Blog Post 4: Pascoe and the Use of Fag

The first time I heard the word “fag” was fifth grade when a sixth grader was trying to embarrass someone in a basketball game who constantly fouled the sixth grader.  At that time, I didn’t know that fag or faggot was an epithet for homosexuality.  It wasn’t until eighth grade when I was told, “God hates fags” that I put two and two together.  By then, the word fag and faggot had a very different meaning to me and many of my friends than its actual meaning.  Instead of it being a slur for a member of the gay community, it was simply a very hurtful words either said jokingly by friends or to try and embarrass somebody else.

One of the great points that Pascoe brings up is how the word is used to emasculate and discredit other males.  The words attack the masculine identity to its core and is a tool to break down a male to their lowest point.  Here’s where a dissonance occurs though.  People say that they don’t mean fag as a gay slur, but the point of using the word is to break someone’s masculinity down.  What’s worse than being a girl?  A homosexual.  Even though fag might not be meant to target an actual homosexual, its meaning still carries on when used b heterosexual males.

The fact that fag is used to question masculinity, but is only used by males, reaffirms that it is a tool to establish a male hierarchy.  Women, as Pascoe also noticed, rarely used the word, and the few documented cases were between good friends and incredibly jokingly.  This may be because there is a fundamental difference between men questioning each other’s masculinity and a woman questioning masculinity.  There may still be some safety when it is just men setting a hierarchy, but when women are judging potential mates there is a lot more at risk.  Very similar to how women may refer to each other as sluts to establish a hierarchy/pecking order, the word has a very different impact when a man calls a woman a slut.

There has been a lot of debate in the pop culture sphere on the validity of the word fag as a slur.  South Park has made the argument that the meaning of the word has totally changed.  Someone who is very annoying, ignorant to others, just a bad person in general, is called a “fag.”

Louis CK’s stand up on being a “fag” is one of the go to references for people who use the word.  People would never say the word in front of a homosexual, because it would be interpreted very differently than by two people who are heterosexuals, and rightfully so.  There are certain behaviors that tend to prompt the use of the word “fag.”  One of which is obviously video games and another extreme anger or frustration at an individual.  The biggest reason why fag is tolerated, I believe, is because America still treats the LGBT community as second class citizens.

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5 Responses to Blog Post 4: Pascoe and the Use of Fag

  1. tsvarga says:

    I came from a similar experience (as did Louis C.K.) of learning the word “faggot” totally separate from the concept of homosexuality. In fact I didn’t even fully comprehend that there were people of the same sex that were attracted to each other until several years after the halls of my school were echoing with the word. First it was just an insult like “idiot” and then I learned a “fag” was a guy who wanted to have sex with you, but not consensually. Instead a he was a perverted boogyman that didn’t really exist but was a concept made up as an insult.
    Unpacking this years later is haunting. It says a lot about a culture that lets education fall by the way side out of fear of declaring a political position, leaving young kids oblivious to lifestyle choices like homosexuality. This leaves only the word “faggot” to fill the void, and sets the groundwork for the continuation of homophobic culture.
    So I agree with you that Pascoe’s point about the use of the word to emasculate other boys demonstrates the insecurities and battles over masculinity at a young age, but I think this grows directly from the initial vacuum of education filled only with other uninformed children with a bad word. Once they’ve developed into preteens and teens with an understanding of homosexuality, they continue to use this weapon they have sharpened, assuming nobody has dispelled the image of boogyman. Now they have a real population to target.
    But you make the point about homosexuals being lower than women, and I don’t necessarily think that it’s broken down based just on orientation. I think it has everything to do with the persistence of masculinity over femininity. Whether or not it has to do with a gay man, using the word expresses insecurities over a man or boy’s masculinity in the context of a culture that has made masculine and power synonymous. Like Pascoe talks about, the act of emasculating other boys with the word, especially other straight boys in fact, is followed by displays of manhood to bolster their own sense of masculinity. This even plays into your point about “slut” being sort of a female equivalent, but I think a true equivalent would be operating on a scale of femininity. “Slut” still plays into the same masculine-driven dynamic that “faggot” does. It is rooted in the male conception of female sexuality and so hinges on men’s opinion of women, not a rooted insecurity about being feminine enough.
    Finally, you bring up two really interesting examples of comedy’s interaction with the word. I think the world of comedy sometimes is judged at face value, but much of the time has a lot more at play behind it. You talk about how South Park is arguing that “the meaning of the word has totally changed,” and I’m not sure exactly what you mean by that. It sounds like you are saying that they are making light of the word and ignoring it’s implications for homosexuals, however, the purpose of the episode was actually an attempt to disrupt the connection between the word and it’s meaning so as to disempower the word. While I don’t think that it worked, it was more working to erase its implications than claiming that it had already changed.
    As for Louis C.K. I think you should watch this if you haven’t. Either the whole thing or especially 4:57 and on.

  2. Comedy is tricky. In many ways, it’s a safe zone for using offensive language (as we mentioned in class, under the guise of joking — a point that Pascoe makes as well). And I really like Louie, but think about his statement in J’s clip: “I didn’t know that people did that,” which again reduces being gay to a sexual act that’s understood to be unnatural. I think in many ways Louie’s is the adult version of Pascoe’s high school “fag discourse,” in which men who are anxious about their masculinity use the word in much the same way high school students do.

  3. ewiggins2013 says:

    Blog Post Response #3:

    I was really impressed with your analysis of the meaning behind the word “fag.” Regardless of the intentions behind its use, fag discourse really is an attack on the homosexual identity at its core. One of the ideas that Professor Stabile brought to the table last class is that it’s not really a joke if somebody gets hurt. Participants in fag discourse frequently claim that they didn’t mean to use it as a gay slur. Rather, they’ll claim that it’s just joking between friends. In fact, 1/3 of the boys that Pascoe interviewed claimed that they would never direct the word towards an actual homosexual. The problem with that defense is that the prevalence of fag discourse throughout society, particularly in middle school and high school, shapes the manner in which homosexual identity is viewed and treated. So, despite the fact that ⅓ of the boys Pascoe interviewed at River High would not have called Ricky a fag, they still contributed to a culture in which it was acceptable for him to be harassed at football games without provocation. No matter the intentions, people can and do get hurt.

    I think that there is one key distinction to make, though. Simply using the word “fag” does not mean that one has participated in the sort of fag discourse that Pascoe details in her chapter.
    That’s why I was glad that you brought up the South Park “fag” episode. When I first saw the episode, I thought that it was more of the same defense: “We can use the word fag as long as we’re not directing it at homosexuals.” However, after developing an understanding of the masculine meanings behind fag discourse, the episode’s meaning really changed. Rather than allowing fag to retain its effeminate or “unmanly” meaning, Trey Parker and Matt Stone attached a whole new meaning to it, which you summarize nicely in your original post: “Someone who is very annoying, ignorant to others, just a bad person in general, is called a ‘fag.’” The meaning is then specifically associated with loud and obnoxious Harley Davidson bikers. While you could certainly get in an argument about whether or not a Harley Davidson biker is the best representation of heterosexual male identity, they certainly aren’t notorious for being effeminate. The episode doesn’t reinforce the idea that the word fag ought to be associated with the unmanly, or that homosexual male identity is the lowest of lows. In this sense, their usage of the word fag really falls outside of the fag discourse that Pascoe witnessed at River High.

    The Louis C.K. footage that you also included is a slightly different example. Louis seems to attribute the “fag” identity to annoying, overly pedantic individuals. However, he then goes into a long monologue about how he respects homosexuals because he could never do what they do (specifically suck dick), which seems to affirm the superiority of his identity while trying to appear as if he’s not attacking homosexual identity. Even though I think Louis C.K. is a funny comedian, it’s hard to argue that this bit falls completely outside of fag discourse.

  4. madeleinelw says:

    I found this discussion in class really interesting, and I’m glad to see it reconvening here. I think that your point of using the term “fag” to create a pecking order is interesting. What I am wondering however is when and where it is used and why. When the word arises in male-bonding situations to create a hierarchy or to make a joke, I can see the use of the word as a tool (as you mentioned). It is a term that walks the line between taboo and almost acceptable in conversation. Perhaps in usage, it never is intended to be reflecting on homosexuality. But when the term arises in videogame play from anonymous users, what is the impact? What is the damage? There’s a difference, I think, between the reaction to bullying from anonymous strangers in a game to bullying in the real world. I’m just wondering what that difference is.
    I ask this because I think psychologically there are certain indicators of hierarchy, power, and status in groups. Publicly that is. Men can find their rank from whomever is tallest, strongest, bravest, or whatever is evolutionarily better. But in a game, even the most skilled of players does not necessarily have corresponding talents or qualities in the real world. Nor are there consequences of natural selection that are as severe in the game world. Does “fag” then become a tool for shaking the nerves of the player? And why should it? Is it a tactic to frustrate other players because, like in the real world, the term currently in some way suggests that they are not masculine?
    Another issue I have is that the term has become so loaded with negative connotation. After our discussion in class, and in fact, after many discussions of several topics, I often find myself frustrated with the lack of any tools to change the problem. When words become weapons, but their meanings are innocent, at which way do we combat culture to propose a better future? I’m not saying that I have any particular suggestions. But I do think the first step is addressing the language. “It’s not really a joke if someone gets hurt.” So let’s acknowledge that. In the game worlds, standing up to bullying in language doesn’t have the same potential for fear and fighting. I promise I’ll speak up if it happens. And hope that small acts can lead to bigger ones in numbers.

  5. rjhowey says:

    Blog Post Response 3

    I would be lying through my teeth if I said that I had never told someone to “man up” or “stop being a woman” or called them “gay” or a “fag”. Typically I did this during sports or while playing videogames with my friends. I no longer do so, partly because of the things I have learned in this class, and partly because of the accumulated years and wisdom that have indicated to me that women are tougher than men in nearly every way. Now I will most likely tell a person to woman up. Unlike the above posts, however, I am not going to break down the hidden meaning of the word fag. Instead, I am going to talk about something that is much more interesting to me: language.

    I can remember talking in class about the use of the words “pussy” and “bitch”, and Pascoe brings up many of the same points that we talked about. I was always curious about how the definition of these words has changed, and whether or not they are still changing. The original post touches on this, as does Pascoe. Some people are obviously using the word “fag” to deeply insult other people, but others don’t associate it with being homosexual. It reminds me of other words whose meanings have changed over the years. Two examples that spring to mind are the words “lame” and “dumb”. “Lame” was used to indicate that someone was disabled or impaired, and it wasn’t until the 1950’s that the slang of it came to mean an unsophisticated person. Initially the word was used to insult somebody by saying that they were missing limbs, but the colloquial meaning has completely changed. “Dumb” meant mute for hundreds of years, yet if one person calls another dumb now, they are not trying to say that the other person cannot speak. They are calling them stupid. Perhaps “fag” is moving in a similar direction. Initially, “faggot” meant a bundle of sticks, specifically for burning heretics alive. It then turned into a form of verbal abuse for women in the sixteenth century, and wasn’t until the twentieth century that “faggot” and “fag” were used to refer to a homosexual.

    Clearly these words were at one point meant to be insulting, but calling somebody “lame” no longer conjures an image of a person with missing limbs. It is an insult, but it does not mean you are crippled. Through time, the insulting words have stayed, but the meaning behind the words has either been lost or has changed entirely. I am not trying to advocate for calling somebody a “fag” or a “pussy”, far from it. I am just interested in how those words may be evolving. Hopefully, as time passes, calling somebody a “fag” or a “pussy” will be no worse than calling them “lame” or “silly” (which, by the way, used to mean deserving of pity, not funny). Language will evolve, and while this does not address the bigoted attitudes of certain people, it does help put the words that they choose to use into perspective.

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