Home > Uncategorized > Why is “woman” an insult?

Why is “woman” an insult?

If you’re active on or knowledgeable about the internet at all, you will probably know about the popular criticisms of one Justin Beiber. If you’re not (lucky you) then basically it boils down to the following joke: lol beiber looks like/is a girl lol. This is somehow supposed to be a criticism of him and a reason as to why we don’t like him (beyond things like subjective musical taste, message, and skill). The “Justin Beiber Sucks” group on facebook lists he “sounds like a 5 year old girl” as a reason as to the aforementioned suckage. There are even facebook groups suggesting Beiber should be seriously injured. In other professions questions like this can potentially cost you your job or reputation.

If you think these jokes are funny or harmless, think about what it means in society when a man or male-identified person is called a woman. The most common sentence I’ve heard is “stop being such a woman”. It implies weakness, often emotional weakness. It is always an insult. It is occasionally tied up with the implication that someone is gay, that of course also being intended as an insult. The “you’re a woman” insult is often applied to gay men, or men perceived to be gay, or similar statements of “you want to be a woman” or “you behave like a woman”, also intended to be insulting or provoke anger. The phrase “chick flick” is generally used to be condescending to a film, though not always (there are people who use the label “chick flick” to refer to movies that they like, but most of my experience with the term is that it is intended to be negative). The childhood insult “sissy” began life as a diminutive of “sister”.

Now what happens when the reverse occurs, when a woman or woman-identified person is called a man? Is there any stigma in being “one of the guys”? “She’s the man.” These are good things. Even when harassing women over “manly” characteristics, “man” is never used as an insult (except for with a few radfems and the deliberate misgendering of transwomen). A woman is more likely to encounter “dyke” used as an insult, the harassment being an attempt to force stereotypical feminine behavior on women. It’s the same intent as in the above paragraph, but instead of the connotation that those characteristics are bad, it carries the meaning that those characteristics aren’t for you. Instead of “you’re weak for being like that” it’s “stop that, go take your (assumed*) vagina and go play with the lacy things”. Similarly, lesbians would never be accused of being men or wanting to be men, because the implications of the harassment is that they ARE women and as such should behave certain ways (in this case, sexually).

(*Because not all women have vaginas, even though we sometimes pretend they do.)

Criticisms about a woman’s appearance may focus on how certain “manly” characteristics are unsexy, i.e. the infamous “man hands” (this stands out to me because I saw a Seinfeld commercial when in middle school that centered on this very concept, for some reason it’s really stuck with me). There’s nothing wrong with being turned off by large hands, really, but given that the hands are attached to a woman, should the phrase be “she has big lady hands”? A woman who does not shave her legs, armpits, or pubic region may also be considered unattractive because body hair is “manly” (even though ALL people grow hair in these places as a sign of sexual maturity). But again, the criticism is not that these characteristics are bad or “weak” in any way, as “woman-the-insult” tries to imply, but that the woman in question should not have them.

Saying “she’s manly” is often synonymous with “she’s ugly”, while calling a man a woman questions his integrity, strength, and attacks his sexuality. Both are bad, but while one speaks to personal taste (and simultaneously sexualizes the woman involved, even if it is to say that she is undesirable sexually), the other is more often used as a personal attack and implies that a good half of society is undesirable in some way and that the desirable half should not be like them. In essence: man good woman bad.

This is really the MO of the patriarchy: 1. All characteristics fall into discrete groups (masculine and feminine). 2. All people fall into discrete groups (men and women). 3. The groups are associated and exclusive (men are masculine, women are feminine) and any deviation is bad. 4. One of the groups is better than the other (masculinity and by extension men). All of these steps are fundamentally wrong, but it is the last one that is at play here with the “you are a woman” insult.

There are exceptions of course. A friend of mine who is very heavy into drag queen subculture calls pretty much everybody “girl”. The words “bro” and “dude” are often used to make fun of a certain male stereotype, and one transperson I know of uses “bro-dude” to refer to misogynistic behavior. But the overarching trend is that being called a man is good, and being called a woman is bad (unless they’re referring to your appearance, in which case being called a man means you’re an unfuckable troll and therefore worthless).

  1. Z
    August 20, 2010 at 08:51

    Actually, there is a way to call a woman a “man” while being insulting, and it’s a word that I really wish I was allowed to punch anyone who uses that isn’t reclaiming. And even then- only if you’re a trans woman, and NOT around me kthx. Cedar talked about some examples of this word being used to “attack” cis women for not being “feminine enough”: http://takesupspace.wordpress.com/2009/01/08/tranny-cis-women-re-reclaiming-tranny-or-not-part-2/

    Anyways- It’s pretty much just gender policing. Same with calling a woman that word or “bitch” Reinforcing the patriarchy. It’s really hilarious to hear men say that there is no sexism when it’s completely acceptable to call men “women” as an insult or use phrases like “[man1] made [man2] his woman!”. Hell, according to spell-check masculinise (or with a z) isn’t even a word but feminize is- that’s gotta mean SOMETHING.

    It’s busted. And I really do hate it. But it happens to both- people perceived as male are insulted when they aren’t masculine & aggressive enough, people perceived as female are insulted when not being docile & submissive enough. It’s also often homophobic. HAve you ever seen the old ’78 Halloween? The boy with long hair is called “gay” and a “girl” in the same sentence. The entire concept of policing gender by attacking a person (verbally or physically) is busted. It’s sexist, transphobic, homophobic (even if you’re a masculine gay guy- sleeping with men is something WOMEN do), probably a whole bunch of other things, and just busted.

  1. September 8, 2010 at 06:54

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