Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Is 'bastard' a bad word?"

My heart stopped for a moment when Zoe asked that question after school yesterday.

Deep breath.  "Why do you ask?"  Zoe told me that kids in her class were talking about what words were really bad, and one little boy spelled out b-a-s-t-a-r-d and told her it was the WORST of all words. 

He told her it meant someone who doesn't have a father.

Zoe replied to him, "Well, I don't have a father and I don't know what's so bad about that."

The little boy clammed up, and nothing more was said.  Zoe said he wasn't calling her a bastard, they were just talking about bad words. Whew!  At least the "stigma" of being "fatherless" hasn't reached her playground yet.

Zoe and I talked about the meaning of the word, and the historical context.  I explained that it didn't mean you don't have a father;  after all, everyone has a father since it takes a man and a woman to make a baby.  There was a time, though, when the law didn't consider a man a father unless he was married to the mother.  And having a baby without being married was considered a really bad thing, and people sometimes blamed the child, which was kind of silly, by calling the child "illegitimate" or a "bastard." 

I'm glad that Zoe stood up for herself -- she always amazes me!  But I wish I didn't have to explain to my ten-year-old the stigma of illegitimacy, of being "fatherless."  Sigh.


Sandy said...


Of all the adoption things being told I was illegitimate or called a bastard never bothered me. Hopefully Zoe is like me - very literal - then it simply becomes a factual reality. Nothing I did, nothing I could do about it - just part of being an adoptee. What I am trying to say is that I understood my reality was different than when someone was called a bastard because they were an ass...

Amanda said...

You go Zoe! :-)

I grew up in a very religious setting where motherhood was really still not legitimate without marriage to a man and having a baby out-of-wedlock was just the most sinful thing ever. They didn't call people "bastards," although I do recalling hearing "illegitimate" a couple times. It was mostly "unwed mother" and "out of wedlock" talk.

Adoptees with married APs weren't off the hook. While not directly referred to, I knew how adoption was the "solution" to unwed motherhood and that it was pretty much assumed that adoptees are all the products of irresponsible, teenaged mothers.

A couple times I had children on the playground (I went to a religious school) make fun of me. But I never handled it like Zoe did. I kept it to myself because I was too humiliated to repeat what they said to an adult.

Von said...

Hopefully she will eventually learn to be proud to be a bastard and to see it as a badge of honour.

Campbell said...

I'm very surprised this boy knew what the actual term bastard meant. I don't know how old these children are but in my (vast) experience using and being with people using "bad words" they rarely mean the word bastard in the literal sense.

I'd be inclined to explain that also to my child, for I'd feel confident they'll hear the word used one or two times through their young years.

Also, adopted people calling themselves bastards and seeing the term/label as a badge of honour is nothing I've ever come across in my offline experience.

Anonymous said...

I'm an adoptee and a bastard.

I am so sick of "bastard" being used derogatorily by main-stream USA. You can't turn on prime time t.v. without hearing it several times in one evening.

Just as calling someone a "fag" or "nigger" has become not politically correct and considered rude and disgusting, so should be the way of the use of "bastard".

As I'm getting older and my fuse is getting a little shorter, I have been replying to the deragatory use of "bastard" with: "I'm a bastard." It usually shuts the person up or they do a little back-peddling. "Um, um....I didn't mean THAT kind of bastard." LMAO.

travelmom and more said...

Most people think bastard means jerk and when it is used have no idea of its actual meaning. When I am teaching we sometimes come accross old laws or customs regarding illigitimate children or the word bastard and my students are always surprised to learn its actual meaning.
I am the illigitimate daughter of a young mother and no one ever called me a bastard, even though I grew up in a very religious community where I was an outcast.

Linda said...

Proud bastard here. I know very FEW adult adoptees who have not embraced the term.

Most adult adoptees active in reform use it as an "in your face" term. We've taken it back for ourselves and use it in an empowering way. And, most of us could care less if anyone is offended.

joy said...

I don't remember ever feeling bad about being a bastard. I thought it was kind of cool, lol.

In fact being a bastid, is simple. If you tell people that you are a bastid, they tend not to say anything but, "oh".

It is a lot easier than telling people I am adopted. If I tell people I am adopted they respond by saying all kinds of ridiculous, speculative, and simply untrue things in hopes I think of comforting me.

In real life, I tell people as little as possible about my private life, I am very guarded. I would definetly say being a "bastard" nominally is a neutral experience. Although being a bastard got me expelled from my family which led to my adoption...

c'est la vie, I also grew-up in a fairly open-minded community and suffered no teasing for either my bastid or adoptee status. My first insight into how rough adoption really would flesh out to be was other kids obviously trying ot have compassion for me. The ironies of life...

Don Gordon Bell said...

All the comments are very true and I can concur with everyone...one bastard to others. I have always used "My Story" of adoption as a learning experience for others to help them (and myself) understand. I have never been ashamed of being a bastard but don't think it is necessary for ALL folks to 'be in your face'. There are exceptions of course, then I just pounded them. I was full of inner rage, (adopted at five years old from Korea, 1956).
I appreciate all your insightful comments, "Is bastard a bad word?" perhaps it is all in the eye of the one using it.

The Korean War Baby