Language’s Slippery Slope
Why the words we choose really do matter. And why harmless teasing is rarely harmless.
Suddenly, I find that I’m a rabid feminist. I didn’t mean to be. I’m actually a Humanist and I really like men. Most men anyway. My husband for sure.
Anyway, a fellow Humanist who will remain nameless because this isn’t about him, called a female politician a cunt who should suck his dick because he was mad she had made a racist comment. I have been banned from this man’s page for pointing out how incredibly rude and sexist his comment was. I’m ok with that. I actually normally like his blog so I was a bit shocked when he banned me over this but if he isn’t ethical enough to admit he made a mistake, and apologize and move on, then so be it. That’s his problem.
But I do want to make clear why this sort of language should not be part of any supposedly civilized conversation.
First, it’s kind of stupid to fight stupidity with more stupidity.
Second, language use matters. If you profess to care about humans as, you know, human, then speaking of them in as if they are a body part that has no value aside from their ability to sexually gratify another person, and that because that’s their only value, they should not be opining on anything, well, then it’s pretty clear you don’t actually care about humans. Just some of them. Presumably the ones you like.
Why is calling a woman you disagree with a cunt who should suck your dick so inappropriate? After all, we call men who are jerks dicks all the time. Don’t we? And the implication is the same. Isn’t it? A man who is being a dick or who is a dick is basically just a penis with no redeeming value. Not even sexual value. So I suppose in that way, a woman being called a cunt is at least more valuable than a man who is called a dick.
The big difference is the use of sexual language to express physical and sexual domination and aggression. It’s not just that a man is a dick or a woman is a cunt. After all, the only insulting quality of labeling a body part is that these particular body parts are considered a bit “dirty.” Unlike say an elbow, which is why we don’t hear – “hey, you’re being such an elbow” very often. That these body parts shouldn’t be considered insulting is beside the point.
The real reason these statements are considered insulting is because they are usually accompanied by further statements that said cunt or dick should suck on someone else’s balls or dick.
This is very gender specific language and it’s rare for women to insult anyone in this way. It happens, but it’s rare. Why? Because it isn’t considered as insulting.
For instance, if a woman ask anyone to suck her tits or cunt it would most likely be viewed as her just having issued an open invitation to have sex with her. It’s hard to think of this as degrading to the person receiving the offer. Since it’s not usually considered degrading to suck a woman’s tits, it’s not a very effective insult, which is why it’s not used to insult people very often.
On the other hand, telling someone to suck someone’s dick is considered degrading. It shouldn’t be, but it is. And why exactly is that? Because unlike penetrative sex a woman is unlikely to have an organism or be “mutually” satisfied as a result of having given a blow job. A blow job is all about the pleasure of the recipient. The giver’s needs either have to wait for a different position or they are ignored altogether in the interaction because her pleasure isn’t important because she ultimately doesn’t matter.
In respectful sexual relationships, this particular sex act is usually done in a spirit of reciprocity where there giver is fairly certain their needs will be taken care of later on or when positions are switched.
However, in an abusive relationship, or when this is intended to be abusive, the guy who is telling a woman she is a cunt who should suck his dick is using this language to say – I don’t give a shit about you. To me, you are just a sexual object here for my personal gratification.
This is why this sort of sexually aggressive verbal bullying is so inappropriate and so anti-human and so unbecoming of someone who claims to be a Humanist. It is the use of sexual language for aggression and domination.
The reason why this sort of language isn’t harmless is because it contributes to a culture of violence against women. When you routinely use language to dehumanize women you don’t agree with, or any group of people for that matter, you make abuse against them more common.
In the bully/abuse cycle, verbal abuse comes first. It is then followed by threats of physical violence which are then followed by actual violence. Obviously not all situations escalate to actual violence, but once a threat has been issued, one has to consider the possibility that escalation to actual violence is a possibility. Which is why when you call a woman a cunt and then follow that insult up with a threat of physical domination and possible sexual violence against her, you shouldn’t be surprised when other women get upset with you. You have just blown right past insults into threats of violence and the next step in that cycle is violence!
It doesn’t matter that the person in question considers himself a good guy who is pro-women. Any man who talks like this is part of the problem. Any man who tolerates other men talking like this is part of the problem. Anyone who insults men by suggesting they are women or should act like a woman sexually is part of the problem. All this sort of talk does is normalize the idea that being a woman is a position of subjugation and weakness.
Ultimately, being a woman and specifically being a sexual woman should not be considered an insult to anyone! This attitude perpetuates the idea that women and specifically women’s role in sex is somehow less than or scummy. Finally anytime you make it ok to dehumanize and advocate for physical domination and violence against anyone, you are responsible for creating a culture of violence.
You can claim to be a good person all you want and that you didn’t utter these words to denigrate ALL women. But you need to realize, when you denigrate one of us, you denigrate all of us. If you talk like a jerk and act like a jerk and refuse to admit you are wrong like a jerk then you are probably a jerk.
I want to make it clear I am not for thought police or language police. I am not offended by the use of certain words. What offends me is the use of words to dominate, dehumanize and denigrate.
I don’t expect violence against women to just magically go away, but I do expect Humanists to be part of the solution. If we Humanists are not willing to set an example of what polite and civil disagreement looks like because a small number of Humanist men see nothing wrong with calling women cunts who should suck their dicks when they disagree with them because, hey, that’s just a saying, he didn’t really mean it, then we Humanists have a problem. If we are incapable of treating all women as valued and equal through our words, and our actions, and if we continue to treat sex as if it is unnatural and dirty or if we continue to consider threats of sexual violence a valid tool of subjugation, then we aren’t really worthy of the label Humanist.