Sunday, January 20, 2013

Casual Girl-Bashing

My school of employ's LGBTQ Center is pretty uncontroversial on campus.

I am thankful that unlike Center leaders at some other campuses, I don't constantly have to prove why the Center is important, or have to do fundraising to operate, or weather student hostility.

But what I was so surprised to find out in accepting my job directing the school's LGBTQ and Women's Centers was that the Women's Center was the controversial one. It's the first year the Women's Center has been led by a staff member (it had previously been run by a staff of two 10-hour/week students). The Center's space and budget are measly compared to the other campus Centers. Most students don't know the Women's Center exists, and some don't think we need one. A crucial part of my job is proving the necessity and positive impacts of having a robust Women's Center.

Since realizing this, I've noticed how this plays out in other ways on campus and in my friend groups. My school is very progressive and the people I associate with tend to be as well. Don't get me wrong, homophobic graffiti still pops up on this progressive campus, but it is socially unacceptable here to engage in blatant verbal gay-bashing. Students are at the ready to explain why "that's so gay" is a problematic phrase; students don't throw around "faggot" as an insult in public; I hadn't heard of the phrase "no homo" for months after it became the rage in high schools and colleges because my friends would never think to say it.

But I find that some of the same people who would tell you verbal gay-bashing is messed up don't have the same qualms about girl-bashing. And many of the worst offenders are women themselves. The most popular phrases (or those to their effect) I hear girls and women say are: "Girls are so catty" and "I'm not the kind of girl who's really friends with other girls" and "She's crazy" and "I can't handle girls' drama" and "It's so trying working in an all-female office."

It reminds me of a documentary excerpt I once watched in a sociology class (if only I could remember the film's name!). The filmmaker was interviewing teenagers about hip-hop lyrics and misogyny. Who were the "bitches," hos" and "sluts" that the rappers were talking about? the filmmaker asked the early high school female students. The girls essentially said: "Not us; girls who are really loose, etc." And then the filmmaker asked the teenage boys who the lyrics were about.

The boys said, essentially, all girls. Including the girls they went to school with who had just been interviewed.

So while the girls are fine with the misogynic lyrics, seeing them as about other girls that they don't like, the boys don't make that differentiation. The girls can try to distance themselves from the "bitches" and "hos" all they want--they're still bitches and hos to the boys.

What I'd like to propose (in opposition to microaggressions) is micro-unity. Essentially what feminists have been calling for for decades, probably even centuries...a sense of obligation to other women, even those you don't know. Even when we hate someone, or really disagree with someone, could we not make it about their gender? Could we cut bitch, catty and slut out of our vocabulary? Could we contest the casual girl-bashing that occurs in daily conversation?

I just don't think it's an accident that the Women's Center is at the bottom of the heap at my school. And to dust it off and get it running effectively, I need help. One of the big steps will be having others at this school see the patterns of casual girl-bashing and start to tirelessly interrupt it.


  1. You make a good point here w/ the terms that are ok to use and not.
    With television censorship words like "bitch" are used constantly but "dick" "Retard" and "ass." All are bleeped. And the word "nigger?" You can't say that ever but you can say "bitch" on primte time television.
    What would you expect from a world that accepts the rape crisis?

  2. Totally--it definitely makes sense to use network tv to get a hint of what kinds of misogyny are uncritically accepted. it's not even cable! "Bitch" is deemed just fine for the masses.