Editor’s note: This article includes some explicit and offensive terms that would not normally be allowed in the Pilot. But because the specificity of the terms reveal different aspects of sexism, they are important to the discussion of this topic and are included.
Language can often send subtle messages underneath the face value of the words; one of these messages is misogyny. A 2010 article in Psychology Today titled “Sexism: The Killer Elephant in the Room” said, “Degrading talk [in reference to women]… usually goes unchecked: at parties, on street corners, in the workplace, in homes, online… [and these] remarks give tacit approval to aggression.”
Degrading speech can include slurs like “bitch” which may seem harmless because they are heard relatively often, even on the Principia campus. But in reality, their impact is more serious. Senior Bre Benbenek said, “[People] usually [call me a bitch] when I am doing something that is perceived to be more masculine […] I get called a know-it-all. Or, if I am being a leader, I am called a ‘bossy bitch.’ If I am texting […] or talking to a guy, my friends will say ‘Oh, what a slut’ and a lot of times it’s as a joke but still, it’s insensitive language.”
When asked, many other students agreed these labels are offensive, but also admitted to using them with humorous intent. Sophomore Evan Cooling said he will sometimes use the words “slut” and “bitch” to joke around, but also said that he and the Principia community should make an effort to eliminate all offensive language.
Sophomore Serkie Carper said, “There was this one time when a guy was kind of joking, but not really, and he called me a cunt and I exploded on him. This was at Prin. I seriously had to sit him down and be like ‘Hey—imagine if I called your mom a cunt? How would you like that?’ So that ended the conversation really quick.”
Even in humorous contexts, words like “cunt” have specific and derogatory meanings. Sociology professor Billy Miller said, “The word ‘cunt’ takes on a whole other sexualized, humiliating, and dehumanizing view of women. With that one word, we sum up and reduce women to a singular body part that minimizes women to singularly sexualized beings. Clearly, there’s nothing wrong with referencing a woman’s vagina, but it is naïve to believe that cunt is equivalent to vagina or that bitch just means a female dog. Referencing women as cunts is abusive and tantamount to the pornographication of women. It is vulgarity at least and obscene at best.”
The severity of this language goes unnoticed when it is used casually in conversation. Miller said, “When I teach about ethnophaulism [hate speech or derogatory terms that are used by one group against another], I write the word ‘bitch’ on the board to discuss misogyny and objectification of women […] Women don’t flinch very much anymore [at that word]. But when I put the word ‘cunt’ on the board, both women and men are reduced to silence. They are forced to reflect on how horrific it is. Arguably, it may be the most horrific word in the English language […] this word hurts too much.”
Even the label “bitch” prevents women from being taken seriously—discrediting them whether they are right or wrong. Junior Alice Silver said she has used sexist terms in a humorous way, but added that there is a fine line between being condescending and poking fun. “It really bothers me when I am trying to do what’s right or I call someone out on something, and then [people] call me a bitch for it. […] I feel like that is the most offensive because I am just doing what’s right in my mind,” she said.
Sophomore and student body vice president Nik Peschke said, “I have never called a woman, or a man, for that matter, [a misogynistic slur like ‘bitch’ or ‘cunt’]. I think we can be much more creative. […] Whenever we interact with others we should be leaving them [with] a sense of being valued.” Peschke said that his viewpoints were shaped by the strong female role models in his family. He added, “The reality is that these things do happen on campus—we can’t ignore that.”