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Here’s the thing about the word “c**t”

Samantha Bee was using the word in the same vitriolic way that men use it to it insult and intimidate women.

Here’s the thing about the word “c**t”
[Photo: Flickr user Michael Vadon; courtesy of TBS]

Let’s get one quick thing out of the way: I agree with my colleague Joe Berkowitz that what Samantha Bee said on her show about Ivanka Trump was not equal to what Roseanne said about Valeria Jarrett on Twitter (or what Barr has said in the past about many minorities, President Obama, and Hillary Clinton, or for that matter, the many, many horrible things the president himself has said). But I disagree with many of my peers that what Samantha Bee said was okay—kind of vulgar, but not that big of a deal. It wasn’t okay.

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I really like Samantha Bee and her show (she was on the cover of our magazine and at our innovation festival). I agree with the point of that segment: A presidential advisor’s decision to post a picture of herself hugging her son while she says and does nothing about the hundreds of children being ripped from their parents by ICE is deplorable. There are a lot of strong words you could use to describe Ivanka: complicit, self-interested, oblivious, morally bankrupt, and yes: feckless. All of them, and a myriad of others, would get the same point across.

But here’s the thing about the word that Bee chose. It has an interesting history and there is even a feminist movement to reclaim it. But Bee wasn’t using the word in an act of reclaiming power from the patriarchy. She was using the word in the same vitriolic way that men use it to insult and intimidate women. Something that happens all the time.  And Bee should know. She’s been called that word so many times, she made a satirical T-shirt emblazoned with one of the insults used against her: “Thunder Cunt.” (The shirt is no longer available for sale on her site.)

There is a double standard at play, but not the one the far-right is peddling that Barr and Bee’s comments are equal. The double standard is that many on the left are rightfully disgusted when some Trump supporters called Hillary Clinton a cunt but are fine when someone uses the term on Ivanka.

Being a woman in any public space means that you are vulnerable to being insulted and degraded just for existing or expressing an opinion. Every 10 seconds, someone on Twitter calls a woman a “slut” or “whore.” That’s wrong no matter who the person is. Last summer, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling went on 14-tweet rant against a liberal man she followed who called British Prime Minister Theresa May a whore. She said: “If your immediate response to a woman who displeases you is to call her a synonym for her vulva, or compare her to a prostitute, then drop the pretense and own it: you’re not a liberal.”

New York magazine writer Rebecca Traister believes that “Bee was not reinforcing or replicating the crude harm that ‘cunt’ has been used to inflict historically.” She says, “Bee was using it to criticize a woman precisely because that woman is acting on behalf of that patriarchy, one that systematically diminishes women, destroys families, and hurts children.”

Traister makes a strong argument, and I don’t doubt Samantha Bee’s politics, nor do I think Bee intended to diminish or degrade. Nevertheless, that was the result. Bee also made the comment that Ivanka should “put on something tight and low cut to go talk to her father” (a nod to the very creepy comments Trump has repeatedly made about his daughter, but still verging on slut-shaming territory). There are ways to reclaim the tools of the patriarchy, and then there’s playing the same game.

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I don’t doubt that Bee is sorry for what she said. If nothing else, it’s distracted from the entire point of the segment: Our government’s heartless practice of separating immigrant children from their parents. At the end of Wednesday’s episode, Bee referenced an aid organization helping immigrant families and she directed viewers to her website to learn more. However, in the wake of the controversy, TBS has scrubbed all mentions of the episode from the website.

If you still want to help, we’ve gathered several ways you can help migrant children swept up by ICE.

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About the author

Kathleen Davis is Deputy Editor at FastCompany.com, she also manages the leadership and work-life section. Previously, she has worked as an editor at Entrepreneur.com, WomansDay.com and Popular Photography magazine.

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