One of the biggest day-to-day challenges for a feminist is avoiding sexist language. We are desensitized from a young age, even to words with obvious gender implications – bitch, slut, etc.
But while these words may slip out from time to time, most people can agree that a statement like “don’t be such a pussy” clearly has sexist connotations. So instead of ranting about obviously sexist insults, I’d like to point out some common sayings whose sexism may not be as apparent.
1. “Wifey material” – I’m sure I’ll get some heat for this one. After all, it’s a compliment, right?! But I have to call foul. Not only is this term used to reward stereotypically feminine behaviors, like cooking or remaining sexually pure, I’ve never once heard the term “hubby material”. That’s because men are not assumed to aspire to marriage as their ultimate goal… And somehow, in 2016, women still are.
2. “Tomboy” – Typically applied to girls as children, the term “tomboy” can be used one of two ways. In the first case, the word is used fondly to reward girls for embracing masculine traits, as they are seen to be superior to feminine traits. In the second case, the word is used disparagingly to encourage girls to return to stereotypically female activities. In either case, the word is reinforcing harmful gender roles. Just let the kid pursue her interests!
3. “Boys will be boys” – This phrase in particular gets on my nerves. This is another phrase typically applied in childhood but it is not unusual to hear for adult men, usually given with a knowing, indulgent smile. But what you’re really saying is “Boys will be abrasive, aggressive, selfish and childish, and there can’t be ramifications for that.” Teach your sons responsibility for their actions. Their gender is not an excuse. Aggressive female children are not told “girls will be girls!” (Trust me, I was an aggressive child, I would know.)
4. “I’m not like other girls” – Ladies, please stop saying this. Female competition, the idea that fundamentally women must compete with each other (especially for the attention of men), is one of the most harmful tools of the patriarchy. It keeps us tearing each other down, and this is the perfect example. The phrase essentially says “other girls” are all something negative – usually a gender stereotype like vapid, high maintenance, or crazy. We don’t need to disparage each other to build ourselves up!
5. “Whipped” – This is one of the most common words on my list, with a unique claim to sexism. As a term almost exclusively applied to men in heterosexual relationships, being whipped refers to a boyfriend/husband who is “controlled” by his female partner. What this really means in practice is a man who is devoted to his relationship and cares about the needs of his girlfriend/wife. Which means we are discouraging men from being loving partners, instead expecting them to be careless and emotionally detached. Furthermore, being “whipped” implies the female must be controlling and manipulative.
There are hundreds of additional examples – nag, drama queen, thot, I could go on – because sexism has literally been built into our language. The challenge is to recognize it, and avoid these words until they become relics of the past… Like “tubular” and “righteous”.