If you are new to this series, please check out the first post which explains the origin, the background and has a couple ground rules: Feminism in Action: Concrete Tip #1
Special note: I fact-check, I spell-check, I grammar-check and I check for broken links. If you see errors, please send me a message, don’t let me stay out here with toilet paper trailing from the soles of my intellectual shoes.
CONCRETE TIP #5:
Being “like a girl” or “like a woman” is not an insult to anyone of any gender. You can take action by not insulting/teasing others by using female-ness AS a defacto insult.
Hold onto your hats folks, this one’s a doozy.
Raise your hand if you remember the transitive property from math class. For those of you with your hands down, I’ll provide a refresher. It goes like this:
If A=B, and B=C, then A=C
An example: If Joe’s taco budget (A) = Julie’s taco budget (B) and Julie’s taco budget (B) = Pat’s taco budget (C), we can assume Joe (A) and Pat (C) have the same taco budget. Let’s hope Joe’s taco budget is huge because … yum … tacos. But I digress.
Looping this back to feminism:
Here are some commonly-used phrases used as insults to mean everything from “you are incompetent,” to “you are weak,” to “you are being difficult or non-cooperative.”
“You throw like a girl”
“Don’t be a bitch”
“Stop crying like a little girl”
In this case: A = a term relating to girls or women such as the phrases above, B = undesirable behavior or character trait, C = insult
I’ll spell it out: Let’s say you hear someone say, “stop crying like a little girl.” In this example, “like a little girl” (A) is a stand-in for weakness (B) and the end result is that “like a little girl” becomes the insult (C). Or:
little girl (A) = crying, a sign of weakness (B)
crying, a sign of weakness (B) = insult (C)
little girl (A) = insult (C)
There is nothing insulting about being a little girl.
At this point, those of you who have been reading a while and who are invested in changing the world for the better may be thinking, “Fuck. Really? THAT’S what I’m participating in!?? This sexism shit is EVERYWHERE.” Once you start noticing this stuff, it’s hard to NOT notice it and once you notice it, it’s hard to not be annoyed. Yep, sadly sexism is everywhere. It’s hard to teach yourself out of using these words, expressions, metaphors, etc.
What’s wrong here? Just a little science, right? Who doesn’t love science? Mull this over for a minute, I’ll hum the Jeopardy! song while I wait. Done? OK, here’s the problem: “the LOSER becomes female.” Uhm. What? Come again? My good friend Sarah D. re-wrote the text as (I’m paraphrasing because I don’t have the original in front of me): “When flatworms mate, two genderless worms use their bifurcated penises to fence one another. The winner, or the flatworm who is stabbed, becomes female, and gets to be the one to give birth to new baby flatworms. The loser remains male.” Same facts, different spin. Only this time, not having a penis/becoming female isn’t seen as being “the loser.” Cultural bias, yep, it seeps into fact-driven spaces like science. And I’m not trying to suggest that the new stand-in for “loser” ought to be “male.” It’s a thought experiment of sorts. If it isn’t “losing” to be male then it isn’t “losing” to be female either. The irrationality of tying “loser” to maleness jumps out more than the original version.
Now, we turn to cartoons:
In this little compilation we are exposed to the film’s villain, Lord Farquaad. He’s a jerk. We are NOT to empathize with him. He’s an uncomplex cartoon character, all evil. But how will the storytellers foment some dislike? How will WE (the audience) know he is a loser? What jokes will the storytellers make at his expense so we laugh AT him? Let’s see … he wears fancier clothes than anyone else, he is vain, he is very short, he has zebra-print blankets, he is un-manly, not traditionally masculine … ergo, he is inferior and to be laughed-at (in addition to our loathing him for his acts of villainy). Feminizing his character is the vehicle to take him down a peg and for us to be “in on the joke” with the author of the story. This is just one of several problems I have with Shrek (I’ll write more about that later, I promise). Aaaand the real kick in the keister, is that people somehow see Shrek as “revolutionary” or challenging gender norms and sexism (and other isms).
There are other examples of feminized villains from Scar to Gaston to Claude Frollo (Hunchback of Notre Dame). Often the the emasculation takes the form of suggesting that the male character might be gay, on the assumption that the audience will assume gay = like a woman and, like a woman = bad.
Really, this stuff is so common, you probably don’t even notice it or think about it much (also remember that not-thinking about feminism or gender justice is part of male privilege):
(Author note: ironically, this last one is a Dockers ad. Dockers being the least-manly commonly-available pants I know and often themselves maligned as the kind of pants dainty, un-manly office types wear)
I’m not going to break these down for you – I’m leaving them out there as a VERY SMALL example of the ways we cut each other down by using femaleness AS an insult. It has to stop.
Before I close this up, who remembers the major human rights violations at Abu Ghraib? Among many of the inexcusable human rights violations, one of them was humiliation via emasculation. Think about that. Think about being made to pose or act “like a woman” being in the same grouping as other acts of horrific torture. I’m absolutely not arguing that any of the forcible acts were “acceptable;” no one should be forced to do anything. I’m just asking if being forced to wear women’s clothing is really in the same category as electrocution or covering someone in feces. Is it?
Damn, Amy. Isn’t there ANY good news? Well, yes. For example, every occasionally, there’s something like this:
In this parody, the soldiers re-do the Dolphins Cheerleaders’ video shot-for-shot. They aren’t afraid to dance, sashay, make kissy-faces and execute lots of other “girly moves.” Their own masculinity is not compromised by “acting like a girl,” or making a video using a pop song. They aren’t losing any status by doing “girly stuff.” (Tangential sidebar: ask yourself if their status as soldiers, as hyper-masculine figures allows them to do this without fear of assault on their masculinity by other men. Would “regular” guys have been able to pull this off as easily, with a “less masculine” status?)
This is one of the best things I’ve seen on the Internet all month. It gives me hope that not all men see emasculation as the ultimate humiliation. And I see A LOT of shit.
Cautionary note: I haven’t read ANY of the comments because I’m 100% sure someone calls them “gay” or “not real men” or otherwise makes an assault on their masculinity that is meant as insult. Those people are part of the problem. The Army dudes are part of the solution.
Right now, come up with some zippy comebacks for commonly-used anti-feminist phrases. Here are few examples of what I mean:
— “man-up” –> Oh, did you mean “be a grownup?” I wasn’t sure because not all men are grownups and not all grownups are men. It’s kind like squares and rectangles.
— “throw like a girl” –> Like … any girl in particular? Girls throw in all kinds of ways. Could you clarify? I want to make sure I get this girl-throwing impression correct.
— “don’t cry like a little bitch” — Does honest emotional expression bother you? Are you not strong enough to handle that?
Super-extra-bonus-double extra-credit: Leave your own original ideas in the comments!
Also, get a little clever. Learn (or think up) some insults that are ACTUALLY insulting. If you need any inspiration, check out the original potty-mouthed, insultor extraordinaire, William Shakespeare (but skip the emasculating ones, it was old times and he didn’t know any better):
Some famous Shakespearean insults: http://www.shakespeare-online.com/quotes/shakespeareinsults.html
Shakespearean Insult Kit: http://www.pangloss.com/seidel/shake_rule.html
If you REALLY want to dig into Shrek or you’re just craving academic jargon, THIS is the reading for you: Gendered discourses in a contemporary animated film: subversion and confirmation of gender stereotypes in Shrek
Feminist reviews of children’s animated movies: http://community.feministing.com/2011/12/06/why-feminist-reviews-of-animated-children%E2%80%99s-films-at-bitch-flicks-matter/
Even “perfect” Ryan Gosling needs to work on his feminism: http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/movies/ryan-gosling-wrote-emasculating-insults-for-kristen-scott-thomas-to-hurl-at-him-in-only-god-forgives/story-e6frfmvr-1226685297322
Here’s a poll “Have feminists emasculated men?” to which I ask, “is that such a bad thing? What’s so wrong with having a little complexity with your gender instead of being boxed in by the rigidity of prescribed masculinity?” Why are we even asking this question? — http://www.debate.org/opinions/have-feminists-emasculated-men
And last, a sadly relevant article on how fear of emasculation keeps gun violence going strong in the U.S.: http://msmagazine.com/blog/2012/12/17/why-wont-we-talk-about-violence-and-masculinity-in-america/