• Wed, Nov 23 2011

What Should We Make Of The Roots’ Gendered Put-Down Of Michele Bachmann?

As you may know by now, Late Night With Jimmy Fallon‘s house band The Roots called Michele Bachmann a bitch in a roundabout way when she was a guest on the show the other night. They did this by playing Fishbone‘s “Lyin’ Ass Bitch” as her walk on music, which presumably was a comment on her dual crimes of lying and bitchiness.

As someone who hates and fears this woman with every fiber of my being, I will admit to glossing over the inherent misogyny in this act when writing up a short item on it yesterday for sister site Crushable. But this post by my pal Maura Johnston over at The Village Voice reminded me that it’s never okay to call a woman a bitch. There’s simply no defending it. Yes, Bachmann is a loathsome, lying, racist, homophobic bigot who deserves to be opposed by every rational person. I can especially see why The Roots, a band composed of African Americans, would want to lash out at someone who essentially said black families were better off under slavery. But, as evidenced by the controversy that ensued when someone used a racist epithet on a sign at SlutWalk, you can’t fight one kind of oppression with another. Bachmann deserves to be put down for her many negative qualities, not because she’s a woman.

This situation gains an added layer of irony when you consider the fact that Bachmann is actively working against the goals of feminism. She opposes abortion rights, access to decent healthcare, and adequate sex education that would enable girls to take control of their bodies and sexuality. She’s weirdly obsessed with demonizing lesbians, and has publicly stated that a wife should submit to her husband. She’s also spoken in opposition to legislation that would protect kids who don’t hew to normative gender roles from being bullied at school. Needless to say, she’s hardly working towards a sexism free society, so it seems like dark poetic justice that she’d be subjected to the nastiness of that same misogynistic society she supports. Maybe the silver lining to all of this is that Bachmann will realize sexism is a bigger problem than she thinks, and become less of an anti-feminist as a result. (A girl can dream!)

But just because it’s dark poetic justice, doesn’t make it okay. As a feminist, I believe it’s wrong to be sexist towards anyone, even someone who is down with sexism. Intersectionality might be one of the hardest tasks facing today’s progressive movement, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try for it. Racism and misogyny are equally bad, and just because someone’s kind of a racist, doesn’t mean it’s okay to use misogynistic language against her (and vice versa). And if I can’t convince you to give up this type of language because it’s wrong, give it up because it only stirs up public sympathy for Michele Bachmann and feeds her “persecution by the liberal media” complex, hence making people slightly more likely to vote for her. Give it up for America.

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  • Fatima

    I think this song could’ve been played for anyone (i.e. Herman Cain). Everything is not an attack on gender but she IS a lying ass bitch. She is not Hilary Clinton or Michelle Obama. Come on ladies … No one would’ve even known this song if the band didn’t speculate it was about something. Other women have been on the show and they didn’t receive that kind of treatment. It’s not an ‘anti-woman thing’. It’s an ‘anti-Bachmann’ thing.

    • Eileen

      Bitch is and always will be a gendered word since its literal meaning includes female-ness. I might actually be more offended if it were used to describe Cain – we have no worse insult to throw at a man than, “You’re such a woman”?

    • Fatima

      Women use the word bitch all the time for men and women alike. It’s just like the ‘n-word’, if we (women) feel so offended by it we shouldn’t use it and I hate to point fingers but many a female focused blog and site has used it whether it be in a mean or joking way … It wasn’t a “nice” thing to do but I don’t think it was an attack on woman kind either. If I were her, I wouldn’t take offense to the bitch part but the fact that everyone thinks I’m a liar.

    • Jamie Peck

      Hey, let’s do a thought experiment! What if you did something nasty to someone…say, punched them in the arm…and they called you a racial epithet in response? Would that be appropriate? No? Then why is it okay to call Bachmann a misogynistic epithet in response to things she does that have nothing to do with her being a woman and everything to do with her being a crazy jerk?

    • Jo

      I don’t think that “bitch” was necessarily meant to by misogynistic. I think that for a lot of people, “bitch” is to females, what “asshole jerkface” is to males. It’s just an insult that people come up with all the time without thinking too hard about the effect it will have on certain people.

    • Jamie Peck

      Are you seriously going to take this into “n-word” territory? White people are not allowed to say that word, end of story. It baffles me why so many white people want to be able to say it so badly. I don’t really think anyone should say it, but it’s not my place to tell black people how they can and can’t appropriate language.

  • Kelly Stevens

    Ridiculous. She’s a bitch. She’s a lying bitch, a rascist bitch and an ignorant bitch among others. You are overly sensitive. Bitch has a totally generic definition in society today. It’s a real bitch that you don’t understand it. All you do is bitch about it. If she were a pregnant K-9 she might also be the other type of bitch, too.

    • Jamie Peck

      Bitch does not have a “generic definition.” It is, and always will be, gendered. When you call a man a bitch, you are insulting him by calling him a woman. Nice, right?

      Also: Hey, let’s do a thought experiment! What if you did something nasty to someone…say, punched them in the arm…and they called you a racial epithet in response? Would that be appropriate? No? Then why is it okay to call Bachmann a misogynistic epithet in response to things she does that have nothing to do with her being a woman and everything to do with her being a crazy jerk?

  • Eileen

    The Roots might not have consciously meant to be misogynistic, and it might superficially appear that “bitch” is generic and not tied to women. But think about how we use the word:

    “Stop bitching and just do something about the problem.” Stereotypically, what do women do? Talk. And whine. And not get anything done. (we have all seen this stereotype on about a million TV shows)

    “I’m going to make this [whatever] my bitch.” Oh, you mean it’s going to follow you around and carry your shit and do whatever you say?

    And, then, of course, there’s the classic: “She’s such a bitch.” It’s an insult for a women most of the time, although some people (like Lady Gaga, or her original incarnation, Madonna) like to accept it as a compliment. But it’s inherently tied to gender, given not only its definition but especially the way it’s taken when applied to men. If you call a man a bitch, you are claiming that he has stereotypically feminine characteristics, and when you call a man a bitch, it is ALWAYS an insult. Bitch is NOT a neutral word, and it is not okay to make it your go-to criticism of Michele Bachmann. There are a lot of reasons to dislike her and not want her to be President, but the fact that she is a woman is not one of them.

    Or, basically, word, Jamie.