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(Editor’s note: Warning for the faint of heart. Adult language ahead.)
We were a small group, three women and three men, assembled at a coffeehouse last week to talk about a business venture. We were mostly strangers to each other, but for the meeting’s host. Still, the inevitable quests to establish credibility were civil and benign.
Except that, in the course of our discussion about media targeting females, one of the folks pointed out that it would be very important to prevent our programming from turning into bitch sessions.
Yep, “bitch sessions,” and, alas, others concurred with the advice.
It was a noticeably dicey choice of terms in our particular context, and a perfectly illustrative example of the ingrained prejudice women continue to experience in everything from our public institutions to our conversational English to our graffiti.
Most folks are familiar by now with blatant prejudice against women. For example, Rep. Darrel Issa’s House Oversight Committee hearing on female contraception with an all-male panel and his utter failure to understand why there was anything wrong with that. And awareness of such brutal prejudice as that toward women in the military is growing, with the release of such information sources as the new documentary on rape in the U.S. military, “ Invisible War.”
But females experience subtler, less dramatic forms of prejudice throughout the day, every day, as they are objectified in advertisements that use women’s bodies to sell beer and automobiles; as they are subjected to harassment at work and at school and remain silent for fear of retribution; as their raised hands are passed over by educators in favor of boys’. And the effects of such subtle prejudice can be just as damaging as failing to hear from women about their access to contraception or promoting the up-and-coming warrior whom the men call an “officer and a gentleman” and the women call a “rapist.”
Yes, overt attacks against women demand attention and correction, but words also do damage, and the sexist words we use warrant correcting, even words like “bitch session.”
Certainly both males and females engage in the bellyaching behavior the term is meant to describe, but it is more commonly attributed to women. And have you ever heard the term “bastard session,” as in, “Can you believe those boys, wiggling their so-fine tushies at us in those tight jeans, and then running to the boys room for a ‘bastard session’ to complain that we noticed?”
Nope, you probably haven’t heard that.
And, interestingly, the most vehement condemnation of a male among many college-age folk is a far cry from “bastard” (the original meaning, questioning the target’s parentage, has passed from contemporary use). The preferred reproof is “pu$$y” or “c$nt” — or even “douche bag” for perceived lesser offenses.
It is really astonishing, if you take a moment to think about it: Men censuring other men by condemning them with women’s body parts, as in, “You are so bad at being a man, you might as well be a woman.”
It’s a rather global put down: While it harms the poor guy targeted by the vitriol, it disparages all females everywhere.
So, after listening to the advice at the café, I considered taking advantage of this particular use of the phrase to offer a handy learning moment to people with their hearts pointed in the right direction. But then experience reminded me that revelation was as likely to be their response as annoyance that some “angry feminist” was “bitching” about “trivialities.” And then I realized the conversation had taken too many turns since the words were uttered, and I’d lost the opportunity.
If I’d interrupted the flow at that point to address the unfortunate term, I’d have been a, well, a dic$head. Although, you might have noticed that “dic$head” just doesn’t have the same punch as “c$nt,” does it?
Kit-Bacon Gressitt's commentary and political fiction can be read on her blog Excuse Me, I'm Writing and is republished by SDGLN, The Ocean Beach Rag and The Progressive Post. She formerly worked for the North County Times. She is also host of Fallbrook's monthly Writers Read open mic and can be reached at email@example.com.