Posted by: smstrouse | March 2, 2013

Chicks for Jesus Redux: the Other ‘C’ Word

The big dust-up is almost a week old now – an eternity in entertainment news. But the controversy around the Oscar night tweet posted by The Onion, whose main purpose is parody and satire, continues.  Someone on staff thought that calling Quvenzhané Wallis, star of Beasts of the Southern Wild, a ‘c**t’ was brilliant satire.  OK, I get the satire part: Wallis is sweet, sassy, self-assured, utterly adorable, nothing like the bitches typically painted with the ‘c’ brush. But was it appropriate? No. And probably worse, from The Onion’s perspective, it wasn’t funny. The public outcry was swift, and The Onion’s CEO apologized. Naturally, there was then a backlash to the apology by those upset that The Onion didn’t stand its ground.

The timing of this was interesting. Just that day I had given a sermon entitled Chicks for Jesus, based on the quote from Jesus about being like a mother hen (Luke 13:34). In it, I mentioned that I don’t normally want to be called a chick. Like ‘girl,’ it’s one of those names friends can call each other, but is not to be used otherwise. I thought afterward that I might have been too heavy-handed, citing the need that we still have for books like Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls and I’d Rather Be Dead than Be a Girl. Then I went home to the news from the Oscars.

I have to say, I had mixed reactions. I had to think about this for a while. After all, I’ve seen The Vagina Monologues. Oops, is it OK to say that? The ‘v’ word caused its own flap in the Michigan State House of Representatives in June.  Rep. Lisa Brown obviously knows the correct anatomical language – and is empowered by it. That was the reason behind the part of VM that works at convincing us that the ‘c’ word  is really quite wonderful, and even has the audience shouting it out loud and proud. Many women have declared that the word is not only as acceptable, but commands respect and honor. Reappropriating the ‘c’ word is likened to the reclaiming of ‘queer’ by the lgbtq community.  So I get it about empowerment. There is truth to the idea that we can transform the negative power of words into langauge that actually gives positive energy to those formerly dis-empowered. In a way, then, being so upset about this tweet is making Wallis into a victim and taking away her power.

Still, I didn’t like The Onion tweet. And still don’t, VM not-with-standing. I read some of the commentary from those upset with the O‘s apology. One man said, “Well, it’s obvious that the complainers haven’t seen The Vagina Monologues.” That tipped it for me. I can reclaim it; he can’t reclaim it for me. I can call myself a girl or a chick; he cannot. So along with all the other comments – back and forth, offended  and not offended, OK for adults but not kids, racial implications, etc. – I knew that I had not been too heavy-handed. We need to be ever-vigilant about the language we use, especially as it relates to our daughters and sons. It’s obvious that our culture is a big mixed bag of opinion, ethical perspectives, intelligence, self-awareness and  awareness of others – and everyone has a platform to say whatever they want via twitter, etc. And not all of it is useful.

Speaking as an adult, I may or may not be empowered by reclaiming the ‘c’ word (the jury’s still out), but I do not accept using it in reference to a 9-year-old girl. That amounts to bullying in my book. I’d bet that Quvenzhané Wallis will never be diminished by this incident; she is not a victim. We are diminished, however, if we think it was OK – as long as it was satire.

It wasn’t funny. Misogyny never is.



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