*Trigger warning – this post discusses  language misuse detrimental to women*

I rarely encounter direct sexism (that I notice – different story) in my day to day life.  I read about sexism, I comment on sexism in the media, but rarely do I end up calling-out sexism from someone in my day-to-day life.  If that makes sense.  I’m very, incredibly and wonderfully lucky in that my partners, their partners, my family and my friends are all non-sexist.  We’re not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but there is little in the way of direct sexism in my life.

Enter Michael Barnett, a blogger and commentator, and a member of the National LBGTIQ Rights list (Australia) that I’m on.  He has a blog, and is currently upset with a female member of the (Melbourne?) Jewish community who has been posting homophobic comments in various forums.  He announced his latest blog post on the National LBGTIQ Rights list with:

More deluded rantings from this homophobic Jewish bitch.  She really needs to see a vet.

I told Michael that I was upset with the language he’d used to describe the woman he was upset with, and told him that there were plenty of other ways to refer to someone without equating them to an animal or belonging.

Michael, to my surprise (I really don’t know him) refused to apologise stating:

No apologies.  Please channel your offence at the viles (sic) homophobes.

I informed Michael that I can be offended at both homophobic behaviour (and individuals) AND people who are sexist and that I would indeed like an apology from him as well as an undertaking to modify his language use. At this point another member of the mailing list pointed out that homophobia and sexism were as vile as each other.

Michael decided at this point to deflect responsibility for his language use onto the individual he was upset with and also to tell me that I was not offended.

I won’t tolerate homophobic rants from vile bitches like [name redacted]*.  If you are offended by what I write, I suggest you have a tete-a-tete with [name redacted] and politely ask her to stop writing the offensive material that I don’t like that drives me to write the material you find offensive.

Please don’t get all high and mighty on me.  You are not offended.  You are being precious.  [name redacted] is the problem, not my writings.

So I should redirect my offence to the individual that has upset him, even though Michael’s choice of words, something he is responsible for, was the cause of my offence.  I was flabbergasted that someone could even dare to suggest such a thing, and on a relatively public forum at that.  I pointed out to Michael that he was responsible for his language use regardless of the actions of another person, and no matter how much that other person upset him – especially as he was reporting on it later.

I also told him that he could not tell me that I was not offended and that he was mansplaining my offence away and that did not make me suddenly not offended.  I reminded Michael that sexism was as bad as homophobia and that his refusal to apologise or to agree to modify his language was increasing my offence.  I asked him to be a better person than the person who had upset him and to apologise.

Michael’s response:

Hi Rebecca,

[name redacted] fits the definition of bitch “A woman considered to be spiteful or overbearing.”

I am not sexist.

I call homophobic rabbis cunts.  They fit the definition “Used as a disparaging term for a person one dislikes or finds extremely disagreeable.”

This is not about you.

And that’s where he got it it incredible wrong, and I walked away (because I could not be arsed spending the energy and time it would take to educate this individual).  Michael’s language use is sexist and his refusal to acknowledge that his language was inappropriate and harmful makes him sexist in my opinion.

I am incredibly grateful to those on the mailing lists (some of my comments were cross-posted – or replies were cross posted) that stood up and agreed with me.  Many of them were more eloquent than I was able to be at that time, pointing out that language is an important tool and using appropriate language is essential in fighting for human rights.  Thank you to those who stood up against sexism.

Some of the best comments (names withheld) were:

One would have to query why one should be so apparently determined to repeatedly to show such little respect and put off-side, those who share the battle and grief the result of these homophobic individuals?

Bayne Macgregor said:

It is every politically active persons responsibility to be aware of some of the basic ways language is part of politics and emotion. You don’t need a degree in linguistics to see that conservatives have made one of their main tools the control of language and the emotional meaning-association. Why the heck do you think people started using the word Gay instead of terms like Homosexual, Faggot, Poofta, Fairy, Fairy-Maggot or Pus-Person?

Now if you want to insult this person go ahead! But do so with terms that are not enforcing any other discrimination.So it would be in your interest and everyone elses if you explore the great cultural heritage of cretive insults and find some that do not reinforce any sexism, ablism, racism, transphobia or any other such problem which we as human-rights activists specialising in the GLBTIQ area need to be aware of and supportive of the fight against.

Michael, you’ve failed to grasp the meaning of the word “offended”.

Offence is in the eye of the beholder, not defined by the offender. Consequently, when someone tells you that they are offended by your language or your behaviour, they are right. You as the offender are in no position to claim that, “You are not offended.  You are being precious.”

Further, when someone tells you that they are offended by your behaviour and you refuse to change it, you are indicating that you hold their views and their feelings in complete contempt.

*  I’m not naming the individual that Michael is offended with, even though I have read some of her comments on a blog and found them homophobic, because right now she is not the issue.

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14 Replies to “Seriously?”

  1. Rebecca,

    I repeat, in case you didn’t hear my message the first time, my rant was not against women. I respect women as a group of people in society who often get the raw end of the deal. Honestly.

    My attack was against Ilana Leeds. She happens to be a woman. If she was a man, she would have copped the same barrage from me.

    I can’t win this. You are going to call me sexist no matter what.


    1. I’m calling you sexist not because you ranted against Ilana Leeds (who I actually agree has written homophobic and vile statements), but because of the language you used to rant against her and that language is sexist. Even if you’d use that language against a man, I would have been offended. I feel you are less interested in what exactly I’m offended about and engaging me about that, than being defensive and not checking your privilege or modifying your behaviour.

    1. I would have yes. It’s the language use that I am objecting to, not the gender of the person that you are directing it at. Using sexist terms like bitch or cunt to describe ANYONE is sexist regardless of whom they are directed at.

  2. Rebecca, you can put my name to my quote. I’m happy to have those words connected to my name.

    Michael. Please re-read my whole response to you again. Think about it, it makes sense. People aren’t cranky with you being upset with the person or in your expressing the emotion of that upset with vehement language. The problem is solely with the word you chose to use because it strengthens the negative connection between two different meanings via that word in a way that helps strengthen sexism. When you use a word as an insult it’s power as an insult depends on a comparison, and on the feellings towards the thing compared to, and on the meanings associated with the word.

    You know the problem with the phrase “that’s so gay”, well this is an identical situation. People are upset because the use of Gay as an insult strengthens public acceptance of homophobia, of Gay being something unpleasant and insulting to be associated with.

    So any time you use an insult it goes in two directions, insult to the thing you intend the insult to go and strengthened insult to the thing you use to insult them with.

    And we all know Bitch doesn’t just mean a female dog anymore than Gay just means happy. You cannot ignore the many meanings associated with a word by it’s various uses. For it is the way a word is used that defines it’s meaning.

    So using a term that refers to any oppressed group, any group treated by injustice, as an insult will help that oppression and injustice continue or get worse. It’s like the idiotic claims that ‘Ranga’ prejudice is not racism because it’s not at bad levels of other racism.. how do they think the bad racism reaches that point? Through tolerance of minor bigotry and repetition slowly increasing it of course. And red hair is an inherited pigmentation trait, that makes it racist by basic definition.

    It is little things that add up to large ones, bad sexism and racism is built by and enabled by little things. It’s also often the way it’s disarmed and destroyed too.

    Make sense now? I know defensiveness is the reflex, especially in our current anti-science world where being wrong and accepting one was wrong based on reason and evidence and changing in response to that is seen as weakness and failure and lack of character when in fact it’s the ultimate virtue and the ultimate power and the ultimate source of truth and wisdom and greatness.

    Understanding the way words are used by the right, the influence of them in politics and especially in bigotry and it’s defeat are powerful tools.

  3. Rebecca, with reference to “not checking your privilege”, what would you say in the case of a woman call another women a bitch in a similarly disparaging way? This is not a hypothetical question.

  4. I would also say that she is using sexist language and maintaining the patriarchal standards of society. Can a woman be sexist, yes.

    However there are some things to consider that I (and you) may not have all the information on. Is the person the language is being used towards reclaiming that word and have they given the speaker permission to refer to them as such?

    Otherwise the language use is wrong, just as it would be wrong for a woman or man to call someone a retard or faggot.

  5. The comment I refer to, used by a woman, talking about two women, was: “Don’t dwell on it….they are both bitches!!”

    My question was about your reference to my “privilege”. How does that come into play taking this into account?

  6. I don’t know if it does in that scenario. Privilege is described quite well throughout the internet (I wrote a post on it, with some great links earlier this year). White people automatically have privilege in the world, but it doesn’t always come into play (for example if one white person is talking to another white person of equal status).

    With that one snippet of the scenario (were you overhearing the conversation, where you the one being told by the woman that “..they are both bitches”, what happened next, what happened before) I cannot tell.

  7. Changing topic slightly, what do you think when women are referred to as their husband’s wife (eg “Suzie is my wife”), instead of the husband saying “I’m Suzie’s husband”, or for total equality, “Suzie and I are married”?

    It always comes across to me when I hear the “she’s my wife” line that the husband portrays his wife as a chattel and doesn’t necessarily consider her equal in the relationship.

  8. Sorry for my lack of quick reply (I had the day off from work and the PC). The example you cite is a tricky one. A lot depends on the context of the conversation. I’ll unpack that a little for you.

    A and B work together and are at a social gathering outside work hours. B brought Suzie along. B introduces Suzie to B with, “Suzie is my wife”. In this context, I don’t think that this would necessarily problematic, unless B then treated Suzie in a way that suggested that he did view her as his property.

    A and Suzie work together and are at a social gathering outside work hours. Suzie has brought B along and A and B meet. “I’m Suzie’s husband” B introduces himself to A. Contextually that works as A knows Suzie and now understands the relationship between Suzie and B.

    Suzie and B meet A, who they’ve never met before, at a social gathering. In this scenario, all three examples you’ve given would work contextually.

    Marriage itself is often seen as a patriarchal institution, where a woman is given (usually by her father) to another man. Passing the ownership of her from one man to another.

    My comment about not being on Facebook (in relation to comment 10) appears to be missing. That’s why I am unable to respond to your example.

    You might find some of these resources helpful too:

    I do appreciate your engagement with me, thank you.

  9. B’H
    Rebecca I appreciate your comments with regard to Michael Barnett’s often offensive and over the top comments. For me, he is simply put a bullyboy and exactly what I am fighting against. The fact that he would start a vitriolic and abusive campaign against me for my beliefs illustrates this fair and square.
    I am not against ‘gay’s or people of homosexual persuasion. The sexuality of someone is their business unless they try to push it onto others or influence others in that life style. I am not a supporter of gay marriage and I am not a supporter of a gay lifestyle and it is my right to choose to believe that.
    Is it my right to discriminate or treat a gay person unfairly socially, at work or anywhere for that matter, NO it is definitely not.
    They are people with feelings like anyone else. If I had treated a gay person the way Michael has treated me and continues to do so with his vitriolic and offensive diatribes on the net, I would be sued and probably tossed in jail because I would not be able to pay fines.
    Truth I am a very impoverished single parent who does not support gay marriage because I believe that it is an institution for sanctifying the union between a man and a woman. I have no problem if two gay people want to make themselves a couple that is their business but it is not a marriage, it is a partnership. It would be hard for someone like Michael to deal with that concept because it goes beyond the physical realms and into the spiritual.
    Personally I feel a great deal of pity for Michael as he is probably a personable young man once he gets past the anger and the hurt and the rants. However I am not his psychologist or his psychiatrist (who I don’t really believe in because I think they do more harm than good at times to many people and most of them have great problems too). If he wants to rant and rave and carry on comparing me to a female dog and telling me to go to the vet, let him. He will run out of steam eventually. His own comments tell more about his dysfunction than anything I write could. Once he starts to think calmly in a few months he will realise how stupid he has been and he will come and apologise to me. It may not be for a year or two but he will one day.
    You see deep inside him is a Jewish neshama (soul) that is crying out to be healed. When his healing process starts, he will understand more what this is all about. At the moment he is completely bound up in the physical world and can not see deeper. He is a little boy having a tantrum. He will get over it and I am personally not so affected by names he can call me all he wants. It is water off a duck’s back. My connection to a true source of holiness protects me from people like Michael. I view his comments with benign amusement and am compassionate. He is hysterical only because his whole raison d’etre is under attack from someone like me who does not view homosexuality as normal. Having one leg or being born with autism is not normal either, but I am not going to go and discriminate against someone or treat them badly because of it.
    Enough said, have a great day and continue the way you are going. You appear to be a very fine young lady with a lot of writing talent.

  10. B”H

    Just quickly reading some comments above by he who I shall not name for ‘fear of incurring his wrath yet again (:-) ‘ when one states about another person that he or she is ‘my brother, my sister or my mother or my father or my husband or my wife’ it does not imply physical ownership of that person, but denotes a very strong connection is owned. When I say someone is my friend, it does not mean I own that person’s friendship totally (if it did then I am sure we would not be friends) and no one else is allowed to be that person’s friend. It means that ‘my’ as a possessive is used to denote ownership of the special relationship between the two people. So someone can say ‘my wife’ meaning she is my wife and not someone else’s wife. Or by the same token, ‘my husband’ means that that man and I are married and to each other and not someone else and therefore we enjoy a special relationship that is exclusive to each other and there are no others who are privy to the relationship that we have or involved in the same sort of relationship unless of course you are a Saudi Arabian Sheik who has several wives and he would say ‘my wives’ as opposed to ‘Ahmed’s wives’ which would be ‘his wives’ and then you would have several women calling one man ‘my husband’ or if they were speaking together it would be ‘our husband’.
    However seeing as we are talking about monogamous relationships currently enjoyed in the Western civilizations and in most countries except Muslim and a few others where polygamous relationships are the normal course of things, a marriage is usually a contract of exclusivity of sexual rights, material rights and ensures that the paternity of children born into a relationship sanctified by marriage is certain, or it should.
    So the ‘my’ means more than just physical ownership, but a submission of certain aspects of your life to a partnership union between two people that is sharing and caring and is exclusive to those two people. It is not about physical ownership of the person at all.