I have something to say about the tweet from The Onion about 9-year old Quvenzhané Wallis. I don’t always have something to say about the word they used, the C-word, because I’m a grown woman who understands the reclamation of that word. Still, I won’t write it in print in a publication and, truth be told, I’m leery of even using this picture. That may have more to do with the fact that I have a high-profile job in education and I don’t care to have that word attached to my resume, but that’s my choice. My fellow Babble writer, Lamar Tyler, already wrote about it in his post titled “When Snarky Turns to Stupid: Why We Won’t Tolerate The Onion’s Attack on a 9-Year Old”. For the record, I’m in agreement with everything he’s mentioned already, but I wanted to break it down a bit further.
First of all, when it comes to reclaiming a word like that or even the N-word or the B-word, there are certain groups who feel justified in taking those words back. My homosexual friends may choose to use the F-word (no, not that one, the other F-word) when they’re in a social setting, but that is off limits to me. The same goes for my Black family and friends when it comes to the N-word. Clearly, that’s been a debate for years as well. Women, who aren’t fond of being called a word designated for describing a female dog, have every right to reclaim that word, too, if that is their choice.
Maybe this isn’t so much about choice, though. Not when it comes to a 9-year old little girl who probably hasn’t lived enough of her life to feel comfortable reclaiming any of those words. I can’t imagine that the precocious, bubbly little girl who I saw in an interview last month would even consider such things. Quvenzhané is absolutely adorable and the first time I saw her I knew she was going to be a force to be reckoned with, both now and in whatever bright future she has.
One of the measuring sticks I use to determine what’s appropriate or not lies in my job. I know I mention it a lot, but it’s a lot of who I am. Sometimes, when I hear about things in the media or what is considered satire or parody I wonder if that would fly in my profession. The answer is, as you might expect, a resounding no. We educators aren’t perfect, but one of the things I have never done is even use cuss words in front of my students. I go so far as to avoid saying things like “that sucks” or “you’re pissing me off” because, well, it’s just not appropriate. And yes, it’s up to me to determine that but my measuring stick is this: would I say such things in front of their parents if they were here as I’m talking to them?
That makes me awfully cautious. Rightfully so.
But I wanted to break this down even further. I wondered about the normal satire and parody that The Onion embodies and I can’t recall them using a sexual word to describe other little girls. What bothers me is how sexual parts, and the derogatory terms we have for them, got the green light in someone’s mind when they were talking about a 9-year old. More than anything, right now, I am extra sensitive as to the messages we send young girls especially when it’s cloaked in something else. Or when it’s simply the only narrative being told. Or when it’s from someone or a group of people in a position of power. The Onion certainly has that in the media and, normally, they hit on what’s absurd. Hey, I have a sense of humor, but this was anything but funny. Normally, I’m fine with parody and satire especially when it challenges ideas or beliefs that people hold, but this was none of that.
There is outrage, and rightly so, but the words I am thinking of even more right now come from Arundhati Roy who won the Sydney Peace Prize in 2004.
“There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”
Maybe I’m naive to think this, but I believe that Quvenzhané deserves to be heard for her talents, her cheery outlook on being nominated for an award, and for just being allowed to be the sweet, innocent 9-year old that she deserves to be. Arguments I’ve seen online today include How far is too far? and How old should a girl be before we can call her that? I get that we’re trying to dialogue about this, but some of that just isn’t helpful. Tying a word that historically has a negative connotation and one that is bound up in names for sexual parts is going too far, even in this cynical world. We really need to do better by our girls.
I mean really do better.
Read more from Kelly at her personal blog, Mocha Momma
Follow Kelly on Facebook
Follow Kelly on Twitter
More of Kelly on Mocha Momma Has Something To Say:
Don’t miss the latest from Babble Voices – Like Us on Facebook!