A rant about gendered insults

A group of friends and I have been on a year-long crusade to find feminist insults. Not to say to someone’s face, mind you, but sometimes you just want a word that really makes you feel powerful. And I’ve run into a wall. A LOT of the insults that we use put someone down for displaying behaviors that are inconsistent with gender proscriptions – the way society tells us we should act according to our gender.

After learning about the problems surrounding “bitch” and the tricky line between reclamation (“DAMN RIGHT I’m an assertive woman and defy your sexist stereotypes”) and run-of-the-mill internalized sexism (“That’s socially unacceptable and/or I don’t like it! Ugh. WOMEN.”) I’ve been extremely uncomfortable around insults.

Let’s stay with Bitch as the example. Of course if we had called everyone bitches that wouldn’t be very nice, but it wouldn’t be perpetuating these negative connotations as gendered stereotypes. My friend tries to argue that men can be bitches too…but let’s look at the context. Keep in mind that men aren’t bitches when they’re acting egoistic or rude (masculine stereotypes), but are totally bitches when they’re nagging or being dramatic (feminine stereotypes). I mean, where do you think we got “man bitch”? To differentiate from the default female bitch. I hate to invoke urban dictionary here to prove my point, but one person even defines “bitches” as “A male or female group of pussies.” So even when men are acting like bitches, too…at least that still makes them pussies. Whew! That’s not at all specific to biologically sexed women. And don’t even PRETEND you were talking about this.

And it gets worse – I’m appalled at my recent realization of how we degrade and create negative connotations around human body parts. Again invoking urban dictionary as an example from pop culture: “If you’re an asshole, you are disgusting, loathesome, vile, distasteful, wrathful, belligerent[…]and more. Assholes[…]are the lowest of the low. They transcend all forms of immorality”. When we call someone an asshole, all of these negative associations are implied. Worst of all, what does this mean for talking frankly and without shame about our bodies? Does this have any implications for the cultural taboos on anal sex, even despite its increasing popularity?

The other day I heard an argument that said “cunt” was okay to use on women because of all the negative words out there referencing men’s bodies. Dick. Tool. Prick. Translating all those negative stereotypes associated with masculinity onto a very cool body part. I don’t see how “This smells like balls” is all that body positive either – feminist women work hard to debunk myths about our own bodies (WHAT ARE YOU SAYING should look/smell like flowers and rainbows?!) Think of the context in which we use these words – “He doesn’t care about anyone else, he’s such a dick.” …problematic, yes? Thomas over at Yes Means YES! did a great post on this a while ago called “My Genitals Are Not Junk And Neither Are Yours”. Just because we use slang to degrade some people’s bodies doesn’t mean we should do it to everyone equally.

SO, after a long rant, the only feminist insult I am comfortable using (for now) is douche. Why? Only because they’re bad for you. We get to feel helpful and enlightened while also not totally excluded from popular slang. [Edit: I found a great related post about this by Jill at Feministe.]

What ideas do you have for feminist insults? Can insults even be feminist if they’re used to create power over someone else by putting them down!? Help!


About FemWriter

FemWriter is a dedicated unlearner, privilege caller-outer, language finicker, and aspiring professional feminist.
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