Friday, December 07, 2007

Is the "B-Word" Ever Okay? Part 2

Good responses to last month's post's question, "Is the B-Word ever okay?" and some further looking around and asking around gave us additional food for thought.

So far, the general consensus answer seems to say, "Maybe". Or, more precisely, perhaps it's that it's not "okay," but society is becoming more resigned to the idea that its widespread casual use is a little distasteful, but above all inevitable. Some respondents (most of whom chose to post anonymously, so far) seem to suggest that we must try to read between the lines, divining when real mysogyny is intended, and when it's more just a ironic stance that a younger generation takes "to shock us."

For what it's worth, I agree. In real life, conversing with people -- with friends, coworkers -- we can tell a lot about intended meaning from their expression, tone, an ironic smile, a wink.

But, looking around last week, it still occurred to me that it's not always so easy to decipher in other forms of communication -- say, corporate brand communications.

In the last post, I mentioned Bitch Magazine, which clearly announces itself as representing (or seeking to represent) "a feminist response to pop culture," right there in its subtitle on every cover. And within, it often carries through with thoughtful and substantive content.

But the other day at my local wine shop, for example, I was surprised to come across a case of Bitch wine, an Aussie import distiguished for being "loud," pink and cheap.

As Carl S. Taylor, an urban culture expert from Michigan State, observed in the AP article by MEGAN K. SCOTT, which inspired this discussion thread, the playful woman-to-woman use of the word is “like a family affair. Family members can talk about each other, but if someone outside the circle says the same thing, it's offensive.”

If this is true, maybe the question is: Can any corporate entity really count on being "a member of this family," or is it just asking for trouble by -- even inadvertantly -- propagating a term that is inherently mysogynistic? Can a company give a "knowing wink"?

What do you think?