Bitch, bastard and related misogyny

Mary Beard has laid out for us some of the mud that’s been slung at her because – oh, the shock of it – she’s a woman with a brain and an opinion. She makes a valid point about women perhaps not wanting to appear on Question Time-type programmes for fear of such abuse. I’d LOVE to appear on QT, Any Questions etc. I couldn’t give a stuff about abuse. But I love opining, and do it rather well. So, my sisters, if you’re too chicken, gissa shout and I’ll appear in your stead. To any potential (to coin a word) webusers, as opposed to web-users, of course, I don’t wear make-up, and don’t care if you find me ugly: I find it irrelevant. And I am half-lesbian, anyway, and don’t see how ‘lesbian’ can possibly be a term of abuse, or even relevant to any discussion outside the bedroom. And I used to get jibes about how I never wore a skirt (to look feminine) from teachers at school: I’m completely inured to that one.

That’s enough of fantasizing about being on QT. What is striking to me is the actual words used to abuse people, especially women.

Quite apart from the general insults to do with looks (‘munter’ being one), there’s the animal – bitch, cow, shrew – suggesting that women are sub-human. Battleaxe, termagant, fishwife:  these are women, clearly unfeminine, with fighting spirit and opinions, and they really shouldn’t be; they should be meekly standing by the sink waiting for the next load of washing up. ‘Lesbian’ is a great insult: does this stem from a horror that there are women out there who don’t need men? And then there are the various names of that wonderful, life-giving female organ, the cunt. I told some pupils off once for calling each other ‘twats’. They were surprised – ‘but, Miss, it’s a female fish’. Er, no, darlings, it’s part of the female anatomy. But that got me thinking: no-one objects to the use of the work ‘berk’ – even though this comes from the rhyming slang ‘Berkshire hunt’. Less strongly, you can be a ‘tit’.

You can, of course, be a ‘dick’/ ‘cock’, or, unisexually, an ‘arsehole’. But a very common insult for a man is ‘bastard’. This, of course, refers to his mother rather than himself – like ‘son of a bitch/ whore’. I can’t think of particular terms that denigrate men’s looks or brainpower, except for ones challenging their masculinity: being effeminate (‘gay’) is a terrible thing, for it makes you like a woman and therefore less human and more like a cow or a bitch etc. Men can be ‘wankers’/ ‘jerks’/ ‘tossers’:  perhaps this is insulting because masturbating is still seen as immoral, but I think it’s strongly implying selfishness – pleasing (or even pleasuring!) yourself without any concern for anyone else. (See a related post on ‘F*** and W***’)

However insults are used, it’s quite instructive just to mull over what the actual words are, in thinking about the place of women in society.

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2 Comments

Filed under Streams of Consciousness

2 responses to “Bitch, bastard and related misogyny

  1. anna

    I think comments about not wearing skirts are entirely restricted to school-uniform contexts these days, and (I certainly hope!!) probably seldom there anymore either. (Oh and remember that excellent boy who wore a uniform skirt to school to make a point?) Does anybody ever *expect* to see a woman wear a skirt now, any more than she might be expected to wear a hat? The only exception I can think of (for skirts, not hats) is for weddings, and then only for the bride. Show me a photo of a woman in a bridal trouser suit! (seriously, I’d like to see one. I hadn’t thought of this before, how interesting – or how boringly conservative…) But in ordinary life it’s quite unusual to see a woman in a skirt, except for very young women in very short skirts (holdover from school uniform at all?) or those of any age out on the pull. And I could write a whole rant about the disempowering anti-female properties of the miniskirt. And heels. Etc. Anyway. And across La Manche, skirt-wearing is sufficiently rare that it can be used as a political statement – see the ‘Toutes en jupe’ event by the Ni Putes Ni Soumises movement.

  2. Pingback: Skirting the issue | Hawksbox Blog

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