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Sexism

Ok, not that I actually want to have a discussion about this - but, I've been thinking:

Why is the prevalence of "bitch" and "whore" insults treated differently from the number of insults of "son of a bitch", "bastard", etc ?

Why is it that you can say bitch on TV, but you can't say asshole or motherfucker? Because, I'd argue that the ban on the more scandalous insults for males is part of the reason it seems that Supernatural uses female insults more often.

Why is everyone taking issue with the line "I was going to kill her - of course, I'd have given you an hour with her first"? From what I saw, it'd be consensual...well, the sex part, not the killing.

liliaeth  brought up the excellent point that Supernatural treats it's female villains the same way it treats it's male villains. If Dean would punch a male demon, he'll punch a female demon...if Dean would insult a male enemy, he'd insult a female enemy...so, is it just that for some reason "bitch" and "whore" are considered worse insults than anything you can say on TV about guys?

I mean, "whore" I can sort of understand, as it's also a commentary on whether women are allowed to have sex or not...and if they are, how much...but, you could take it's broader meaning, which is just "a woman of loose morals" and yeah, that pretty much fits demons (and the Whore of Babylon) pretty damn well.

I've talked about the other accusations of sexism before, so I won't get into them here. But, I was just curious about the actual LANGUAGE...because it seems to be something that offended people's delicate sensibilities this past episode...and I'm just wondering why that is. Are we not allowed to insult females at all, or are we just not allowed to insult them using the classic female-centric insults? Are the censors themselves inherently sexist because they allow the worst of the female-insults,  but only the mild male-insults? What's the worst male-insult you can use on TV? If Dean started calling men bitches and whores, would we still call him sexist? Maybe that's what Sera has to do to get around this problem.

As you all know, I'm more concerned with equality of pay and rights when it comes to issues of sexism...and I'm less concerned about insults. I did take issue with being called a whore once, but that was more because it was a friend who was in a couple calling me that...and quite frankly, after being in a couple for 5 years while I had been single, sure, I had had a few more sexual partners, but they had had 100x more actual sex. So, I just thought it was an extremely inaccurate statement. 

Anyway, I'm not going to argue for or against the existence of sexism on the show....I don't really care either way. I'm just interested in the actual language here - why it's the way it is, and whether the problem lies in the writing of the show, the rules of the censors, or the way we've been conditioned to interpret the words.

Personally, like I told someone in the comments of my reaction post - I actually find that the references to rape, and the insults, and basically everything that offended everyone, actually gives the show a sense of realism...because, like it or not, we live in a world where horrible things happen and people get insulted by blue-collar thugs who were raised in a car with a small armory and no mother....

And yes, I know I'm opening a can of worms...it's why I'll probably not actually respond to any comments left. I don't actually want to get into a debate, I'm just interested to hear your thoughts - whether or not they coincide with my own.

ETA: I'm unlocking a flocked post that I put up last night - because there's some very interesting discussion there about misogyny and sexism in Supernatural.

Comments

( 43 comments — Leave a comment )
claudiapriscus
Dec. 5th, 2010 07:40 pm (UTC)
It's kind of a two-edged sword. We live in a culture, unfortunately, that's language is still very gendered, and still coded with the idea that being a woman is bad. (e.g. "be a man" as good, but "you're such a woman" as bad. There are about a billion examples. It would depress me too much to list them all.)

whore, bitch, cunt, twat, slut, even son of a bitch (an insult against one's mother)... there's a pattern here, and it's not a pretty one. Bastard probably fits in, because it's related to, as you said, the control of women having sex. A woman having a bastard is/was (depending on where you are) a great shame, a man having a bastard...just accepted. So does douche (female genitalia or anything relating to it is apparently so terrible that it makes up a lot of our insults.)

Then you have cocksucker, fag, and other homophobic insults, which is a whole other can o' worms, but I suspect that a lot of it- like in the ancient world, which used similar insults- relates to the idea of the 'penetrated' as the lesser (and feminine) role.

Then there is asshole (and derivations there of), fucker, motherfucker (I'm not really sure where to characterize that one), jerk, jerk-off, idiot, moron, scum, etc and a host of more creative but less common insults.

So yeah, our language itself is kind of misogynistic, which is not terribly surprising considering that it developed over centuries, and fifty years isn't going to put a dent into it.

However... since there are (often more family friendly) insults that are more gender-neutral, and not relating to the great sin of being a woman (or being an assertive woman, or being a woman who has sex, or had sex), I think it is reasonable to ask that a show maybe expand its vocabulary and lay off (or even just reduce) the reliance on women-related insults. Orwell was right: our language does influence how we think, if subtly so. Our very language constantly reminds us - subconsciously- that women are lesser, inferior, horrible. It'd be nice to move away from that.

I'm not arguing that they should censor their language- more than they already do at the behest of the network and the FCC- but maybe when they're writing, they could just inch away? Throw something in for variety? Supernatural tends to bitch/whore etc far more often than a lot of shows that try to be equally or more so gritty.

It's a little thing, but I can see how for some people it might be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

Edited at 2010-12-05 07:40 pm (UTC)
hells_half_acre
Dec. 5th, 2010 07:49 pm (UTC)
It is pretty hard-built into our language, and just after I posted the entry, it occurred to me that if you WERE able to say cocksucker on TV, I'd probably take offense to their use of it because I really don't like homophobic insults.

Though, you are correct in that it all relates back to being the penetrated (female) role.

Oddly enough, when I think of douching, I think of anal douching, so I associate douche and douchebag with the category of homophobic insults (or shit-related insults), not misogynistic insults.

I do agree though, that Supernatural has relied a bit too heavily on bitch recently. Not only does it add to the straws on the camel's back, but it also looses it's impact when used too frequently. I'm just thinking back to my youth watching The Princess Bride - and the fact that the ONLY "swear" in the entire movie was Inigo calling the count "you son of a bitch" at the pivotal moment in the revenge plot really added a nice punch to the scene.

Certainly, art is a reflection of society - so it must be society that has the problem - but at the same time, someone has to change first...
marlowe78
Dec. 10th, 2010 05:15 pm (UTC)
I just posted a post that I don't mind that language, but I have to say, reading your post I had to think about it some more.
I applied the problem solely on the amount of swearing and never really considered the fact you pointed out, that it's usually female anatomy that's used as a swear-word, no matter who it's applied on.

That is extremely sad, now that I realize it :-(

I have to go through my swear-vocabulary and check if this rule is applicable to my language too, because right now I think most female-based swear-words are borrowed from English. I need to count.
Fun-things to do in the evening \o/ (I'm not being ironic, I really consider this fun)

(no subject) - hells_half_acre - Dec. 10th, 2010 05:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - claudiapriscus - Dec. 10th, 2010 06:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
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jillsjourney
Dec. 5th, 2010 07:49 pm (UTC)
i'm with you on most of how you see it in show, but the "give him an hour with her" thing is gross because remember, meg is a demon inside an innocent girl. if cas is having sex with the demon, he's raping the meatsuit. also, if they "give" her to him, *they* are deciding she'd do him, not even the demon.
hells_half_acre
Dec. 5th, 2010 07:51 pm (UTC)
Also, I guess Jimmy would be raped as well.

I'd just assume that if Meg wasn't up for it, they wouldn't force the issue. :P But yeah, I can definitely see the problems...especially given the meatsuit thing, I always forget about that.

Edited at 2010-12-05 07:51 pm (UTC)
liliaeth
Dec. 5th, 2010 09:21 pm (UTC)
honestly, if it came down to it, and Cas had said yes, then Dean probably would have gone all 'huh what?' and quickly retracted his statement.

He's not actually expecting Cas to take him up on the offer. (he was shocked enough to see Cas actually kiss Meg.)

It's weird though, I seem to be the only one coming out of that ep shipping Soulless Sam/Meg, I have no idea why. Their interaction, to me at least, was much more interesting than the one kiss Cas and Meg got.
(no subject) - hells_half_acre - Dec. 5th, 2010 09:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - liliaeth - Dec. 5th, 2010 09:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
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lethiaw77
Dec. 6th, 2010 03:35 am (UTC)
I'm jumping into the the discussion here, because this seems where my comment best fits but I read all the way through.

First I took Dean's comment as an offer to both Meg and Cas with the implication that they would both be willing participants in the activities...a Dean version of "you two get room."

Second as far as the innocent people inside of Cas and Meg, I was under the impression that Jimmy was no longer around (or am I confusing cannon with fandom again??). And for some reason I thought the girl in Meg was dead also (this I could be wrong on though).

This is NOT directed specifically to anyone here just a comment: We are criticizing the show for this, yet our fandom is filled with things like my icon (yes I'm just as guilty). How is this really any different???
hells_half_acre
Dec. 6th, 2010 05:53 am (UTC)
I'm just going to clarify, not add onto the main discussion anymore:

You are confusing canon with fanon. We have no supporting evidence one way or another to say whether the hosts are still alive - in Castiel's case, the last time we saw Jimmy was S4, and in my interpretation he lived through that episode and was still alive at the end of S4. Now, whether he was brought back along with Cas the two times Cas exploded was another matter...in S5's My Bloody Valentine, Castiel was craving hamburgers because of Jimmy...whether it's just Jimmy's body that craves hamburgers or Jimmy himself is not explicitly said - so, really - as I said, not confirmed one way or another, I suppose it's up to interpretation.
(no subject) - liliaeth - Dec. 6th, 2010 09:06 am (UTC) - Expand
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borgmama1of5
Dec. 5th, 2010 07:54 pm (UTC)
I don't have a problem with the lauguage when it is something that the characters would say.

In general, I don't like hearing 'bitch' etc. used in real life against real people, because I personally don't like use of demeaning language. I think its use lowers the standard of acceptable public and private behavior to the detriment of all humanity.

I actually find the nasty put-down snark of sitcoms a whole lot more offensive than the words used in Supernatural, where they are applied at least in mostly appropriate situations. It's been clear since the initial episode that the Winchesters don't finesse their words, and would, if tv permitted, use a lot stronger expletives.

What I do have an issue with is gratuitous scenes that seem to be inserted to just appeal to adolescent boys (Cas has a boner!) that make no sense in context of the episode (he was pulled away mid-battle in heaven and is now just sitting watching porn?) If they had left out his comment to Sam about being busy, then I could accept Cas killing time watching tv.

It's the little things like that which scream sloppy writing that bother me.

As far as torturing Meg, let's face it, that's what sells the show to male viewers in the select demographics, right? And it didn't bother me as much as the crime dramas that have women tortured all the time because Meg wasn't being a passive female victim. Her attitude was as bad-ass as Dean's.

I wouldn't have written the scene that way, but then, I'm not a writer for the show.

hells_half_acre
Dec. 5th, 2010 08:03 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's basically how I feel about things too. I'd sooner criticize the show over sloppy writing than I would over being misogynistic...that being said, I think claudiapriscus makes a good point that sometimes the two overlap.
liliaeth
Dec. 5th, 2010 09:23 pm (UTC)
thing about curse words, and esp. the ones used by the main characters...

I'm just speaking from personal experience here, but most people, unless they actively think about putting some creativity in their curses, are very one note in the words they tend to use.

It's very realistic for Dean, to not have five or ten or more different words to use for different situations. So he keeps using the same ones, because those are the ones that come straight to mind for him.
hells_half_acre
Dec. 5th, 2010 09:26 pm (UTC)
Yes, that's also a good point in terms of realism.

Personally, whenever I'm enraged, I just seem to dwell on variations of the word "fuck" and that's really my entire range :P
marlowe78
Dec. 10th, 2010 04:46 pm (UTC)
I was just prowling through here in search of a convenient place to post something- I'll be doing it in one of your other posts, or maybe send a pm.

So, this is a cool discussion. Especially because of this: Why is everyone taking issue with the line "I was going to kill her - of course, I'd have given you an hour with her first"? From what I saw, it'd be consensual...well, the sex part, not the killing.

Who takes issue?
I've not come across it - not that I looked - and I find it a very strange idea to be offended over.

I'm not feeling insulted about any language, in fact I agree with you that it reads, feels and listens (?) as more true, more real if the guys say what they think! If Dean and Sam were real, they'd certainly not bother with being pc to an enemy. And it would be pretty weird if they were. So, I'd think letting them say "fudge" instead of "fuck" is funny, but no-way realistic.

There is one other thing: "whore", though usually used for females, could as well used for a male villain. Could, in fact, be used on Dean - and now, if you go with "person with loose morals", very much so on Sam.
So I don't think it's actually THAT bad. I wouldn't like to be called a whore, but nobody expects the demons to like it. In fact, it's MEANT to be insulting.

Maybe it's because I'm from Europe and I don't see the political and sexual correctness on TV a lot less important. If I want a show to look real - or, well, more real - I'd let the persons swear as they would in that situation if they were real.

I personally think it's MORE sexist to allow males to be insulted as "dick" or anything but never allow females the same. Why make a difference? If women want true equality, they have to take the bad with the good.

I'm female, and you should listen to me swear at drivers who piss me off: I do NOT call women anything less insulting than men.

My advise to Sera Gamble would be to keep at it. If she dares, since US is a lot more... well, strange and weird with that kind of thing.

hells_half_acre
Dec. 10th, 2010 05:16 pm (UTC)
Yes, this is basically how I feel on the subject as well. I didn't take issue with any of the language - but a few of the reviews I read did...and a few of the comments on said reviews did.

I think you hit the nail on the head though, in that the US is just really strange sometimes about the whole PC issue. I also wonder why we don't treat movies the same as TV. I'm thinking here of all the films that have this kind of language or worse and I never see people get huffy about it - it's just realistic for the characters. I'm wondering if for some reason people hold Sam and Dean up to some ridiculous higher standard. As if Sam and Dean should be enlightened and know better...they're two boys who were raised in a car by a military father. All things considered, their doing pretty well in terms of respecting women/sexuality.

I got offended when my friend jokingly called me a whore - but it was more the context...in that, we had figured out that I had had more than twice as many sexual partners as he had. I took offense, because while I had certainly had more partners, he had been in a committed relationship the whole time - so technically, he had had WAY more sex. :P I just felt the joking insult was inaccurate. I'm practically a fuckin' nun!

Anyway, yeah...basically, I'm with you. Maybe it's because I also lived in Germany?! Haha, I doubt it. I think it's because I spent my teen years being horribly misogynistic, so, I know what actual misogyny looks like.

claudiapriscus
Dec. 10th, 2010 07:17 pm (UTC)
I think the thing you run into is that they aren't real people, and their 'realness' is created by the skill of the writers. The writers make conscious choices to use that language (or to include a scene that borrows heavily from bondage porn, or whatever).


It's like the casting issue. It's easy to start justifying it in terms of the story, or by simplifying the issue into the other extreme- PC GONE MAD, casting by quotas, etc, etc. But you really also have to examine the fact that these are all constructed things, that there were people making conscious choices to continue to enable those systems of institutionalized racism and sexism or homophobia. Like...hmm... Stargate Atlantis. After a while, despite all the in-story justifications one could offer, you do have to wonder why the minorities play the primitives and the savages.

And I know that it's possible for the characters to still be "realistic" and not OOC, and for the stories to still be compelling, because I've read a lot of fic written in this fandom that has rivaled Supernatural at its absolute best, but minus the problematic elements (both in regards to women and minorities) without it being a big deal. You'd never notice. And I doubt it's something they set out to do, either.

So we must go back and ask, "Why does the show chose to do things this way? Why does it play into this dynamic?"

I mean, you might say that it's kind of odd that two boys raised in a car by a military father know so much Yiddish, or make references to Vonnegut or don't use racist slurs, or seem generally as well-educated as they are (in the language and concepts that they use*, etc.). But we don't, because we can either make it fit into the story when we notice it....or we never try to make it fit in the story, because it doesn't strike us as odd. It just seems "normal".

And considering all that? What makes a little feminism any different? I think they could maybe move away a little bit from the women-negative language or from the madonna/whore complex without it breaking the flow, or standing out.


*Obviously, you could argue for Sam going to Stanford or native intelligence and things, but that's not really it. Canon is that the grew up on the road with a mechanic/marine/hunter, changed schools a lot, and most of their contacts were similarly rough types.

I live around and work with a lot of people who have had far more privileged upbringings that that (e.g more stable lives, poverty but not quite as severe as implied about the boys,) and who are very intelligent... but they don't speak like the people in the very well-educated, cosmopolitan, upper-middle class areas I grew up in. I don't mean they're all, "I ain't go no blahblah," but more like... hmm. I noticed it mostly through a bit of culture shock on my part. That these intelligent women I was working with don't make or get the kind of references that to me *seemed* universal. And so I found myself constantly stopping and having to explain what I meant, and it was kind of bewildering. And it was more than just references. There was a language difference too- I remember at some function we were made to play a twenty questions game (minus the limit on questions, and with answers like "Goodwill to Men" and "White Christmas"), and I said, "is it an abstract concept?" and no one knew what I meant. (Saying, "Um, well, something that's not concrete" also lead to another around of 'what?')

But the boys make those references, and use that language. And they do because the writers do. Those are the references the writers understand and use themselves.
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