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Insults Independent of the Truth

June 21, 2010

As a follow-up to this post, I’ll note this: some insults appear to be empirical claims, but are effective even when demonstrably untrue. “Ugly” is like that. Antifeminist trolls call even the most obviously conventionally attractive women ugly; and it still has some power, even when used against women famous for their beauty. Why?

Why indeed. Because they’re not empirical claims at all. They are claims that assert a truth based in social structure. “Ugly” and “slut” work not because of the truth of the matter asserted, but primarily and often exclusively because there are elements of the culture that work to instill in every woman an insecurity that these things are true. The insult is really a claim about the existence of an insecurity; and the hurling of the insult itself is part of the social structure that creates and maintains the unsecurity. And I know several prominent feminists who admit that some of these insults sting even if rationally they know it’s untrue, for just that reason. It takes a strong woman to really just remain unaffected by it. A lot of women I’ve talked to over the years remember vividly when Kathleen Hanna wrote “slut” on herself in lipstick, because it was a difficult and radical thing to do.

And even if the target is immune, she’s not the only target. The target is every other woman, and the goal is to tell her that if she stands too tall or talks to freely, she’ll be the next target.

(Jessica Valenti wrote something pretty close to this about the “ugly” calumny, but I don’t have her books to find it now.)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Ellis permalink
    June 22, 2010 8:37 am

    Dismissing feminist by calling them “ugly” and “closet dykes” and “male bashing” and other epithets for daring to question our patriarchal culture, is just one of the many ways that the dominant group uses degrading insults and caricatures to stop us from talking about serious issues. Besides the “feminazi” caricature that so many people unfortunately believe,other social-political movements faced dismissive and frivolous insults.

    For instance, during the early 90s, gangsta rap(as admittedly sexist and violent as it is) and political rap, such as Ice Cube,Public Enemy, Compton’s Most Wanted etc., were talking about serious subjects like poverty,police brutality, illegal drug dealing, and gangs, but all the moral guardians and media watch dogs could do was complain about was the cursing,violence, and depiction of women(the last one is valid though), as a way to derail the very serious issues the rappers brought up. They would make fun of rappers for their sagging pants,backwards cap, and expensive shoes. They called rappers criminals who’s artform was illegitimate(you can’t spell crap without rap), and called them stupid for there use of urban english. All of this, but they never once engaged the serious issues rappers talked about, because they knew the rappers were right, but afraid to admit it, and so choosed frivolous attacks to downplay the message. Shooting the messenger, basically.

    And going back even further, look at the counter culture of the 60s. They were derided as cowards for opposing the war, and made fun of for their hairstyle and clothes. Same with the Punk movement and Metal Movement of the 70s and 80s.

    What I’m trying to say is, the second the dominant group starts refering to a movement or group with insults instead of criticism of their ideas, the movement or group is clearly doing something right. Feminist are obviously succeeding when all their opponents can do is hurl insults rather than give any criticism of their ideas.

  2. Diane permalink
    June 23, 2010 5:10 pm

    I think that ugly works as an insult because it’s not JUST an insult — it’s a statement by the dominant group saying, “oh, yeah? Well, we’re the ones who get to determine whether you’re pretty or not. WE get to determine your worth, not you. “

  3. Katelyn permalink
    June 25, 2010 1:31 pm

    I’m in total agreement with Diane on this. The “ugly” insult also comes from the general assumption that a woman’s number one priority at all times is getting and/or keeping a man. Calling a woman ugly as the ultimate insult is a way of saying, “Well, you fail in your primary duty as a female, which is to please men, so sit down and shut up and if you’re lucky and do as your told, maybe a man will take an interest in you anyway.”

  4. bumerry permalink
    July 3, 2010 10:05 pm

    Exactly – it’s pure dominator behavior on about the chimp level, with self-appointed alphas attacking reflexively at the least perceived threat, or worse, slight from an equal or superior they don’t want to acknowledge.

    But I am not a chimp. I do not exist for the pleasure and purposes of random men, or abusive family, or indeed anyone. I live for my own pleasure and purposes. I AM my own power. And age cannot wither my spirit.

    I will not be dominated, except as and when and by whom it pleases (or more often, pleasures!) me.

    Petty dominators don’t understand that they can hurl their hubris fueled taunts, or damage my body, or even hurt my feelings, but none of it gives them power over me. Only I can give that power, because I own myself.

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