The C-Word: Hate Speech in Heels

We talked about the C-word in class last week. It was part of a broader discussion about offensive words and how the majority of the name-calling we do in this culture is gender-specific, designed to denigrate women. And isn’t that in itself a form of hate speech?

The C-word ranks as one of the most degrading of all words. It is the female equivalent of the N-word. The difference being that people who would never in their sober minds use the N-word don’t think twice about hurling the C-word around.

Perhaps you have already heard that someone on staff at The Onion issued an offensive tweet on Oscar night, referring to  Quvenzhané Wallis, the star of Beasts of the Southern Wild, as the C-word.

Wallis is only nine-years old and already she is suffering the brutalities of being a girl in a society where hate speech passes for humor.

Despite their reputation for cutting-edge satire, The Onion admits the wrong-doing:

Dear Readers,

On behalf of The Onion, I offer my personal apology to Quvenzhané Wallis and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the tweet that was circulated last night during the Oscars. It was crude and offensive—not to mention inconsistent with The Onion’s commitment to parody and satire, however biting.

No person should be subjected to such a senseless, humorless comment masquerading as satire.

The tweet was taken down within an hour of publication. We have instituted new and tighter Twitter procedures to ensure that this kind of mistake does not occur again.

In addition, we are taking immediate steps to discipline those individuals responsible.

Miss Wallis, you are young and talented and deserve better. All of us at The Onion are deeply sorry.


Steve Hannah
The Onion

Makes you wonder if Mr. Hannah would have considered such an apology necessary had the tweet been directed at Jennifer Lawrence instead of a nine-year old child.

Some view Hannah’s apology as a blow to free speech.  People need to lighten up. It was The Onion, after all.  Nobody but the North Koreans take The Onion seriously.

Others — and I’ll add my voice to that chorus — consider this more than just an insensitive joke gone awry.

“I’m not outraged about this one tweet,” writes Roxane Gay, in an essay titled How a Wound Heals for The Rumpus. ”I’m outraged about the cultural disease that spawned this tweet, the one where certain people are devalued and denigrated for sport and then told to laugh it off because hey, you know, it’s humor.”

Keeping all things in context, I suspect it is easier to laugh off being called the N-word if you are white, and easier to laugh off being called the C-word if you are male.

But as a woman, and the mother of three daughters, I can’t for the life of me figure out any context where using the C-word would be anything but hate speech dressed in high heels.

Can you?




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