The word ‘bitch’ generally means the female dog, wolf or fox. It is also one of the most offensive terms that may be used to designate a woman, and generally denotes an unpleasant or spiteful one. There is no male equivalent to this disparaging appellation of females. A man, however, may be called a ‘cur’, which apart from meaning an aggressive or unkempt dog, can also mean a contemptible male.

In the last week or so, certain prominent males of Maltese society would certainly deserve such a derogatory term. What makes them deserve this is the shocking language these contemptible men use to refer to women. What makes them even more despicable is the fact that these are men that have been attributed the highest positions in their category – be it as chairman of the greatest cultural title ever to be bestowed on Valletta – European Capital of Culture – or as the artistic director of some of its events; both occupying positions of honour, apart from prestige.

What is even more shocking is the fact that the insulting, unacceptable terms both have used publicly to describe women have actually been condoned by the most powerful man in our country: our Prime Minister, who has tried to pass off this inadmissible language as ‘freedom of expression’. 

According to the Business Dictionary, freedom of expression can be exercised insofar as it does not deliberately cause harm to others’ character and/or reputation by false or misleading statements.

The guidelines published by the British Equality and Human Rights Commission specify that ‘freedom of expression’ is allowable insofar as it does not generate violence, abuse or discrimination.

Mario Philip Azzopardi’s heinous expression, “sorry bitch”, used publicly, has generated two out of the three criteria, and the aftermath it has produced could actually lead to violence.

They are shaming all Maltese men and women with this pseudo-macho attitude that is turning our nation into a caricature

The violent and vile language that has been used to back this despicable expression on social media was horrific. The fact of publishing a woman’s personal data without her consent is, I believe, actually a serious infringement of the Data Protection Act, and the police should immediately have followed this up, especially since it is being done in a vengeful framework that is indirectly inciting to violence. 

As PEN, an association of some of the world’s most prominent writers has justly pointed out, Jason Micallef’s repeated use of abusive language with regard to assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, before and after her death, goes far beyond the simple qualification of “abominable”.

Micallef, like Azzopardi, has not understood that occupying key public positions means that one is duty bound to maintain the dignity and decorum that goes with those positions.

As chairman and artistic director of Valletta 2018, they are not only representing themselves, but their country, and are therefore accountable not only for what they do, but also for what they say.

Given that these men continue to indulge in this abhorrent language publicly time and time again, especially towards women, they are shaming all Maltese men and women with this pseudo-macho attitude that is turning our nation into a caricature.

The two deserve to be removed, if for no other reason, to redeem general national and international perception of the Maltese male. Even more serious is the fact that this language continues to be not only tolerated but sanctioned by the highest authority, makes the whole situation even more condemnable, especially since this type of language is allowed to be spouted out directly and regularly from the Prime Minister’s office.

It is sad that leading women, such as our President and our Minister for Equality as well as other MPs, have not uttered a word to condemn such behaviour.

I now come to the subject of witches. The term ‘witch’ can mean an ugly or unpleasant woman, but it can also mean one who is bewitchingly attractive.

 On an intellectual level, Caruana Galizia attracted at least half the country by her plain speaking and her revelations which, as time goes by, are proving to be not only founded but even more consequential than she herself indicated. 

Yes, Daphne certainly was a witch – she scared the living daylights out of the dishonest persons who ordered her killing, she was deeply feared by those who attacked her in such abhorrent sexist terms, she used her writing powers to make people aware of the dirty political and financial games that are being played underhandedly, and piled the proverbial coal on the heads of those who, as leading figures of our country, have far overstepped the boundaries of their station.

Caruana Galizia has also bewitched those that have nurtured a deep respect for her work, even after her death. Like other women who were condemned as witches, her death has proved a rallying force, and other women and men are now at the forefront of the struggle to demand justice and end impunity.

The term ‘impunity’ is fundamental in the context that Malta is presently experiencing. The term means getting off scot-free from the consequences of an action that deserves punishment.

The people who call women bitches or witches deserve to be punished by being removed from public office. Those who are given people’s trust through a vote and abuse of this trust for their own personal interest or gain do not only deserve to be removed. They should be fairly tried and condemned to long spells in prison. 

The number of persons who will not rest until they see that this is done is increasing steadily, in the name of a woman who has bewitched them by her strong appeal for justice. Many more persons need to react immediately to abusive language against women, as well as men, and many right-minded citizens need to stand up publicly against the greed and impunity of power-mongers.

So bitches and witches, please, lead the way!

Vicki Ann Cremona is associate professor in Theatre Studies, head, Department of Dance Studies, and chair, School of Performing Arts, University of Malta.