promoting the unwanted, redheaded stepchild that is individual liberty

Language and sexism

In women's rights on January 27, 2010 at 2:58 am

The first day of my gender communication class, one of the male students dropped the c-word. But, to be fair, he was quoting a female musician.

Some of the students giggled while others gasped. Our teacher, however, remained cool.

“I’m glad you brought that up,” she said to the male student. “We’re going to be talking about  language and its effects on gender in this class.”

She then proceeded to divide the class into a sexist, boys vs. girls formation. Both sides were given the same list of gender-related words and told to define them as a group.

It was encouraging to see both male and female students come up with relatively similar definitions for many of the same words. However, when it came to the definitions of derogatory words such as femme, dyke and butch, the sexes differed.

The boys’ side defined the words accurately, minus the negative connotation. For example, the word dyke was defined by the males as only meaning “lesbian” while the girls took much more offense to the word.

So why the difference? Are the sexes not equally educated on gender and sexist language? Are girls, by nature, perhaps more sensitive to the feelings of others? It’s unlikely.

A more plausible explanation is that the words themselves were created by males for a male-dominated language. Sex-specific insults are almost always in reference to the fairer sex. To make an insult masculine, it’s usually necessary to add the word man, as in “man-whore.”

For this reason, It’s important for both men and women to refrain form using words such as slut and whore. Not only are the words cruel and derogatory, they are rooted in an archaic sexist mindset.

A mindset we would all be better off without.

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  1. Speaking of the awe-inspiring ‘c-word’…

    http://www.craigslist.org/about/best/van/1410768883.html

  2. And Rawhide strikes again! Interesting, Rawhide, but I would rather worry about bank failures or health care.

    Jessica,

    My approach is different. I locked on to the term “gender communications class” Hmmm. A whole semester figuring out how men and women should talk to each other!! Is there a chapter on “pillow talk”? How about integrated locker room discussions? How about a ban on segregated locker room discussions with “word police” in attendance to keep it politically correct? Should “word police” be eunuchs or whatever the female equivalent creature is called?

    My wife and I occasionally argue, God forbid. Is argument itself politically incorrect or just the words we use in such.

    Now would you like to visit my home and see the blistered paint on the walls after an argument? One time a whole ceiling was “paintless”. But we sure were able to express ourselves with great clarity. No “pussy footing” (is that a now banned word) around. We both knew exactly what the other meant.

    What’s wrong with that? We still love each other and have great respect for each other? And we don’t need a gender communication class to tell us what to say, and more importantly, THINK, with clarity, again.

  3. Jessica,

    One other thought. How many men take great offense when they are called a m…f… Very, very few that I know of. What if a woman calls a man by that term. Does the man get “p….” (opps, while not gender specific, is that now politically incorrect)

    Now how many women take great offense when called a “c….” A lot, even a whole lot, maybe even just about every one that I have ever met.

    Black men sometimes use the “N…” word in communicating with one another. To some it is a term of brotherhood or respect. But when a white man refers to a black using such a term all hell breaks loose.

    Is there a “racial communications” class at MSSU? How about a “poor/rich persons communication class”? Is “white thrash” a word for the banned list in such a class(es)? How about “Bubba”? I see a liberal writer herein use it all the time.

    I could go on but hopefully you get my ghist.

    And after you complete your list of unusable words just how do you communicate those words to the general public? Maybe publish an X rated newspaper, once, to list them all?

    Your x@!xZ Friend and fellow blogger,

    Anson?

    PS: The next time my wife and I have an argument I will use the x@!xz term if I can figure out how to pronoumce it.

  4. Jessica,

    Sorry if I am overloading your site but you have me really thinking on this subject of words. The above was sarcasm to a degree. The below I suggest you take to your class.

    Words themselves are just words. It is the context of the words that count.

    In one exchange above the use of the N.. word was supportive, complimentary, even intended praise. Used in a different context it is racist, degrogatory, etc.

    If a man performs a “crazy” stunt, jumping over barrels on a motorcycle say and I call him to his face a crazy m… f… it is a word of praise, complimenting him on his courage, etc. If I use it in a bar in criticism, I may get in a fight. Context again.

    If a beautiful woman walks down the street and two men think and say “That is one sweet c….” again, while crude, it is complimentary on her beauty and perceived ability to satisfy sexual desires. Sure, they could say “she is one beautiful and sexy woman”. But both phrases say the same contextual “thing”.

    Food for thought.

    Anson

  5. Jessica, most societies (as you know) are male-dominated. The exceptions present a fascinating subject for consideration elsewhere. Language and society are co-dependent – pejorative terms and connotations can provide a vector, backward, to their etymological origins.

    Anson asserts that an immensely divisive word is sometimes a “term of brotherhood or respect”. That is in utter contradiction with my understanding of this racial epithet. Blacks will use the term with other Blacks, but the extension of privilege in its use applies only to the setting. It remains a derogatory, if more casual, term. People exhibit wide variance in behavior, so I assume that there are exceptions which support Anson’s contention. Until I have reliable sources that establish a broader usage, the term will be universally derogatory. – Jim

  6. Jim and Jessica,

    The use of the N.. word that Jim can only refer to by implication is used as I suggested. Read “Guns, Gangs and Violence”, a remarkable book on ghetto life based on 10 years of living or closely association with that environment. Even the most liberal writer in these blogs acknowledged such use of the term within the context that I referred and in my view is correct as well.

    If I walked the streets of a ghetto and used the term I would in all liklihood be shot or beaten to a pulp. Others use the term and get “high fives” in return. That is not my opinion. Read the book above and let me know what you think. Watch the HBO award winning series on Baltimore gangs and politics. Both the book and the series are REAL in my view, like it our not. Banning a word does not reality make.

    Anson

    • Anson,

      The issue is not banning a word, the issue is awareness.

      It is true that historically oppressed groups often use the words given to them by their oppressors. Women often refer to each other jokingly as “bitch” or other demeaning words created specifically for their sex. Both women and African Americans are guilty of this. I am guilty of this.

      So why do the oppressed use such otherwise abhorrent words as a badge of honor?

      I suppose, in a way, it’s a means of fighting back. When you take a word designed to be an insult and turn it around to be a complement, you are attempting to take the power of hurt out of the word.

      However, I don’t think it’s ever wise to use words birthed out of hate, regardless of certain groups’ application. I would urge women to resist using words created with one intention in mind, insult.

      And if you are in the group stereotyped as the “oppressor” it is never OK to such words. Perhaps this seems unfair to you but I hope you can see why.

  7. Gender communications class, huh. Sign me up. I’m sure I could use the help. The first step is admitting you have a problem.

    “Ah, women. They make the highs higher and the lows more frequent.” – Nietzsche

  8. Jessica – I like this analysis of a sexual pejorative:
    [www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/16/AR2007111601202_pf.html].

    Note the example, at the end, of men using the term for other men. No matter what fringe usage is applied that creates these expected exceptions, such terms are used because they have connotations which are inextricable. – Jim

  9. To All,

    Good discussion. I think what all of us are addressing is an attitude of denigration pointed towards other genders, races, etc. It of course goes both ways with women disparaging men, whites disparaging blacks and vice versua for all, in almost infinite variety and tone.

    The real issue to me seems to be the denigration or disparagment instead of the specific words choosen. I can express great disdain for another person without “cussing” or using politically incorrect (now THERE are two words I would nominate to be banned together)phrases or words. Ugly, disgraceful, foul mouthed, woman is simply more words that I COULD shorten to the “c” word.

    My grandaughter as a sophomore in high school refers to aome classmates fitting the above as “dirties”. Different word, same context. I personally don’t like the word “dirty” but believe me it is used all over JHS and usually only by the females.

    Anson

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