How to tell the diff-er-ence

There’s a difference between saying “selfish cunts” as a misogynist epithet and saying it as a joke about people who are sekrit misogynists under a veneer of respectability.

I bet you knew that. Not everyone gets it though. Some people see the latter and think it’s a justification for the claim that “cunt” is not a misogynist epithet. Some people see Jon Stewart doing the latter and think it’s the same as doing the former and therefore it’s  a justification for the claim that “cunt” is not a misogynist epithet. Siiiiiiiiigh.

You see what Stewart did there, right? The demographic that went for Romney. Married women. Fox News women doing commentary, saying “responsible,” “concerned about their children, and the future of the country…”

And Stewart says, in mimic vein – you know how his face and gestures change when he’s being not himself but the object of mockery – with a big shrug, “not just selfish cunts.”

It’s irony. Attribution not use. He’s paraphrasing what the Fox commentators are really saying under the verbiage. That’s why it’s funny. It would not be funny if he simply called the commentators cunts, for instance.

That’s because it’s a misogynist epithet. Using it “sincerely” is not funny.

Oy. How is this not obvious?


  1. Aratina Cage says

    Yeah. Emphasis on “not”. He says explicitly what they are really wanting to say about the women who voted for Obama, and it takes a moment for the truth of what he says to hit you, and that is what makes it funny. The slimepit is basically our own–the atheist community’s own–version of Fox News & Friends. Justicar is Victoria Jackson, Hoggle is Sean Hannity, etc.

  2. Wowbagger, Antipodean Dervish says

    Oh, they know it’s obvious. But these people have nothing else whatsoever to say that hasn’t been said already, and by people far smarter and more eloquent than them. And they’ve learned that because there are a lot of bitter, entitled assholes out there, pandering in such a fashion means they have someone who wants to listen to them.

    It’s just sad that for some people an audience of bitter, entitled assholes is better than no audience at all. I can’t for the life of me understand that – though that actually makes me glad rather than sad.

  3. says

    Heh. They’re our Fox News. Heh heh.

    It is sad, isn’t it? I think of my friends, and then I think of their friends. Dang I’m glad I have my friends and not their friends!

  4. says

    Use-mention distinction. Things like being in-character to parody misogyny, seem to me to count as a mention, not use.

    We’ve all seen that other use-mention obfuscation – when your mention of a misogynistic epithet, is misconstrued as a use, and therefore license. Really, how do people expect anyone to talk about the problem without mentioning the problematic bits?

    It’d be an awful barrier to creativity, if women artists, wanting to express their experiences with misogyny, couldn’t mention the actual experiences.

    I keep trying to work out how exactly this obfuscation works – how much is an attempt to justify misogynistic epithets, and how much is an attempt to stop people from discussing misogyny. (And how much of this is a learned reflex).

  5. Stacy says

    Oh, they know it’s obvious.

    Y’know, having taken a look at their blogs and such, I really think some of them don’t. Some of them really are just that stupid.

    Hanlon’s Razor strikes again.

  6. laconicsax says

    The difference IS obvious and people who don’t notice are either lying or willfully blind (ie they want to justify their language use by whatever means possible).

    A big tell is when the same people who claim not to notice will talk about how brutal a call out of women-hating conservatives something like Jon Stewart’s joke was.

  7. unity says

    Oy. How is this not obvious?

    It’s not obvious to some people for what I imagine are much the same reasons that some people write to libraries and demand that books such as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘The Color Purple’ should be taken off the shelves because of their racist content.

    Some people are, for whatever reason, unwilling or unable to look beyond the word itself to the context in which its used when evaluating its meaning in that context. Genuine irony is, of course, a context which the word is stripped of its misogynistic content by the context in which its use and this can and does also occur in other contexts, almost all of which are tied into specific situations and cultural contexts from which one can claim legitimacy only if you are in that situation or belong to, and are operating within that context.

  8. Beatrice says

    Yeah, it should be obvious.

    I’m glad you mention this. I got called misogynistic for using this method to point out the sexism behind people’s seemingly polite words.

  9. says

    Oop was about to say thanks as I was having this argument on twitter… However having got up horribly late with a cold I see it carried on after I went to bed. Unfortunately I think I need to find a US proxy to actually join in as that Jon Stewart video Al linked to is ‘not available in my area’…

    On the surface I cannot really fault your logic in the post, however why do I thing the other side of the argument won’t quite see it that way? They seem to have a massive argument from authority and free from context problem, even to the extent that Rebecca Watson saying ‘twat’ on SGU makes all further uses of that word fine. Her being an ‘authority’ to them is wonderful irony.

  10. No Light says

    Maybe. you could write this on big, bright flashcards and pop over to Zingularity.

    Apparently Mr ‘Darksyde’ doesn’t understand that “My girlfriend says it’s ok to cal women crazy bitches”. His comments non have a nasty, slimy patch of Re*p P*den. Ugh.

  11. Recreant says

    Odd, I actually have an ASD that makes it difficult for me to identify social subtext and even I understand the difference.

  12. emily isalwaysright says

    Ophelia, it’s not obvious because it’s actually quite clever. Unfortunately, not everyone is clever. Even worse, many people are not only not clever, but they’re stubborn and mean.

    And as obvious as the above may be, the consequential particular behaviour never ceases to astound me. I can never quite get my head around nasty, stubborn stupidity. Thankfully though, there are many wonderful people in the world too. You being one. 🙂

  13. jb says

    I am a woman, and I will admit one thing

    I AM guilty of using the word ‘cunt’ to describe people that I find to be particularly NASTY and ODIOUS. Same with ‘bitch’.

    I was thinking about this last night – and after reading these blogs over the last few months. People here are very opposed to gender-specific insults – so I decided to give it some thought.

    Why do I instinctively, as a woman, use words like ‘bitch’ and ‘cunt’ to describe people (not just women) that I absolutely despise. People I consider to be outright EVIL. I suspect that this is largely cultural conditioning – we are taught that women are supposed to be loving and nurturing. Women = mommies. That is a womans role on this earth, to be a mommy to everyone (this is also why I think people are so opposed to abortion, and use the argument that ‘one must love their embryo/baby’ b/c they cannot think of women as anything *but* mommies, but I digress.

    So when I come across a woman who is just mean and nasty, I immediately think ‘bitch’ or ‘cunt’ b/c she is the opposite of nurturing lovely nice subservient mommy!!!!!! And this, imo, is why these words are such an ultimate insult.

    That make any sense?

  14. jb says

    oh, I might add, I am also a “girl gamer”

    I have also had jobs working only with men. I even worked as a stripper for a couple of years.

    The way to survive, and get ‘respect’ if you will, is to be more vulgar and misogynist than the guys. In fact, when I played World of Warcraft, I was so vulgar that many of the guys thought I was a guy and just could not believe that I was a girl.

    Someone made a comment once about how nerds in video games overcompensate for their feelings of inferiority to the jocks by acting OVERLY masculine and misogynist in these games and boy is that true. In my WoW guild I was surrounded by a bunch of physics nerds who constantly made jokes about how people should just ‘get the sand out of their vaginas.’ They were also obsesed with anal sex, and LOVED to brag about how they could get their gfs to do it. Get them in private chat and they were just sad and desperate for attention.

    Even though I managed to ‘fit in’ I found the misogyny to be REALLY unsettling.

  15. julian says

    In my WoW guild I was surrounded by a bunch of physics nerds who constantly made jokes about how people should just ‘get the sand out of their vaginas.’

    I would just like to say that,after getting sand in peepee hole, fuck anyone who says “get the sand out of your vag.” That shit hurts, fucker!

  16. says

    jb @ 17 – yes, it makes sense. I’ve had the same thought, and I think it is at least part of the picture. (Probably only part – there is also just the whole business of one sex being the “normal” standard ok sex which leaves the other sex to be The Other: the weird and defective and weak and treacherous. The natural home for the worst possible epithets.)

    I think the same idea is behind much anti-abortion fervor. I think people are threatened in some fundamental way by a woman not treating a pregnancy exactly as she would treat an infant.

  17. jb says

    Ophelia: I think the same idea is behind much anti-abortion fervor. I think people are threatened in some fundamental way by a woman not treating a pregnancy exactly as she would treat an infant.


    This thread here,, John B keeps talking about ‘love for your child’ ‘caring for the baby’ (ie, embryo). How can a parent NOT love their embryo? Its YOURS!!! He keeps repeating this same mantra over and over. This is his ‘rationale’ for why organ donation to strangers should not be mandatory, but for why forced birth is acceptable. How can a pregnant woman NOT love the cute wittle embryo?

    And what you said is true. I think for some people, anti-abortion is about all women wanting and loving their children. They want to force women to WANT to be mommies. But it doesn’t work that way.

    Perhaps these people felt unwanted as children? Perhaps they are threatened by the fact that mommy might HAVE been happier if she had never gotten preggers in the first place. They literally cannot deal with this fact. That mommy might have had a life without them. So the solution is to force all women to become mommies and naturally all women will love being forced to become mommies!

  18. says

    It’s complicated by the fact that when a pregnancy is wanted of course it’s highly desirable for the parents to start loving the fetus from the beginning. That’s a great thing.

    But jeez, people, a pregnancy isn’t always wanted. That’s how it is. Get over it.

  19. F says

    *sigh* I don’t even want to know about the world of shit which inspired this post. It stands by itself just fine.

  20. says

    I think it’s even simpler than the distinction between use/mention. If you are using a word that pertains to a particular group or a body part or physical feature that belongs stereotypically or exclusively to that group as an insult, especially when that group has been discriminated against or oppressed, that’s a slur and you ought to refrain from doing that if you’re a decent human being. If you are using the same word in another way or context, or describing/relating its usage as a slur, or using it sarcastically to shine a light on discrimination or oppression, that’s acceptable.

    Was Jon Stewart using it as a slur? No. Was he using it to mock the misogyny of others? Yes. How is this a difficult concept?

  21. abear says

    “Like Richard, I consider that article the most disgusting thing I’ve seen at the Guardian in some time, but I can say that without using sexist epithets. I don’t know why you pricks can’t manage that.”

    I find this use of a targeted gender slur as highly offensive. Possibly someone with a Slymepitter mentality might try and explain it away as “being a joke”, and indeed some people whose minds are in the gutter may agree, but this is clearly directed use and not mention.
    What makes this quote even worse, is that the person using the sexist insult here portrays herself as a feminist and social justice advocate!

  22. jb says

    is there a reason why ‘prick’ and ‘dick’ are not considered gendered insults?

    perhaps because men have used it to refer to other men, and men are the default, so by that reasoning its not gendered?

    whereas calling someone N word or the C word has more gravitas because you are insulting an oppressed group? the other? or rather, using a term for an ‘inferior’ group as a slur?

  23. Aratina Cage says


    In case you missed it, “abear” is just a slimepitter coming here to stir up trouble and nothing more. Just google the text of the quote the bugbear presents to find out the actual context of it and everything else you want to know about it.

  24. Aratina Cage says

    The people on slympit sound *really* fucked up.

    Well, I do think they are. It has been their mission for over a year now to troll Ophelia and several other FTB writers using whatever means they can. In “abear”‘s case above, a very old quote of Ophelia’s is being dug up to whine about while willfully ignoring the I see what you did there aspect of it (kind of like Jon Stewart’s in that clip above come to think of it) and the valid line of questioning about that term that you asked in #28.

  25. No Light says

    jb – They’re the human equivalent of wasps. Venomous, annoying, single-minded, useless.

    Ophelia – Sorry, forgot the link! I thought it was sarcasm at first, then I realised it was just garden variety sexist slurs. He obviously hasn’t been paying much attention to his stablemates.

  26. says

    What Aratina said.

    Also, that torn-from-context excerpt is used as a personal motto by one of the busier slyme pitters (I forget which one), so it’s part of the slyme pit wallpaper. Anybody who grabs it to use elsewhere is proclaiming slyme pit-hood.

    It is so.fucking.stupid. They think I missed the irony. They think it wasn’t irony, they think I meant it, and didn’t notice that I said “I can say that without using sexist epithets” and then instantly added “I don’t know why you pricks can’t manage that” without realizing I had just used a sexist epithet. Godalfuckingmighty.

  27. abear says

    Is it OK to use gender slurs against individuals and groups as long you’re attempting humor? Also is it any worse calling someone a prick , cunt or male asshole,shitbag?
    It seems there is a double standard here.Or is that just my testosterone damaged brain?

  28. No Light says

    abugbear – As someone with actual brain damage, who has no trouble grasping the diff-er-ence, I have to wonder exactly what your damage is.

    Perhaps you’re just shielded by wilful ignorance, or maybe privilege?

  29. says

    @ 35 must be a bot – “It seems there is a double standard here” is a pre-written formula. If I’ve seen it on Twitter once I’ve seen it a hundred times.

  30. Utakata says

    “The people on slympit sound *really* fucked up.”

    …it’s the Trade Chat ran supposedly by “critical thinkers”, and is anything but. It’s best to be put them on /ignore.

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