Words have power. I think people forget that, as basic as it is. Words have power. And one way to diffuse the power other people’s words have over us is to “own” those words.

For instance, words like “gay” or “queer.” Both started out as negatives, slurs, insults. Now the LGBT community is reclaiming those labels, redefining them into the positive. So much so there is a politician out there right now trying to get the word “gay” outlawed in his state’s public school.

Words like “bitch” or “cunt.” When a man calls a woman a bitch, it’s for one of two reasons. One, he’s saying she’s not measuring up to his standards of the ideal woman. She’s not being passive, agreeable, shiny and happy and sunny. Or two, he’s saying it admiringly, as in, “Wow, you did not act like a girl right there. Good on you.” Bitch is not meant, when referring to women, to be positive. It is a derogatory term, meant to undermine a woman’s self-confidence in her feminine self. So women are reclaiming it — women are taking hold of this derogatory term and saying, “There is no such thing as a person who is always calm, always sunny, always happy, always patient.” Pop-culture feminist magazines like “Bitch” abound, and the term is blogged and dissected in pro-feminist culture. Being a bitch is not an unreasonable thing; expecting a woman to be perfectly calm and happy and peaceful 24/7 is.

We all know words like that, words that were meant as insults and reclaimed. We also know that whether or not a word is reclaimed, it is the meaning behind it that matters. If you call a woman a bitch because she “stepped out of line,” or because she wasn’t as sweet-tempered as you would prefer, or because she stood her ground — then you are being insulting and derogatory. If you use “gay” in a derogatory manner — “That’s gay,” or “How gay is that?” — then you are being insulting and derogatory.

I’m not, by the way, floating any opinions on your choice to be insulting and derogatory. I’m just saying, own up to it. I’m sick of people hiding behind passive-aggressive jokes and blaming their dickishness on others — “I wouldn’t insult you if you weren’t such a bitch.” It’s a stupid cycle. Own up, admit that you loathe the person you’re insulting, and be done with it.


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