Posted by: f15eagle | November 30, 2007

Verbal Reclamation

Recently I overheard a conversation where another student from another class recounted how a instructor/professor did an exercise of sorts to reclaim certain words (I heard only the mention of the words bitch and cunt).

According to them the instructor/professor had all the students (both male and female) say them alound. The problem the student had with this is that men have used the words bitch and cunt to demean and degrade women. Women have the entitlement to reclaim them, not men. The point of verbal reclamation is to take away the psychological power these words have over us.

I ask what if anything is there for men to reclaim, except their dominance?

Thought I would share this interesting story…



  1. Throughout this term, I learned about the ways men dominated women and subjected them to oppression. Although I agree with your opinion about men’s use of these words, I think that this type of lesson is a poor strategy to communicate any worthy point. These are words I choose not to use and like racial slurs, I think they are inappropriate whether you are a woman or a man (reclaiming these words is something we women never need).

  2. While I don’t really understand the lesson’s intentions, and don’t know if I agree with it’s appropriateness (not to mention I was not there and shouldn’t pass judgements on it)…. I strongly disagree with the comment “reclaiming these words is something we women never need”.

    I feel that the power that these words have comes from the fear of the words themselves. When they are seen as taboo they are used less often, thus attention is drawn to them when they are used. When women-identified people are afraid of or hurt by the use of these words it perpetuates the power they have.

    I want to point out that I am not saying it is wrong to feel hurt by these words (words hurt). However, to never use them and never reclaim them lets them hold their function as insults.

    Turning them into positive ways to interact with other woman-identified people and to express ourselves is a very empowering experience. It may not be comfortable for all women. But to say that we don’t need to reclaim words or that it is not beneficial to women makes sweeping generalizations about how words effect individuals.

    To me, the word cunt is glorious, and it has served me very well as a way to describe myself and a way for me to refer to my body that is thunderous and exhilerating.

    To me, cunt specifically feels like one of the most (if not THE most) powerful word in the English language , so to be able to employ it to describe myself and other woman-identified people that I care about is something very profound and beautiful.

  3. I was just thinking about the question “what if anything is there for men to reclaim”?
    I think there is plenty for men to reclaim. The thing that jumps to mind is “masculinity”. I don’t think masculinity mean all of these things that heteropatriachy pushes on male-identified people. So I think that if I defined myself as male, I would want to reclaim what I saw as male and masculine. Because I think these words’ definitions are pigeon-holed.

  4. First of all, I found this story interesting. Thanks for sharing it.

    While I think that the activity of reclaiming words is understandably important to many individuals, I can’t quite see the justification of a classwide lesson such as this example. The reclaiming of words, in my opinion, is something that must be decided by the individual based on their own personal comfort level. To some, it may not be as empowering as it can be for others. It just seems to be a misstep for a professor to assume that a collective, classwide activity of repeating previously offensive or demeaning words out loud is the most effective way to reclaim them for every person involved.

    Personally, I agree with the reclaiming of words. I can understand the importance of the action. But, I can’t quite agree with making the reclamation process a class exercise.

  5. I thought I’d like to chime in concerning the ability of female bodied male-identified people to reclaim words like cunt/bitch.
    Is it gender that legitimizes the reclaiming of oppressive language?
    Is it only acceptable for FTM people to use these words after disclosure of their identity?

  6. I think that all previously oppressive words should be reclaimed by anyone who can turn them into something positive.

    With the example of FTM people, I think they should be able to have a role in reclaimation. But you do bring up an interesting point about in what context and with what company.

    I think that the main purpose of reclaimation is for people who have been hurt and targeted by the words. If FTM people in their female experience did feel the negative intentions of these words then it is perfectly valid for the individuals to reclaim them. However, I don’t know that everyone else would agree with that, so I don’t know where a safe place or context for a female-bodied male-identified person to do so would be.

    I also want to point out that it is not always safe for a female-bodied female-identified person to reclaim words like cunt either. And I think most of this reclaimation happens (presently) in communities where the individual feels safe to use the word the way they choose. I think maybe the same would go for FTM people.

    I want to end this comment by saying that I don’t claim to know what I am talking about, or speak for anyone else; I just thought it was important to try to discuss a question that isn’t easy to answer and that is easy to run from.

  7. I would like to add to “If FTM people in their female experience did feel the negative intentions of these words then it is perfectly valid for the individuals to reclaim them.”

    I also feel it is valid for the to reclaim them when they see the hurt it causes to the people around them.

  8. I heard an interesting interview on the NPR webpage from October 11 with Pamela Merrit, author of the blog Angry Black bitch.
    she has some really great things to say about this topic. She does a good job talking about who gets to say word like “nappy” in the face of the Imus incident, and how context, history and tone influence how and when people should use words that have painful histories.

  9. This is an interesting story, thank you for sharing it. I do wish we knew more about the context of this exercise as well as the intentions of the instructor. I’d be curious to know what the class was.

    If, as you say, “The point of verbal reclamation is to take away the psychological power these words have over us,” then is the intention to get to a point where all people understand the words differently, and not just women? Maybe reclamation is only partial if “bitch” and “cunt” are only allowed to be spoken by women. Perhaps the intention of the instructor was to get ALL people to rethink the meaning and intention behind these words in an effort to take away the psychological power these words have over ALL of us.

    Jessaca, I think you make a very good point when you say that masculinity is something with the potential to be reclaimed by men. The suggestion that the only thing available for men to reclaim is dominance creates a monolithic category of Man that ignores 1)the ways in which men are harmed by patriarchal culture and 2)the ways in which men are harmed by oppressions other than sexism.

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