I Am Not An Insult

What’s the worst word that you can think to call a woman?

(Warning: foul language below)

When I asked you that question, you probably thought up a few examples. Words like bitch, whore, slut, or cunt. There are a few more specific examples, words like prude or ugly or fat, but those four examples are the more general terms that you might use to refer to any random, unpleasant woman.

So, in other words, the worst thing that you can call a woman is a woman.

And, in some cases, these insults refer to very specific types of women as well. Bitch, for example, when defined as offensive, is “a malicious, spiteful, or overbearing woman” (emphasis my own). The ‘bitch’ is a pro-active woman, a take-no-shit sort of woman. The ‘bitch’ will not accept being ignored, being taken advantage of, or being belittled. This is the reason why many feminists have moved to reclaim the word ‘bitch’, because, while many people may use the word ‘bitch’ as an insult, there should be nothing wrong with a strong, competent woman.

Words like ‘whore’ and ‘slut’ also refer to a particular type of woman; a promiscuous woman, or perhaps a woman who merely takes charge of her own sexuality. The use of these words as insults is meant to shame women for being sexually active; while the use of the word ‘prude’ is meant to shame women for not being sexually available.

The type of insults that we use reveal something about the way that we as a society view these specific people. If you call someone a ‘slut’ in a negative way, then clearly you don’t feel all too keen about women who are sexually active. If you want to make someone feel bad by calling them ‘fat’, then you don’t think highly of people who are overweight.

But let’s turn our attention around for a moment. Let’s ask this instead: what’s the worst word that you can think to call a man? Well, according to the logic of the last time I presented this question, you’d think that the worst thing that you can call a man is a specific type of man.

Well, yes and no.

Once again, you probably thought of a few examples of insults when I asked you that question. Men get called fag, queer, sissy, or girl. Hell, earlier today, I listened to a man trying to insult and belittle another man by referring to him as ‘half-woman’.

In other words, the worst thing that you can call a man is a woman, or a gay man.

And why does this matter? Why am I bringing this up? Well, it matters because, as I said before, the type of insult that we choose reflects how we view a specific type of people. If we as a society use ‘woman’ or ‘homosexual’ as an insult, then what does that say about the way we feel about women or LGBT+ people? But, more than that even, these insults enforce the way that we behave.

If a woman wants to avoid being called a slut, then she will act in a particular way that, she hopes, will mean that she won’t be called a slut. She will dress differently, relate to men differently, walk differently, dance differently, flirt differently, date differently, and so on and so forth. She won’t be fully free to explore her own sexuality, because her sexuality will constantly be judged and viewed by others who are too quick to label her with an insult.

And if a man wants to avoid being called a woman or a gay man, then he will have to shave off any hint of femininity about him. This fear of being insulted this way will affect the way that he dresses, the hobbies he enjoys, the food that he eats, the stores that he feels comfortable going into, the way that he relates to his male friends, the way that he relates to his female friends, the way that he relates to emotional trauma and tragedy, the way that he relates to any emotions at all, and so on and so forth.

Men will not talk about their own feelings because they don’t want to be perceived as ‘too girly’. And yet, despite this, men still have feelings; they just aren’t fully explored or understood.

Men are encouraged toward violence and dominance and aggression – all of which can be very harmful, both to themselves and to others.

But this doesn’t matter, right? Just as long as they aren’t a woman, or gay. Wouldn’t that just be the real tragedy? (Please read a heavy dose of sarcasm here)

And, end of day, changing our behaviour so that we aren’t perceived in this way is just ridiculous and nonsensical. Because there is nothing wrong with being a woman. There is nothing wrong with being a gay man. There is nothing wrong with being a virgin, and there is nothing wrong with having slept with many, many partners (just make sure you stay safe).

And, more than that, there is nothing wrong with identifying with one gender, and still not perfectly aligning with that gender’s roles. Women should be allowed to be aggressive and assertive without the fear that they’ll be undermined as a ‘bitch’; I mean, if men are encouraged toward that behaviour, then why can’t a woman do it?

Men should be allowed to enjoy baking, or talking about their feelings, or dressing up in any which way they want, without having their identity thrown into question.

We are all of us people, and people are built from balances: the balance of good and evil, the balance of reason and emotion, the balance of masculinity and femininity. Not one of us are one thing and one thing only. We should not have to deny whole parts of ourselves in order to fit into a narrow definition of what we should be.

Because you know what really sucks? Policing the way that other people can and cannot express themselves and their identities through the use of insults that undermine whole groups of people. And even if you wanted to ignore the fact that the threat of these insults forces people to shave off parts of themselves and deny themselves certain experiences – it just isn’t okay to use an entire group of people as a way to undermine and belittle someone. People are not insults, and the simple act of being who you are should not turn you into one.

Advertisements

The Hatred of Femininity

Misogyny: (noun) the hatred of women.

In our society, misogyny can take many forms. It can come in the form of gender-based violence, like rape or domestic abuse. It can come in the form of social exclusion or hostility in certain spaces, such as cat-calling – especially if that cat-calling turns into threats, insults, or anything else that makes them feel unsafe in a public place. Or it can come in the form of constantly assuming the worst of women – thinking that they’re to blame for rape, thinking that they’re too delicate and too vulnerable to hear certain truths, thinking that they’re too emotional to do anything right.

Misogyny is something that is still very much alive today, and it is a very serious problem in our society that we cannot stop talking about. But the sort of misogyny that I want to focus on today is not simply the hatred of women, but rather the hatred of the feminine – because while these two issues most certainly connect and stem from the same issue (as I said, misogyny), the thing about the hatred of the feminine is that it affects all of us.

Because as much as femininity is something that gets assigned to straight women most frequently, that does not mean that only women are capable of femininity. They really aren’t.

Gay men, for example, are frequently represented as feminine in our media. They are represented as feminine so often, in fact, that some people have begun to shun this representation for being ‘stereotypical’, favouring the more invisible image of the masculine gay man (this can sometimes be referred to as effeminophobia, or discrimination against effeminate gay men). But feminine gay men most certainly exist as well, and they deserve a chance to see themselves not only represented, but represented well, and as much as feminine gay men have gotten a bit of the former, they haven’t always gotten the latter.

One example that we might all be aware of is the representation of feminine men in Disney movies. While not necessarily gay (or not openly so, anyway), many of the male villains of Disney cartoons are rather feminine – the Pocahontas villain Governor Ratcliffe styles his hair in two pink bows and carries around a small dog, the Peter Pan villain Captain Hook is highly emotional and dresses very flamboyant, the Aladdin villain Jafar has his eyeliner game on point. And why is this a reoccurring theme with male Disney villains? Well, in my opinion, it’s because, while Disney isn’t outright trying to say that femininity (and male femininity in particular) is wrong, they are trying to use these conventions to convey certain misogynist messages. We as the audience are supposed to read these men as being silly, vain and greedy because they are outwardly feminine. These villains are more easily detestable because they remind us of feminine aspects.

Disney will sometimes even use these aspects in their female villains as well. Honestly, think about it – when Ariel first meets Ursula in The Little Mermaid, she is applying her lipstick and fixing up her hair, and in One Hundred and One Dalmatians Cruella de Vil’s greatest downfall is her obsession with fashion.

Which brings me to another issue in all of this – it is not only women and men who receive scorn and hatred if they become classified as ‘too feminine’, but hobbies and interests as well. We as a society tend to regard the playing or watching of sports, a masculine pass-time, as worthwhile, something that builds character. And yet, watching fashion shows or reading magazines is regarded as silly and frivolous. Fixing a car is a useful skill to have, whereas sewing a dress is kind of cool if you can do it well, but not really useful unless you can make some good money at it. And don’t even get me started on the way that we as a society look down on chick-flicks for being stupid, unrealistic, and vapid, whereas action movies are awesome and full of fun car chases and explosions.

Especially if someone identifies themselves as a masculine person, it is a very common narrative for them to completely reject feminine pass-times. We have all heard about the very stereotypical set-up of the masculine boyfriend complaining loudly as his girlfriend drags him, kicking and screaming, into Sephora, while women are frequently expected to sit there quietly and watch sports with their boyfriends, even if they don’t like them.

Now, at this point you might be asking: so what? Why does it matter that people tend to look down on femininity? Well, it matters because, to some extent, we all have some aspect of us that is feminine. Not just straight women. Not just gay men. Every. Single. One. Of. Us. And this societal rejection of femininity as a valid option in our lives forces us to make one of two choices: we can continue to act feminine as accept that a side-effect of that will be that people will see us as vapid, silly, stupid, frivolous, etc., or we can reject the feminine parts of ourselves and act masculine, neither of them really works for me.

The latter option forces us to shave off parts of ourselves, to never be our complete self because society tells us that we can’t be. The latter option leaves holes in our identity, leaves parts of ourselves unexplored and unfulfilled. And when it comes to the former option, here’s the thing: I am very feminine. I like to do my hair and my make-up. My favourite movie is a love story. I dress very flamboyantly, I move very flamboyantly, and when I talk, my mannerisms are very feminine. And I am not stupid, silly, or frivolous. I do not appreciate being called stupid, silly, or frivolous. I refuse to live with that title placed on me by others, and I refuse to let others place that title on others like me.

Femininity is not a weakness; femininity is just a different way of being, and a perfectly valid way of being. The only reason why we tell our daughters that they’re frivolous for liking the Notebook, our sons that they can’t wear a dress or make-up, is because femininity is frequently assigned to women, and societally speaking, we do not like women. We think women are vapid and silly and overly-emotional, and so we think that anyone like them are the same. And it should probably go without saying that this way of thinking is misogynist and wrong.

You can like romantic movies, and get shit done. You can know all the latest fashions and be a total boss. The two things are not mutually exclusive, and we need to stop treating them like they are.