Hey Fellas: Five Ways Your Words Might Be Harmful


I. You’re never fully dressed without a forced smile.
So you know not to shout “Nice ass!” from the window of your Honda at female passerby. After all, you’re not some Neanderthal! But there are other, less blatantly sexual but equally demeaning phrases you might not think twice about tossing over your shoulder, like a piece of socially-sanctioned litter that “the birds will eat.” The most common, and therefore most infuriating one, is the seemingly-innocent “Smile!” Because let’s be real, this is less about spreading good cheer and more an admonishment that women repress their true emotions in the name of being attractive according to your standards. Which, yuck.

II. If pussies are wimps, then how come they can withstand more pain that any other body part, smart guy?
You’ve heard this before and it no doubt provoked an eye roll or two — Stop using “pussy” to mean weak. Hold on, you might retort. Slang isn’t sexist. After all, “dick” has negative connotations too. And you’re right. But keep those eye balls firmly planted because, the fact is, not all “negative” is created equal. According to our pals at Urban Dictionary, “dick” means abrasive. Which is basically the antithesis of weak. By equating women with weakness, even through seemingly innocuous slang, we enforce the idea that they’re incapable and dependent. Objects to be shielded, hoarded, abused, and cast aside depending on the entitled whims of, well… dicks.

III. While we’re on the subject of abrasive, let’s retire “bossy” too.
In a 2012 survey of preschool teachers, none used the word “bossy,”an adjective that was liberally used for girl toddlers, to describe boys. In a world where “boss” still conjures images of a steeple-fingered, suit-sporting man, this is an important distinction. Not only is “bossy” a double standard, it also teaches girls — sometimes before they can even form complete sentences — that the norm for them is to be placid, docile, and submissive. A prop or plot device in the sweeping stories of their male counterparts — who are labeled leaders when exerting their will and expressing their opinions.

IV. Surprise! There’s more to slut-shaming than calling women sluts.
A good rule of thumb for language used to describe women’s sexuality is to avoid those terms that can’t also apply to men. You’ve read the Slut Walk headlines, and seen pictures of topless girls with “Still not asking for it” scrawled across their nipples. You’re not touching that four-letter word with a forty-foot pole. But what about “not buying that cow when you can get the milk for free?” Or “the old ball and chain?” These female-specific phrases strip women of their humanity, literally reducing them to barn animals or hardware. Not the best conditions for fostering respect.

V. I totally subjected my stats midterm to forceful, non-consensual, traumatic intercourse!
We’ve all been there. Chugged Red Bull, slept a grand total of half an hour, then got up and aced the test we’d worried about all semester. It’s a heady, intoxicating feeling. Which makes it doubly creepy to associate with rape. Yes, male rape is a real, under-reported problem. But more commonly and historically, rape is a crime of power committed against women. To exclaim that you raped your quiz or competition of any kind is to belittle the atrocity that strips women of their agency more than any other.

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