Bitch Ph.D. has a post today about her pseudonym/blog title and the project of claiming the word "bitch" or reclaiming it or whatever (in response to a message from a reader). Since the awesome B. linked to me (thanks for the shout-out, B.!) I felt like I should do some sort of a post that might in some way respond to the conversation going on over there and also that might help any readers of hers who head on over here and who don't know my blog (hello readers of Bitch Ph.D.!) understand why B. refers to me as a "like-minded bitchy academic [woman]," as if you just glanced at recent posts you might think, "what the hell? That Crazy's no bitch!" (in either the positive or negative sense - doesn't really matter which).
Now, B. and I started blogging within a couple of weeks of one another (though I started at another address, in which I was a bit more hard-core than I am in this "I'm crazy but I'm not quite so raw" incarnation). But I suppose my point (and this gets to what some readers are talking about in the comments to B's post) is that it doesn't really make me less of a bitch or less crazy that I've toned things down a bit since starting Reassigned Time. At the end of the day, for a woman, and maybe even more for a woman in the academy surrounded by people who claim to be feminists, there isn't really much difference between "acting bitchy" once in a while and being labeled a "bitch," or in "acting crazy" once in a while and being labeled "crazy" (or, a crazy bitch, to up the ante just a little bit more). As women - even as women in fields where people think a lot about gender and who embrace "feminist" politics - there's always that danger that if one doesn't play nice then one is going to be categorized in these ways. And maybe the only rational response is to say, "yep, I'm a crazy bitch - so deal with me," because whether one embraces the label or not, one is going to be labeled.
When I decided to become a professor, I was under the naive impression that I'd be entering a world in which gender didn't determine my identity quite so much as it would in other professions. I thought all of the theorizing about women and all of the lip-service to feminist ideologies meant that by becoming part of this world - the world of the intelligentsia - that I'd be less regulated by sex/gender stuff. I also thought that all of this education would introduce me to people who had broader ideas about sex/gender than the people I knew from my working-class upbringing. To some extent, this has been true. But to another extent, I've seen the ways in which women are put in their place in this world to be more insidious (and as such, more diabolical). People may be more politically correct in this world, but they are often just as sexist at rock bottom.
So what does it take to be labeled "a bitch" or to be labeled "crazy"? Having an opinion. Expressing unhappiness. Pursuing ambitions above one's station. Getting uppity about an issue. Speaking one's mind. Refusing to take no for an answer. Refusing to make nice or to smoothe things over. Being too dynamic in the classroom (and no, Sexist Student, I don't think that "taking horse tranquilizers" would make me a better teacher - nor do I think that I'm "too much of a feminist" to be qualified to teach). Not accepting being pigeonholed into the role of "Professor who listens to students' problems and will cut them some slack," in the way of Mommy or Big Sister or Best Friend. Saying no. Saying yes.
In other words, you're going to call me a "bitch" or call me "crazy" no matter how hard I try to play by the rules. So why not just call myself Crazy and be done with it? All of the momentum that would be gained by calling me Crazy is lost if I just say, "oh yes, I'm crazy, didn't you notice that sooner?" I'm not going to spend my time and energy trying to refuse that label. There are more important things to talk about.
Here's where B's reader was coming from when s/he wrote to B.:
My questions center around the word "bitch." A few of us have been having a rather extended conversation surrounding its use, and the general consensus is that it's an extremely gendered term (and not in a positive sense) used to oppress opinionated women and to marginalize stereotypically feminine behaviors in men and women. The controversy we've been discussing surrounds the reclaimation of this term and if it's even possible to do without having to explain your gender politics extensively.
My response is this: All language is gendered. All language regulates behavior, determines identity, and ultimately polices the individual. Claiming or reclaiming a particular word isn't going to make language itself any less oppressive. At the end of the day, if we successfully "reclaim" Bitch, or Crazy, or Slut, or Whore, or Cunt, another word is going to crop up in its place to "oppress opinionated women and to marginalize stereotypically feminine behaviors in men and women." The point in any project of reclamation as far as I can tell is not that it's going to stop oppression. Rather, it's to change the terms of the discussion. Perhaps if we stop talking about the pros/cons of being called any of the above or about whether it's ethical to use any of the above words, maybe we can start talking about the cultural structures and institutions that give these kinds of words such performative force.
4 years ago