Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Gendered language

Gendered language is well nigh inescapable. There are words that exclude or marginalize women—consider chairman, boy wonder, and Jack of all trades, all of which serve to elevate maleness. There are words that debase women—bitch, harpy, shrew—but generally are not used for men. There are woman-specific words for which there's no true male equivalent—mistress, debutante, "the other woman," maid.

Do you know of any resource, online or printed, that compiles a slew of these words in one place? If so, I'd love any leads you have. If not, please drop a few more examples of gendered vocabulary in the comments. I'll bet every commenter can come up with words that haven't been listed by the preceding commenters.

11 comments:

S said...

As for other gendered words or terms, my biggest area of concern of late is the use of words for the male and female genitalia. Male genitalia words are synonyms for showing guts or courage while female genitalia words are used to describe someone who is cowardly.

I'm not sure that's exactly on point for what you were thinking, but that's something I've really been focusing on a lot lately.

Karen said...

I wish there was a female counterpart to "guy" (besides "gal"). Sometimes "man" and "woman" just sound too formal.

Jay said...

Don't know of any specific resource, but I hate "weak sister". And, of course, "co-ed" as a noun.

Mignon said...

Being a sporty-sport, the one that gets me the most is 'stud.' It's the utmost compliment for a tough, skilled player of anything. What else do we get? Oh yeah, "She throws like a girl/boy." Used as either an insult or compliment. I hate it when people say I'm good at something with "you play like a guy." Well, fuck you very much, I'm better than "a guy."

Anonymous said...

Describe something as "seminal" to mean "important" and watch me get annoyed.

MHW said...

"Hysterical" and its use in regard to the wandering uterus.

Shrill. Strident. Yenta.

Trope said...

Soccer mom. MILF.

(To Karen: I find it acceptable to say "guys and girls," but then again, I mostly say it to seventh graders. So there.)

Mau de Katt said...

What's really burned me the most is that all the "very worst" insults you can lob at a woman are insults to her directly. But the very worst names you can toss at a man are ~never~ about him directly, but are actually insults against either ~women~, in general, or ~his mother~ in specific.

Calling a man a "dick" or a "prick" is only medium range or less on the insult scale.

Mignon said...

I've been trying to think of other male-specific insults, just to see how denigrating they were. Mau de Katt listed a few, but as she indicated, these don't indicate distaste like 'shrill' and 'shrew.' The only other lame male insult I could think of is 'jerk.' Whoa! That's tough.

Narya said...

"Putz" and "schmuck," while also genitalia-focused, are unusual in that they (a) focus on male genitalia and (b) imply weakness of sorts, but (c) do not rely on anything female to make the insult. (Neither dick nor prick implies weakness or haplessness in quite the way that putz and schmuck do.) But resources that collect these? No.

word verification: butdrim

which sounds like it should be an insult.

p.s. I like "asshole" as an all-purpose derogatory word, because, like opinions, everybody has one.

Anonymous said...

On a related note: Just a few nights ago I was with a group of women who started discussing something similar. Someone asked if we had noticed that, where "he" has been historically used to mean "he or she" when referring to an anonymous or theoretical person, now we are seeing "she" sometimes instead. I personally alternate their use in writing, with no negative or positive connotations for either choice. A few of the other women were certain that "she" is used more often when the topic is something negative, and "he" still prevails when the subject is positive. I have never noticed anything like that, and still think writers are just switching off. Anyone?

For many years now, the groups that I have been involved with have used "chairperson," or even the abbreviated "chair" and have removed "chairman" entirely.

BTW - I informally call people (often kids, as I work in a school, but certainly women friends as well) "guys" or even "dudes," and only one adult female that I know ever expresses offense (So of course I call her a dude all the time now.... She doesn't like when people say "hey" instead of "hi" either - I think she's just uptight in general). I think these slang terms have morphed into having no gender specificity. To me, they show a level of casual comfort, a lack of formality.