Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Terminating the Term 'Bimbo'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Terminating the Term 'Bimbo'

Article excerpt

THE British magazine New Woman has just learned a costly lesson about name-calling. A high court ordered the publication to pay nearly $190,000 in libel damages to a woman who claimed an article wrongly portrayed her as a "kiss-and-tell bimbo" because she wrote a book about her 11-year affair with a government official. Editors denied the charges.

The woman's legal victory could serve as fair warning to American journalists and entertainers, for whom "bimbo" is rapidly becoming the favorite all-purpose pejorative. Need a spicy word to describe a woman caught in a public scandal, from Donna Rice and Tai Collins to Jessica Hahn and Gennifer Flowers? Try "bimbo." If you can turn it into a catchy phrase, such as "smoking bimbo," so much the better.

On a recent TV special, comedian Mark Russell joined the crowd in referring to Gennifer Flowers as a "bimbo." And in the high-minded pages of the latest New York Review of Books, Garry Wills began his review of the scholarly papers of Hillary Clinton by writing that when she and her husband, Gov. Bill Clinton, appeared on "60 Minutes" last month, "He was there to deny any liaison with a currently specified bimbo, though he conceded (indirectly) bimberies unspecified."

"Bimberies"? Can we now expect a whole group of spinoff words, such as "bimbettes" and "bimbinos"? Anything for a laugh, apparently.

Bimbo serves as the latest in a long line of belittling code terms - among them broad, skirt, babe, and doll - that reduce the identity of a woman to a sexual object. It is a catchy word, short and staccato, with all those b's popping off the lips. But in trading on stereotypes of leggy femmes fatales - preferably blondes with dark roots - it perpetuates images of women as weak, dumb, sexy.

No equivalent word exists to describe the men who allegedly constitute the other half of these relationships. And any public examination of the "bimbo factor" usually focuses only on questions of damage control: How will this affect a politician's career?

But another question begs to be considered: What subtle effect do these references to bimbos have on public images of women?

Oddly, it has become an equal-opportunity word, used by women as well as men. …

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