Monday, June 17, 2013

On Boycotting the B-Word

Originally published at Opine Season

Any conversation about language is a can of worms. So I want to be very clear that this piece is about nothing more than why I don’t use the word “bitch,” and why I suggest other men don’t either. I’m not trying to outlaw the word. I’m not saying you’re history’s greatest monster if you use it. I’m not saying that this is the biggest threat to humanity ever.

I just don’t like the word. Not as a gender-based slur, not as an all-purpose insult, not as a synonym for “complain,” not as a synonym for “a particularly difficult task,” not even when using it correctly in the dictionary sense (just say “female dog,” assuming you find yourself in the bizarre situation of having to identify a dog solely by its sex). Not in any context.

And I think there are many reasons why we—as artists, as writers, as social media users, and as men—should stop using it.

It’s Offensive
Maybe you disagree. Maybe one of your female-identified friends doesn’t think it’s offensive. Maybe you think “it’s just a word, dude,” and that we should all just “get over ourselves.” But the fact remains: millions of people find the word offensive, regardless of how it’s used. They might think it dehumanizes women, or taps into a long, painful history of systemic gender oppression, or simply conflates “female” with “bad.”

And the thing about offensiveness is you don’t get to decide who gets to be offended by something. There’s no scientific formula—if millions upon millions of people find the word offensive, then it just is. You’re free to use the word anyway, but you’re not free to say that they’re wrong.

It’s Incredibly Easy to Not Use It
I’m a rapper. I don’t want to reinforce stereotypes, but rappers tend to use the b-word a lot. I know I have. But I haven’t in years. At some point in my development, I made a conscious choice to just stop using it—and guess what? My teeth didn’t fall out. I don’t stay up all night reminiscing about the good old days when I used to call everyone “bitches.” I can still express myself. I can still be mean to people or say edgy and offensive things—I just do it without using that word. Whether or not you’re a rapper too, there’s always a more interesting way to say what you want to say.

It’s a Distraction
To use another artist example: when you’re performing on stage and that word comes out of your mouth, a significant fraction of the audience is going to stop listening, even if just for a moment, and think about why you chose to use that word and what it says about you. Whether or not they’re offended by it—it takes them out of the moment. Even if you’re not a performer or public personality, the word still has this chilling effect. It kills conversations. It raises eyebrows. And it’s so easy to avoid.

It’s Not Cool
In the social media age, we’re in touch with thousands of people, and we tend to make our judgments about one another pretty quickly and decisively. So when I hear a guy say “stop being a bitch” or “look at these bitches,” I basically just decide to not take anything he has to say seriously. That word is starting to resemble the slur f****t in this sense: it’s a word that instantly brands you as ignorant and immature.

Because Language Matters
Language impacts thought; thought impacts action; actions become habits; habits turn into culture, into society, into laws. I used the term “boycott” here intentionally. With this kind of thing, it’s not really about “trying to do a better job.” It’s about quitting something, cold turkey. I did it, but the reason I don’t demand any feminist ally cookies for doing it is because it was so simple it hardly even qualified as “doing” anything. This is an easy battle. But if we, as men, refuse to engage at even this basic level, how can we be trusted to stand up for justice in any context? Let’s do better.

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