Surely the King Bucks fat-old-bitch incident is still fresh in our/your minds? If not, read this. Ok.
I’ve been waiting, ever since Sophia Dembling was called sexist slurs by a local radio celebrity, for someone or anyone over at DC9 At Night to write a follow-up post about why it’s not okay to demean women for being women, even if you are a super popular local celebrity musician with a super popular local drive time radio program. However, it seems that day is either far off or not coming.
Instead, targeted critic Sophia Dembling herself wrote about why it’s not okay to demean women for being women over at PsychCentral. I mean, it is pretty straightforward, is it not? Writes Dembling:
Obviously, I have nothing but disdain for anyone with so little imagination that the only way he can argue is Neanderthal slurs. And I’m puzzled that anyone so thin-skinned is in show business. I tried to shrug this off as just the little crybaby hissyfit it is.
Except it’s not.
It’s a bigoted sexist slur that uses every possible cultural bludgeon against women: old, fat, ugly, bitch. (Quick, what’s the male equivalent of “bitch”? The only thing I can think of is “pussy” and, oops, that’s a slam on women, too.) OK, he forgot frigid, but I’m sure that was just an oversight. (Why is “bitchy” sort of OK but “bitch” over the line? One is a behavior, the other is a characterization.)
Of course, trying to persuade people (i.e. men) that this is equivalent to any racist slur is not easy. But there is no doubt in my mind that this insult is no different from the phrase “dirty Mexicans,” which got someone fired from this same radio station.
One of the ways smart, progressive people combat sexism is by naming it, then changing it. And since I know the Observer folks to be smart, progressive people, I asked the paper’s music editor, Pete Freedman: why haven’t you said anything in Dembling’s defense, or posted a piece from her? Freedman responded to me saying he doesn’t approve of Danny Balis’ on-air remarks and that he’s told Balis so, but that: “I’ve discussed this situation with several other editors here at the paper and we’re still determining how, if at all, we plan to cover the outburst caused by Sophia Dembling’s initial post about the King Bucks.”
Freedman says he’s “pleased” that Dembling took up the cause on her own, and noted that he himself has been called a bitch and a cunt and a douchebag by “various vocal critics.” As a result, “Our general rule of thumb is to ignore such ignorant remarks about our writers. We have neither the time nor the resources to respond to all of these jerks.”
Which is fair, when you’re talking about “all of these jerks” as in “all of the anonymous trolls of the world.” But we’re not talking about anonymous trolls. We’re talking about prominent local celebrities using sexist slurs against a contracted employee of the newspaper. My opinion doesn’t matter, of course, but I’d like to officially vote for not letting people who use demeaning, sexist language off the hook just because it takes time or energy to do more than privately voice disapproval. It’s a point of privilege to be able to shrug this kind of thing off simply because confronting sexist behavior is inconvenient. I would counter: people acting like sexist jerks is a little inconvenient, too.
To Freedman’s point: responding to “all these jerks” would become much less of a hassle over time if institutions like, say, newspapers, wouldn’t shrug it off when their writers are attacked for being women. It’s easy to dismiss one woman who’s been wronged–after all, women who speak out against sexism are easily dismissed as oversensitive harpies (for more information see: the entire internet)–but it’s harder to dismiss an entire newspaper standing behind her. That’s why I’d like to see them take a stand with Dembling: not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it lends confidence and credibility.