Friday, September 10, 2010

Claiming negative slurs

 There are things about us that we can't change and things we never want to--but it hurts to have those things singled out and stomped on. You're a bitch if you don't let people push you around, a whore if you have sex, a prude if you don't. If you're blonde, you must be stupid. If you're intelligent, you must be awkward, thus a geek. Fat people are lazy. If you have a physical deformity, God help you, plus you must be retarded. And if you really are retarded, then it stands to reason you can never be happy. Nothing is safe, your religion, your skin color, you sexual preference. Nothing. 

But who isn't either sexually active or not sexually active? You can't be neither and you can't be both. There isn't anywhere to hide from being different. We're ALL different. 

I read The Duff last night by Kody Keplinger and it really got me to thinking about why derogatory labels hurt so much, and what makes it better.

Words, as we all know, can be hurtful. If you step back and look at them, they are just a bunch of random letters formed into a sound--but I know I have more scars from words than I do sticks and stones. There seems to be something empowering about "taking back" the negative stereotypical slurs society foists on us. The gay community has done it with "queer" and to a certain extent "fag", though that one sticks in my craw. Who hasn't seen the bumper sticker that proclaims, "You call me a bitch like it's a bad thing" or "Babe In Total Control of Herself"? Nerds and Geeks proudly assert their awkwardness these days. 

The Young Adult genre is an excellent platform to take apart even more. On one hand, teenagers seem to be the most adept at totally decimating each other with insulting slurs.On the other hand, I also think that they are smarter than adults in a lot of ways because they aren't jaded yet--and I think it's within their power to see what isn't working out so well in the adult world, mock us old fuddy duddies, and change it. 

Do you think claiming slurs as a badge of honor is helpful or hurtful?


  1. Honestly, I admire the sentiment behind "reclaiming," but it never works. Which is why I actually respected the "let's bury the N word" ceremony a few years ago. Maybe it didn't help... maybe it did. But it sent a message.

    My opinion? When you continue to use the word you EMPOWER it, not dis-empower it. Once you fortify it with power, the power can be misused.

    It's like charging a battery... you can give the energy, but not control how it is used.

    And then there's always the unfortunate possibility that you've given somebody with bad intentions a built-in excuse. "I called you a ****, but we've reclaimed that word, right?"

    My personal response is to cut the power supply all-together.

    But I also accept that it's a difficult issue, and we can only try to do what we think is best.

  2. Not sure about taking them as a "badge of honor" but I think it's helpful to not let the words be as significant to us as others would hope them to be.

    I think a lot of times, people use slurs because they need to make themselves feel better. They are not comfortable in their own skin and need to put others down. Take a thin girl...even though she's thinner than most...doesn't mean she is confident about her body. If she calls someone else fat, then she's implying that she's not....she's trying to boost her own confidence.

    Can't wait to read The Duff, BTW!! Gotta get it for my Sony Reader!

  3. What a good question, and a hard one. I'm mom to 16 and 17 year old boys. First-- being a teen sucks a lot of the time, though I think the good times out weigh the bad for my boys. I think regardless of how a person handles it- the most important thing is for a kid to be honest with their friends and themselves. Their peers-- or at least the ones who make fun of them-- are jerks and what they think shouldn't matter. I try to tell my boys to be themselves- have good friends, and ignore the idiots. Advice I wish I had taken as a teen.

  4. I think reclaiming definitely worked with "queer," and when it works, it's a great idea. It's like saying "you're trying to insult me by saying that I'm X, but I think X is great, so your words carry no pain."

    Which brings me back... When I was in grade school, there seemed to be some weird "anti-femininity" kick going on among most of the girls. My girlfriends and I would be mocked by other girls if we wore skirts, or skipped, or held hands, or sang...and the most common insult was for them to tell us "you're so gay." (Yeah, they were telling girls they were "gay" for wearing skirts and skipping. Makes about as much sense as any slur.) But we so didn't care! We just thought they were the idiots for caring whether we wore pants or skirts.

    (Eventually, my one friend would always answer back "gay merely means homosexual, did you know that?" -- and the insulter, who never knew what homosexual meant, always just hemmed and hawed and went away...)

    Anyway, my point is that if all slurs could carry as little pain for the hearer as that mocking did for us, that would be a wonderful world...

    I'm not saying it's possible, nor am I saying that I think most slurs can be "reclaimed" (at least, not in this generation.) But it's a nice thought...

  5. What Chrissy said. Seriously.

    I have reclaimed with my husband, "Bi*ch. It is used only during the most intimate moments and is said with so much love and affection that I'm okay with HIM alone!

    I have never liked the words "queer" "fag" or the "N" word no matter who uses it. I have and will continue to let people know...not those words, not around me. I don't care who you are. What color, gender, nationality, orientation. Don't use slurs around me. I get Nasty!

    Sorry. I feel strongly about this.

  6. While your post makes me want to read The Duff now, I say that your cover is the prettiest one there, hands down!

  7. I really appreciate everyone's comments.

  8. I am fat - I've always been fat, and I'll always be a fat girl at heart (though I am halfway toward meeting a 144lb weight loss goal). It used to sting me but as an author, I have started to be able to take words that are meant to be derogatory but are also valid descriptors less seriously as insults. I talk about it in my non fiction blog, A Fat Girl & A Fat Horse, which is a blog for plus sized horseback riders - fat is just a word, like tall or blonde or handsome... would I use it in my writing to describe a character? No, because not everyone understands fat (or any other derogatory term) in the way that I do... it would pull my readers out of it. Many are offended that I call myself fat.

    With that said, the way that words like "c*nt" and the N word are used these days, I believe, will be difficult to change. "Reclaiming" those words is an interesting concept but I think you need a more widespread movement in order to do so. Just my two cent's worth.