September
14th 2009
Since when did “breeder” become an insult?

Posted under: American history, art, childhood, fluff

I always really liked them–one of my favorite bands evah!  Oh, how I wish I were a Breeder!  But, I never got around to it–and now sadly, I think it might be too late!  With all of the college and grad school and job- and tenure-seeking in my teens, 20s, and 30s, I never made it a priority to have guitar or drum lessons.  Of course, at the time, I wasn’t that interested in having them–and I always thought there would be plenty of time if I changed my mind.  (Plus, I never really liked couch surfing or smoky bars or staying up late all that much anyway.  Not to mention drugs.)  But now that I’ve entered my 40s, I’m wondering:  has my life been wasted as a professional historian?  Wouldn’t my life’s work have so much more meaning if I had gone the Breeder route? 

Dig that flashback to 1993:  “I’m just looking for one divine hammer–I’d bang it all day!”  I heard somewhere that Kim and Kelley Deal were mocking the earnestness of 1960s folk songs and political activism with this song.  (“If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning…”  Who was that?  Peter, Paul, and Mary?)  Well, what can I say? It was a particular moment in time–after the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings (September 1991), and before Kurt Cobain killed himself (April 1994.)  It was our Last Splash, before we finally had to grow up.

ratsassWell, that’s all for today, kids.  I hope you enjoyed the musical selections!  You know me–always kidding on the square.  A square just about the size of this one here on the right, one that pretty much sums up my life and career, which are just awesome, and thanks for asking!

64 Comments »

64 Responses to “Since when did “breeder” become an insult?”

  1. Dr. Crazy on 14 Sep 2009 at 6:35 am #

    “The carpenter goes bang – bang, bang.”

    I love that song and it was exactly what I needed to kick off my week! And I too am coming to the realization that the likelihood of my becoming an awesome rockstar is probably very, very small at this point, which is such a shame.

  2. Historiann on 14 Sep 2009 at 6:44 am #

    Thanks, Crazy–glad you liked it. You still have some time–don’t count yourself out, yet! I’m a few years older than you so I may be confined to the Susan Dey role of just shaking a tambourine in your band, though. (Except my rhythm really isn’t that good!)

  3. Laura on 14 Sep 2009 at 6:54 am #

    Not that you need an answer to your question about the term “breeder,” but I’ll offer it anyway. For the record, I didn’t see your use of it as insulting. But, I first heard the term quite a few years ago, when I was first becoming a parent and became part of a community of parents online. Some “child-free” people crashed our online forums and started calling us breeders. The connotation of the term is, in every use of it that I’ve seen it, that those of us who have children think that breeding is our sole purpose in life. And that we’re not good for anything else, nor do we want to be. Which is, you know, insulting. Just as it would be insulting to imply that those who don’t have children don’t understand what it means to have a higher purpose in life or whatever bs some people say about having kids. And who’s to say who’s wasted their life or not. Whatever. :)

  4. Dr. Crazy on 14 Sep 2009 at 9:09 am #

    While I’ve always responded to the term as ironic and inoffensive(perhaps because of my love of the band The Breeders?) I am familiar with the usage that Laura notes. That said, I think it’s fair to say that one can’t expect all people (whether parents or not) to be familiar with the term in its derogatory usage. This is an inversion of something that I think happens with the term “queer” – people involved in academic communities that investigate sexuality or in the GLBTQ community identify “queer” as an inclusive and positive term. People outside of those communities frequently only understand the derogatory valence of the term. This doesn’t have to do with bigotry – it has to do with discourse communities. In other words, when we get into the territory of terms like “breeder” or “queer” I think we’re in much murkier waters than we are with terms that are more universally understood as insulting. Like, say, A-hole :)

  5. Historiann on 14 Sep 2009 at 9:11 am #

    Laura, I believe you, but I’ve never heard (or used) it as anything more of a joking term. Especially after “The Breeders” reappropriated the term 21 years ago! I always thought of it more like the term “queer,” which is no longer offensive because of its repurposing by gay people and queer activists.

    I’m sorry that some people using the term “breeder” as an insult infiltrated your on-line support group. Blogs and chat rooms are always vulnerable to this kind of poo-flinging, usually by people who haven’t been regular readers and who don’t really want to help build a community.

  6. Historiann on 14 Sep 2009 at 9:12 am #

    Dr. Crazy–we were commenting at the same time. Like minds again!

  7. Kathleen Lowrey on 14 Sep 2009 at 9:51 am #

    I’m so glad I’m not the only academic who still thinks that the #1 career choice is awesome rock star! Like you, I don’t play any instruments & in my case my singing voice is also, how to put this, not quite arena-ready, but yeah. Obvy any other existence is a pale shadow by comparison.

  8. Indyanna on 14 Sep 2009 at 9:53 am #

    Hmm. Pretty good music. I missed that group, but then again, I guess I missed the ’90s. The teaser-toon for the first song made me think it was some kind of a Who cover band, but no way. When I clicked on the second song,”Ad(s) by Google” flashed “Why Not Pursue an On-Line History Degree?” There is some recent evidence that you can have a rock career of over a decade and then join an A-list history Ph.D program. So why couldn’t you move the other way? Other than the things Historiann mentions, like the holy trinity of noise and drugs and sleep deprivation, to name just a few.

    I clicked on the third image but music didn’t come out, so I guess my quarter only buys two free downloads!

  9. Laura on 14 Sep 2009 at 9:57 am #

    Dr. Crazy, no, I don’t expect everyone to know that many (most?) parents hear the term “breeder” negatively, but if someone from the discourse community in question says, you know, that’s insulting, I would think that those outside the community would respect that. Unlike queer, breeder has not been reappropriated by the parent community in a positive way. In part, this has to do with the extreme diversity of the parent community. In part, I think it’s that it’s not something we hear a lot and it usually comes from a specific community of people who choose not to be parents and believe strongly that others should not be parents either. It’s a small, small minority.

    The other issue I have with “breeder” as a term and perhaps both of you will appreciate this is that it’s usually directed at the women in the equation and not the men (there was a little of that even in Historiann’s post) and it figures women as mere machines for producing babies rather than as active agents even in their own reproduction. In other words, it smacks of patriarchy writ quite large.

  10. Tom on 14 Sep 2009 at 10:12 am #

    As I always tell my students, the user of the troublesome term never gets to say “When I say X, I don’t mean it as an insult”: all we can do is let our interlocutors tell us when they are offended. And if we choose to offend a second time, our interlocutors have every right to assume offense was intended. I always say “Please don’t call me a hillbilly; my people prefer the term ‘hilldweller’”: after that, if someone insists on labelling me a hillbilly, they deserve what they get.

  11. Jody on 14 Sep 2009 at 10:12 am #

    I used to spend a lot of time on general-interest forums, but also sci-fi and politics forums, and in the past decade, I’ve rarely encountered the term “breeder” online as anything but a negative term for parents, especially mothers. As it originated in childfree communities, it’s typical for people to use the phrase “parent, not breeder” to differentiate between good parents and bad parents, but it’s just as often you’ll see the word “breeder” used as it is here:

    http://happilychildfree.com/rants/?cat=28

    Perhaps its a relic of the early age of blogging (2004-2006), when men’s voices dominated many communities, but breeder seems to have reflected a particularly misogynistic bent within the childfree community during the middle part of the decade. I personally encountered the term with equal frequency on parenting boards (where rude people would show up to make hay: not the sorts of encounters worth cataloging) and on the general interest boards after childfree people had encountered obnoxious parents out in the world.

    My point is, the term “breeder” is well-established as in insult in online communities of the childfree. And because internet communities bleed, by means beneficial and nefarious, lots of parents have fielded the term over the years.

    Indeed, given the speed with which the past recedes, especially on the Internet, there are probably fewer 30-year olds who know The Breeders than who know this latest meaning of the term.

  12. Dr. Crazy on 14 Sep 2009 at 11:06 am #

    Laura and Tom, I see where you’re coming from, and I wouldn’t suggest that once someone has indicated that they’ve taken offense that it makes sense to continue using the term. (Note: I don’t think I’ve ever used the term “breeder” outside of this context in writing, so it’s not like I’m some big proponent of the word or like I’ve got plans to start using it now.) I do think, however, that if someone uses a term like that unwittingly, and then the person is corrected, the person who used the term in the first place should be given the benefit of the doubt until she uses it again. The whole “this term offends me” pile-on phenomenon strikes me as unproductive and in fact counter to the aims of those who object. I mean, if someone offends, and is alerted to the offense, what good does it do if more people jump on the bandwagon to berate the person about it? In a lot of cases, I think such pile-ons inspire the originally unwitting offender to continue (wittingly) using the word, as opposed to the opposite.

  13. Deborah on 14 Sep 2009 at 11:09 am #

    Historiann, I love your blog!

    Related to what Laura has been saying, the term “breeders” also carries connotations of animals and animality. It isn’t just that “breeders” suggests people who value having children as their sole purpose in life, but, in doing so, it also subtly hints that such people are more like animals. Since the culture we live in devalues animals, characteristics humans share with other animals tend to be considered inferior. Hence the perception of insult, especially when the word is used in reference to women, who are animalized in all kinds of other ways as well (I’m thinking of parallels between the meat and porn industries Carol Adams discusses in The Sexual Politics of Meat).

    Personally, I think devaluation of the “animal” is something that ought to change, but, in reflecting on conversations I’ve had in which the term “breeders” was used, I realize I’ve been subconsciously self-censoring. I’ve used it ironically and jokingly among friends who do not have children, but I cannot think of a single instance in which I used it in an in-person group that included parents. I haven’t yet decided whether this self-censorship is a good thing or a bad thing.

  14. Wynken de Worde on 14 Sep 2009 at 12:54 pm #

    Historiann, you need to know: It’s Pete Seeger! Seeger and Lee Hays wrote “If I had a hammer” and performed it with their quartet the Weavers in the early 1950s, though it hit the big time with the Peter, Paul and Mary recording. Pete is way better then them, though, and a true progressive (and one who has even seen the error of his earlier male-focused ways). I’ve always loved Pete, but I came to really love him after my breeding days: those folk songs and political anthems are perfect fodder for kids. Nothing warms your heart more than seeing your toddler line his teddy bears up on the sofa and sing, “Which side are you on, boys?”

    You can see Pete perform “If I had a hammer” in with Arlo Guthrie in 2008 in front of a live, singing audience:

  15. Laura on 14 Sep 2009 at 1:16 pm #

    Dr. Crazy–didn’t mean to pile on at all! :) Point taken, especially since I have definitely been on the other side of this. And honestly, the word means more and is more insulting when coming from a particular perspective and I don’t think either you or Historiann are coming from that perspective.

  16. Historiann on 14 Sep 2009 at 1:18 pm #

    Deborah and Laura–great points about the clearly gendered meaning of “breeder” as a female body, and the connection to animals (and livestock in particular). I still intend to use the term playfully, but I absolutely see your points. I’ve been considering a post on the anxieties about the female reproductive body being at the heart of a lot of opposition to health care reform, and your thoughts in this thread are really helping me to think through some of my ideas. So, stay tuned!

    Tom raises a good point–but I will just say this: most of the people I know who use this term are parents who use the term “breeder” in the joking, ironic fashion I intended last week and today. I understand that I pissed people off, but the people I pissed off may just not get me or my blog. They’re free to stop reading. The price of attracting an audience for my frankly stated opinions is that I will piss people off sometimes.

    But, since people who can rightfully be called “breeders” usually are the beneficiaries of social approval and are rarely shunned or excluded from communities because they have children (with the exception of some retirement communities, that is), they can learn to take a joke once in a while. Non-heteronormative, non-reproductive people’s sexual and family choices are held up to MUCH more scrutiny and they hear a LOT more unsolicited advice and opinions than straight people with children. (And yes, I recognize that gay couples have children now too, I’m just saying that the majority of “breeders” are straights.)

    Thanks for all of your thoughtful comments–I didn’t think I’d get much intellectual mojo in this thread, since my post today was obviously joking around and having fun with pop culture, but this is great!

  17. quixote on 14 Sep 2009 at 1:27 pm #

    “Whaddya mean, had to grow up? Those of us from the 1960s know there’s no such thing.

    (Honestly. Kids these days. Don’t know anything.)

  18. Historiann on 14 Sep 2009 at 1:30 pm #

    And, Wynken–thanks for the correction on “If I Had a Hammer!” You’re right of course that those songs are much more listenable over and over and over again than your average kids’ music. (Another tip? Show tunes! In my contact with young relatives in the current decade, I think I’ve memorized the entire original scores of Mary Poppins, Oklahoma, Singin’ in the Rain, and the Wizard of Oz…too bad I’m not in the Theater department or I’d put it on my annual evaluation.)

  19. Jody on 14 Sep 2009 at 1:34 pm #

    [My comment got caught in moderation limbo because I used a URL, so I'm altering the URL and re-posting in the hopes of getting through. I did understand that you were using the term as a joke, and I take your point now about how people who are called "breeders" have enough privilege to shake it off, but I still do think that the misogynistic deployment of the term deserves a second look. Especially in the context of a discussion about patriarchy.

    I confess to having been around online forums and personal websites-to-blogs since 1996, so some of my focus here is the historical use of the term as I've experienced it in the early Internet Era.]

    I used to spend a lot of time on general-interest forums, but also sci-fi and politics forums, and in the past decade, I’ve rarely encountered the term “breeder” online as anything but a negative term for parents, especially mothers. As it originated in childfree communities, it’s typical for people to use the phrase “parent, not breeder” to differentiate between good parents and bad parents, but it’s just as often you’ll see the word “breeder” used as it is here:

    happilychildfree . com / rants / ?cat=28 [remove the spaces before and after the period and the slash marks]

    Perhaps its a relic of the early age of blogging (2004-2006), when men’s voices dominated many communities, but breeder seems to have reflected a particularly misogynistic bent within the childfree community during the middle part of the decade. I personally encountered the term with equal frequency on parenting boards (where rude people would show up to make hay: not the sorts of encounters worth cataloging) and on the general interest boards after childfree people had encountered obnoxious parents out in the world.

    My point is, the term “breeder” is well-established as in insult in online communities of the childfree. And because internet communities bleed, by means beneficial and nefarious, lots of parents have fielded the term over the years.

    Indeed, given the speed with which the past recedes, especially on the Internet, there are probably fewer 30-year olds who know The Breeders than who know this latest meaning of the term.

    [I agree that parents, particularly straight parents, have privilege enough to go around. I also think that the misogyny of the term as it's usually deployed on the internet is noteworthy, especially when we're talking about the discourses that inform patriarchal equilibrium.]

  20. Historiann on 14 Sep 2009 at 1:37 pm #

    Jody–I’m sorry, your comment got held up in moderation. Interesting to hear your theory that “breeder” was indeed an insult in on-line communities. I can totally see this–especially because of (as you note) the male-dominated nature of web-based conversations as well as because of the interest that jerks have in derailing said conversations.

    Since I don’t read parenting blogs, I was unaware that people used that term so harshly. (To my mind, calling someone a “breeder” and meaning it to be an insult is like calling someone a “witch” or a “socialist.” Really, what’s the point, at this time in human history?) It’s like Anglachel’s tagline on her blog: “you say I’m a bitch as if that were a bad thing.”

  21. Marya on 14 Sep 2009 at 1:41 pm #

    “Breeder” isn’t so bad. At least you didn’t say “crotchfruit.”

  22. Notorious Ph.D. on 14 Sep 2009 at 1:42 pm #

    My only experiences with the word “breeder” come from the early 90s, when it was used (by both sides) to distinguish hetero- from homosexuals, and always in a lighthearted manner. I think it fell out of use soon after, as gay/lesbian parenting became more common, and people became more aware that not all het couples wanted children. I haven’t used it in the last 15 years or so, simply because the way I always used it now requires so many caveats as to make it unwieldy. But this whole use of it as a disparaging term used by those who choose not to have children (including me) against those who choose to (many friends, and everyone else in my family) strikes me as just plain rude. If I don’t want people all up in my reproductive business, I stay the hell away from theirs. Period.

  23. Jody on 14 Sep 2009 at 1:48 pm #

    You know, on second thought: In 2007, 40 percent of children were born to single mothers, and I doubt that all of them were celebrated or included for their parenting choices. I’ve seen a lot of young, poor, women of color called “breeders” over the years, I don’t think the term gains anything in playfulness through its association with that discourse.

  24. perpetua on 14 Sep 2009 at 1:53 pm #

    I’ve also only ever heard the term as an insult, in a context where it was also perfectly clear that it was a gendered insult. However, I’ve only ever heard it once or twice, and never in a casual, tongue-in-cheek, obviously-joking way. In the latter case, I wouldn’t be insulted – if for example one of my friends used it. But generally I think it’s good to keep track of the gendered nature of the term, because it’s not just a joking/ neutral/hostile term by the unencumbered (shout out, Dr. Crazy, I love that term!) depending on the context, but a way of connecting women to nonpersonhood (as one high school kid once said next to me “she’s just two legs and a vagina”). In its negative form, it is directed at and seeks to control all women regardless of reproductive status – it makes me think of “pre-pregnant” (remember that Bush era gem?!) and Crazy’s comments about motherhood being equally inscribed on women who aren’t mothers.

    And in a tongue in cheek way, I’d like to say to Historiann that I don’t know if the unencumbered get more “advice” from the world than mothers – whowee the way strangers feel free to correct parenting! But overall, I do take your point, and I think it’s worth reminding parents/ the married of the benefits and privilege they often receive. (oh the bliss of never having the hear “don’t you ever want to get married?” again!)

  25. Jody on 14 Sep 2009 at 1:53 pm #

    Lots of cross-posting going on!

    You know, I’ve never encountered the term “breeder” except in two venues: among gay/lesbian friends while we were all in our twenties [and as Notorious PhD wrote, this was the early 1990s], and I figured I could take a little razzing as the straight girl in the room (plus, I was infertile and had some issues with parents anyway) and then online for most of the last decade. And I gotta tell you, online, especially around 2006/2007, the term was deployed regularly, and with special vitriolic gusto.

    When I think back to that period, it seems to me that a number of internet blog-based communities were just getting their feet under them, and vitriol was part and parcel of the experience.

  26. perpetua on 14 Sep 2009 at 1:54 pm #

    @ Jody, I’m so glad you brought up the race & class angle as well – maternal privilege is deeply raced and classed.

  27. Sisyphus on 14 Sep 2009 at 1:59 pm #

    “You’re the funk in my re.ggae. song.” *wales the shit out of an invisible drumset*

    Twenty-one years ago! Say it ain’t so! You make me sad and feel old!!!!

  28. Historiann on 14 Sep 2009 at 2:06 pm #

    Sisyphus–Last Splash was only (only?) 16 years ago, but the Breeders formed in 1988 (21 years ago).

    And we can all sing along with this line:

    I just want to get along

  29. Bavardess on 14 Sep 2009 at 2:31 pm #

    I hope you’ll get the chance soon to do the post on women’s reproductive bodies and healthcare reform – I think that would generate a lot of interesting discussion.

    I’d like to take issue with your comment above, though – “But, since people who can rightfully be called “breeders” usually are the beneficiaries of social approval and are rarely shunned or excluded from communities because they have children (with the exception of some retirement communities, that is), they can learn to take a joke once in a while.” In my experience, this can be fairly applied within middle/upper class communities, but certainly not to working class people (the common response is ‘why do they have so many children when they can’t support them properly?!’), and especially, young single mothers.

    Having been a teenage single mother myself (oh so many moons ago), I can assure you that social approval is not the general experience of this group. And where I live, at least, they are also the absolute bottom of the pile when it comes to social benefits/tax breaks/government assistance. Instead, it is the middle class voters who are courted by both major political parties who are the main beneficiaries of any privileges of parenthood.

  30. Ben Brumfield on 14 Sep 2009 at 2:41 pm #

    Words have histories too. According to the 2002 draft OED etymology, breeder is attested as a “depreciative” slang term for heterosexuals as early as 1979.

  31. Historiann on 14 Sep 2009 at 2:44 pm #

    Bavardess, Jody, and Perpetua–you’re right that my generalization didn’t apply to many of the women who might likely be targeted as “breeders”–unmarried, young women from poor or working-class backgrounds. By way of explanation, my only contact with the humorous/ironic use of the term was in the gay v. straight context in the early 1990s that Notorious notes above, and among my middle-class intellectual friends who are themselves “breeders.”

    This is what my health care reform post is going to take up: anxieties about young and/or poor and/or non-white and/or immigrant women’s bodies, who seem to be at the heart of both the anti-immigration and anti-abortion fears about who and what procedures would be covered under a “pubic option.”

  32. Bardiac on 14 Sep 2009 at 2:57 pm #

    I remember the term being used as somewhat depreciatively among gay/lesbian/bi friends in the 80s, certainly. But it also struck me as a somewhat defensive reaction against the romanticized versions of parenting that often dominate US cultural discourses (and that don’t include single mothers, poor folks, or women of color, often). I’ve also heard it used as a response to the patriarchal, heteronormative imperitive to have lots of white babies, as expressed by some members of the far right.

  33. Bavardess on 14 Sep 2009 at 3:08 pm #

    I know this conversation has been mostly about women/mothers, but with regard to health reform and the anxiety over women’s reproductive bodies, it would also be interesting to consider when and how men’s reproductive bodies become visible and problematic, and the race and class issues involved in that. I’m thinking particularly about discourses around young, usually black (or in NZ’s case Maori/Polynesian) men ‘breeding’ indiscriminately and then refusing their social responsibilities as fathers (the whole baby-daddy discourse).

    By the way, was ‘pubic option’ a deliberate pun or a Freudian slip? :) (A friend of mine once spent a small fortune printing up a glossy brochure for his new PR business, only to find he was offering people his expertise in “pubic relations”.)

  34. Historiann on 14 Sep 2009 at 3:15 pm #

    EEEEeeewwwww–definitely a typo. Sorry about that! I really don’t want to think about people’s “pubic options” in any greater detail, which is why I’m a historian and not a medical doctor.

    I’ll let others write about the menz. Although I have written about masculinity in colonial America, I really only have the energy to write about modern women with respect to health care reform in the U.S. (Oh, sorry–I mean HEALTH INSURANCE reform, since everyone agrees that our foremost priority is protecting the profits of insurance companies!)

  35. Deborah on 14 Sep 2009 at 3:22 pm #

    Speaking of word histories, I think the “depreciative” usage of breeder may go back before 1979, although perhaps this is only with respect to women (and hence perhaps not worthy of mention in the OED?). Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” comes to mind. Swift, of course, uses the term satirically, but it is interesting that he applies it only to female parents: “I calculate there may be about two hundred thousand couple whose wives are breeders.”

  36. Historiann on 14 Sep 2009 at 3:25 pm #

    Satire? Surely satire has no place on this blog, Deborah.

    Or, as Homer J. Simpson once said, in the episode in which Mr. Burns needs blood transfusions from Bart to cure his “hypohemia:” “In case you can’t tell, I’m BEING SARCASTIC!”

  37. truffula on 14 Sep 2009 at 3:29 pm #

    perpetua writes whowee the way strangers feel free to correct parenting!

    You know, my male partner seems to get a lot more of this when he’s out and about with our boys than I do BUT what I do receive comes from men (oh mom, give them a break, they were only…) and what he receives seems to come more from women. Other dudes seem pretty supportive of him when he’s doing his best to manage two bored or unruly children. It might be the nature of the places we are taking our children (he’s the daytime care giver). As I like to say during lectures, “dunno.”

  38. Dr. Crazy on 14 Sep 2009 at 3:58 pm #

    To Laura’s comment WAY up-thread: I didn’t think you were doing the pile-on thing at all! Never fear!

  39. Digger on 14 Sep 2009 at 4:36 pm #

    I first encountered “Breeder”, like Notorious, in the very early 1990s. It was used two ways in the gay community: somewhat dismissively to reference heterosexuals (“Oh, well, you know those breeders…”) and also, less often, very viciously to refer to heterosexuals (“Those F-ing Breeders…”). Neither uses were gender-specific, and everyone using the term knew full well that gays were perfectly capable of having kids (we all knew that we didn’t have to turn in our plumbing when we got our Gay Agenda cards). I think it was, in part, a reaction to being “F-ing Queers!” and also to the “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” argument that the only relationships that count are the ones where sex=kids.

    I had no idea child-less people were using the term to refer to those with kids.

    As for Queer, I use the term in classes referring to queer theory and approaches in anthropology. I use it to refer to myself on occasion, and to refer to others who I know identify as Queer. But there are lots of gay, lesbian, and bisexual folks who do not consider themselves Queer, and get put out when they’re referred to that way. Identity is a slippery thing!

  40. Knitting Clio on 14 Sep 2009 at 5:36 pm #

    Historiann, it’s never too late to give up on the dream — I started taking guitar lessons again a few years and am having a great time.

  41. squadratomagico on 14 Sep 2009 at 6:12 pm #

    Or you could join a circus!! Better than a rock band!

    Can you juggle?

  42. Dr. Crazy on 14 Sep 2009 at 7:14 pm #

    Dude, Squadro, I totally tried to learn how to juggle and failed miserably. I think my best bet would be putting a beard on myself ( I was in the drama club in high school after all, so I know how to apply such things ) and to become the bearded lady :)

  43. squadratomagico on 14 Sep 2009 at 7:45 pm #

    Oh, but Magdalen plays our bearded lady (and she is HAWT! as “Bertha.”)

    OTOH, our half-man/half-woman just left the group, so we have a definite opening there.

  44. Dr. Crazy on 14 Sep 2009 at 8:13 pm #

    I could TOTALLY be a half-man, half-woman. Indeed, I’d often much rather that were the actual state of affairs!

  45. k8 on 14 Sep 2009 at 8:40 pm #

    I normally lurk here – I think I’ve only commented a few times in the past. Anyway, I have always heard the term “breeder” used in a derogatory way. Well, with the exception of when someone’s talking about a dog breeder or a horse breeder, or a breeder of some other sort of animal. Every single time I’ve seen it used to label people who have children, it has been derogatory.

    In Krista Ratcliffe’s book Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness, there is a passage in which she discusses a scenario in which one grad student unintentionally insulted another and didn’t understand what had happened. After the insult was explained to the student, the student says “That’s not what I intended” and Ratcliffe answers, “But…perhaps that was the effect.”

    I think that is getting lost in these discussions of this term. Even if you didn’t mean to insult anyone, that was the effect. The term “breeder” objectifies a particular group of women and perhaps those who aren’t objectified by it are not the ones who should decide whether or not these women are allowed to be offended. To deny the effect in this case (despite the intent) denies those affected the agency to define the way parenting is a part of their lives. It doesn’t allow them to voice the way(s) they feel this term dehumanizes them.

    Anyway, that’s how I feel about it. Clearly I am in the minority on this thread.

  46. Dr. Crazy on 14 Sep 2009 at 9:03 pm #

    K8, I’m not sure that you’re in the minority on the thread. I know that Laura commented similarly, as did a few others. I just think that the others who’ve commented have been entering into conversation about the question about when this became an insult, and from whence the offense comes, whether they are parents or not (some are, some aren’t). I’m not saying the term is not offensive. I’m not saying that I endorse the term. I do, however, endorse Historiann’s right to ask the question. If nobody asks the question, how is it possible to have an open and honest discussion?

  47. Historiann on 14 Sep 2009 at 9:12 pm #

    I am so not a juggler! That would take coordination and dexterity. Epic fail on my part!

    K8–I understand where you’re coming from. I appreciate now that many people find the term “breeder” offensive. And yet, a major band had major play in the 1990s under the name “The Breeders.” There were no protests in the streets and no CD burnings. No one here has protested the name “The Breeders” for the rock-n-roll band. In fact, they seemed at the time, and still seem today, to have a great deal of street cred among feminists. To emphasize this point that “breeder” may not rise to the same standard as other offensive terms: I don’t know of any major bands that go by a term like that–I haven’t heard of the K!kes, or the N-words, or the C-youknowwhats. Maybe there are local bands that play on those terms, but I haven’t heard of any of them.

    In my initial invocation of the term “breeders,” I used it specifically as a tip of the hat in an aside to my readers who are not heteronormative and who don’t have children. I used it in the phrase “at least for the heterosexualists and breeder types” to signal that I recognize that breastfeeding is not every woman’s particular issue or problem. I used it with the term “heterosexualists,” which is not really a word but a play on Gore Vidal’s droll use of the term “homosexualists,” which he uses to distance himself from his fellow “same sexers” (his term) whose identity politics and activism aren’t his style. I thought it was important, in a post about heterosexual relationships and breastfeeding, to acknowledge my many readers and friends who are not heterosexual and who are not parents.

    That’s all I was trying to accomplish. I realize now that I just should have let people who are not heteronormative and/or who are unencumbered by children lecture me in the comments about the awful heteronormativity and oppressive presumption that all women have children, instead of opening myself up to be lectured by people who are offended by the use of the word “breeder.”

    May I suggest that people not troll the internets looking for something to offend them? Because I think we’ll all be a LOT happier if people find the wherewithal to give up that as a hobby.

  48. k8 on 14 Sep 2009 at 9:39 pm #

    Really, I don’t troll the internet looking to be offended. I normally enjoy what I read here. I didn’t participate in the other thread because I came upon it fairly late because I had been busy and thus behind on my blog reading.

    Fwiw, I’m not a parent. I just don’t like that term (breeder) and I understand why people are offended by it. At the same time, I think that there are other ways to acknowledge people who aren’t parents (for whatever reason) without using a term that denigrates parents. That’s just me. Clearly, in this regard, we have very different approaches to communication. I do think it’s unfortunate that you interpreted my comment as trolling. I didn’t think that I was off-topic or inflammatory or any of the other things that typically characterize an internet troll. I was merely trying to take part in the conversation. Yes, I disagreed with your usage of a term, but I didn’t think that disagreeing was the same as trolling. Clearly, my assumption that dialogue at your blog could include statements of disagreement by commenters was mistaken. I’m really honestly disappointed by that. I seem to have mis-read the ethos of this forum.

    btw, I take it you aren’t familiar with NWA? Of course, that would be an instance of reclaiming a word, so not quite the same thing. :-) And, there are a lot of punk bands with very…how should I put it…interesting names, some of which include those words that you didn’t fully type out.

  49. Historiann on 14 Sep 2009 at 9:50 pm #

    Clearly, my assumption that dialogue at your blog could include statements of disagreement by commenters was mistaken. I’m really honestly disappointed by that. I seem to have mis-read the ethos of this forum.

    Because I’ve banned you from commenting? Because I’ve deleted your comments? Clearly not. I’ve just disagreed with your disagreement with me! I think you won’t let go until I say that you’re right and I was entirely wrong.

    Please, if you don’t like what you read here, or if you can’t deal with the fact that I don’t think you’re right, move on! No one has a gun to anyone’s head, and I don’t make a dime providing others with the forum and the server space to debate these issues.

  50. Historiann on 14 Sep 2009 at 9:53 pm #

    And, by the way–it’s a classic troll technique to belabor a point. Sometimes we just have to accept that not everyone on the world wide timewasting internets agrees with us!

  51. k8 on 14 Sep 2009 at 10:02 pm #

    It isn’t that at all. Honestly. If we don’t agree, we don’t agree. That’s the way the world works. I was just surprised (based on other times I’ve read your blog) by the way you responded to me. Like I said, I enjoy your blog. But, I felt like I was being accused of being a troll simply because I disagreed. It was my first post about this here, so I don’t really see how I was belaboring the point. Yes, I mentioned the issue in my second post (at 9.39), but primarily to state that I realize we disagree. I didn’t think that saying that we have different approaches to communication was accusatory – I was just trying to explain that I understand that we are different and have a different opinion about this.

    I like disagreements. I think the world would be pretty boring if we all agreed. I study rhetoric, something I wouldn’t do if I didn’t enjoy all of the parts of dialogue and discourse – the agreements and the disagreements. So, I’m a bit confused as to why I’m being addressed as if I come here and speak against you all of the time, when this is the first post I’ve ever commented on in which I’ve disagreed with you. Did I miss something?

  52. Fratguy on 14 Sep 2009 at 10:05 pm #

    and I don’t….like……..dirt.

  53. Dr. Crazy on 14 Sep 2009 at 10:10 pm #

    FRATGUY!!!! You’ve been missed around these parts!!!!

  54. Historiann on 14 Sep 2009 at 10:15 pm #

    K8–my apologies! Someone else who went by “Kate” and who uses “k8″ in her e-mail address was in the breastfeeding thread, and I thought you were the same person. I really apologize for not checking your blog against her e-mail address.

    If you read “Kate”‘s comments, they were very similar to yours initially, and I thought we had had it out on the other thread. So, I’m sure my comments here seemed like they were coming from out of nowhere. Again, my apologies.

  55. k8 on 14 Sep 2009 at 10:25 pm #

    Oh! I should have thought of that. People confuse Kate and I every now and then, which makes sense with the similar names and the similar views. Plus, we both like cats. It hasn’t happened recently, though, so the thought just didn’t enter my mind. Mystery solved. I am no longer baffled.

  56. Historiann on 14 Sep 2009 at 10:27 pm #

    Fratguy doesn’t like dirt? Perhaps he means, “I don’t like dirt, but I’m willing to put up with an awful lot of it?”

  57. Dr. Rural on 15 Sep 2009 at 5:01 am #

    Historiann, I’m about to disagree with you. Before I do that, I want to say that I’ve read your blog for ages, although I don’t think I’ve ever commented. Although I disagree with you about this last post, I have always enjoyed your blog a great deal.

    A moment of self-identification. I’m straight, single, and have no children.

    I once had a gay friend with whom I had a very joking relationship. I called him f** to his face. He called me b****. We were both nineteen and thought this was very funny. That said, I would never dream of calling random gay people f*** just because I can identify an instance where a straight person used the term without meaning any offense and a gay person heard it without taking any.

    If “breeder” doesn’t rise to the level of other slurs (like the n-word) I suspect it is not because it is less offensive, but because it is less common. I’ve only heard it a handful of times in my entire life, sometimes intended jokingly, sometimes not. I have never seen a parent self-identify as a breeder. In every case I can think of where I’ve heard the term said out loud, there were either no parents in the room or the joking context was absolutely clear. These things strongly suggest to me that it is indeed a slur.

    An analogy: people call me a Catholic to my face, because I am. A friend could get away with jokingly calling me a “fish eater” or even a “papist.” If other people use the terms, I’m perfectly willing to tell them politely that they are generally regarded as offensive within the Catholic community. If they continue to use the terms (as they absolutely have every right to do on free speech grounds) I am free to conclude that the insult is intended.

    When there are common and neutral terms (like “Catholics” or “parents”) available to describe a group, and someone instead chooses to go with “papist” or “breeder,” I don’t think it is illogical to conclude that the negative term was chosen with intent.

  58. perpetua on 15 Sep 2009 at 6:16 am #

    @ Dr. Rural – I follow what you’re saying and I generally agree with your point. But I think one of the things to keep in mind here (that I think Historiann is getting at) is that the term “breeder” has been used as a way of troubling heteronormativity, possibly as a way for the gay community & the unencumbered to reclaim some social and discursive spaces for themselves in an overwhelming heteronormative world. The way Historiann used it, it’s tongue-in-cheek and a little aggressive, but only in the sense that it pushes back. (FWIW, I don’t like the term myself and find its general application today to be more disturbing and misogynist than when it came into being. But I think having the conversation about it is helpful, because, for me anyway, considering the question has helped me challenge my own heteronormative assumptions.)

    This has been a great conversation, I think – diverse and respectful and thought-provoking.

  59. Jody on 15 Sep 2009 at 6:27 am #

    Just to be clear, I haven’t posted multiple times in an attempt to belabor a point, but rather to think through the implications of a word and its history, and I hope that has been clear. I happen not to like the term “breeder” as a general-public alternative to “parent” and I don’t use it, but I posted to answer the question posed: Since when is Breeder in insult?

    I think the word breeder’s recent history reveals some of the changing couple/familial norms within the GLBT community, as well as the ways in which outsider words can be coopted by insider groups. i.e., white male childfree folks — not that all childfree folks are white or male, but just as men in their twenties dominated many internet spaces in the mid-noughts, they dominated the childfree ones. And a remarkably large number of them don’t seem to like women, to put it mildly.

    Discussing word history is a fun game, but ultimately I visited this blog because I was interested in the question of patriarchal equilibrium and how that gets enforced/protected over time. If one of the deals for grappling with my host’s ideas is that some of the language doesn’t reflect more current usage [and I want to be clear: you do NOT need to visit parenting forums to encounter breeder used as an insult, indeed lately you only need to be interested in the question of public welfare provision], that seems pretty easy to handle.

    Which does bring me back to my underlying question: do you think terms like “breeder” tell us anything about patriarchal equilibrium at this moment in time? Because I think it’s telling to watch a word that originated in the GLBT community to push back against heteronormativity get deployed by the childfree community as a form of misogynistic discourse.

  60. Jody on 15 Sep 2009 at 6:29 am #

    I should have typed, “within GLBT communities.”

  61. Dr. Rural on 15 Sep 2009 at 7:02 am #

    Thank you, Perpetua and Jody. Your points clarified something for me that I had missed entirely, perhaps because I know very little about GLBT communities or their internal discourses.

    Still . . . while I can understand why gays would wish to “push back against heteronormativity,” or single folk get tired of the assumption that their lives lack meaning because they have no children (I get tired of that one, myself), I think that a term like “breeder” is a poor way to make these points.

    I am a member of several privileged groups — I’m white, straight, and well-educated. As a member of these privileged groups, I do not think that it is appropriate to use slurs about people of color, gays, or the less well-educated. I am also a member of less-privileged groups — to take the most obvious, I am a woman. I don’t use slurs about men, either. I agree that sexism should be vigorously opposed — but I think that slurs do nothing productive in that fight.

    If you toss around the term “f**,” gay people and straight people of good will stop listening to you. Why should anyone expect parents to take part in a conversation about the privileging of the heterosexual nuclear family if they have to wade through the insult of “breeder” to get there?

  62. New Kid on the Hallway on 15 Sep 2009 at 7:43 am #

    If you toss around the term “f**,” gay people and straight people of good will stop listening to you. Why should anyone expect parents to take part in a conversation about the privileging of the heterosexual nuclear family if they have to wade through the insult of “breeder” to get there?

    Exactly.

    FWIW, I’d never heard of the Breeders (the band).

  63. wini on 15 Sep 2009 at 8:41 am #

    I always assumed that The Breeders name referred to dog or horse breeding, and was not in the same category as the punk band The Queers. And I’m a pop music historian (although I do not generally work on the 1990s).

    As a parent, the term breeder does not personally grate on me much because being a good parent takes up about 4-5 hours of my day, whereas being on the tenure track takes up 8-12. I associate it with Dan Savage circa 1995.

  64. Historiann on 15 Sep 2009 at 8:53 am #

    Je repete:

    In my initial invocation of the term “breeders,” I used it specifically as a tip of the hat in an aside to my readers who are not heteronormative and who don’t have children. I used it in the phrase “at least for the heterosexualists and breeder types” to signal that I recognize that breastfeeding is not every woman’s particular issue or problem. I used it with the term “heterosexualists,” which is not really a word but a play on Gore Vidal’s droll use of the term “homosexualists,” which he uses to distance himself from his fellow “same sexers” (his term) whose identity politics and activism aren’t his style. I thought it was important, in a post about heterosexual relationships and breastfeeding, to acknowledge my many readers and friends who are not heterosexual and who are not parents.

    That’s all I was trying to accomplish. I realize now that I just should have let people who are not heteronormative and/or who are unencumbered by children lecture me in the comments about the awful heteronormativity and oppressive presumption that all women have children, instead of opening myself up to be lectured by people who are offended by the use of the word “breeder.”

    Thank you for your further thoughts about the word “breeder.” I disagree that using it rises to the level of insult of other offensive terms. In my effort to push back against heteronormativity and the presumption that all straight women must become mothers, I acknowledge that I have pissed some people off. People are free to keep reading here, or not, but I don’t think this discussion is particularly productive at this point.

    As I said yesterday, I accept the fact that expressing my opinions on a feminist blog will sometimes offend people or piss them off. I can live with that. For review, please see my post “Anger.”