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Why Benedict Is Wrong to Censor His Cumberbitches

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His fans just can't get enough of him. Only this week, after generating near hysteria with his appearance at the Elementary Con in Birmingham, over 22,000 devoted fans clamoured for only 200 available tickets to see Benedict Cumberbatch record the last episode of the popular BBC Radio 4 comedy Cabin Pressure.

And if that attention wasn't enough, a couple of days ago the actor was also reportedly chased down the streets of London by adoring (and a little misguided, it has to be said) fans after seeing a performance of the terrific Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse.

Still, the internet's favourite actor has been terribly gracious towards his fans, despite the fact that some of their behaviour must be unsettling at best and deeply worrying at worst (god help the poor woman who becomes his girlfriend). But one area that he has picked his devotees up on is their chosen name.

The Cumberbitches. That's what the most devoted fans called themselves. I actually liked it. I thought it was great word play, sharp, instantly recognisable and just a little bit in your face. And as soon as the term was coined, it went viral as quickly as 'credit crunch.'

It's a term that dwarfs all the other attempts (usually led by the stars themselves) to give fanbases catchy names, like Kylie's Lovers and Rihanna's Navy. Cumberbitches is right up there with Gaga's Monsters. The term is so good that the person behind it really should think about going into PR.

Only the actor himself was reluctant to be too supportive of the name. "It's not even politeness," he told Caitlin Moran in an interview for the Times. "I won't allow you to be my bitches. I think it sets feminism back so many notches. You are... Cumberpeople."

But Cumberpeople, and other alternatives generated by fans in the face of this censure such as Cumberfans, Cumberbabes, Cumbercollective... No, they're just not anywhere near as brilliant as Cumberbitches.

But more than this, why should the Cumberbitches redefine themselves because the object of their affection says so? And more importantly, why is it anti-feminist to call yourself a bitch?

Of course I'm in the realms of a circular argument here as if Mr Cumberbatch's remarkably fanatical following want to be his bitch then no doubt their willingness to do anything he says would extend to renaming themselves at his pleasure. But let's put that small technicality aside for one moment!

There is something deeply ironic about a man telling women how they should define themselves, in the name of feminism. And something deeply uncomfortable too. But Mr Cumberbatch's opinion crystallises a widely held view amongst men and women - that a woman cannot be emancipated and also be submissive, and with all the sexual and slut-shaming connotations that go along with that classification.

Benedict Cumberbatch's intention (I am assuming) is not to take a dominant role over his fans but rather to persuade them of the error of their ways. And that's the intention I want to address.

How a woman defines herself is her prerogative - and hers alone. If a woman wants to call herself a bitch, in this case the inference being that they want to be submissive, she can do that and still be a feminist. This is all rolled up into the good feminist/bad feminist debate but the fact is, a woman can be emancipated and be submissive.

No doubt Benedict Cumberbatch's intentions are well-meaning but correcting women on their feminist principles is a dangerous business. Cumberbitches can still be feminists. And that's why I, for one, am hoping for a Cumberbitches revival. The name's just too good and has too much attitude to let it die away.

Though maybe some of them might need to take the fanaticism down a few notches.

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