Disclaimer: This post does contain language. Much of it is censored but you will still be able to tell what words I am referring to. If it is a problem, do not read ahead.
“You’re a b*tch.” “Don’t be a p*ssy.” “*sshole.”
You’ve probably heard all of these insults before, and, I hope we can agree that they are, in fact, insults. When people get angry at other people, or when they find themselves looking down on someone, these are the things they say. But, do you ever really hear a girl being called a “p*ssy”? Do you often hear a boy being called a “b*tch” or a “slut”? My answer is no, I didn’t often, and the story begins with this conversation (I’m just going to skip to the end):
my friend and i were having an argument involving a separate person, both the friend and third person are males.
My friend: You’re being such a b*tch, and he’s being a d*ck.
This is the one point in the entire argument that I paused. Why did my friend, somebody that rarely makes sexist slurs, just make a comment that felt, to me, sexist? Let me explain.
In a moment where my friend decided to call me this word out of anger, He decided to call me and the other male friend we were discussing “b*tch” and “d*ck”, respectfully. What he didn’t do was just take one of the words and refer to us both as that word, such as saying “You’re both being d*cks”. I later realized that somewhere in his head, the reason that he called me the word he did was because I was female, not male, and the reason he called the male the word he did was because that was the word he associated with males, not females.
Females have certain words associated with them and males the same, but is associating those words with males and females sexist? It is when it comes down to the words that you are using.
Here’s my hypothesis:
The female-related words are more offensive than the male-related words, to the general population and often, more to males. Not only that, but the words associated with females are the ones most used to hurt someone, whether its b*tch, c*nt, or p*ssy.
What if these words weren’t slang for specific genitals or words we use to say, put down a man for being “too feminine”? Female-related derogatory terms have been used constantly to put down males and females, and nobody seems to think much of it.
I believe that the use of these words is sexist, and however much we think it’s okay, they all just hurt women in the end.
I dived into my community ready to find out how people, specifically students, insulted each other, what words they used, and how they viewed those words. Check out the padlet below for some of the answers I got:
The word I heard the most in my observations of the community around me was this one, “B*tch”. For one thing, it is the word I have been called the most, mostly by men, and for another, the people I am around just use it on an everyday basis. Whether it’s a kid in my class who constantly calls me the word for no reason, or my own use of it towards a girl I don’t like so much.
- As a noun, to refer to something inanimate
- As a noun, to refer to a human. A woman being rude, but on the other end of the spectrum, a woman standing up for herself (see video above). Also used toward men who are seen to have been “dominated” by a woman or are acting feminine.
- As an adjective, “b*tchy”, used in the same way above.
- As a verb, “b*tching”, to refer to somebody complaining.
Laci Green outlines these different uses and the history of “b*tch” in the video above, but then decides, from her own experience, that the word isn’t really something we should be using. In my community, the biggest use of the word is to insult someone else. B*tch almost always has a negative connotation. In the time since I began this project, I was called the word a few times: Once when I refused to give my male friend money and a few other times by someone who just kept looking at me and saying it for no reason, even when I was helping them with their work in Computer Science. It’s hard to say exactly why everyone thinks this is okay. Maybe it is because pop culture consistently makes it seem like you can say the word, or maybe all the boys that have called me it really do want to make me feel powerless, as Green suggests in the video. Either way, the word is a symbol of the patriarchy in our communities.
Okay. So I guess it’s obvious what this word is slang for, if not, it’s used to refer to the female genitals, the vagina. The word, as i’ve observed, is used much more often between men.
EDIT: The video that was above does not seem to be working but showed a clip from Trevor Noah’s Afraid of the Dark Stand-Up which is on Netflix now, if you would like to watch it that way. Otherwise, this link and this link outline the bit and show some of the quotes he says.
Some of the ways p*ssy is used include:
- To insult a man who is acting feminine or seen as not being courageous
ex. “Stop being a p*ssy and just do it.”
3. To a woman, same as above.
The issue of this word is outlined in Daily Show Host, Trevor Noah’s, stand-up show in the clip above. ““Don’t be a pussy.” Yes. Because it implies weakness. Do not be like the vagina. The vagina that is weak. Don’t be a pussy … and yet, in my personal experience, I have found the pussy to be one of the strongest things I have ever come across in my life.” Noah says.4
It makes it seem like all someone really does when they use the word is insult women, and it’s true. Many gender stereotypes assert that women are weaker than men: physically and emotionally. So, it only makes sense for it to be used when someone isn’t being “tough”. I think we can agree that there is nothing good about the word. It, on one hand, is used to make men feel bad about themselves (and wrongfully, might I add), and on another once again objectifies women and tries to take away their power. By using the word p*ssy, we continue to push the idea that being a female is a bad thing, whether we mean it or not.
But, this word, after how we heard it in the United States Presidential election, is beginning to be reclaimed, much like the word Bitch, in feminist rhetoric and elsewhere.
Reclaiming the words of the patriarchy?
In the 2016 election, a tape was released of US President Donald Trump saying the words “Grab them by the p*ssy” to tv personality Billy Bush. Also in the 2016 election, it wasn’t a secret how many times presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was called a bitch by opposing forces. In response to this, many women embraced it. For example, women attending women’s marches across America on January 21st started knitting and wearing “p*ssy hats”, to reclaim and protest the use of the word.
Not only that, but you probably have heard women using the word “b*tch” like it isn’t rude. Women will call their friends “b*tches”, and there are cases when women will claim the word saying something like “Yeah, that’s right, I am a b*tch!” in response to being called it. An example of this is when comedians Tina Fey and Amy Poehler did just this in the midst of the 2008 presidential primaries on an episode of Saturday Night Live: claimed the word and were proud to be labeled it. Fey even said “b*tches get stuff done” to the audience, showing she was somewhat okay with the word.2
All this shows is how far these words have gotten integrated into the English language as if they are not offensive. We should be doing more denouncing the use of the words, as men and as women, so that people realize it is more harming to women than empowering.
What do we do about it?
So, the truth is, you can’t really change how someone speaks. If the whole world has been saying these words for so long, there isn’t going to be a time where we just stop, just like that. All we can do is make people aware of it. I guarantee you, a lot of people that say the words don’t recognize the affect they have on the community around them. So, like I am trying to do with this project, you have to let them know! Even just going around and asking people the questions I did and starting to think about the topic myself, I’m starting to recognize how many times I say words and phrases that could be considered sexist.
As far as changing my community, it is something very hard to do with how taboo some of these words are. It’s not really something that’s easy to talk to administration about. I would love to have something that I run that students can come to and discuss the issue, but it is hard to say whether it would be approved.
For now, I’m making a pledge to call people out on using sexist language and insulting people in this way. I find comfort in the conversations I had with the people I interviewed, as many of them were quick to say they were interested in the topic and hadn’t really thought about it that way before. So, students are interested, and hopefully want to help out. I think by asking the questions and creating this project, I’ve already started to make a difference.
Whatever you choose to do with all this information, it would be wonderful if you just started where I did.
Check out the padlet below and let me know how you feel about the topic. Do you think curse words are sexist?
1 James, Deborah. “Gender-Linked Derogatory Terms and Their Use by Women and Men.” American Speech, vol. 73, no. 4, 1998, pp. 399–420.
2 Kleinman, Sherryl, Matthew Ezzell, and Corey Frost. “Reclaiming critical analysis: The social harms of “bitch”.” Sociological Analysis 3.1 (2009):
3 Zeisler, Andi. “The B-Word? You Betcha.” The Washington Post, 18 Nov. 2007, www.washingtonpost.com/
wpdyn/content/article/2007/11/16/AR2007111601202.html. Accessed 28 Mar. 2017.
4 Noah, Trevor, writer. Afraid of the Dark. Directed by David Paul Meyer. Netflix, 2017.