February 22, 2011

Can Slurs Be Redefined?

HEY…before I say anything…watch this video. Don’t worry if you don’t understand Spanish, I’ll explain what he said.

That was a Chilean ad against machismo (stereotypical male chauvinistic and violent tendencies of Latin American men against women). The commercial's slogan is: "Maricón, el que maltrata a una mujer." (A faggot is one who mistreats women.)



I found this video in a post on The Latin Americanist while searching for recent LGBT related news in Latin America. Basically, the Chilean Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs is trying to redefine the use of the anti-gay slur faggot, associating it instead with men who engage in violence against women in an effort to decrease domestic violence. If you read the post on The Latin Americanist, you’ll see that the author refers to the ad as “powerful”.

The only power I see in the ad is its ability to perpetuate the use of a word that is discriminatory and harmful. Heavily prejudicial, well-known slurs—such as faggot and nigger—can never be successfully redefined. The association between the term faggot and the LGBT community is far too strong. That being said, in my opinion the real meaning of the slogan translates more to something like this:

“If you’re a man who beats women, you’re no better than a faggot/gay man.”

The stigma attached to the term faggot is not going to disappear. It doesn’t make sense to me to use an anti-gay slur (or any slur for that matter) to label a group of people, regardless of what they do. It appears to me that they’re fighting machismo and domestic violence at the expense of their LGBT community.*

I find this ad to be degrading. What do yall think? Do you think anti-gay slurs can be redefined for a purpose like this? Or even generally?

*While I recognize the fact that the Chilean government is not very accepting of LGBT rights—unlike many other countries in Latin America, Chile does not recognize same-sex relationships, does not allow same-sex marriages or adoptions, etc.—I don’t think they should be promoting derogatory language. Assholes.


  1. So I always though maricón meant faggot as well. So i showed this video to a friend of mine who is from/lives in Argentina and asked her what she thought. She thought it was not offensive towards gays. Perhaps a use of language differs from Chile to Argentina but it seems it is just a nuance we cannot pick up (or me at least since I am not a native speaker). Here's our convo:

    "Yo: q piensas de este video
    es q signfica maricon para ti?

    Ella: y aca en la argentina se le dice maricon a los gays
    y si le pegas a una mujer que es vista como mas indefensa

    Yo: pero una palabra fea, no?

    Ella: se le suele decir maricon porque en lugar de pegarle a un hombre le pega a una mujer
    si es usada como insulto
    pero no taan fea

    Yo: pero es comun a usarlo a describir alguien q pega a una mujer?

    Ella: si a veces si.. aca en argentina se usan mas otras palabras mas que maricon
    jaja :S
    como puto

    Yo: Alguien me lo muestra y ella piensa q el video quiere decir q los que pegan las mujeres no son mejores q los gays
    insultando a los gays

    Ella:ah no no

    no es por eso
    es como decirle a un hombre q es mas debil
    o q es miedoso
    por pegarle a una mujer en lugar de un hombre
    pero es solo por eso"

  2. @ alec...can i have the conversation between you and ella translated. please!

  3. Ah sorry about that!:

    Me: What do you think of this video? Is it what maricón means to you?

    My friend: Here in Argentina we use maricón for gays and if you hit a woman who is defenseless

    Me:But isn't it a bad word?

    My Friend: it's common to say maricon because instead of hitting a man, a woman is being hit
    if it's used as an insult
    but its not that bad haha

    Me: But it's common to use it to describe one who hits a woman?

    My Friend: Sometimes, yes. Here in Argentina we use other words than maricón haha like "puto"

    Me: Someone showed me the video and she thinks the video says that those who hit woman are no better than gays, insulting gays.

    My Friend: Oh, no no
    Its no like that, its like to call a man who is weak or fearful for hitting a woman instead of a man.

  4. My Friend: Oh, no no
    Its no like that, its like to call a man who is weak or fearful for hitting a woman instead of a man.

    But that part just makes me think how easily the line is drawn between being weak and fearful and the stereotype of gay men being sissies. To me the translation can easily go to

    "to call a man who is weak or fearful for acting like a woman instead of a man." But me, I'm just not a huge fan of gender norms.

  5. To answer the original question: maybe you can redefine a slur if you try hard enough...but why would you want to? I would never want to redefine the f-word or the n-word, because they're reminders of our history. If I forgot all of the ugly things those words are associated with, that's a dishonor to the people who have suffered. Striking negative history out of our memory keeps us from learning from our mistakes.

  6. Let's also not pretend that every single person in Latin America (or anywhere else in the world, for that matter) is going to be right in what is or is not offensive to minority groups. A better thing to do here (IMO) would be to ask a gay person living there, since he/she is the party in question.

  7. Alec,

    While the point you raise is certainly interesting, I don't think it really addresses what is at stake here.

    Sure, your friend may say that maricón is used as a slur against those who abuse women, but it's more important to question exactly why this slur has become appropriate to use in that instance than simply to accept that it isn't always used to deprecate gays.

    It seems to me that the use of maricón here is intended to conjure connotations of weakness, cowardice, deviance and lack of masculinity...and of course these are the same connotations the word supplies when used against gays. (proof: "no es por eso es como decirle a un hombre q es mas debil o q es miedoso por pegarle a una mujer en lugar de un hombre pero es solo por eso") The historical specificity of the slur has provided these connotations, and simply changing the context of its use does little to repair the sociocultural damage and political violence of its continued employment.

    Consider the word faggot. As it is commonly used, faggot is more often directed at straight people than it is at gay people. The intention being to call into question one's masculinity and by extension humanity. That same conversation you posted above could easily have occurred between a latino and an american in opposite roles, with the latino questioning the meaning of the word faggot.

    Just a thought.