Boob: A Breast? Or a Fool?
Posted by BroadBlogs
The English language has more than 1000 words that sexually describe women or their body parts. Here are a few:
Babe, nymph, nymphomaniac, bimbo, fox, dog, beaver, freak, super freak, knockout, melons, tomatoes, whore, ho, dumb blond, shapely, pussy, boobs, hussy, slut, buxom, trim, troll, femme fatale, skank, goddess, jugs, bush, poontang, tart, loose, tramp, butch, bitch, Lolita, Betty, sex kitten, temptress, beast, promiscuous.
Sometimes neutral words take on a sexual meaning when they are applied to women. Call a man a professional and you’ll likely envision doctor or a lawyer. But say, “She’s a professional” and “prostitute” may be the first thing that comes to mind.
An author was asked to rename a book title before publication. “The Position of Women in Society” seemed too suggestive.
“It’s easy” sounds like a simple task. “He’s easy,” might denote an easy grader. But say, “she’s easy,” and you’ll likely hear “sexually promiscuous.”
One-time courtesy titles, or even high titles, can take on sexual meanings. “Madam” is a polite way of addressing a woman. She may be the female head of household. But she may also be the female head of a house of prostitution. Mistress – another term for the female head of house – is now associated with adultery. “Lady” is a polite title. But “lady of the evening” is not. Even the highest status a woman can gain, “Queen” takes on sexual connotations when applied to a gay man or a “drag queen.”
And notice how these words are demeaning as well as sexual (“gay” is beginning to overcome the stigma, but there’s a way to go). We could add drama queen and cootie queen to that mix.
Even the term boob, slang for a woman’s breast, is defined in the dictionary as, “a stupid or foolish person.” Odd that something so valued is also degraded. Is the appeal of boobs similar to the draw of a dumb blonde?
What difference does it all make?
In their work in anthropology, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf learned that words affect how we see. The Hopi Indians had no words to distinguish among the past, present, and future. And they had a difficult time with those concepts. Skiers are more attuned than most to different kinds of snow: powder, packed powder, corn, ice, slush, for example. Or, we so often use male terms to describe humanity – man, mankind, brotherhood, fellowship – that when people are asked to think of a person, a man generally comes to mind.
Words dig deep into our unconscious psyches, directing how we see ourselves and others. When we constantly hear sexual and pejorative terms describing women, women come to be sexualized and demeaned in our minds.
The language we learn is neither the fault of the men or the women of our society, in so far as baby girls and baby boys both grow up immersed in these words. What’s important is how we use language once we “get it,” and once we get that it matters.
Related posts on BroadBlogs
“Cock” vs “Down There”
Sex: Who Gets Screwed?
Words: Sticks and Stones? Or Shaping How We See Ourselves?
About BroadBlogsI 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 March 14, 2011, in body image, feminism, gender, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged body image, culture, feminism, gender, language, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, sexual objectification, sexuality, social psychology, Whorf-Sapir, women. Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.