Thursday, November 30, 2006

Reclamation or what?

g from Incendiary Librarian pointed me to this post on Feministe about reclaiming offensive words. It seems that there is controversy over whether cunt is being reclaimed or not. Trex at Firedoglake used cunt in an exchange with somebody (the details are really difficult to pin down) and when called on it someone replied:

“Cunt” is a word that many gay men with feminist poltics out the wazoo use all the time, a word that has been reclaimed by many on the left, though perhaps they’re not the genteel sort of folk you’re comfortable with. Don’t be so delicate, Tom. It’s a big world out there.

Piny at Feministe argues that reclaiming requires using a word with a new meaning, not simply using a word.
When you reclaim an epithet, you take it and use it against its meaning in order to deflate its meaning. You are practicing verbal civil disobedience. You are refusing to maintain the original, hateful sense of the word and attempting to force the word to carry a new meaning, your meaning.

I agree with Piny here. However, there are other methods than reclamation to try out.
And that is what I was trying to get at in my recent discussion of nigger. The question for me is, where does the meaning of epithet come from? Is it the intent of the person using it? Or is it in the mind of the hearer?
See Randall Kennedy for a nice essay on this.
I was quite surprised to learn when I underwent workplace sensitivity training, that language is determined offensive entirely on the reaction of the hearer. The speaker's intent has nothing to do with determining whether something was sexist or racist.
I'm not sure if I have anything to say about any of this right now.
BTW Firedqaoglake has posted something about language useon the site.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Res at the republicofdogs absolutely nailed this point about that word, and citing the same sources and then some... and then some more, and then, even more.

It's a long post, but well worth the time.

--mdhatter (blogger is giving me a hard time signing in)
mdhatter.blogspot.com

Maryann said...

Not on reclamation exactly, but Malcolm Gladwell on hate speech:

http://gladwell.typepad.com/gladwellcom/2006/12/defining_a_raci.html
http://gladwell.typepad.com/gladwellcom/2006/12/nigger_reconsid.html

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