On Being Called a Fat Old Bitch
What an interesting few days I’ve had.
I write about various topics in my work, including music. Last week, I wrote a blog post for a local newsweekly’s website in which I was critical of a local band. It had snarky moments—Dallas/Fort Worth, where I live, is a snarky media market. But it had a point, and I didn’t accuse anyone of kicking puppies or eating babies or anything. I expected a rough-and-tumble response. I thought I knew what I was getting into. Being called bitchy, perhaps. An F-bomb or two, since I threw one myself.
But one of the members of the band is a delicate blossom who also happens to be on a hugely popular afternoon drive-time radio show. And although his show’s stock-in-trade is snarky, Delicate Blossom was devastated by my criticism. He was so upset that he ranted first on his Facebook page, and then on the air. I have avoided direct contact with both of his rants because I’m busy and a little neurotic and I don’t have time be thrown off my game any more than necessary. But I do know the gist of what he said, and the words “fat old bitch” are involved. Also “ugly.”
Obviously, I have nothing but disdain for anyone with so little imagination that the only way he can argue is Neanderthal slurs. And I’m puzzled that anyone so thin-skinned is in show business. I tried to shrug this off as just the little crybaby hissyfit it is.
Except it’s not.
It’s a bigoted sexist slur that uses every possible cultural bludgeon against women: old, fat, ugly, bitch. (Quick, what’s the male equivalent of “bitch”? The only thing I can think of is “pussy” and, oops, that’s a slam on women, too.) OK, he forgot frigid, but I’m sure that was just an oversight. (Why is “bitchy” sort of OK but “bitch” over the line? One is a behavior, the other is a characterization.)
Of course, trying to persuade people (i.e. men) that this is equivalent to any racist slur is not easy. But there is no doubt in my mind that this insult is no different from the phrase “dirty Mexicans,” which got someone fired from this same radio station.
I went into the literature looking for something to give me insight into cultural/psychological implications of the insult and what it might be doing to my head. Among other things, I searched the word “bitch,” but that just gave me veterinary articles.
In general I didn’t find much that struck a chord, but I did find a 2010 literature review about the effects of sexist humor that included this paragraph:
Women’s reactions to sexist humor. We propose that an important oversight in the literature is that there has been little empirical research directed at how women respond to sexist humor (Nelson, 2006). Like research on other types of prejudice, research on sexist humor has largely ignored the target’s perspective (Swim & Stangor, 1998).
Calling this particular insult “humor” stretches the definition, but let’s go with it anyway, for argument’s sake.
I know one reaction to sexist humor: Some women are defending Delicate Blossom’s choice of words. I imagine these women will end up with the men they deserve. (Thank goodness I chose right and married him 20 years ago today. He was a big fan of this sports radio station and listened to it every day. He has quit, cold turkey, in a fury.)
Here’s another reaction: The other day, as I dressed for a concert that I would be writing about, I found myself looking in the mirror and asking myself, “Does this make me look like a fat old bitch?”
That sonavabitch got in my head.
Oh look, “sonavabitch” also insults women.
And how does one dress to not look like a bitch? It’s not possible. That’s one problem with bigoted comments: You can’t push back against something that is based on diseased thinking. (“Old” I have to live with, as will he in the near future. And “fat” is a matter of opinion.)
And if he got into my head, he also got into other people’s heads.
I also found an article called “The effect of an overheard ethnic slur on evaluations of the target: How to spread a social disease.”
From the abstract:
White subjects plus four confederates participated in a study ostensibly concerned with debating skills. Two of the confederates, one of whom was black, were always picked to engage in a debate which the others were to evaluate. The black debator either won or lost the debate. After the debate, one confederate-evaluator criticized the black in a manner that either did or did not involve an ethnic slur; in a control condition, no such comment was made. Based on the notion that ethnic slurs activate negative schemata regarding members of the targeted minority group, it was predicted that when the black debator lost the debate, the ethnic slur would lead to lower evaluations of his skill. This hypothesis was supported.
So you see my problem. His rant can taint my credibility.
Why then, you might ask, am I spreading it around? Because this is not just about me, and because the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing. What else can he and his little friends do to me? They shot their wad, slur-wise, all at once. I guess they could trot out “frigid.” Either way, I am not willing to pretend everything is OK.
I’d like to quote John and Yoko, but putting that word into print would be too risky.
UPDATE: Two weeks after the fact, and to the astonishment of many people in town, I received a thoughtful apology from Delicate Blossom. And after some back and forth on email, I am persuaded that it is sincere in all the right ways. Now, if he tells his listeners, in his own time, in his own way, that calling women fat old bitches isn’t cool, we have the best possible outcome.
Photo by John Manoogian III, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.
Dembling, S. (2011). On Being Called a Fat Old Bitch. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 7, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/research/2011/on-being-called-a-fat-old-bitch/