By Jonathan Jefferson
Back in high school I was surprised at the amount of hatred that could be directed toward women in common, everyday conversation.
Guys talked about ex-girlfriends or girls they’d slept with in such a negative light.
If a girl had been with another boy — at all — anyone who slept with her later could do no better than “sloppy seconds.” Read the rest of this entry
My friends and I would go to a bar and get some drinks and maybe a buddy would “drink up” the courage to talk to a girl. If she rejected him we automatically labeled her a bitch. But if she stayed and conversed for a while, and if she started dancing with him, we labeled her a slut.
I honestly did not realize how horrible my thinking was until we started talking about these issues in class.
If you say, “That’s bitchin!” it’s good.
But if she’s bitchin, she’s annoying.
If “Life’s a bitch,” things are difficult.
If “She’s a bitch!” she’s difficult! (He thinks that’s bad.)
If “I’m a bitch!” I stand my ground. (I think that’s baaad – but in a good way!) Read the rest of this entry
I think every woman has heard it at least once in her life. “Bitch!” Whether or not we were “acting like one.” Men say it. Women say it. I’ve said it more than once.
It starts early.
The first time I heard it was on the school playground, waiting my turn at the monkey bars. A girl cut me in line, so I told her I was next. She called me a “bitch” and walked away.
I was surprised. I knew it was a “bad word” but I didn’t know what I had done wrong or “bitchy.” I would come to wonder, many more times, why I was called that name.
Usually, it was when I stood up for myself. Sometimes it targeted my reproductive system: “Why are you being such a bitch? Are you on your period?” Because I can’t be angry or upset unless it’s that, right? Other times the word ridiculed me just for being female. Maybe that’s why our reproductive system seems especially “bitchy” — it defines us as women. Read the rest of this entry
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.
“Dear Bitches, I mean witches.”
So began Duke’s Alpha Delta Phi’s e-mailed invitation to their Halloween party. It continues just as charmingly:
“The Brothers of Alpha Delta Phi know what true fear is. Fear is having someone say ‘I love you.’ … Fear is riding the C1 with Helen Keller at the helm (not because shes deaf and blind, but because she is a woman). Fear is waking up with no wallet, phone, keys, or front tooth next to a girl who you could generously deem a 3.”
Not to be outdone, Duke’s Sigma Nu frat offered their own enticement:
“Whether your dressing up as a slutty nurse, a slutty doctor, a slutty schoolgirl, or just a total slut, we invite you to find shelter in the confines of Partners D.”
Ummm, how appealing! (And I don’t just mean their grammar and spelling.)
Someone had the sense to print out the invites and scrawl handwritten messages: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention,” “Is this why you came to Duke?” and then wallpaper the campus.
Strangely, sorority sisters interviewed took it all in stride as “boys-will-be-boys.”
“Honestly, when I first received those e-mails I didn’t think anything of it,” said Emily Fausch, of Delta Delta Delta sorority. “This is the kind of thing I’ve come to expect from fraternities. In my heart, I know it’s a problem but I’ve really gotten used to it. I don’t take it too seriously. I think that college boys will be college boys.”
Now, not all fraternities are created equal. Some actually work to be respectful toward women. But at many frats, women are routinely degraded in attempts to create a sense of male superiority and “manhood” by putting women down, according to sociologist, Michael Kimmel.
But why do women so often support their own disgrace by continuing to fraternize with the frats? This woman’s comment that she’s simply gotten used to it is telling.
We live in a society that sees women as lesser-than, and which sexualizes male dominance. Both lay the groundwork for accepting ill treatment.
A few quick examples: Man, brother, and guy encompass women, but woman, sister, and gal don’t encompass men. So man becomes primary, and woman secondary. A woman marries and becomes Mrs. Leonard Smith. A man never becomes Mrs. Emily Struthers. Unless it’s an insult. Send a card from the family? Likely dad’s name goes first, then mom’s, then the children in order of appearance. Men tend to feel insulted taking the secondary spot. Women are just used to it.
We sexualize male dominance when Rhett takes Scarlett up the stairs for a night of marital rape and Scarlett cheerfully awakens the next morning. Or when Rihanna sings about enjoying mistreatment from her man, while Eminem celebrates abusing women. Watching women enjoy humiliation in porn or mainstream movies like The Secretary also eroticizes male dominance. The list goes on.
Continually treated as secondary, second-rate treatment becomes taken-for-granted, invisible. The women are used to it. It seems natural. Sometimes even sexy.
As too many frat brothers intensify the world of insult, women acclimate to the higher level shame.
All this teaches women to accept attitudes and behavior that regard them as second-class.
A college roommate of mine dated a frat boy who treated her like dirt. She defended him to all of us who cared about her. She had certainly learned to accept her own humiliation.
“A bitch has sex with everyone but me.”
So how do men view women’s sexuality? And what is the reality?
Sociologist, Michael Kimmel says that many men get their sex education from two primary sources: friends and porn. And their friends learn a lot from porn, too.
So how are women portrayed on the pornography front?
Women meet strangers and become immediately aroused, sexual activity quickly ensues, and they come swiftly to orgasm. And by the way, women love threesomes and orgies. Really, the more the merrier!
In porn women’s sexuality looks more like men’s than women’s.
Pornography leads single men to believe that other men are getting an awful lot of sex. And they wonder why they aren’t. “Why do babes (aka sluts) have sex with everyone but me? Those bitches!”
In the U.S. women’s sexuality is far different from how it is portrayed in porn. Typically, women are much more interested in romance and relationship than in casual intercourse. And while some women love sex (sometimes more than their partners) surveys show that they typically enjoy sex less than men do, and want far fewer partners.
Biology does not seem to be the main reason for the difference. While twice as much space is devoted to sexuality in the male brain, women and men have matched up far more evenly in other times and places in terms of sexual pleasure and interest.
I will be posting an ongoing series (interspersed with other topics) to discuss these questions, among others:
- How do men and women experience sex differently?
- What affects sexual experience and why do American women typically enjoy sex less than men?
- How do differences and misunderstandings affect relationships between women and men?
- What are the benefits and costs of the so-called male and female ways of sexuality?
- What can women learn from men and what can men learn from women?
To understand all this, we will need to explore sources of repression. Women get far more messages than men that sex is bad, which can repress their sexuality. Too often women are still punished for not controlling men’s sexuality. Calling women sluts rarely heightens their sexual interest. Quite the opposite. Yet men seem to be unaware of this — given how often they call women sluts and whores. Or they don’t care. Odd, since they say they want sex so much! But there is more on the repression front.
We will also discuss things you might not expect, like how objectification can dampen a woman’s sexual experience, even as it heightens a man’s. So focused on how she looks (whether pleased with her look or worried about it), she can’t get into sex. Meanwhile, men aren’t sexualized, so she has less to get so excited about.
Or, we still rank men above women in our society, and this ends up diminishing women’s sexual interest in ways that are not immediately obvious – though they should be. For example, when men see women as objects and not human beings, they may force sex. A past history of sexual violence often diminishes a woman’s interest.
Meanwhile, men, if you’re not getting a lot of sex, don’t take it personally. And don’t take it out on women. Calling them sluts and bitches will probably backfire!
As a culture we are more offended by racism than sexism – which is not to say that we’re more sexist than racist.
But sexist jokes are more easily traded. Nearly anyone at a U.S. University knows the punch line to, “What’s the difference between a slut and a bitch?” (I’ll answer that in a later blog post.) I attended a university in which jokes about women students prevailed. Typical “coed joke”: “What’s the difference between a coed and the trash? The trash gets taken out once a week.”
When Don Imus called Rutger’s women’s basketball team “nappy headed hos,” we were offended by the racism. But the sexism was mostly overlooked.
In fact, sitcoms rarely have mixed-race casts, possibly because they fear a racist joke cropping up, or a comment coming across as such. Meanwhile, I’ve watched a couple of seemingly feminist shows that used the word “bitch” (and not in a good way) in nearly every episode: Ugly Betty and Life Unexpected. Some TV shows’ raison d’etre seems to be spewing sexism. Family Guy and The Man Show come to mind.
Gangsta’ rap is full of sexism, but few complain. If a genre of music talked about people of color the way that women are labeled in rap we would be outraged.
During the last presidential election mainstream media took way more shots at Hillary than Barack, as with Tucker Carlson’s well known crack, “When she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs.”
There’s a reason for the difference in offense.
Basically, women put up with sexism more than ethnic groups put up with racism. But why?
First, ethnic groups are aware of times and places when whites haven’t ruled, from present-day Japan to pre-imperial Africa. People of color know that things can be, and have been, different. U.S. racism is glaring by comparison.
On the other hand, most women are unaware of cultures that have existed with gender equality. Knowing nothing else, the inequity they face can seem natural and normal to them.
Many women attend churches that teach that men should be in charge. These women don’t want to go against God. I’m not aware of any ethnic minority churches that preach God wants whites to rule.
Men are women’s lovers, husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers. They love them and want to keep relationship with them. They don’t want to offend them.
Meanwhile, our culture does much to make sexism seem sexy, from Eminem, Rihanna, and Megan Fox sexing up domestic violence to a Rolling Stones billboard depicting a woman sprawled on the floor, mouthing, “I’m black and blue and loving it,” to Justin Timberlake slapping Janet Jackson around and ripping her blouse in a so-called “wardrobe malfunction.” Yeah, right.
All of this leaves ethnic minorities unified in their offense against inequality, while attitudes among women are more mixed. I’ve heard women say that they don’t want to be equal to men, but I’ve never heard an ethnic minority say they don’t want to be equal to whites.
So racism is more difficult to spew, as it meets greater indignation.
As women become more aware of sexism, and come to understand that their silence sounds like acceptance, things will more quickly change.
See related post: Eminem Makes Sexism Seem Sexy – And That’s A Problem