Wednesday, November 01, 2006


There are certain things that are best left in private discussions, certain things that have no place being uttered in the public sphere.

When Peter Mackay made his unfortunate reference to Belinda Stronach in the House of Commons last week, I refrained from commenting on the basis that it would do no good to publically comment on something that never should have been said in public. However, when the public discourse becomes so polluted with things that should only be said in private, if at all, those who care about the civility of the public discourse must reprimand those who show it such disregard.

Clearly in this instance I am referring to Norman Spector. Obviously, he has the right to say whatever he likes, I will never deny anyone that. However, Spector's comments about Belinda Stronach were shameful, disrespectful, unnecessary, and yes, sexist.

I will let J. Kelly Nestruck speak to the sexism argument, as he makes it very well.

Now, Andrew Coyne has made a half-apology for Spector. Coyne rests his argument on two points.

1. Spector has the right to say whatever he likes, even if its not something Coyne himself would have said.

2. Spector calling Stronach a 'bitch' is not so bad, because it is not such a bad word, and women apply it to themselves all the time anyway.

On point number one.

I'm tired of this defence, which is so common, particularly in the blogosphere. When person A attacks person B, person C jumps in accusing person A of attacking all freedom of speech everywhere. People can argue that certain comments should not have been said without aguing that the person who said them should not have the right to say them. A person's right to speak cannot be abridged, but in choosing to speak people open themselves to be judged on their words.

On point number two.

It is amazing that Coyne seems unable to comprehend that words can hold differnt meaning and effect when used in different contexts. Coyne makes the argument that because some women wear the word bitch on their t-shirts it is not so unreasonable or insulting for Spector to label Stronach as a bitch for certain personal actions of hers he doesn't like. I am willing to wager that with his comment Spector was not intending to give the impression that Stronach's attitude is one of juvenile playfull assertiveness but rather that he intended his comments to be hurtful and insulting on a personal level.

Posted by Matthew @ 10:39 a.m.

Read or Post a Comment

Similar to a white man using the nigger word? Yep, I can buy that.

A man calling a woman a bitch is (usually) meant to insult or demean the woman. A woman calling herself a bitch is being assertive, bragging, or self-deprecating.

Anyone can label themselves with whatever term they want. When I call myself a "stupid f*cking moron" (usually after I do something particularly moronic), that does not automatically give others the right to use the same derogatory term. If they do use it, they better have the argument on hand to justify the use of the pejorative.

Posted by Blogger Closet Liberal @ November 01, 2006 11:53 a.m. #

If I'd made comments like these two have at work, I'd be fired. I'm sure any of us would be fired for much less. Call me crazy, but I think we should be holding our public servants to a higher standard than our bartenders.

While Mr Spector is no longer a public servant, I don't think anybody will be soon forgetting his comments.

As for Mr MacKay: he is one of the privleged few that is selected to represent our nation, and the Canada that I would like to see represented, would never need to be asked if it 'kissed it's mother with that mouth'.

Posted by Blogger Cam Smith @ November 01, 2006 12:46 p.m. #

I'm gonna have to say that I disagree with the fact that calling a woman a bitch, in any circumstances, is necessarily sexist.

Here's your argument:

Spector was not intending to give the impression that Stronach's attitude is one of juvenile playfull assertiveness but rather that he intended his comments to be hurtful and insulting on a personal level.

Absolutely he meant it as hurtful and insulting on a personal level. That's exactly the point. It's on a personal level. He didn't mean it nor should it have been taken as a slur against all women, or on a gender level.

The point is, even if women call themselves "bitch", they also call each other "bitch", which is also meant to demean or insult each other. This isn't a sign of sexism. Bitch is like prick. It's gender specific but it's not gender universal. If a woman called a man a prick, no one would even CONSIDER calling her sexist. Think about it. It's absurd.

The point Coyne was making is that it's not a taboo word by any means, it is usually used by men and women to describe a woman (or, in some cases a man) who they find particularly objectionable for some reason or another. It has nothing to do with sexism or bigotry, in my opinion.

Now, having said that, I'll read the Nestruck link you posted and return if my mind changes at all (although I'm pretty stubborn).

Posted by Blogger Olaf @ November 01, 2006 11:26 p.m. #


Shockingly, my mind has changed slightly, in that it's the context around the use of the word bitch which makes the entire thoughtless (one would hope) diatribe sexist, or at least 'gender-insensitive'.

But I stand by the fact that simply thinking and calling a woman a bitch, even in public, is no more sexist than a woman calling a man a prick, which no one would even care about. However, since that's not necessarily at issue here, I'll take my leave.

Posted by Blogger Olaf @ November 01, 2006 11:32 p.m. #


I'm pleased to see that Nestruck's post changed your mind slightly.

I hope you can also see that I was not arguing that any circumstance of calling a woman a bitch is necessarily sexist - in fact, following the logic of my argument about the importance of context, would suggest the exact opposite.

I understand that Coyne was arguing that the word is not taboo. Which I agree is fair enough as it goes. But again we return to context. Coyne was making his argument in the context of defending Spector's use of the term. And Spector's use of the term, in context, was absolutely inappropriate. That was my main problem with Coyne's post. He was suggesting, with the necessary disclaimers, that Spector's comments weren't that bad. But they were.

Posted by Blogger Matthew @ November 01, 2006 11:45 p.m. #
<< Home