Originally posted on 04.26.12, this post contains a rant about gender policing and the power of gendered insults. Looking back, I still had (and still have!) a lot to learn on the topic, so some of my ideas are a little simplistic. But here it is anyway. A few notes and links have been added.
...honest discussions about gender politics, as with this amazingly well-written and empowering letter and the comments upon it. The Internet is an amazing place, and it's full of both thoughtful, insightful people who know how to be civil to one another and insecure jackasses who need to insult each other with every remark for no apparent reason. It's so nice when the former group can get together and have a real conversation!
To be more on-topic, it's always bothered me profoundly when people use the terms 'girly' or 'gay' to be insults. A casual 'what a pussy' or 'that's gay' is both incredibly denigrating to a huge proportion of the population and usually completely irrelevant to the topic at hand. I've heard people call each other gay for the silliest things, like messing up in a game or being late to an event. What on the green hills of earth does sexual orientation have to do with punctuality? I was once called a slut for standing in the way in a hallway. The irrelevancy just about caused my head to explode with confusion even as I was reeling from the shock of the strength of the insult. What's the point here?
Okay, okay, I know about the male need to verbally bash the bajeezus out of each other in order to show affection. I don't have to understand it, but I get that it's a thing. However, there's a difference between calling someone an incompetent jerk (which might be at least subjectively true based on immediate evidence) and using an incredibly personal insult that has nothing to do with what's going on, may or may not be true, and at best denigrates an entire sector of humanity to everyone in earshot. Associating unacceptable or 'inferior' behavior with being a 'jerk' (or insert your favorite relevant insult here) is one thing (jerk being a descriptor that is defined by such behavior), but associating that unacceptable or 'inferior' behavior with being a 'girl' or a 'fag' is quite another. What message does that send to any girls [update: ye gods. Girl? Really? I apparently wasn't bright enough to use the more appropriate non-infantilizing word 'woman' here] who might overhear you? That they're automatically inferior, and it's a bad thing for anyone to be lowered to their level. What message does that send to straight men in the room? That they'd better be afraid of having any 'feminine' qualities [update: this also reminds men that women are bad and inferior and not to be taken seriously. Hooray for reinforcement of pervasive and deeply problematic cultural narratives]. What message does that send to your friend who hasn't yet quite worked up the courage to tell his buds that he might be gay? That he's bad, wrong, inferior, and should shut up.
Even if you make the case that the terms have become divorced from their original meanings in the head of the person using them and are generic insults completely devoid of gender-related or sexual meaning, what excuse is that? Oh, because it's an unthinking propagation of destructive stereotypes it's okay? Words have power, whether you're bothering to think about it or not.
Wow, that apparently touched a nerve. I didn't intend to do quite that much ranting on the topic! Moving on.
Taken from the comments of the above letter:
As soon as children learn that gender roles vary by culture, they can start thinking about what sort of culture they want to see when they’re adults. And that, historically, is how social revolution begins.
Hear hear! For even more perspective, dig this take on historical gender perceptions! From that article:
The more research we do, the more it seems like the only behavior consistently considered normal is the tendency to be way too strict about what normal behavior actually is -- and then being really shitty to the people who don't conform.
...explains a lot, doesn't it? [update: this is an extremely simplistic view, is largely presented for humor, and fails to take quite a few issues into account. This statement is not to be taken literally, and is one of those cases wherein I need to learn to grow up a little.]
Ultimately, boys are better at peeing standing up, and girls can grow new humans. Other than that, we're pretty much people. Aside from the Grand Unifying Theory of Gender Relations, of course. [update: another semi-serious, semi-humorous, rather thoughtless reference. The more I learn, the more problems I see with this 'Grand Unifying Theory' that I used to adore. Perhaps I'll deconstruct that at a later date.]
Let's teach the next generation a little civility and acceptance, shall we?