(A preface for anyone who usually reads this blog– I am at a writing program right now. Participants are divided into groups called Bayitim, which means Houses in Hebrew. These groups are meant for productive conversation and positive results. Today, however, the Bayit got into some very heated discussion about a topic that I am very, very passionate about. I ended up being too upset to voice my thoughts aloud to the Bayit at the time, so I am going to try to explain it here)
Dear BIMA Bayit Gimel,
Today was intense. I get that. All of you probably get that. I have no idea how today’s Zman Bayit ended; I left early. I left in the middle of a sentence, because I simply could not finish what I was saying cogently. But I still believe that my point is an important one that needs to be made. So, I am going to try and explain it now.
Many of the offensive words used today were used out of ignorance, not out of malice. I get that. So I’m going to give you some quick definitions:
Bitch: noun. Means a female dog, or a very derogatory term to describe a woman. It is a word that makes me very angry, and one that I personally never, ever use. Carries connotations of objectification and dehumanization.
Slut: noun. Means a whore, or someone generally sloppy about romance. Also derogatory, perhaps even more so because it leads to a degrading sense of humanity within humanity. It is dehumanization within humanization, from one human to another, and is probably the most common nasty term I have heard.
Boys Will Be Boys: phrase. One that makes me incredibly upset, particularly when heard from the mouth of a girl. People are not born knowing how to curse. People are not born knowing how to misuse the aforementioned foul language. And when it comes to double standards regarding this language, the phrase “boys will be boys” really wins the prize for “most common degrading phrase ever.” It implies that boys have a right to abuse anyone they want because it is just a thing that they can do. It eliminates clear boundaries, leaving no precedent for what to do in the event of physical harassment as well as mental. And yes, all of the language being used is harassment. If you are calling someone a name with a degrading sexual connotation or objectifying them, then that is harassment. And it’s not okay.
Feminism: noun. Mindset. Belief in basic equity between two genders. When someone asks me why I am a feminist, my reaction for years now has been, “Because you still feel the need to ask me that question.” Yes, I shave. Yes, I have long hair. Yes, I also occasionally wear makeup and dresses. No, I am not “weaker” as a result of all of the above points. No, I do not feel a need to shove my beliefs in everyone else’s faces. I speak to the people who will listen, and to the people who need to know. And Yes, I can advocate for my own rights.
I don’t believe that anyone uses these slurs intending to be malicious. I do, however, believe that people use these terms too colloquially, rendering them meaningless. I am not a fan of absorbing objectification into my daily life, and that is what those slurs mean to me. I generally do not get too upset when I hear these terms on a day to day basis, but I am realizing now that I should. I should grow angry when I hear these words. I do not believe that my gender deserves less in this world because of anatomical or hormonal differences.
I felt extraordinarily degraded, dehumanized, ignored, and violated by the conversation in our Bayit today. I usually do not get this upset, but when I did, I had to hide it. I don’t think that it should be that way– Being upset is human nature. Misogyny not so much. So why should I hide my natural, understandable opinions while the blatant depersonification of my entire gender rampantly floods the room?
A huge part of the reason I got so upset is because I find this community to be so accepting most of the time. When it comes to the basic core elements of my identity, I am fairly guarded. I am a Jewish, humanistic feminist who goes around advocating LGBTQ equity, and I attend a Presbyterian preparatory school in the South. I am used to defending parts of my identity. I am used to having an explanation for everything. And I am used to always having my guard up. At BIMA, I let that guard down. Everyone is Jewish. There is a gender/sexuality course taught across the hall from my writing class. I just assume that everyone feels close to the same way as I do about these topics. And so it really hurts to hear these sexist slurs all day, knowing that people do not mean them offensively.
But it still offends me.
I do not want to have to feel uncomfortable around people who I respect as people and as artists. Today, I felt like I could not look people in the eye, because I would be tempted to either lecture them, or else break down crying. Maybe both. I don’t want to have to feel like that in a group of people, a community, that feels more like home than anything I have ever known. I don’t want ignorance to create a barrier like that.
Because it is ignorance. I could jump up and down in everyone’s faces screaming and pointing fingers, but honestly, that won’t do any good. At the end of the day, the people who understand will understand and the people who don’t will not. But I’d rather help people to learn. This is a problem. It’s not just a problem for the female population of the world. The LGBTQ community faces this just as often, but with different slurs. This is not just a problem person-to-person. This is a problem much bigger than that, but the understanding of that is person-to-person. People can be hurt. Having feelings, that is human nature. We can help to fix the problem, but only if we all work to understand it.
Slurs dig at the foundations of a human being. We understand that we should not listen to them, but some little piece of it always sneaks in. On hearing “fat-ass”, we look in a mirror and become self-conscious about our weight. We begin to wonder, “But what if they’re right?” Whether there’s any chance that they are or not. I am the child of two writers. I grew up being taught that every word counts. I avoid cursing, but when I do curse, people know it is extremely serious, because I do not ever use curse words as a part of my typical language. When I use them, it means something. It’s never just another word. That’s part of why I get so angry at gender slurs and their perpetrators. They use words that simply don’t count, that are there as space fillers, but to me those words to have meanings. Those words hurt, because I recognize them as what they are and what they mean.
So, yes. I was upset after our Zman Bayit today. I have legitimate reason to have been as upset as I was, and as this post proclaims, I have a lot to say on the subject. It bothers me a lot that I can feel so offended in a community in which I am ordinarily so safe. While a couple of people did come up to me and apologize, for which I am thankful, so many people did not. That grates on me even more. It is an issue of ignorance, not one of malice.
I care. I care a lot. I care enough that I am unable to speak these words aloud, hence the existence of this post. Please care with me.