Column: What’s in a Name?

There is a saying that makes my blood boil, my fists clench; it even makes me hyperbolise. I hate to hear it said, and worse, I hate to hear it met by laughter and approval. Don’t be a pussy.

The theme of this Issue is ‘Justice’. With musings of Justice, come those of policing, and being PC — politically correct. It’s a term that gets eyes rolling and people sighing, and while it can be a bit of a drag, it also can be very important. This is especially true when it comes to language that is associated with gender or sex-based terms, such as: “Don’t be a pussy”, “You throw like a girl”, “Man up”, “Grow a pair”

As these statements are often aimed at men, they’re presenting guys with something that they shouldn’t want to be associated with. These phrases not only present women as weak, but they’re used to berate men for not living up to idealistic cultural standards of masculinity.

Isn’t it interesting that language can simultaneously put down women, while raising up men to near impossible standards? Why must men and women constantly be presented as polar opposites within society? And what does this polarisation do to those who fit into neither category? I don’t know about you, but I’m fascinated by the covert ways that sexism, double standards, and gender roles sneak into every day life, especially through language.

I know what you’re thinking. “It’s just a word, it’s just an expression, I’m not literally comparing my friend to women’s’ genitals, it’s just a joke, don’t read so much into it.” However, saying ‘it’s just a word’ is not an excuse. These ‘simple’ words are part of something bigger; language is how we communicate, and it’s is taught, passed down from generation to generation. This ‘joke’ reveals something greater; what are we communicating about women, about ourselves, without even realising it?

When you participate in using derogatory language aimed at demeaning women, you are contributing to the view that there is something weak, or wrong, about what women are. We are people, and we are damn strong; we are not the butt of your joke.

And of course, this language doesn’t only stain how we think about women, but men too. This language puts pressure on men to be emotionless, untouchable, ‘manly’ breadwinners — who have to be good at everything. In contrast, women are to be the emotional, silly ones, there to be seen and not to be heard — who are only good for some things. Personally, I’m so sick of the never-ending lists of things we should or must be according to our sex; what we should be doing is throwing away these archaic rulebooks.

If you feel the same way that I do about this, the first step is to notice it in yourself and others, and challenge it. If these generalisations or comments just come out of your mouth and the second they do, you feel bad, then take it back — be brave and humble. If your friends say it and you disagree, speak up.

We do need to talk about it. We should all be insulted by this. Women will not be silenced and we are nobody’s joke.

Words by Eleanor Danenberg