Q&A: Turning Insults to Advantage
By Shamara Carney
Insults can be used to empower people rather than demean them, says Chloe Brotherton, who won the 2017 Undergraduate Research Slam with her presentation “A ‘Bitch’ by Any Other Name: Reclaiming Gendered Insult Terms.” Brotherton, who graduated from UC Santa Barbara in Linguistics, is now a graduate student at UC Davis.
Every year UC Santa Barbara hosts the research slam , a competition in which undergraduates have three minutes to showcase the findings of an independent research project they have completed. The first place award comes with a $2,500 cash prize to be used for anything the winner chooses.
In a recent interview, Brotherton discussed the process of completing the “Bitch” project and how it has prepared her for where she is now.
Q. How did you learn about the Undergraduate Research Slam and what motivated you to participate?
A. I was always really interested in doing it because I did speech and debate in high school and mock trials in college. I have always been really competitive and interested in competitive speaking. Also, one of my professors encouraged me to participate and it was only three minutes and three slides so I said, ‘Why not?’ I got it ready the night before and it worked out!
Q. As a woman, did a personal experience with gendered insults such as the word “Bitch” influence your research?
A. The biggest inspiration for me was a day in my freshman honors seminar “Women of Color,” when my professor was talking about the “Boss Ass Bitch” music video made by three young teenagers and later remixed by Nicki Minaj. She said she plays it before interviews to get pumped up and calls herself a “boss ass bitch.” I remember there was a girl in our class who said, “Why would you do that? You’re insulting yourself and other women by doing that.” We had a discussion about that in the class and I remember thinking, “ So, am I being misogynistic by using it? If I call myself a bitch is that okay?” I talked to my professor about it and I knew by the end of the day that, this was what I wanted to do my senior project on.
Q. You researched this project during your junior and senior years. How did you balance that time with finishing your undergraduate degree?
A. In the Linguistics department you get units for doing your senior thesis, two units per quarter. That gave me credit for the time I was spending on it. I was also an academic skills tutor, so time management was drilled into me. It was stressful but it’s all over. Now I am stressing about new things.
Q. Speaking of those new things, did any of the research you used for the competition help you in your journey to grad school?
A. Most Ph.D. programs and Master’s programs ask for a writing sample and in the Linguistics department we generally don’t really have research papers. I started early on the project is so that I could have some kind of rough draft done by the time I applied. It was really helpful because it showed I knew how to write, I knew how to analyze literature, and I know how to conduct this kind of research. So that was really helpful.
Watch Chloe Brotherton’s award-winning presentation here.
Shamara Carney is a Senior studying Communication at UC Santa Barbara.