“Bitches and Dudes,” a.k.a. “Women and Men” on College Campuses

Researchers looking at the most commonly used words to describe women and men on college campuses made some interesting findings.

Labels for college men: guy, dude, boy (as in “one of my boys”), stud/homey

Labels for college women: babe, chick, slut, bitch

See a difference?

The words describing men are fairly neutral. The most negative term may be “boy,” implying immaturity, not manhood. But the phrase “one of my boys” is endearing and inclusive. “Homey” prompts thoughts of ghetto life – low class. But it also suggests streetwise toughness – a positive for men.

Stud is very positive, and was likely used a bit more ten years ago when this study was done. Player and pimp might be more common now, but they all create similar imagery: a sexually active man who is potent and adept at attracting women, conquering them, getting women to submit sexually. Powerful imagery.

And words for women? They are all sexualized. “Babe” and “chick” indicate sexual attractiveness, alerting us to how important beauty is for women.

But “babe” infantilizes, while suggesting endearment. The term can also describe men whom women are close to. “Chick” may have come from the word chic, meaning fashionable. But thoughts of a baby bird do suggest immaturity, with the added hint of animal status.

“Slut” is the counterpart to stud, but without the celebratory salute – quite the opposite. “Bitch” can have a similar meaning as in, “A bitch sleeps with everyone but me.” Of course, “extremely unpleasant personality” can be an alternate meaning.

When men seem so interested in getting sex it seems odd to use words that shame women’s sexuality and contribute to sexual dysfunction. Perhaps it all makes conquest, and the ensuing rise in self-regard, that much sweeter.

On the whole, terms describing women are much more negative than those labeling men.

Language affects our minds, it guides how we see the world and ourselves. For more on this, see my post on how language shapes us.

When words describe women as sexual, secondary, and degraded, both women and men come to see them that way, at least unconsciously. We see the effects when less evolved men easily throw these sticks and stones at women, or when too many women swallow the terms, and without much of a whimper.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on February 4, 2011, in feminism, gender, men, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. “Babe” infantilizing and “Chick” being attributed to live stock are extreme stretches. I don’t know of a single guy who even makes those connections. “Bitch” has become more of a catch-all than just “Woman who won’t sleep with me.” It seems to be used to refer to any girl at any time for whatever purpose.

    I tend to refer to females as “girls” unless they seem particularly mature, at which point I’ll use “ladies” or “women.” Very rarely I will use “chick”, and anything resembling “bitch” only when I don’t like the individual. I use “dude” in reference to both genders. When speaking with males I use “guy” and “dude” more often, but I hardly use “men”. Occasionally I will use “boy” as well.

    Usually I just use “they” or “them” in reference to either gender.

    In my mind “girl”, “guy”, and “dude” are all relative to my own age, not necessarily ages younger than me. “Lady”, “Woman”, and “Man” are all in reference to people older than myself. For younger individuals I use “Little Boy”, “Little Girl”, or “S/He’s blank years old.” I don’t really have a tight phrase for people younger than myself but older than sixteen.

    *Sometimes I will use a younger term when referring to an older person, typically if they’ve successfully proven that their IQ is about on par with the average eighth grader.*

    Those last paragraphs are all about how my head organizes information, though. I know it isn’t how the rest of the world does it.

  2. While I do agree with the premise that language has an unconscious effect on perception, and that there aren’t quite enough good terms for a female, there were several key parts of this post that I found misleading.

    One, you posted ‘guy’ in the male column, which is a standard, neutral term in use by most everyone to denote a male. It has undertones of bachelor and modest social status. You call a sailor, college student or a office buddy a guy, but you rarely do so with an accomplished trial lawyer or president. However, its female counterpart, girl, which is an acceptable term for a female college student, isn’t on your list. Why isn’t it on there?

    Secondly, you talk about the animal characteristics of the word ‘chick’ and discuss that nature. You left out that the term ‘bitch’ is a technical term for a female dog, but more worryingly, forget that the word ‘stud’ is also a term for a male horse meant for breeding. While some shallow men would celebrate that lifestyle, I would honestly find it demeaning to have the sum total of my skills be completely disregarded because I’m sexually satisfying or, worse, breeding stock. Isn’t that a form of devaluation?

    Thirdly, you appear to be suggesting that slut or bitch is a regular term used willy-nilly in all conversation, by all men at all times. This understanding forgets that it forms only part of a habit in male discussions. When men flock together and start a deep conversation, pleasantries usually go out the window and everyone starts denigrating, cussing out anything and anyone, especially each other. It’s a raucous affair, but women are simply one topic of many. Men do this because it’s a way to bring energy to a party or conversation, for (cheap) humor, it’s for blowing off steam over annoying, traumatic, or depressing situations, and its a way to build camaraderie, not because it’s pure truth or simply to put people in their place.

    This explanation isn’t meant to excuse the nonchalant use of such terms in public. But to sit there and pretend it’s mere slang for ‘female’ is ignoring the fact that most guys, when they do use it, use it intentionally with informal company. Others even use it to rile women up on purpose. While I don’t doubt there are men stupid enough to forget who they’re talking to, where they are, or how offensive they are, that issue takes second place to the more important issue, which are the actual bigots.

    @Darlene Pizzitolo
    Everyone’s insecure. This isn’t a cute world, people have a lot of things they worry about day in and day out. This especially includes guys trying to find a relationship.

    • “Girl” isn’t on my list because it didn’t come out as one of the top 4 words used to describe women in the study I read.

      On not writing about bitch as dog or stud as horse, I did address that in a different post:

      That’s Bitchin, But Life’s A Bitch

      At the time I wrote the post I was more interested in the word “bitch” in a different way. Since “stud” is so celebrated, it didn’t seem much like a put-down. But I can see how some men, like you, could see it that way. Makes total sense.

      Re: “you appear to be suggesting that slut or bitch is a regular term used willy-nilly in all conversation, by all men at all times”

      No. That’s your assumption. I’m just saying it’s in the top 4 words men use to describe women. In the top 4, women don’t use any similarly negative words to describe men.

      And interesting that women don’t do this: “When men flock together and start a deep conversation, pleasantries usually go out the window and everyone starts denigrating, cussing out anything and anyone, especially each other. It’s a raucous affair, but women are simply one topic of many.”

      Men do this largely because of “gender ranking”: Men are ranked above women. It’s not real, so they have to do something to create a sense of men being better. Putting down women does that.

      If women were gender ranked higher, and felt a constant need to create a sense that they were better, they’d probably do the same thing.

  3. I’m not one for “an eye for an eye” in terms of this topic because my general idea is that if we don’t want to be degraded, why make the problem worse by degrading others. But the other day, sitting watching a tv show with some guy friends, I couldn’t help but feel annoyed because I heard the term “bitch” used almost every time a girl was on the screen, and always in a negative, degrading way. I don’t understand this NEED to constantly show superiority over women. It could have to do with the fact that men feel somewhat threatened by women’s sexuality or their beauty and feel they have to conteract it in some way. While we sat there, after the 4th or 5th time hearing this term, I had to speak up. I said, “You know, I’ve been researching and I think I came up with a good term for men: Hogs. It’s a male pig, which is also an animal.” And literally the guy never said it again and shut his mouth. SCORE: One for the bitches!!! lol

  4. Again, we have a history of patriarchy and double standards. Just like it is culturally shameful for a woman to have multiple sexual partners but a man can have many. Especially at a growing age I see a lot of this. Men are definitely trying to assert their manhood or their application into the brotherhood of manhood by degrading women and showing how superior men are to women. Unfortunately it does not seem to be changing quite as fast as it should be. Education and awareness could easily aid these along.

  5. As a girl in college, I can tell you that A LOT (over 50%) of the guys here commonly refer to girls as bitches. Such as “have you tapped that bitch yet?” or “what a fine azz bitch” or “I’m dating the hottest bitch on campus”.

    It used to be primarily young black men that spoke like this but now whites, hispanics, and even Asians (who are supposed to be more modest and have better manners) are using the B-word in place of girl or woman or girlfriend. It’s not even used as an insult. It’s just their sick way of saying “girl”.

    There’s a popular website for guys who are into going to the gym and lifting weights (which is about the MAJORITY of all young men) and there’s a very popular “Relationship Help” forum on that website. You should see the way they talk. It’s bitch this and my bitch that. It’s pretty much a good look at where the male youth of society is at today. I came across this site because a guy I dated used to recently visit that site because he was trying to gain weight and tone up.

    It’s at forums(DOT)Bodybuilding(DOT)com and then go to:
    Bodybuilding.com Forums > More General Categories > Misc. > Relationship Help I will add the link to my user name “College Girl”.

    Anyways, it’s become so common amongst young men to bash women and treat them like crap and refer to them as “my bitch” that young women are actually becoming used to it! It’s really creepy. I hope to God that it’s just a phase due to so many young men listening to hiphop music and trying to be “tough” and that as these young men grow up they will grow out of it.

    I cannot imagine turning 30 and having to listen to my 30 year old male peers still speaking like this! What a nightmare.

    • Thanks. I’ll check out the site.

      Interesting tht men don’t feel bad about using degrading words like this for, and in front of, women. But I’ll bet women tend to feel bad about complaining about it. More on that later.

  6. I agree with the idea of “language affect our minds, it guides how we see the world and ourselves”. However, before “language affect our minds”, I believe culture plays an important role in understanding and learning different languages. As being an Asian, I use words differently by comparing with the American. Not only because we learn words and language in a different way, but also our cultural backgrounds affect our mind in understanding different words. For example, “bitch” has both positive and negative meanings in my mind. My friend and I call people we don’t like as “bitch”. However, for some of my very close friends, we call each other as “bitch” without having any sad feeling. It is because we are truly best friends and therefore we can make jokes on each other.
    On the other hand, I think it is funny that words describing men are as fairly neutral then women. It may because women are more willing to express emotions then men. Therefore, women tend to think more complicated than men so women can easily come up with different words to describe people around them.

    • Thanks. Culture definately affects language, as you say. And many women have embraced the word “bitch” so that in taking it as their own, it won’t hurt so much. Different people have different opinions on how effective that is. But a feminist magazine is called “Bitch” for that reason.

      re: “words describing men are as fairly neutral then women. It may because women are more willing to express emotions then men.”

      It’s probably also because men have had more power over language than women (publishers, writers, public speakers, etc.) Not saying men are evil. If women had historically had more control of language, it seems likely that their frustrations with men, and their sexual views of men, would end up in language with more negative and sexual connotations for men.

  7. There is always a debate to what extent does language affect our thinkings. Or does our thinking affect how we communicate? This reminds me the cliche of the nurture vs. nature debate. I do believe that language shapes our thinking, in some cases, language may influence more than we know and think.
    I always found the observation interesting to call a guy a “dude” or a girl a “bitch.” It is extremely common on college campus. I do find it somewhat demeaning that all the terms for “girls” are negatively associated. However, I think the pop culture is what influenced this era of name calling. It is important to take in the factor of the environment. The next question to address is how do we bring about more awareness and respesct to women? How will women stand up against their sterotypes? Empower women!

    • I agree. I believe language does affect our thinking and even those around us. The terms usef for “girls” are negatively associated and not so much for the “guys.” I just hope that women would stand up for themselves and not think that being called a “bitch” is okay or rewarding. It is far from rewarding or “cool.” Mature adults do not use this kind of language and would certainly reject anyone who uses such langugage towards them.

  8. Cheuk Wing Szeto

    I think this finding really interesting. I have never thought of that before, but it seems fairly true. We tend to call women babe and chick because we think they are rather soft and cute and they are more dependent on men. Men are stereotyped as strong, independent and playful so we call them dude and guy to stress that they are more powerful. At the same time, I think this situation is not only happening in the United States, but also in all over the world. My mother language is Chinese and I find that this finding still applies. Therefore, I believe it can also apply to other languages.

  9. It is funny how many girls I know have used these terms to describe themselves and others so have accepted the degrading terms. Although I mostly heard it in high school, girls say things like “I’m the Bitch” or “F that bitch” or “hey bitch; whats up.” I have also heard the words “slut, chick and babe” used the exact same ways. Although I’m unsure if I agree with the words “chick and babe” being used is degrading to woman, it is very interesting how there backgrounds in some way have a “put down” type of meaning, and words used for men do not.

    By the way, I believe the word “homey” is spelled, “homie” in slang terms since it is a slang. And to add on to your meaning, “homie” is also used in replacement of “friend.” Anyone can be a “homie” to someone, but not anyone can be just anyone’s “homie.” Or in a gang, if your representing the same “hood/gang/color” you would be considered a “homie” or “homeboy.”

  10. From a personal experience, I wanted to say that I have not heard the phase bitch used as much as I have heard the word “Dude”. When I hear “Dude” it is usually amongst friends. As for “babe” I have heard it within couples when they are speaking to each other privately.

    Overall, I believe this was a good subject, and a wonderful blog.

    • Thank you.

      The word “bitch” is also often used among men to label women, perhaps among frat brothers, for example. Ditto “Babe.” So many college women won’t have a lot of personal experience with usage in these contexts.

      Thanks for sharing.

  11. Darlene Pizzitolo

    Hi all

    I think men who use the word “chick” use it is a put down, a chick is a small animal, not a woman. Men who use this word use it to make thems seen more important
    then women, but in reality they are insecure men.

  12. I haven’t noticed this phenomenon after reading this passage. I agree that words calling women are more negative than men, yet, honestly I don’t think because we call women “babe” or “chick” would “indicate sexual attractiveness, alerting us to how important beauty is for women”.
    I think men calling women as “babe” or “chick” is because they think they have the responsibilities to take care girls like infants, love and care them like babies but no really indicating sexual attractiveness or portraying image like animals. Moreover,I believe most girls like tobe taken care of and want boys to love them and they won’t really mind boys calling them chicks or babies. Although in USA, calling girls as chick isn’t an offense, yet in Hong Kong or China, if people are calling a girl “chick”, it is very offensive because that word in Chinese can mean whore. This is what we call cultural difference. 🙂
    I am not quite sure about the US cultures, but in my home country, HongKong, we would also call our girlfriends as babies. This doesn’t mean we think they are immature or any other negative things, it means that we treasure our friends and we love them as much as we love our babies. We cherish those friends and that’s why we call them babies. One interesting thing is among good friends, we would also call girls as “bitches”. This doesn’t have any negative meaning, it’s just for fun. And calling friends “bitches” sometimes make us connect too.
    Maybe because of different cultural difference or different interpretation of a word, I don’t really think those words like “bitches” or “babes” are portraying negative images of women.

    • When people use words differently in different cultures it can be difficult to communicate the meaning of words. In the U.S. “babe” and “chic” indicate a woman who is sexually attractive.

      Some women use the word “bitch” to take a word that has been used against them and make it their own so it won’t hurt them. Blacks do this with the n-word, and gays do it with the word queer. Generally, it is not considered acceptable for people outside of the group to call them those words though. So “bitch” can take on different meanings: positive when women use it toward each other (a feminist magazine is named Bitch), but negative meanings when men call them that.

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