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‘Whore’ should not be used as an insult

The story of the way that Danielle S. Lee, a biologist who also writes a blog for Scientific American titled Urban Scientist, was treated has been written about quite extensively in the blogs, including by many of us here at FreethoughtBlogs.

For those not familiar with the story, the short version is that when she turned down an offer to write without pay for the website Biology Online, the person at that site who had initiated the request sent a curt message: “Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?” When Lee wrote about it, it caused a general uproar and that person was summarily fired.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has now written a long article about what this episode says about the way that women scientists, especially those of color, are treated in the world of research, where they are few and far between.

Several female scientists of color interviewed by The Chronicle, from graduate students to tenured professors, said they were not surprised to learn that a highly credentialed black female scientist had been called a whore. Such insults, they said, come with the challenging territory of being both a woman and a minority in academe.

Some scholars say Ms. Lee’s treatment highlights daily battles against racism and sexism that are exacerbated by the lack of meaningful diversity in academe. If such examples are an indicator of climate, they reveal why the sciences remain disproportionately white and male.

The whole story, including the behavior of the editors at Scientific American, is deplorable on so many levels.

But I do want to add one thing and that is that we should strive to remove the word ‘whore’ from being used as an insult. Its primary usage is to denote someone who engages in sex for money. As I wrote before in 2011, why is using one’s physical body in one particular way to earn money any worse than using it in other ways or indeed of using one’s mind to earn money? Sex workers have just as much right to be treated with respect and dignity as any other worker and not be used as an insult.

Comments

  1. theoreticalgrrrl says

    I don’t think that word can be reclaimed. Sex worker is the right term for a woman or man who exchanges money for sex.

    That word isn’t only used for women who trade sex for money, it’s used to vilify and punish women and girls for their sexuality, just for having it in the first place.

  2. cswella says

    I would just throw away the word anyway, since we have names that haven’t been dragged through the mud. Prostitute or Sex Worker should work, right?

    For example, the word “N***er” refers to black people. There’s nothing wrong with being black, but we stay away from that slur. I’d say the word ‘whore’ can just easily be tossed in the same garbage bin.

  3. Mano Singham says

    They initially said they withdrew Lee’s blog post because it was not appropriate for this area because did not deal with science discoveries but other bloggers on the site quickly pointed out that they had previously written about a whole of things that had nothing to do with science at all and not had their posts pulled.

    Now they say that they withdrew it because they had to check the accuracy of the facts out of legal concerns and once they confirmed it, they re-instated the post.

    They really blew it. They should have frankly apologized.

  4. filethirteen says

    I prefer not to use the word. IMO it carries too much stigma to use it in a neutral light. I guess if a group of women called themselves the “happy whores” then that would be a fair reclaiming of it but in normal circumstances I would think it better to substitute another term, like cswella said.

  5. jamessweet says

    It’s possible that SciAm really did have legal concerns, and that their lawyers said not to publicly say they had legal concerns (until it was sorted out), because doing so could be damaging in the case that there was actually legal entanglement. i.e. the “we had no idea we might get sued” defense doesn’t work if the other side has documentation that you yanked the post for fear that you might get sued.

    Nevertheless, even in this case, 1) it was inappropriate to lie in the first place (they should have just said “We are gathering information and will be able to comment in a day or two”, and 2) they could more profusely apologize when they reinstated it.

  6. Charlie Farquharson says

    You mean I can’t use “whore” to describe telemarketers and spammers?

    I can understand being against every other use and misuse, but that one deserves a pass.

  7. filethirteen says

    No you can’t, any more than you could could them n*ggers or f*ggots. Telemarketers and spammers may annoy the hell out of you, but they aren’t any of those and to call them whores insults sex-workers, to call them f*ggots insults gay people, et cetera. By using “whore” you insult all sex workers with the implication that whores are so bad you can bandy it about as an insult – that was the point of this post. Just call them fuckwits and you won’t offend anyone else.

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