Tonight I went to the gym. I live in Queens, just across the river from midtown Manhattan. My neighborhood (Astoria) is considered one of the most diverse in the world. It’s a nice place to live, but, like anywhere in a city, there are “bros” around, and these bros like to bulk up at the gym.
Most of the time, the bros don’t overwhelm the environment. They work out next to overweight gay dudes, old Greek men, and svelte young women who probably work in mid-level marketing positions downtown. These bros lift weights and grunt, which is fine. It’s when they start spouting expletives that I get perturbed.
Tonight, a perfectly normal, almost non-bro type guy was lifting heavy weights when he started swearing. First it was the f-word, then it was bitch, then it was f’ing bitch. I looked over at him, his tendons strained, his anger peaked and misdirected, and I felt…how shall I say…wary. Because aggressive men who have no problem screaming ‘f’ing bitch’ at inanimate objects in public aren’t the type of human beings I feel comfortable around. I think there should be rules against this type of behaviour, and I think New York Sports Clubs should enforce these rules. The overt ‘bros’ in this case were actually quiet and behaved, expressing themselves exclusively in grunts; it was the average-looking guy who acted threatening.
On my walk home, two similarly normal-looking dudes pulled up on bicycles, waiting near me for the light to change. They were talking about someone, using normal words. Then one of them said, ‘I’m gonna kill that bitch.’ The other laughed. Now, I’ve never been overly sensitive about the B-word (in college, my best friend and I constantly called each other ‘bitches’ in the plural, referencing hip hop culture to which we had largely been exposed in childhood but were not a part of), but my ex didn’t like it at all and his sensitivity did rub off on me a little. It is, after all, a derogatory term for women, no better or worse than any other derogatory term, and like all the others, its existence in our canon should no longer be accepted. Our country has a long way to go before enacting legislation that supports and protects women (not to mention countless other populations), but it’s insidious that dialogue like this has seeped into our culture to the extent that we no longer notice. That we withhold complaining is even worse; somehow it seems uncouth to tell someone he (or she!) shouldn’t talk like that in public, because it’s derogatory and insulting. And because it makes them sound ignorant, hateful and stupid.
Like anything, hatred is insidious. It sneaks into the mainstream, masquerading as slang, as a joke, or appropriated from (in some cases) various subcultures. We start to use the words, thinking they are just words. They seem funny, we don’t mean it in an insulting way. We see celebrities doing the same thing. We hear it in the workplace. We know respectable people who talk like that, too. It’s ok.
But here’s the thing: it isn’t. Stop talking like that. Stop saying ‘bitch.’ Stop saying ‘fucking bitch.’ Stop allowing the undercurrent of (ok, I’m gonna say it) the patriarchy – or any other dominant cultural force – dictate how you talk or behave or what you believe. I need to put this into practice myself, and I hope others do the same.