I was reading Time magazine the other day, and I came across an article on actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Now, this may seem like the silliest way to begin an article on women’s rights, but he brought up a term that has been circulating in the media for some time. “Cumberbitches.” This term is what fans of Benedict Cumberbatch have given themselves, fans that are mostly young women. This term is just so wrong, and guess who aggress with me? Benedict Cumberbatch. In an interview that he recently gave, he asked fans to call themselves “Cumbercookies” instead. This may seem like a small step towards progress, but I think it shows the larger problem at hand.
The fact is, words are very powerful, especially when they are used to define people. Even when defining people, there is still a double-standard present. How many times have you heard women use the words, “slut, whore, skank, and stupid” to define themselves and other women? How many times have you heard men do the same? When I walk around campus, I hear female students calling themselves and each other these names in an attempt to repurpose the words into something powerful. However, this can only be done if men do the same. I have yet to hear a male student on campus call himself a man-whore, a dick, or a slut, even if the terms apply. This is because men are allowed to be independent from titles, whereas women are more interdependent. This means that women are socialized to define themselves based on the relationships they have with others, which is why these hurtful words are given so much power. When a woman has sex with multiple partners, she is deemed a slut because her interaction with these partners is what defines her. When a man does the same thing, he takes away power from his partner. His partner becomes the “slut” and he loses nothing from the arrangement. If anything, he gains the title of “player” which really is the same thing as “slut,” just with power being gained from the relationship, not shame.
Even though there have been many campaigns against slut-shaming, taking back the word “slut” and it’s many variants does nothing to change the unequal relationship paradigm. It only reinforces the idea that women need labels to be women that men will desire. Labels that are sexual in nature. That’s the reason women feel uncomfortable calling themselves sexy instead of slutty, smart instead of stupid, and strong-willed instead of bitchy. That’s why fans of Benedict Cumberbatch want to be called “Cumberbitches.” They want to feel sexy, but don’t understand that calling themselves the bitch of someone is not sexy, but demeaning.
I much prefer the term “Cumbercookies.” Yes, it may not be very provocative, but at least it shows how silly labels are. We need to laugh at the labels we have given ourselves in order to redefine the place that labels have in our society. Labels shouldn’t exist. Instead, women should be comfortable using positive adjectives to define themselves. These adjectives should describe them as people, and not describe their sexual relationships.