The B-Word: A Breakdown of a Word That Breaks Down | Urban Cusp

The B-Word: A Breakdown of a Word That Breaks Down

By David J. Leonard

“Ain’t that a “b****” “Stop “b****ing” “Stop acting like a “b****” “You go to the basket like a “b****” “You throw like a “b****” “You hit like a “b****” “I ain’t your “b****”

The “B word” is ubiquitous within our contemporary culture. It can be heard on television, at the student recreation center, on college campuses, on the street, at schools, in songs, and in countless other spaces. Notwithstanding this over saturation, the word remains entrenched within a history of violence and patriarchy. No amount of mental gymnastics and argumentation can take away from its history, and ideological baggage. It is a slur; it is demeaning, disrespectful, and hurtful.

“‘B*tch’ is a slur; and there’s no doubt that the word has a female referent, and a nonhuman one at that,” writes Sherryl Kleinman, Matthew B. Ezzell, and A. Corey Frost. As a dehumanizing slur, this word is wrapped up within a larger history of violence against women, rape, domestic abuse, and state-sanctioned and state practiced violence against women. Its meaning and origins cannot be understood apart from slavery, lynchings, war, forced sterilization, vaginal ultrasounds, labor exploitation and abuse, and so much more. Just go to Google, type the word in the search box and you will see how many different images that normalize and justify violence against women through the dehumanizing deployment of this slur.

In researching for this piece, I came across a site that shocked and sickened me. I found myself asking how, why, and what we can do to stem the tide of dehumanizing language, normalized violence, and the brutality of sexism and misogyny. In “How to Smack a B*tch,” Matt Stone provides readers with a “how to” list, disgustingly describing each type of slap with a casualness. As part of a website called the “guy code,” this sort of “logic” imagines violence against women, and seeing women as less than human as both normal and required to be a real man. While easy to dismiss this outrageous and reprehensible post and page as the extreme (or try to describe it as “satire” as a way to insulate from rightful indignation and condemnation), it speaks to the ways that the language of sexism normalizes violence, discrimination, inequality, and injustice.

Irrespective of this history and the connections seen above, the defenders of the word often notes that the “B word,” as it is used to describe men and women, is not sexist because (1) it is just a word (2) the meaning has changed and (3) men use it to describe other men and therefore it’s not offensive to women. Let me respond to each. (1) it’s not just a word; words matter.

“Words can elevate or deflate us. Words often precede action. Harsh words are exchanged and a fight breaks out. Words tell us, empirically, about increases or decreases in inequality; old inequalities in new guises; false power among members of an oppressed group (more on that, later); unconscious sexism, racism, or other forms of inequality; subordinates’ resistance to injustice” (from Reclaiming Critical Analysis: The Social Harms of ‘B*tch’).

(2) Its meaning remains entrenched in misogyny and patriarchy and (3) it doesn’t matter. The claims that the word has been recuperated, that its meaning has changed over time, and that because men now use it in relationship to other men it precludes a gendered meaning is simplistic and fails to account for the broader implications of the word. It fails to account for what men are saying when they use it to describe another male. Take the examples from above: “stop whining” – “stop “b****ing”; “don’t bring that weak sh*t to basket” – “stop playin like a “b****” or “I don’t want to get you something to drink; I ain’t your “b****.”

In each case, the B-word is used to convey weakness, subservience, and undesirability through a constructed idea of femininity. Whether talking about physical power, intellectual strength or control, the b-word serves as a stand-in for female. “Stop acting like a girl;” “You throw or ball like a girl [or woman];” “I ain’t a woman.” All of these phrases, and the dehumanizing deployment in regards to men demonstrate how the “B word” is wrapped in the logic of sexism; the worst thing one can be is a female within the misogynist imagination.

Continue reading @ The B-Word: A Breakdown of a Word That Breaks Down | Urban Cusp.

Attacking the Black Woman | Loop21

Attacking the Black Woman

By David J. Leonard and James Braxton Peterson


With FLOTUS and Rhianna targeted, 2011 ends with more racist and sexist language

Within the span of about 10 days, a little-known congressional representative and an even lesser known magazine emerged into the public by deliberately disrespecting two of the most popular black women in the world: the first lady of the United States Michelle Obama, and mega-pop-star Rihanna. Each of these instances are distinctly despicable in that they attempt to degrade women’s bodies generally by reaffirming a societal gaze that assigns value to a woman’s humanity based almost exclusively on the size and shape of her body. What may be more sinister here though is the deployment of this tragically common assault at two exceptionally popular and powerful black women with one unfortunate outcome being the fact that the ‘representative’ and the ‘magazine’ enhanced their ‘brands’ via an assortment of name checks in the media-sphere. Sadly we will have to (yet again) mention those (brand) names here.

During a recent Christmas bazaar at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church in Hartford, Wisconsin, Rep Jim Sensenbrenner (R – WI) criticized Michelle Obama’s campaign against obesity given the size of her lower posterior.. Daniel Bice, in “Sensenbrenner apologizes to first lady over ‘big butt’ remark,” described the incident in the following way:

Perhaps Sensenbrenner – who was accompanied by an aide – assumed it was safe to crack wise about the first lady’s posterior in such a heavily Republican area. But, as the old saying goes, this is what happens when you assume.

Ann Marsh-Meigs, a church member who heard Sensenbrenner’s remarks, said he took several swipes at the first lady on Dec. 10. . . .“He then talked about how different first ladies have had different projects – Laura Bush and literacy – and he named two or three others,” Marsh-Meigs said in an interview last week. “And then he said, ‘And Michelle Obama, her project is obesity. And look at her big butt.’”

“That’s basically what he said,” she continued. “It was a combination of her work on obesity and her shape.”

When confronted by a woman in attendance, who sought to highlight Mrs. Obama’s wonderful qualities, Rep Sensenbrenner responded by noting that “Michelle should practice what she preaches – ‘she lectures us on eating right while she has a large posterior herself.’”

History reveals that the unmasking and over-sexualization of black bodies is a longstanding practice central to American popular culture. As Bobo (1995) states: “Representations of black women in mainstream media constitute a venerable tradition of distorted and limited imagery” (p. 33). Rather than constituting black women as “specific victims of the lust of [white] brutes,” dominant representations have posited black women as sexually deviant, aggressive, domineering or wretched victims – as mammies or jezebels (Hansberry, 1960).

Black women’s bodies have historically garnered negative attention in the public sphere; the black female form has posed as both a threat and a cheap, yet addictive, commodity within American culture. Within the realm of popular culture Janet Jackson’s breasts, like Jennifer López’s and Beyonce’s behinds, have elicited incredibly prurient commentary highlighting both the exotic determination and demonization of female bodies of color. This history endures through these comments that rely on the fragmentation of Michelle Obama’s body.

Continue reading @ Attacking the Black Woman | Loop21.