Monday, April 03, 2006

'Dyke' The New 'Bitch'?

Language and society exist in a perpetual state of co-evolution - as language evolves, so does society; and as society evolves, so does language. Keeping this in mind, I spent the weekend with my very good friend and political muse du jour, LP. LP considers herself a "dyke", to take the words directly from her mouth.

The first time she used "dyke", I was a little thrown aback but didn't want to show it because the way she said it seemed to express a certain level of comfort with her sexual orientation - something she hadn't experienced her whole life. Little did she know that by using the word, she signalled what could be a marked stage in the word's ongoing evolution.

"Dyke". Was LP using self-deprecating humor or was she on the road to empowerment?

Since the Nineties, feminism has continued to reclaim words such as "bitch", "cunt" and "girl" as terms of empowerment. In particular, "bitch" has evolved from its original derogatory meaning to one which instead celebrates the qualities of strong, capable women.

In 1968, Jo Freeman (a.k.a. Joreen) wrote "Bitch Manifesto", where she articulates the word's evolution, claiming that "Bitch is Beautiful". Later, in 1997, one-hit wonder, Meredith Brooks, uses the word by celebrating it as one of her many qualities in her song, "Bitch":

I'm a bitch; I'm a lover
I'm a child; I'm a mother
I'm a sinner; I'm a saint
I do not feel ashamed

Because the female character is often defined into traditional caring roles assigned to them through the patriarchal division of labour, other aspects of their characters have been denied. With the advent of Second and Third Wave Feminism, women have started to look at their more aggressive and independent qualities and celebrating them. The evolution of the word bitch from something negative to something of empowerment is symbolic of this struggle.

So can the same be true for "dyke"? I'm beginning to think so, but although I can speculate all I want, reclaiming the meanings or symbolic value of words occurs from within the specific group it affects - in this case, the lesbian community.

But as an outsider, I am witness to some pretty profound changes in our society regarding the lesbian community. Though far from equal, lesbians are legally entitled to marriage, adoption, spousal benefit packages; the community is becoming more and more accepted and even celebrated; and as LP has proven, words are being reclaimed, trading in shame for empowerment.


At 10:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for reserving the right to the lesbian community for reclaiming the word "dyke" and to decipher its new meaning.

Like the Black community, I feel that the lesbian community is at a place where only we can use reclaimed words. Thank you for repecting this and thank you for addressing a very interesting social phenomena.

At 11:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post! Very... oh... sociological. Love it.

At 5:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

LP - if that's the same LP from within the story, I think it's great that you are so bold about your sexuality. Hopefully "dyke" does become the new "bitch". In the case it does, I'll say it came from you! Hahaha.

But on a more serious note, I'm glad to see that "dyke" is becoming about self-empowerment.


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