Swearing, Sexism, And The Link Between Them

Painting by  Thomas Saliot

Painting by Thomas Saliot

“We don’t need feminism,” said a friend suddenly, making me wonder why I’d never had that conversation with him before. “We don’t need feminism, we need equality.” And then, ten minutes later, “…would you believe that stupid motherfucker?”

A seemingly endless argument ensued, he wouldn’t budge and neither would I.
And then I realized that when men say they don’t need feminism, they’ve been taught to believe that weakness is not inherently human – it is inherently feminine – and since insults revolve around weaknesses, they’re almost entirely misogynistic.

A lot has been said about feminism. Though there are ceaseless debates and varied schools of thought, the one thing all of us feminists unanimously agree upon, is the way insults and abuses have evolved, getting progressively sexist as our society does too.

In order to figure out how the whole women = weak and men = wonderful equation works, I asked my friends to tell me three most frequently used cuss words in their mother tongue.

Now, India is a multi lingual country. And by multi I mean 22 official languages. Google helpfully informs me that there are 1652 recognized languages, including the non-native ones.

And surprise, surprise, the three most commonly used swear words are the local equivalents of motherfucker, son of a bitch and the ever popular slut/hoe.

Moving on to European languages, German, Spanish, and Italian are just as bad, as are Yoruba, Swahili and Arabic which are among the predominant languages of Africa. French is a notable exception, with a comparatively limited dirty vocabulary.

But it doesn’t end here. Consider, for a moment, how the word slut has at least three common synonyms (tramp, whore, hooker – can you think of any more?) but has no male equivalent, except perhaps “man whore.” The very essence of femininity is considered tainted, bad, worthy of being equated with lowly, dirty things. Which  is probably why all the insults directed at men undermine their masculinity by giving it a feminine side – manboobs, manslut.

It beats me how a dick is simply a “rude, abrasive person” (thank you Google!) but a cunt represents a loose woman. Because it makes perfect sense to reduce women to their vaginas, in a world where if you’re a woman, promiscuity is sin and liking sex is disgraceful.
Also, how did it become the norm to call a wimp or a coward a pussy? I mean, cats are ferocious, like lions with the added benefit of being smaller and therefore quicker. Or are you indicating vaginas are a sign of weakness? Try bleeding for five days every month for the rest of your life and birthing babies and then tell me I’m weak because I have female genitalia.

On the other hand, the entire system of giving and receiving compliments is so deeply rooted in patriarchy that I’m not sure it’s possible to separate one from the other. If a woman does a great job, tell her ‘you could almost be man!’ If she is brave, say ‘I admire your balls!’ Why does no one tell men ‘I must say, you have bigger ovaries than me’ if it is acceptable for a man to say ‘you have bigger balls than me?’
We’ve grown up perceiving the former as the norm, to an extent where the idea of saying ‘I admire your ovaries’ is laughable, almost ridiculously so.

‘Motherfucker’ isn’t going to leave our Rap culture addled vocabulary anytime soon, but sometimes, on slow days I find myself wondering what will happen if I ever call someone a ‘fatherfucker.’ Fafo, if you will. And I smile. I smile because I can almost hear people saying, ‘that’s not even a Word!’

And I smile, as I remember a simpler time, when ‘idiot’ was the beginning and end of our name calling. I wonder when we felt the need to bring gender, sexuality, and sex as a whole into the equation, thereby painting it the colour of sin too. Although it is too late now, although I catch myself saying ‘fuck’ and ‘asshole’ more often than I’d like to admit, I wonder if it’s time to change the way we swear.

Maybe banish gender from the cuss-world completely. I think it will be far more effective too, because frankly, I’d be twice as offended if someone said I was as useless as a slow internet connection or a mouldy pizza rather than if I were called a cunt which I KNOW is not worthless.

Tanvi Deshmukh is a nineteen year old girl from Pune, India, with an affinity for words and books, cats and coffee, Nepalese food and hippie music, and the colour green (along with Oxford commas). Currently pursuing her undergraduate degree in English, she loves poetry, volunteers at an NGO and plays the keyboard in her free time. Along with devouring books of all kinds, unless of course, she’s in the middle of heated discussions on feminism, patriarchy, gay rights, or what to name the neighbour’s new dog.

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