Musings from outside the mainstream.
It all started when I ventured in to the comment section on BuzzFeed’s article on the Duke campaign “We Don’t Say.” It’s a collection of photographs of student athletes from various sports and the phrases and words they won’t say, with a brief explanation of why. In general, I think it’s a worthy campaign. However, when there were complaints and comments, as there usually are when this type of social engineering occurs, one person in the comment section said:
“Isn’t it interesting how all of the people putting negative comments on here are dudes?” Which is true. She then suggested this negativity is “knee-jerk reaction to argue and derail conversations of tolerance and equality (and) is a defense mechanism of the state of the patriarchy.” Which is not true.
But, let’s talk about tolerance and equality anyway. This list included the following words and phrases; cunt, tough as balls, don’t be a pussy, bitch, the n-word, fat, that’s so gay, dyke, retarded, throw like a girl and slut to name a few. To be clear, I am not defending the use of any of these words in our everyday lexicon. So why the negativity or even this column?
Well, because of what is missing from the list. If we’re all for tolerance and equality wouldn’t a list like this include a full range of gender negative terms? Here’s my short list of words that could be included, but weren’t; cock, dick, prick, club, tool, user, player and asshole. Or, as one contributor suggested, “he must be gay,” if a guy isn’t interested in a girl. And, if we shouldn’t use “tough as balls,” then shouldn’t “girl power” be on the list?
In response to my question, what is often suggested in the grievance culture of feminism, is that these terms aren’t used as often or as overtly towards men. Men can’t know what it feels like to be put down. But who decided this? This is the kind of dismissiveness that feminism rallies against, but actually condones when it’s directed towards men.
One feminist from the comment section stated the list is “meant to show how language is used to marginalize other people and their ideas. By defending the use of any of these words or phrases, they are proving the point that this project is trying to make: language is used to diminish the agency of those who are “different” than what the patriarchy considers “normal”.
And I would say men are marginalized when we don’t acknowledge masculine negative words as well. Wielding the tired and dull feminist sword of words, “privileged, hetero, white-male aggressors,” doesn’t cut, but it does deny and alienate half of the population, when all we’re asking for is -gasp- to be included.
I suspect much of the resistance to acknowledge gender bias against men is because it would deflate that long held belief that “the patriarchy” is behind every wrong in our society. If feminism actually admitted there are plenty of negative stereotypes of men, and that women contribute to perpetuating them, then they’d actually have to share the role of redefining culture and defining what is appropriate. Frankly, I don’t think feminism truly wants to have all parties at the table contributing to the discussion.
For example, the list also included a few other phrases like “What are you?” The offense? “Because I’m not limited by my skin color.” It can be awkward to inquire about another’s ethnicity, and I’ve certainly stumbled in expressing simple curiosity. But if we’re breaking down barriers, why is it an offense to ask? I’ve been on the other side of this. I’ve had an accent, and people have inquired-no offense taken! I’ve been called a Yank, it wasn’t a flattering term. I once asked a woman the origin of her accent and was informed of my rudeness. I love accents! We can be over-sensitive or we can take the opportunity to be gracious and share who we are.
“Man up” was another phrase singled out in the Duke campaign “because it implies women are weak.” More over-sensitivity. It’s true that it shouldn’t be used in a mixed group. But all by itself, the phrase makes no suggestion whatsoever on the strength or weakness of the feminine gender.
Man-up was co-opted from Cowboy-Up or Cowgirl-Up which invoke a do it yourself, do the hard work or unpleasant task first, or do the right thing. It has everything to do with work ethic and almost nothing to do with gender. This is an example of twisting a phrase into something it’s not out of a sense of misplaced umbrage.
A big part of this column and A View from the Bubble is to challenge that misplaced umbrage and not let one side determine or define what is correct in our social discourse. We have so much sensitivity surrounding using female genitalia as a slur (and I’m certainly not for its use!), but guys are called asshole and prick quiet regularly. Why aren’t those on the list? We’ve got bossy, which assertive women do get called, but can a guy be confident without being called a cock?
The time is long past due to examine and acknowledge our use of words for both genders.
Postscript: I note no athlete from a high profile sport such as football or their successful men’s and women’s basketball teams were included. I have not investigated this further. But I am curious, was this viewed as a publicity vehicle for non-revenue sports or were the high profile sports excluded so as not to court controversy? I’m guessing it’s the latter. Which, if true, is too bad. It would have been really gutsy, from an institutional perspective, to have placed someone from their perennially top 10 men’s basketball team in one of these spots. Instead, we’ll have to be content with the individual athletes who gave this campaign credibility by coming out boldly.
Additionally: The #WeDontSay campaign has been used by other schools such as Cornell and has been seen several iterations in social media.