• Giugi Carminati

To Be a "Fucking Bitch" and the Dehumanization that Upholds Violence.


Ask any group of women when they were first slurred at by a man, and the answers will squarely land in childhood: eleven, fourteen, sixteen, definitely by the age of majority. On buses, on trains, on sidewalks, in stores, in bars, and in offices. The slurs run the gamut but seem to share a flavor (if you will): whore, slut, bitch, fucking bitch, and cunt. These are the classics; they are not new. Indeed, they are banal. Ask that same group of women when they realized that they did not really have the power to call out that behavior, and the answer is--I wager--vaguer. That is because we don't have to "realize" things we've always known. The norm, growing up, was that I had no power to call out that behavior. I never had to realize that, I always understood that--like I knew the sky is blue and cold wind stings. The opposite realization, in fact, is the actual milestone. It took me years of insults, and slurring, and dehumanization to realize it was okay for me to let my own inner aggression loose when these words came flying at me and to let the self-righteous ire fly.


The reason this incident matters is that, again, words are not just words. The words Rep. Yoho used against Rep. Ocasio-Cortez were not "just an insult." They were a perfected tool of power grabbing. As I say in my talks, this behavior is not new for it perpetrators. It has been used and honed since childhood. It has been approved by male counterparts, friends, family, and colleagues, often tacitly. I will say it here, I will say it again, I will say it until I have no breath left: Misogyny is a male bonding experience. And you should take a moment to really think about what that means and how awful the truth of that statement really is. You should ponder what it means for father-son relationships, male friendships, workplaces, and intimate relationships.


When boys get together as children, early games center around "boys v. girls." How do the boys in those groups create and value that togetherness, other than devaluing girls? Girls are slow, girls are weak, girls' interests are "stupid." (Don't, for a minute, entertain the idea that "girls do it too." I will tell you why. Because girls don't get to walk around saying that boys are weak. The world doesn't let them get away with that. And girls don't get to walk around hearing "cries like a boy" or "laughs like a boy" or "runs like a boy" as derogatory. So stop.). Into teen years, the narrative shifts: girls want boys to like them, boys want to "get girls." Again, if you think this is a two way street, you've never read the countless magazines targeted at teenage girls that incessantly tell them all the things they should be doing to be more attractive for, more pleasant for, more pleasing to, boys. From the age of 12, these magazines have been telling me (and girls, then women, my age) all the ways to "drive him crazy." This lasts well into adulthood. If you think this is harmless, you are wrong. We are conditioned, from the youngest of ages, to strive for men's approval. And so...when we reject that need, when we take up space in ways that make men uncomfortable, when we push back and stand up for ourselves, we are "fucking bitches" both because we are upending the so-called status quo and because we are taking from them a social position they've been accustomed to having "just because." Reactions to this phenomenon range from name-calling to outright violence.


If you are a woman you know how short the path from name calling to violence is. If you are a woman, you know that path is a split second. If you are a woman, you have had at least one occasion in your life when your heart started pounding and you felt fear because you saw that split second barreling at you like a speeding train. I've had that feeling more times than I can count. I had that feeling almost every day of the week in my teen years. When women shake after they get called a "bitch" or a "fucking bitch" they don't shake because of the words, they shake because of the violence it promises. The beauty of this system for those who wield its power, is that it has been set up as a a pantomime of gas lighting whereby the words are absolutely about power but masquerade as "just words. And in this pantomime, what would otherwise be a justified reaction is immediately labeled as an overreaction (by an "emotional" and "sensitive" woman), further disempowering the victim, further signaling to other would-be victims that they have no voice, avoiding any accountability by the perpetrator, and allowing tacit accomplices of the perpetrator to benefit from the power grab without having to get their own hands dirty. It is the equivalent of a slap being called a caress when it is delivered, but a slap when it is received. So that the slapped individual will say, "That hurt!" and the assailant will always answer, "It was just a caress." It's just enough to make a point and just little enough for plausible deniability.


The only way to change that is to call a spade to spade, derision be damned, and refuse to back down. Gaslighting cannot exist in the light because it is a game of shadows.


Much has been said, and said better than I could, about AOC's speech. What I want to focus on, though, is Rep. Yoho's and Rep. Williams' reactions. Because if you know what you are looking for, then you see the monstrosity of the system plain as day.


AOC said, after her speech, "The fact that Rep. Williams is denying that he had even said it and then told a reporter right afterward that he was thinking about issues in his district is quite laughable." She then added, "And it just speaks to a lack of integrity that not only he had in that moment, but lack of integrity that he continues to have by simply not just owning up and saying, 'Listen, this was a lapse of judgment. I'm sorry. I should have said something. Or I'm sorry for what my colleague did.'"


Look, he could say all those things. But it wasn't a lapse in judgment. He was bonding. He got to keep quiet, and with his presence tacitly approve the dehumanization of an "inconvenient woman." I would guess, without knowing, that he has done so many times before. A sexist joke? Just stand there, maybe chuckle. A derogatory remark about a woman? Don't say anything, just stand here. Want to join? Sure, it's just "locker room talk." Any option is acceptable and increases esprit de corps. None of this is "just an accident" or "just a moment." You don't call a Congresswoman a "fucking bitch" in public if you haven't already called her that in private. Or if you've at least had numerous conversations where that would be acceptable. The real question I have for Rep. Williams is: What made Rep. Yoho feel comfortable calling a Congresswoman a "fucking bitch" in your presence? What did you do to make him feel it was okay?


They were having a conversation and they understood what was acceptable in their meeting of the boys' club.


For men, here is a tip: You don't just want to be a man who would never say that, you don't just want to be a man who would interrupt others, you want to get to the point where other men know that claiming power over others by dehumanizing them will get them excluded from your circle. Make misogyny an act worthy of excommunication. See how fast our culture would change if that were the case.


Finally, I was speaking to my father this morning and he pointed out that Rep. Yoho's statements that he has daughters and a wife as part of his non apology only exposes an even worse conclusion. My father said, "So if he had sons it would be okay?" I thought back on the countless "apologies" public figures have made and I could not find one where a man apologized for bad behavior by saying, "I have sons. That is never the example I would set for them in treating a woman," or, "That was terrible on my part and I failed as an example of masculinity for my sons." Which led me back, inexorably, to the idea that misogyny is a male bonding experience. Rep. Yoho played into the usual trope that he should be nicer, or should be assumed to respect women, because he "has" women (he has a wife, he has daughters) not because his behavior makes him a poor example of manhood. It speaks volumes about how we view gender roles and power dynamics. It speaks volumes about what is acceptable to teach boys.


We can rally and wave feminist flags and say "Let's all be fucking bitches," which honestly feels good and I can't avoid (let's be really candid). But what would be great is men, especially public figures, publicly calling out Rep. Yoho as a wimp who can't handle himself and Rep. Williams as spineless for failing to tell his colleague to cut it out. Because what we need is a clear signal from men and boys to men and boys that the brotherhood no longer welcomes men who would call women "fucking bitches" on the steps of our nation's Capitol, or on playgrounds, or on college campuses, or anywhere else, including in locker rooms.

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© 2020 by Giugi Carminati