The daily barrage of insults.

Update below.

Every day of my life — all day long — I have to ignore insults in order to partake in pop culture, general conversation, and/or intellectual pursuits.

If I am to enjoy the music on the radio, or the jokes in a movie, or a conversation among like-minded political animals, I have to close my ears and numb my senses on a regular, sometimes hourly basis. I have to pause and think: “Is that bad enough for me to have to not like this righteous beat anymore? Or can I carry on bobbing my head without being a traitor to myself, my daughter, my mother, my sister, my aunt, and about 80% of my friends?”

I know I write about this a lot, but it’s only because it makes me want to tear my hair out. Or move to a distant planet. It’s only because it really, really matters and very few people who aren’t women (and not a lot of them) seem to notice or, more to the point, care.

For instance:

Yesterday morning, the boy was telling me about what transpired to be a very funny animated video providing a literalist interpretation to the lyrics of an entirely enjoyable stupid song, the wildly popular “Party Rock Anthem” — and thus I heard my 12 year old say the words “so when they say ‘I run through hoes like Drano’….”

Yesterday afternoon, the same boy showed me a delightful, funny, and in fact quite interesting video made by a young video blogger named Charlie McDonnell, someone who is part of the so-called “Nerdfighter” community (all part of the Vlogbrothers phenomenon, about which I posted earlier). The Nerdfighters take as their goal in life “to increase awesome in the world and decrease suck” — by which they mean: Be the change you want to see in the world. They’re good people, led by good people. And there’s Charlie, in a “Fun Science” video, teaching us all about the nature of sound — making it fun and clever and amusing and generally increasing the awesome — and at the very end, he makes a small, silly, throw-away joke, referring to a man who had failed at something as a woman.

Then last night, during the Republican debate, folks on my side of the political map were getting justifiably angry about the ease with which the GOP candidates dehumanize undocumented workers by constantly and consistently using the phrase “illegal aliens”  — and one gentleman tweeted (in all caps, which, given the anger, makes sense to me): “BITCH YOU DON’T OWN THE EARTH NO ONE IS AN ILLEGAL ALIEN WE’RE ALL HUMANS!!”


Yesterday morning, I said something to the boy before he even got to the point of explaining how the animators had interpreted “running through hoes like Drano” (it’s a can of Drano, running under an honor guard of garden hoes — click here to watch, it’s actually pretty good). I said something to him in the afternoon, once Charlie’s Fun Science had faded to black and I’d said how much I’d liked it (it’s decidedly great — click here to watch). I almost said something in the evening to the stranger on Twitter, but I was fairly certain I would be seen as derailing, or missing the point. So I didn’t. And frankly, one gets so tired of always having to say something.

But you know what English-speaking world? When you call women hoes, or sling “bitch” around, or insult men by calling them women? You are telling me, my daughter, my mother, my sister, my aunt, and about 80% of my friends (and 50% of the English-speaking world) that we are less.

Less than human, less than men, less than worthy.

And it is not derailing, or humorless, or missing-the-point, to point it out. Because I am not less than human, less than a man, or less than worthy.

But some days (most days) I don’t point it out. I don’t even let it register. Because it wears me down, and wears me out, and I am just fucking tired.


UPDATE: And then in the course of my afternoon, I learn that there is a new book out that is actually titled: Becoming China’s Bitch. In interviewing the author about it, a writer with Foreign Policy (!) posed the following questions: “When did you first realize we were in danger of becoming China’s bitch?…What can we do to prevent becoming China’s bitch?… How do we make China our bitch?” Yes, fucking really.


  1. helensprogeny

     /  January 20, 2012

    Emily, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You are just fucking awesome. Thank you so much for this post and for all the amazing work you do on so many difficult and painful fronts. Changing the world, one small moment at a time.

    • Thank you – and just look at the update. I honestly don’t know what to do first: Weep, or gnash my teeth.

  2. caoil

     /  January 20, 2012

    This, to the thousandth degree. It’s exhausting. We shouldn’t have to say something when it comes up, because it’s shouldn’t come up.

    • Check the fucking update.

      *headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk*

      There are not enough desks on which to head my head. AGGGGGGGGGHHHH!

  3. Brilliantly written, funny, heartfelt. And apposite.

    And yes, sometimes we are just fucking tired.

    • Thank you (and thank you for your kind words on my Liberal/Conservative post, too!) The update makes my head want to explode.

  4. Fist raised in solidarity; vague threats about how if you ever try to take “motherfucker” away from me I will cut you.

    • It’s like we’ve never met. “Motherfucker” is like mother’s milk to me!

      (And a terrorist fist jab in return. Shabbat shalom, motherfucker. xo)

      • I knew I could count on you, Emily, don’t worry.

        Bitch is just a really lame-ass insult. The character of Jesse on Breaking Bad uses it a lot and the signaling is pretty clearly meant to indicate that you are supposed to think he’s an idiot because of it.

  5. efgoldman

     /  January 20, 2012

    Glad I’m not the first penis-equipped person to comment in 1000% support for what you said.
    As a Jewish child (6 through 13 or so) living in 99.99% Christian environments, I heard lots of the same kind of casual, [supposedly] good-natured or not-malicious insults.
    Ditto as a short, round music geek surrounded by wanna’-be jocks.
    As a husband, and a father of a strong, independent young woman who was very unsure of herself until she found people other than the “popular girls”, I am so grateful for the women she met, sort of like you (you are sui generis) as good examples. I didn’t necessarily agree with everything they had to say – there was often a large anti-male component, especially among the single – but I always felt, correctly, that she was smart enough to figure it out.

    • “penis-equipped” – heh!

      One of the best things about the internet, I think, is that we tend to discover that our pool of allies is much, much broader than we may have feared. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been heartened by the responses of men to these kinds of issues, whether here or in other spaces. We’re all a work in progress, but I do suppose we’re progressing.

  6. jim

     /  January 20, 2012

    Leave the pseudo-sexual expressions out of the discussion, or else you are part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Any modern language has words with which to do this

  7. HumorSmith

     /  January 22, 2012

    Do I get all teary eyed when I hear “bastard” or “prick”? Not really. These are just words, nothing more or less. Not too far in the past, the word “bitchin'” meant a thing was too cool for words. Everyone is way too sensitive today. I understand about feelings, truly I do, but if you consider the source of what offends you believe me you’ll feel lots better because you will know they speak from ignorance. Meantime, we all just need to get over ourselves and not assume we speak for any group whatsoever, but only for ourselves.

    Bottom line, if you are unable to listen without getting tied up in knots, then find new friends and quit listening to things that upset you. It’s much easier to change yourself than the whole of humanity.

    • Thank you for providing a pitch-perfect example of the kind of thing that people often like to call “privilege.”

      You may feel free to take your bindle & find the door.

      • HumorSmith

         /  January 23, 2012

        Privilege? What is privileged about “if ya don’t like it, don’t listen”? I am trying to maintain a reasoned, thoughtful dialogue. Help me understand why it is so difficult for you to simply tune out words you find insensitive and hurtful? I do it every day. I have worked with the public for over 40 years and heard and tolerated about as much crap as one person can take. I simply shrug and move on. I cannot control other people but I can control myself.

        I have been called bitch lots of times and I am a man! I’ve been called nearly everything you can think of but guess what? I survived. There are far more worrisome things in this world than words. Words only have the power you choose to give them. You can ignore them. Not so easy with hunger and homelessness and joblessness and poverty and domestic abuse, child molestation and violence and the thousand other things that leave people truly scarred for life. Privilege? Gosh, I guess I should feel honored that so many dolts out there have chosen to make themselves feel better by verbally abusing and belittling me. Their words are their problem. I choose to live beyond the verbiage.

        I am full to the teeth with “poor me” and “Oh poor little downtrodden me” from everyone in this world who thinks they’re special because they got their feelings hurt. Who hasn’t? Women are downtrodden and picked on? I think women are fantastic, and I don’t believe at all they are traumatized by mere words You are painting them as weak and helpless, and that’s a lot worse than any “damage” you claim results from…wait for it…bad words. Females are about as marginalized as my cat. Everybody has problems, some of them real. Find me a person who hasn’t been treated with disrespect. The vast majority don’t whine about the bad words, they just keep on with the business of living. I am sorry, but I don’t see this as a big problem, not compared to all the true evil in the world. “Bindle”….you are pretty glib for someone as embattled as you claim to be.

        If you don’t want honest reactions to your opinions, don’t post them for all the world to see. I don’t know about you, but I would hate to live in a society where everyone agreed with me.I think calm, rational discussion is necessary and healthy. Puerile sniping is counterproductive. I ask for reasons, not shoot from the lip responses.

        • Ok then. You have no more willingness to listen to the experiences of someone else this morning than you did last night.

          It’s my house and you are no longer welcome in it — because I am full to the teeth with men telling women how to feel about their lived reality.

          PS Just so we’re clear: “no longer welcome” means banned.

          • helensprogeny

             /  January 23, 2012

            Thank you, Emily. Ugh. I will simply never understand trolling. But at least I can hang out where it’s not tolerated.

            • : )

              I had to approve the first comment of course, and I just thought: Okee dokee, then. Time for a cautionary tale. Dude offered himself up – I will do the rest!

          • baiskeli

             /  January 23, 2012

            This needs a “Like” button

  8. I agree 99 44/100%· Now if you had left out one fracking word it would be 100%

    Guess I’m just old fashioned. but it is part of the cheapening of our language

  9. The reason racism, misogyny, homophobia, and all the other ills of society have not magically evaporated is that they are ingrained in our daily lexicon. They are popularized in music and on television. It’s impossible for Martin Luther King, Jr.s’s dream to make headway against the base-driven thunder of bigotry that underpins popular culture.

    Words may just be words, like skin may be just skin, but it is the meaning behind those words that we are fighting against. As long as a “hoe” pops into the youthful mind as a ‘loose’ woman and not a garden implement, and as long as no one stands up and knocks down that former meaning, how can we hope to teach men to respect women, or women to respect themselves?

    People have gotten out of the habit of calling out offensive behavior, copping out to “it’s a free country.” What we saw in South Carolina was a perfect example; I don’t think even Walter Cronkite would have been able to report those goings-on without a tinge of ire in his cigarette-darkened voice. I don’t think Edward R. Murrow would have been able to keep silent. Nor should we. Society’s course cannot be corrected without a firm hand on the tiller. We are that hand. Where decent and patriotic Americans do not stand up and denounce the ills of society, where we do not inoculate our children against them, we allow them to continue to proliferate unchecked.

  10. baiskeli

     /  January 23, 2012

    Those words have been gone from my vocabulary for a long time, and they will stay that way.

    I’ve never understood the fetish about the right to use offensive language (same applies for the N word). Is is stepping on someone’s Civil Rights to ask that they not use offensive words?

    I always ask What are you gaining by wanting to use that word when you know not using it will make your message available to a larger audience (if your’re somewhat progressive, and you use bitch, I can guarantee it will turn off quite a few people who would have been receptive to your message.? I mean, even putting aside that not caring about other people’s feelings is pretty crappy, there are pragmatic reasons for not using those words.

  11. What I like about posts like this is that they serve as reminders for me. Being part of the privileged group, for me, hearing about this is like sitting on a dock and dipping my hand into a river: yes, there is a current, and yes, if I jumped in, it would carry me away, but I’m not jumping in, and if I pull my hand out, the current is as good as gone … except it’s not. It’s always there, and if you do not have the luxury of being on a dock, it is always pulling at you. You can either swim hard to stay in place or be pushed downstream. Maybe, with help, you could weaken the current, but it’s a big, strong river.

    There isn’t much to like, per se, because it can’t be enjoyable in the slightest to have to fight this current every day of your life because of something you had absolutely no control over. But it’s easy for me to forget that I know a lot of people who do fight things like the title of that book, because I don’t have to, and because I’ll never know how often they go through the same thought process you described.

    So thank you. Being in that position sucks, and I’m sorry we put you in it. (“We” isn’t necessarily literal – obviously the white-men-have-privilege thing was going on long before I was born – but then I can’t say I’ve made any significant changes to the system myself, you know?) Being supportive of my female friends and treating them as equals is part of it, but I also need to remember how often they have to decide what to fight and what to let pass, and know that it helps when I speak up about that song or that book or that joke.

  12. SWNC

     /  January 23, 2012

    Thank you for this, Emily. You are spot-on, pitch perfect here. Sometimes a body just gets tired of fighting the good fight–it’s so much easier to just tell myself, “Well, *that*’s one more website/musician/comic strip/person that I can ignore from now on.” But it means you wind up ignoring a whole lot of stuff.

  13. rhetoric

     /  January 23, 2012

    I think a lot of the time it comes from utter ignorance. People do not mean it in an explicitly sexist way, but it can easily/obviously be taken that way. So then they are immediately on the defensive once the offense is aired (because that was not their ‘real intention’ – bitch just means anyone who is being annoying!) and the discussion leads, inevitably, nowhere. It also does not help that sexism is widespread in our culture (how could you think b*tch is really that bad if you hear it all over? Think of kids who grow up with this stuff all the time – it’s hard to tell someone that something they have been doing for years is horribly offensive).

    Like the gentleman above – it is basically one giant false equivalence because he just does not get it.


  14. dmf

     /  January 23, 2012

    to only partly change the subject what’s up with this insult to my democratic sensibilities?

  15. It’s worth noting that “make someone your bitch” is also a reference to prison rape. And no foreign policy issue, no matter how fraught with tension or even violence, is equivalent to rape.

    • I couldn’t even bring myself, at that point, to go into the various different things meant when the word “bitch” is used, but you are of course absolutely right.

  16. fully agreed. i’m all for insults, but not when they target a specific group.

  17. ken

     /  February 8, 2012

    I understand your points but I would like to make one. Im sure 70% of women on society are not this but take a look at the girls who partake in music videos and commercials and around guys in general. They put them selves it that situation and become the stereo type by choice for attention or money or for the fact that that is their life style choice. What im getting at is there are women making a bad reputation for the rest of society and that’s part of what makes this a challenging issue for females like yourself. I respect women to the fullest and I get it, but society is only going to get worse with the value of family and marriage declining and the desire for casual sex increases every year.

    • It is an undeniable fact that oppressed groups often participate in their own oppression — but there’s also the fact that women have every right to express themselves in whatever manner we desire, even if that’s dancing on table tops in belly shirts and/or having casual sex. My sex life has nothing to do with society, frankly.

      UPDATE: Not to mention that if women are having casual sex, so are men. So….

    • Sorry, I don’t understand why society is “only going to get worse”. I find it difficult to believe that the desire for casual sex could possibly increase: any myths about casual sex being invented by any particular generation can be easily dispelled by a frank conversation with a member of the last generation. (See also “we invented sex” and things of that nature.)

      In my experience, phrases like “the value of family and marriage [is] declining” are code for “people are doing things of which I do not approve.” I obviously don’t know you and have no way to know what you mean by that, so I apologize if this isn’t the direction you’re going, but people have been known to wave the “DEATH OF MARRIAGE” banner around anything that looks like it might support marriage between other than a white man and a white woman. (And if that is your direction, it’s probably off-topic on this post; this one was about how men have shaped society to keep women at a disadvantage.)

      Yes, fully empowering women may lead to a change in the order of things, but men who feel threatened by that didn’t deserve their position in the first place. Giving women the opportunity to participate on their own terms is a good thing, not a bad thing. What makes society worse is an ongoing effort to subjugate half (or more) of its population.

  18. Angelica

     /  March 9, 2012

    I wish there was more of an upset about the title of that book. I still find it shocking how there is not.

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