A move that's likely to fail

New York City considers banning the words "bitch" and "ho."

Published August 7, 2007 5:05PM (EDT)

Some readers may remember that last winter, New York's City Council decided to symbolically ban the "N-word" in an attempt to publicly condemn the term (even though using the word carried no punishment). Well, it looks like they're at it again: According to the New York Times, the council is considering putting a similar ban on the word "bitch." Brooklyn Councilwoman Darlene Mealy, who introduced the anti-"bitch" measure, said that the word "creates a paradigm of shame and indignity" for all women.

So far the measure has the support of 19 out of the 51 council members, but if the comedian, columnist, architect and fashionista interviewed by the Times are representative of anything, the ban is not going to gain too much traction among hip New Yorkers. ("Hell, if I can't say bitch, I wouldn't be able to call half my friends," the architect is quoted as saying.)

But it doesn't just stop at bitch -- the ban would also apply to the word "ho," which apparently hasn't earned the fine shades of nuance that "bitch" has acquired since first being used circa 1000 (according to the O.E.D.) in reference to female dogs. The supposed reason behind the ban doesn't have anything to do with provocative architects -- it's inspired by the fact that the words, often in combination, are so often used in rap and hip-hop.

I'm not a particular fan of these words, and it irritates me that so many of our frequently used insults -- pussy, cunt, son-of-a-bitch, etc . -- insinuate that there's something inherently derogatory and shameful about things that are feminine. (Asshole is refreshingly gender neutral.) But rather than impose unenforceable bans, I'd rather see city councils try to deal with the abuse that tends to happen after those words are used.

It seems to me banning something that can't, legally, carry punishment would mean that every new Snoop Dogg song would be a slap in the face, not just to his "bitches" (cf: the lyrics to "Step Yo Game Up") but to the members of the City Council. And don't they already have enough problems to deal with?

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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