Implied contempt

I just wasted a few minutes arguing about sexism and language. Always a waste of time! And yet I keep doing it.

The issue this time is the insult of telling men they’re not men. The claim is that it’s not always insulting to women, because it doesn’t always mean “you’re a woman”; sometimes it just means “you’re a failed man.”

No. I can’t be the only one who’s noticed that the qualities implied to belong to men by this whole line of talk are valuable qualities, and that it’s insulting to women to imply that they are unique to men. Can I?

Like the phrase “man up.” I hate that phrase. Why do I hate it? Because it implies that courage is more of a guy thing.

I hate language that treats courage as inhering in testicles, too, such as “it took balls to do that” and “he doesn’t have the cojones to say that to your face.”

I hate the stupid made-up “man cave” – because what the hell makes anyone think it’s only men who need rooms of their own?

He throws like a girl. You’re such a girl. You assholes played like a bunch of girls today.

Yes, Virginia, it’s all sexist.


  1. chigau (違う) says

    A long time ago (ca.30 years), a female parent of my acquaintance would admonish her girl-child to “grow some ovaries” to toughen-up and complete a difficult task.
    I haven’t seen them in a while so I don’t know how it turned out.

  2. says

    I work in real estate alongside my mother, I try to impress on her that “man cave” is a dumb phrase. It basically implies that owning audiovisual equipment marks one as a primitive and that women who like comfortable rooms with big TVs don’t exist, both of which are patently untrue.

  3. AnotherAnonymouse says

    Back not long after 9/11, when an American named John (something-or-other) joined the Taliban, the guys at work began calling him “Joanie”. The refused to admit that this was terribly insulting to women. They simply. could. not. see how any woman would find that objectionable.

  4. says

    Yes. So much this.

    I’ve taken to using references to backbones and intestinal fortitude over gendered references to indicate bravery (i.e. “grow a spine” instead of “grow a pair” or “she doesn’t have the guts” rather than “she doesn’t have the balls”). But that still doesn’t feel quite right…I’m starting to feel it comes off as ableist. I’m trying to move away from that kind of judgemental language completely

    Because it occurs to me that it’s not any person’s place to judge another person for their spoons or lack thereof. I was always frustrated growing up because my pains were never taken particularly seriously…I’d get a doctor’s visit, but if it turned out to be soft-tissue, I was told to grow up and deal with it.

    I think it’s important to laud courage without showing contempt for those who lack the mental stamina to push as far.

  5. says

    Al Roderich — I’m female, and there’s nothing I love more than a big screen and a game console.

    RE: “real men”

    Huh. And here I was, thinking it was usually meant along the lines of “grow up”.

  6. says

    Huh. And here I was, thinking it was usually meant along the lines of “grow up”


    Lots of other times it has the “don’t be a girl” connotation

    And sometimes it’s both.

    Ophelia, for what it’s worth, your various arguments over the years have helped improve my language.

  7. says

    I hate “grow up” too. As though young people or children are automatically incompetent, inappropriately emotional, or just plain immoral. Not only is this ageist, it also lets young bullies etc. off the hook for their behaviour in a “boys will be boys” kind of way.

    And on a more personal note, as the youngest of my family, it didn’t matter what I was doing that someone didn’t like, someone would always pull out the “grow up” card, even well into adulthood, so it just rubs me the wrong way.

  8. ambassadorfromverdammt says

    I don’t like any of them. They are all put-downs meant to denigrate the person spoken to. Constructive criticism is valuable, put downs are not. We don’t need them.

  9. says

    So, what’s the acceptable way to communicate the idea of “You’re 29; you’re acting like a 12 year old; please knock it the hell off and act your age*”?

    *or a reasonable approximation thereof.

  10. says

    “Man cave”? What’s on the door, Get Rid Of Slimy Girls?”

    When I grew up, it was called a treehouse, and it seen as a playroom for children. People used to say, “What separates the men from the boys is the size of their toys.” It seems their playrooms do too.

    As for describing toughness and weakness, there’s a scene of note in the film “World War Z”. On the plane when Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is tending to the arm of Segen, an Israeli woman soldier, he says, “Gut up”. I wasn’t looking for gender specific language at the time, but Pitt’s uttering of that phrase was noticeable. I tend to use gut, stomach, spine and intestines to refer to toughness because all people have them.

    In regard to sexist trolls and other juvenile behaviour, I call them “males” or “individuals” because the word men infers a level of civility and intelligence. I want to show contempt without using insults.

  11. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    I just wasted a few minutes arguing about sexism and language. Always a waste of time!

    Not always – it often makes people realise and think and draws attention to stuff that hasn’t occurred to some. It may either immediately or over time make some phrases fall out of fashion and new better less sexist ones come in and get people aware of the problems with sexist language.

    And yet I keep doing it.

    Please keep on doing it too – I’ll try to do so more often myself. Because, well, see above.

  12. davidmc says

    It’s around 2 years since I gave up (40+years) of gender specific insults, thanks to Ophelia’s ” waste of time” arguments. OK, I’m not perfect and slip occasionally but at least I have an awareness now, that I didn’t have before reading this blog. .

  13. jaggington says

    WMDKitty — Survivor @12

    So, what’s the acceptable way to communicate the idea of “You’re 29; you’re acting like a 12 year old; please knock it the hell off and act your age*”?

    You’ll have to explain to me how this is not implied contempt for 12 year olds. Perhaps in your experience all 12 year olds have behaved badly in all ways, but not mine.

    Perhaps instead of being so dismissive of young people, you could specify what behaviours you find unacceptable in 29 year olds and how such behaviours might be improved so that they meet your standards.

  14. says

    Ugh, “man cave” drives me up the wall, because apparently the company of women is so unbearable that men simply have to have a way to get away from us.

    And then there’s Campbell’s Chunky soup. They have commercials CURRENTLY airing that have a “mom cave”. That “mom cave” is a FUCKING KITCHEN.

  15. otrame says

    I once read an otherwise delightfully funny fan fiction in which the main character constantly referred to his team as “ladies” (none of them were women) and “you girls” and I was all set to write a comment in which I would say that I loved the basic premise and that it was a great fic but that the “ladies” thing pissed me off and pretty much ruined it for me.

    Then the story moved on to a situation that actually involved women. The main character referred to them as “lads” and “you fellows” and “the boys”. Then in the next section, they visited a world with an “old west” feel, but all the stereotyped roles were gender-switched. The outlaws who were sexually threatening were women, the prostitutes men, the town boss was a women, the women wore guns and the men sat at tables and gossiped.

    It was pretty cool.

    And still damned hilarious.

  16. says


    My little brother is 29. He behaves in a very childish manner — and not in an endearing or cute way. I’d just like him to have a little, you know, dignity and self-awareness. (And if I have to hear one more word about Selena fucking Gomez or whoever the latest Disney pop-star is…*grumble*)

    TBH, he never really matured past about 12 or 13, and never will due to FAS/FAE. His other super-irritating behaviours are right in line with that, including the air-drumming and not paying attention to where he’s going and the no-indoor-voice and the no-concept-of-boundaries-or-personal-space.

    *shrug* guess I just gotta figure out how to deal, man.

  17. says

    Nathan @ 8 – it’s worth very much!

    And what several others said. Ok it’s not a waste of time after all. That’s good!

    About “grow up” and ageism…It’s just a fact that the prefrontal cortex doesn’t complete its development until about age 25. That’s why teenagers aren’t great at impulse control and risk assessment. If people over 25 act like teenagers, for instance – I don’t see it as insulting to teenagers to tell such people to grow up.

  18. chigau (違う) says

    What is your most recent gravatar?
    The rainbow thing.
    (I use an iPad mini and gravatars are <1cm)

  19. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Necessary Betty White quote:

    Why do people say “grow some balls”? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.

  20. A. Noyd says

    @chigau (#23)
    According to my image search, it’s the rainbow flag they’re flying in Ottawa to say fuck you to the Russians. Here is a higher resolution version. Looks like it might be hung from the Langevin Block (where the PM’s office is).

    Also, if you weren’t aware, you should be able to zoom in on an iPad browser with a reverse pinching gesture (ie. pinch your index and middle finger, place them on the screen, slide them apart). You can repeat that a couple times till it hits the max zoom, which for my iPad is ~3x. (Pinch or double tap to zoom out again.)

  21. chigau (違う) says

    A. Noyd #25
    Thanks for the bigger picture.
    I did do the zoom thing on my iPad but I still couldn’t make sense of the picture.

  22. says

    I went down by a different staircase, and I saw another “Fuck you” on the wall. I tried to rub it off with my hand again, but this one was scratched on, with a knife or something. It wouldn’t come off. It’s hopeless, anyway. If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the “Fuck you” signs in the world. It’s impossible.

    Poor Holden ran into this same kind of problem, Ophelia.

  23. Silentbob says

    @ 11 ambassadorfromverdammt

    Constructive criticism is valuable, put downs are not. We don’t need them.

    You’ll have a hard time selling that on FtB. The typical response is that you’re being a “tone troll”. Civility is the tool of the oppressor, dontcha know? Or something like that.
    If you persist, inevitably you’ll have someone quoting MLK’s Letter from Birmingham Jail to you (as if that had anything to do with justifying gratuitous putdowns).

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