Or will they?
Recently a hot-button issue in some of the online communities I engage with has been the use of language and whether certain slurs, when aimed at a specific person, are indicative of an insult to the entire gender group of that person. The argument in favor of this proposition is basically that the use of gendered slurs such as pussy, dick, prick, twat, cunt and bitch denote that being of that gender or possessing the genitalia mentioned is inherently a wrong, dirty or vile thing. Additionally extra emphasis is placed on taking offense to the female-oriented words cunt and bitch in a theoretical framework that women are inherently more susceptible to being damaged as a group by these words than men are because using similar male-oriented slurs is "punching upwards" at a target of more societal power. This of course leads to the rationale that women need more shelter from the use of sharp and harsh sounding monosyllabic words.
While I can understand and appreciate that many feel the need to cry out at what they see as sexist and misogynistic, I'm not so sure this attempt by many at policing of common language is a very effective method of calling out actual misogynists or done with a good grasp of how to judge the dictionary definition of a used word versus the evolution of how people use it casually and the intent and aim of the person who has uttered it.
Let's start with a demonstration of how certain words and phrases that are common in everyday English can be used to denote a general emotion or sentiment while the actual definitions of the words are ignored or neglected. I am an atheist who doesn't believe in any gods and thinks the historicity of Jesus Christ is questionable at best. Despite the fact that I don't accept the idea of a god existing I still, by virtue of having lived my entire life in the United States, catch myself uttering phrases like "God damn it!" or "Jesus Fucking Christ!" when I get annoyed at various situations. These phrases are so ubiquitous to the culture that I am in, and used so casually as generalized expressions of frustration that the actual relevance to whether or not the nouns and verbs contained within are blasphemous or indicate a belief in a god or hell is almost null and void, with the exception of believing Christians who take the commandments of the Bible seriously. Our culture has grown so accustomed to people using these phrases with such a wide variety of intentions that most people outside of conservative Christians don't actually really consider the theological or religious merits when they speak them. Over time they have morphed to become synonymous with many generalized expressions of anger and annoyance.
I argue that the same can be said of gendered slurs such as cunt or bitch. Many people immediately label the simple saying of these words as misogynistic, or at the very least indicating a sexist mindset. I would instead approach each use of the words on a case by case basis and look at the context and intent of the speaker/writer before making a value judgment. Did the person say something like "Women are just a bunch of cunts, I hate all the bitches"? That would be a clear case of someone using the words in an attempt to express a dislike of women or the very idea of being a woman. However, if someone says "Janet is being such a bitch!", all we can really take from that is the person is expressing a dislike of Janet, not taking a stab at all womankind. Is it sexist? Well, it's still not easy to say because things get even murkier when you factor in how many flexible and malleable definitions these words have.
Most people are not saying you are actually vaginal tissue if they call you a cunt, nor a female canine if they call you a bitch, nor a penis if they tell you you're a dick. When someone is trying to express a heightened emotional state like anger or disgust they often resort to certain words of ballistic offense power to get their point across in the most direct and attention-grabbing way possible. The actual dictionary definitions or sociological implications of the words will likely be disregarded in favor of pure emotional firepower. Oftentimes the most potent of the arsenal are these harsh sounding monosyllabic words like fuck, shit, bitch, cunt and dick that generations of people with rather puritanical aversions to even simple mentions of sexual organs or acts turned into tempting taboos for those wanting to be subversive or deliberately offensive. In that sort of culture the words take on a life beyond whatever they originally described and become all-purpose slurs, useable in numerous ways that have absolutely nothing to do with the gender politics or identities of the targets. In most instances tradition trumps the dictionary.
But beyond the simple need to analyze each word's usage in the context of who said it, how it was said and the intent behind it, I feel the gender politics of taking offense to the very existence of the words is a bit insulting. This whole idea that I would somehow by way of owning a vagina need to have an extra barrier of societal protection from hearing one slur over another is nothing short of misguided benevolent sexism. I feel that the people who most loudly cry out in advocacy of these words being misogynistic or sexist are the most intent on maintaining a narrative of obnoxious gender roles and stereotypes and help perpetuate the idea that women are somehow not as strong as men in dealing with someone uttering controlled sounds from their vocal chords.
How absurd. How backwards thinking that is. Quite honestly that sort of thing gets under my skin more than when someone calls me a bitch. At least the person saying bitch is being honest about how they think and feel.