I don’t watch Samantha Bee very often. But I usually like her when I do. So when I heard what she called Ivanka Trump, I was disappointed.
The “C” word is a word I really struggle with. I am daring myself to type it out right now but I can’t. My fingers just seem to freeze and hover over the keys when I think of typing out c-u – AHHH, I can’t anymore. When I need to discuss this word, I say “the ‘C’ word” or “see you next Tuesday.”
I’ve been called the “C” word twice in my life. Both times were by white men. Once I was just standing with a bunch of friends on a sidewalk as we made plans for the evening. Then some guy drove by in a truck and lobbed that word at us. We all stood there and one of us asked, “Did he just call us that?” It was like ‘Why?’ What had we done to him that made him feel the need to cut us down with one of the most degrading insults a man can say to a woman? The answer is we had done nothing wrong and done everything right by being a group of young women enjoying themselves and some white dude just couldn’t handle that. He felt the need to cut us down and take away something from our otherwise nice evening. Don’t get me wrong, the evening and night were still good but the part that stands out the most to me from them is that guy yelling that word at us.
I told a white male friend of mine once about this experience. He shrugged it off, saying guys shout stuff like that at each other all the time. He said he and his (white, male) friend were walking down the street when some guy drove by and yelled “I eat pieces of shit like you two for breakfast!” I told him that wasn’t the same thing but, in the moment, I had a hard time articulating why. So here’s why: One, the guy yelled a line from an Adam Sandler movie at them, which just makes the whole thing absurd. Two, cis, straight white men are at the very top of our social hierarchy. So, assuming the guy who yelled was a cis, straight white guy as well, there was no power differential there. And if he wasn’t, well I know my friend is all those things so he was either yelled at by someone who is his societal equal or his societal subordinate. That isn’t the same as a cis woman being yelled at by a cis man. Cis women steel themselves daily for the possibility that some dude could yell at them from his car, degrade them or even assault them. Male privilege ensures that non-cis, male genders are the ones who worry about sexual harassment and have to (safety) plan accordingly.
Anyways, the second time I was called the “C” word was when I was 23 and very drunk. I was leaving a bar with some friends and on the way out, I picked up the phone off the host stand and said “Hello?” into it. One of the bar’s staff, who was a white guy, walked up to me then and called me the “C” word. I was trying to be goofy. Was it obnoxious, drunken behavior? Yes. Did it warrant being called that? NO!
Both times this word was said to me, I froze. As in the flight, fight or freeze type of froze. Every fiber in my being was shocked that this word had been directed at me. It felt like being cut down to my core. And that is the intent. When a man calls a woman the “C” word, he is trying to cut her to the core, knowing there is no equivalent insult because cis men and cis women are not societal equivalents. (Of note, it is important to consider how race and sexual orientation and ability factor in to this. That’s why we have the kyriarchy and why I wrote a post on that several years ago).
I’ve never, to my knowledge, been called the “C” word by another woman. While I don’t think it would have the same effect as a man calling me it, I would still feel degraded by it. After doing years of domestic violence work, I can’t call another woman the “C” word. Nor can I call her a bitch (but I can type that word out apparently…). I used to call other women bitches. In high school, I even called some classmates “sluts.” I would never do that now. And I never, even before doing domestic violence work, have I called a woman the “C” word. I know that my use of any of these words is not the same as a man saying them, particularly a straight, white, cis man (but seriously to anyone who identifies as a man – please don’t call a woman the “C” word, or bitch or slut or whore and so forth). And yet despite my gender’s lack of power, I’ve made a commitment to not call another woman any insult that is misogynistic. And on some deep, core level, I just can’t.
When I read that Samatha Bee had called Ivanka a “feckless C,” my first thoughts were, ‘Oh gosh, how are we, as the left, going to respond to this? Do we need to call for her to be fired?’ That just didn’t seem right but initially I couldn’t put my finger on why. Then I found articles like this, explaining that while perhaps degrading, Bee calling Ivanka Trump that word when Trump is in a powerful position in a white supremacist, misogynistic administration (and society), is very different than Roseanne, a white woman, degrading people of color in support of said racist, sexist administration. That makes sense.
Still there is more to unpack here. Samantha Bee also instructed Ivanka to put on something tight and low-cut and talk to her father. Okay, that is abhorrent. That is poking fun at what? Incest?! And no one is talking about that. This is especially disturbing given some of the comments we know DJT has made about his own daughter. Based on those comments we know that at the very least, Ivanka Trump has experienced sexualized comments from her dad – if at least is the right term to use when discussing familial sexual harassment. But what I learned doing domestic violence work is that you have to consider what someone is willing to do or say behind closed doors based on what they’re willing to do or say in public. So while we can’t make accusations, we do have to acknowledge we really don’t know what has happened to her in private. This is why I have mixed feelings on her. And this is why, as much as I detest how uncaring she comes off, I also can’t degrade her. Because her father is a powerful, white man who has no qualms about showcasing his misogyny, I question how he is in private and the extent of his patriarchal harm. This is not an accusation but an important question I believe all of us should be asking in this case and in any case where the relatives of an abusive person are dragged into the spotlight.
And I just don’t believe in degrading someone else. I hate Donald Trump. Hate is a strong word but I’m unsure it’s strong enough to describe the feelings I have for him. And yet, if you notice, I take care to not insult him. When I describe him as misogynistic, this is a fact, not an insult. And I try to talk more about his behaviors than him as a person. This is crucial for undoing oppression. Oppressing someone else is impossible without dehumanizing them. And no, DJT is not oppressed nor is he at risk of oppression. But I believe that holding those most powerful and oppressive accountable and recognizing their humanity rather than dehumanizing and seeking revenge is how we end our oppressive ways. This is tricky because it sounds like “you can’t fight fire with fire” or “kill them with kindness.” But it’s so much deeper than both those cliches. The oppressor will paint those they seek to oppress as not solely inferior but also dangerous and harmful. The oppressor will then use this as justification for dehumanization and all the degrading treatment that ensues. When we challenge ourselves to see the humanity in those who do the worst to others, it becomes hard for anyone to be dehumanized and thus for anyone to be oppressed. If we take dehumanization off the table and see everyone’s humanity then how can oppression persist?
This is what I ask of myself. This is why I aim to not degrade others, no matter how vile their actions. And if I do slip up, I take responsibility. I’m wondering if you can do the same.