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame in apparent retaliation for her husband (Ambassador Joe Wilson, played by Sean Penn) critiquing the Iraq War.  The film was brilliant, except for a scene where Plame’s character pretend-scolds her husband for chastising a bigoted dinner party guest: “You didn’t have to call him a racist pussy!” 

Gender slurs like “pussy” are commonplace in mass media, along with “bitch,” “whore,” “ho,” “broad,” “douche,” “cunt,” “slut,” “bimbo,” etc.  But I expect more from people on the left – “good liberals” who would thankfully be horrified at similar use of racial slurs.  (Imagine the (rightful) outrage if Penn’s character had called the dinner guest a “sexist n**ger”!) 

Gender slurs operate like racial slurs in that they are sex-specific put-downs.  Mostly used to describe women, gender slurs are sometimes applied to men to “emasculate” (think about that word for a minute) them, such as “pussy” or “bitch.”  But for many on the left, gender slurs are simply not as distasteful as racial slurs.

I have heard gender slurs from the mouths of liberal professors who fancy themselves erudite, despite their glaring ignorance of gender critiques.  During the 2008 presidential campaign, I got into a tense argument at a fancy dinner party with a lefty who called Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin “bitches.”  He could not recognize that the way he talks about Clinton and Palin reflects how he thinks about women more generally.  I recently reviewed a study of cable news coverage of Clinton during the 2008 election that found that liberal pundits like Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews were as sexist as conservative news hosts.   

But hands down, my biggest disappointment on the left is Jon Stewart, the host of the super-funny and informative The Daily Show.  He uses “pussy” and “bitch” with some frequency, and mixes in misogynistic remarks with otherwise sharp political analysis.   I recently thumbed through Stewart’s new book, Earth (The Book): A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race (2010), having joked with my friends that his views of the human race don’t really include women as “human beings.”  We stopped laughing about ten pages in.  While men are portrayed in a variety of roles in the book (some less flattering than others), women are almost universally depicted as fuck-toys – three-breasted aliens, “snow bunnies” in bikinis on skis, cleavage without faces.  One vignette shows the origins of trade starting with a man trading his “extra” woman for a sheep.  So we’re chattel, Jon? 

While gender slurs “suck” (oops, there’s another one), swearing is actually good for your health and can be done in a way that doesn’t rely on bigotry or hatred of certain groups.   I suggest “asshole,” “asshat,” or my personal favorite, “jackass.”  (Sorry, donkey!)

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Comments (7)

asshat. HELL YES.

Maybe it is a Gender Slur; definitely slang; probably inappropriate; but growing up with men calling each other “pussy” meant they were too weak to compete. Times change and so does vocabulary. Perhaps it is time once again to update the way we address one another and be a little more considerate.

As for Jon Stewart’s show, well, now you are entering the world of blue comedy and there is a lot to criticize about Jon Stewart. What an opportunity squandered when he had tens of thousands of people in Washington DC ready to protest and he asks them to do absolutely nothing other than yield the right of way. Unbelievable. He didn’t even ask them to vote. And then there are the slurs from the left. Jon Stewart’s show is redeemed by a constant flow of outrageous material from Washington D.C. which in and of itself is often times pornographic, usually full of lies, name calling, collusion, back biting, insults, murder, boozing, sexual misconduct, bribery, hypocrisy and a long list of criminal behavior. Somehow the slurs just seem appropriate for such a den of iniquity.

[…] implies Giffords may have been targeted because she is a woman. Because gender slurs have become so acceptable in U.S. society, most people fail to recognize them as slurs at all. But imagine the headlines if […]

[…] implies Giffords may have been targeted because she is a woman. Because gender slurs have become so acceptable in U.S. society, most people fail to recognize them as slurs at all. But imagine the headlines if […]

there’s two things missing from your critique, and while they aren’t necessarily good “excuses”, they are definitely “reasons” for this sort of language. one, there is a definite current in stewart’s humor (and humor from the left, in general) that uses stereotypical language and slurs as a sort of tongue-in-cheek way of making fun of people who actually use this terminology, or think in these terms, more so than the actual targets of the language. there is a scene from the comedy central show “strangers with candy” in which a jock character remarks “the only thing i hate more than racists are spics!”… a joke obviously aimed at the intelligence level of the character, not hispanic people.

two, stewart’s humor, while intelligent enough for educated middle aged people, is still almost exclusively aimed at the 18-24 demographic. and the truth is, most slurs have been redefined or rendered nearly irrelevant to this age group. the majority of formerly insensitive racial, cultural and gender slurs have actually been adopted by the groups who were once their targets. sometimes as a badge of pride for having overcome the social connotation that led to the generalization in the first place, but in general, as a way to take ownership of the language and diffuse the painful historical context. there is no place this is more obvious than how rap music has completely obliterated our understanding and usage of the n-word. and now, right or wrong, there isn’t a race or culture that hasn’t integrated it into everyday slang. from working in the hip-hop industry, even with many of my collaborators being from the south, i couldn’t get away with saying it without anyone batting an eye. but i don’t. and not because i’m afraid to offend someone, but because it’s simply not my word. it doesn’t belong to white people anymore, and its usage is (and should be) judged contextually by black people alone. all in all, this might not be a “good” thing, but it’s certainly better than being threatened by a word.

but the problem with the n-word, and every other word you listed, is that they’re dumb. not creative. honestly, not even suitable for a good insult. come up with something better! in that regard, we are in total agreement.

[…] Fallon a “despicable human being.” The Women’s Media Center noted that this gender slur was both “sexist and unfunny.” Fallon has since apologized. […]

[…] have perhaps written more than anyone about the use of sexist slurs by prominent men on the left lobbed at Sarah Palin, Laura Ingraham, Hillary Clinton, and Michele […]

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