The very worst comment from a conservative (and it was an Ontario MPP at that) about Belinda Stronach at the time of her defection was made by Bob Runciman
. He called her a “dipstick.” And, really, that wasn’t so bad. Only, he decided to elaborate: “an attractive one,” he said, “but still a dipstick.” The addendum, I admit, was too much. But that’s as bad as it got. Accusations of sexism or misogyny beyond this point are indefensible. And yet, somehow and for some reason, even conservative apologists don’t seem to recognize this. To wit: a piece in the Western Standard today, begins, ‘“Dipstick.” “Whore.” “Moron.”
’ citing the various epithets leveled at Ms. Stronach following her infamous floor-crossing. Now, we’ve just accounted for the dipstick remark, so that’s fine. And while I’m not certain about this moron business, I’ll take your word for it (it seems fair enough and is, after all, gender neutral). But whore
? Nobody called Belinda Stronach a whore! “Whored
” was used, but not “whore”!
The difference between a noun and a verb is not, to me anyway, so subtle that the two in any basically intelligent person’s mind can be very easily confused. And, I’m sorry, but there is a considerable and very legitimate difference between a whore and someone who whores himself or herself. For, while it is unquestionably the case that a whore whores, it is also the case, one assumes, that a whore, on occasion, abstains. Action words describe action, they do not designate character. This way, not only does a prostitute abstain, but an atheist proselytises, and a priest disgraces. In spite of the at-odds action word, the noun remains in each case firmly intact. At no point, then, can it be said that the word atheist is interchangeable with proselyte, priest with disgrace, etc. So how does the (acceptable—given the circumstances—and neutered) accusation that Belinda Stronach “whored herself out for power” become “Belinda Stronach is a whore”?
Ruby Dhalla and Ann McLellan (to name but two), politically expedient creatures that they are, did a little word-tampering in aid of a very bad situation for them: their party, the federal Liberals, got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. They got caught with their hands in the cookie jar and, if you’ll let me draw out the analogy a little further, couldn’t do anything to dispose of the bucket-load of crumbs in their lap and the words “These cookies that we are eating are delicious” scrawled on their collective foreheads in chocolate chip… Understanding that the words “whored” and “prostituted” were by themselves quite innocuous, they were adjusted—slightly in form, completely in meaning… Which, I guess, is what politicians do. But the press and the pundits for some reason played along. And continue to do so.
No one ever called Belinda Stronach a prostitute! No one called her a whore! Why should I care, then, who Brian Mulroney notoriously called an old whore way back whenever it was; why should I care what Michael Bliss has to say in defence of the word’s usage with regard to defectors?!
If the word had actually been used, then maybe I would care. But it wasn’t! And, really, if the game is making up
slurs that the conservatives slung at Belinda Stronach for her appallingly dishonourable behaviour, surely we can do a little better. Shithead’s a good one. Or fucking shithead. At least a couple of real expletives might give this fiction some legs!
Anyone who indulges accusations of sexism in this matter are doing only that: indulging. Robertson Davies says that “without precision of meaning we damage not simply language, but thought.” This goes as much for those who listen as it does for those who speak.
“Prostitute” is another shameless misappropriation of a word as it was actually used by Maurice Vellacott: “prostituting”—this by Ruby Dhalla in a particularly pedantic piece she penned for May 19th’s National Post entitled “Criticism is acceptable. Sexism is not.”
No offence to the redoubtable Professor Bliss.