On the Weakness of Slurs

I was surprised to find I didn’t have a version of this on my blog. I’ve certainly said it often enough elsewhere, though the earliest I’ve found was in response to “critics” of Hillary Clinton.

We don’t use gendered, fat-shaming, homophobic, etc. insults not because they have to be reserved for the worst of bad people but because they say you think there’s something wrong with the everyday people they apply to.

“Ugh, that—I don’t usually say this—bitch!”

I see this or a version of this using another slur remarkably often. It reflects such a strange misunderstanding of how language works that I boggle every time.

If you say this, you’re trying to tell me that only “bitch” works in this context because it’s the only insult that’s strong enough for you. Weaker, lesser insults just won’t convey how terrible this person is. But that isn’t how slurs work.

Contrary to your assumption, slurs are among the weakest insults. That’s why they can be reclaimed. No one stands up with fire in their eye and says, “Yes, I’m a poopyhead.” There are a lot of proud bitches out there though.

The power of a slur doesn’t come from the insult. It comes from the reminder that we exist in a system ready to put bitches back in their place. That’s not an insult but a threat. And the power of reclamation comes from facing that threat and persisting anyway.

Any insult inherent in a slur is merely a statement that the person you’re using a slur on doesn’t know “their place”. That you want them to, because you can’t win whatever conflict you have on equal ground. And that’s just not particularly insulting, at least not to them.

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On the Weakness of Slurs
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