June 25, 2009

How to Reclaim Words...

I do it all the time - reclaim words, that is. But when it do it, I INVERT their meaning. "Bitch" is often used as a slur to stigmatize women who are opinionated, or loud, or aggressive, or ambitious (or even just shy) feel like we are less women. You're a woman who doesn't perform her gender properly, is essentially what this insult is always saying, despite its many different applications. I have, therefore, reclaimed the word in my circle of friends (I am not the first to do so, I know). Feminists are called bitches more often than anyone else, I will assert, and so I call myself that. I don't care about performing someone else's idea of femininity. I have no desire always to be sweet, quiet and accommodating. I have no intention of being nice to sketchy men I don't like who hit on me at bars and get insulted when I'm not interested. I have no intention of smiling when I am sad and walk down the street and some dude says, "Smile, love." I have no intention of pretending I don't have opinions so men I'm dating can feel smarter and unchallenged. If all this makes me a bitch, then I think bitches are great! Because these are my favourite traits about myself. So, I call myself a bitch, and I call my friends bitches, and we call ourselves "The Sisterhood of the traveling bitches" in my group of girlfriends at LSE, because we all come from different parts of the world and moved to London but are mostly moving elsewhere at the end of the year.

When you reclaim words but DON'T invert their meaning, their meanings don't change. Perez Hilton called Will.I.am a "faggot" this past weekend. The man does not self-identify as queer and the word was clearly being used as an epithet. It was an insult - something that men have been saying to each other for years as an insult. The insult is often deployed not because a man is doing something that is sexually "gay" a all, but because he is hitting you, or spilled your beer or committed some other gaffe. Why do people say faggot to injure then? Because the implication is that gay people are the biggest fuck-ups in society. They are complete monsters who can never fit in and don't belong, so any time you fuck up in ANY way, it's like you're a little closer to being gay...

Perez Hilton called a dude a "faggot" when they got into a fight. He used the word the way the word has been used for decades - as an insult. He did not reclaim it because the only way to reclaim a word is to change its meaning. I am not mad at Perez for saying "faggot" in general. In fact, now he claims he is going to give up his quest to reclaim the word entirely, and I'm a bit disappointed. I say, don't give up your mission. You don't have to do that. Just reclaim the word properly. The connotations of words evolve and we all have the power to affect that evolution through popular discourse. Remember what Foucault tells us - power emanates from everywhere. When we reclaim words, we are being defiant. We are embracing what has been judged as wanting in ourselves. We reduce the arsenal with which people can hurt us when we say, "so what if I'm a queer/bitch/faggot/dyke/chick/slut/tramp/whore/ho?"

So, yeah, Perez, please do help reclaim the word faggot. It worked with the word queer brilliantly when people tried to reclaim that term, and it's worked reasonably well with "dyke" too. We can reclaim things. You just have to know the time AND the place to do so. For example, when I'm reclaiming "bitch", I would never say, "That bitch just refused to go on a date with my friend? What's her muthafucking problem! What kind of slut is she that she doesn't recognize a nice guy? Dumb fucking bitch!" Instead, I would say, "You beat out 150 other candidates to get an internship at the WHO? Congratulations, you clever bitch! I love you!" See, Perez. This is how you do it...

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