In the Old Testament of the Bible, Jezebel is a truly vicious tyrant who makes all the Israelites join her own heathenous religion and kills a lot of people. She's finally thrown out a window and eaten by dogs, and by the New Testament, she is reincarnated as a second-rate slut who gets churchgoers to eat foods meant for sacrificial offering. A similar watering-down of "Jezebel" has occurred in its pop cultural evolution — now an Atlanta lifestyle magazine starring Christina Aguilera! — which explains why our friends weren't exactly supportive of the name when we emailed about it:
Jezebel = a derogatory name a wrinkly old lady in Macon, GA calls the mom (played by Barbara Eden) from "Harper Valley PTA," or anyone who wears too-big earrings. Probably from the Bible. Overused in classic rock, and likely on evangelical pulpits. Bordering on so religious and corny to make it ironically cool. But maybe still too commonly used to be truly ironically cool.
When we first heard the word we thought it sounded like the name of a store on the boardwalk in Wildwood, which is sort of like the downmarket Coney Island of the Jersey shore, and the store would be sort of like a downmarket Claire's, only with the requisite Coed Naked shirts.
Or as Gawker's Choire Sicha put it (more succinctly), "Jezebel" conjures "dressing like a naughty nurse on Halloween."
Not being ones to ever hate on anything without quantitative evidence culled from a demographically diverse focus group, we emailed our friends:
"I know that Trump Plaza has a new club they've named Jezebel's," wrote Rose, helpfully reinforcing the Jersey shore association but adding that she herself saw it as a better name for a Frederick's of Hollywood-esque lingerie store. Others saw "Stevie Nicks" and "Eartha Kitt", "Wicca" and "feminist zine." Tracie saw Jezebel as having "cleavage, but in a 'heaving bosom' way instead of like, 'big tits' or 'nice rack', which dovetailed with Jessica's description of "an older, lascivious, loosed-boobed lesbian who wears essential oils, rolls her r's in foreign words, re-uses her coffee grinds and has not removed a hair on her body since the early sixties."Our friend Maggie saw "a women's roller-derby team from somewhere like Baltimore. They would call themselves 'The Jailhouse Jezebels" and sport flame tattoos, full sleeves, pompadours, unfortunate animal prints, Bettie Page haircuts, all the rockabilly accessories, etc. etc. Some of the more zaftig members would also be part of a burlesque troupe" and our totally not-related-to-Maggie friend imagined "a suicide girl who's a little bit overweight and has a Bettie Page haircut and writes erotica."
We were beginning to sort of like "Jezebel," but only because we like to be contrarian. Then the men in our lives weighed in: "Jezebel sounds like a young, modestly hot and somewhat subversive girl who thinks she's hotter and more evil than she actually is and believes those traits confer more power than they actually do," Mark opined, while Don, who is more of an ass-man than Mark, wrote:
"Jezebel = slightly above "brat" and "princess" in class when placed on the backside of sweats."
We had visions: The woman in front of us in the Mister Softee line wearing the "It ain't easy being EASY" shirt. Nipple piercings. Britney. In those fishnets! Britney: in cap sleeves, and cowboy hats. Britney: at the tanning salon again, because she can afford to have one in her house but then she'd, well, never get out out of the house. In an era of famous for being famous, Jezebel sounded to us like slutty for the sake of sluttiness, bitchy for the sake of bitchiness, girls "with full-sleeve tattoos who will not only punch you for talking shit while drunk at some party but have their friends rob you while you're knocked out," as our friend Loren astutely observed.
A Jezebel, to us, was someone who acted badly with impunity. As if there were no consequences.
Friends, there are consequences. Man, are there consequences.
Don't get us wrong. We are irresponsible. We are gossipy. We are bitchy and we are sometimes sluts. We even have the odd piercing and book of Wicca, though not really about the Wicca, and none of us own
sweatpants with words written on the backside, even ironically. But there are responsibilities that accompany the freedoms that have allowed us to live life with all the options boys have, and we're taking back the name "Jezebel" because we don't take them lightly. Throughout the course of modern history the vast majority women who have been called "Jezebel," have, like us, not exactly been thrilled about it. The ones who call themselves Jezebels, meanwhile, have obscured the fact that there is room, in a Girls Gone Wild world, for sluts that don't drink from shotglasses, or iconoclastic ladies who aren't drawn to the whole rockabilly nipple-piercing thing, or frank, sexually-liberated "naughty" women who actually have a modicum of substance — not to mention like, a moral or two — beneath the whole "we are bad girls and proud of it blah blah" bullshit.
Basically, we're saying we've earned the right to call ourselves "Jezebel," and only feel a slight twinge of total cheesiness about it. And the twinge has faded considerably since we started watching "Tyra" every day.
[Graphic by Cheryl Campbell]