Insults Independent of the Truth
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.)