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Friday, September 28, 2007

The "B" word

Recently, I have been following the Isiah Thomas case in large part because I found myself fired up about what one ESPN radio host (Mike Tirico) said earlier this month about how “we all need to get over our sensitivities and deal with the fact that EVERY woman has been called a ‘bitch’ and it’s just a fact of life”. The host went on to explain how this word is not sexually harassing and that it is no more offensive to a woman than calling a man an “asshole”. Apparently, through this rant he was attempting to show his support of Thomas, who is being sued for sexual harassment, and much of the case has been made over Thomas’ verbal abuse of former Knicks' vice president, Anucha Brown Sanders. During his testimony in the case, Thomas reported that if he had overheard one of the white management calling a black woman a bitch it would have violated his code of conduct. But when asked how he would feel if a black man said it to a black woman he reported it would not bother him as much because he makes "a distinction" between the two.

I think it is interesting that he brings up race because in some senses he is putting the "B" word in its suitable context: calling a woman a bitch is more similar to making a racist comment than calling a man an “asshole”. Bitch is a dehumanizing term much like all racist comments and because one is comparing a woman to a female dog that is, in fact, making a sexist comment which by default is sexual harassment. I think the difficulty Tirico as well as Thomas (and most men, in general) have with understanding the harm of the word "bitch" is that we don’t realize that such terms fit into a larger context of attitudes, assumptions, behaviors, and beliefs that both support male dominance as well as what socially constructs the foundations of rape culture.

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1 comment:

Jan H said...

With a lot of women, this falls into the "I can insult my brother, but don't you insult my brother" category. We might call a friend a "bitch," as a joke, goofing off. But we don't want a guy to call us a "bitch." (And we could no doubt minimize the problem if we started with our own behavior.)