“Like a girl” – yes, again.

Maj. Heather "Lucky" Penney

I thought about the following (first posted in November, then re-upped in March) when I learned of a hurricane hunter (yes, that’s a real job) in the US Air Force Reserve named Capt. Nicole Mitchell. She flew back and forth and back and forth through Hurricane Irene a couple of weeks ago, in order to gather data as the storm was unfolding.

Then I thought about it again in the lead-up to the 9/11 anniversary, when I learned of then-Lt. (now Maj.) Heather “Lucky” Penney, one of the two F-16 pilots who had taken to the sky that morning in order to bring down Flight 93 — by ramming their own planes into it. Which is to say: Before the Flight 93 passengers sacrificed their lives so that the terrorists’ mission would fail, Lt. Penney and her commander were offering up their own.

A third plane hit the Pentagon, and almost at once came word that a fourth plane could be on the way, maybe more. The jets would be armed within an hour, but somebody had to fly now, weapons or no weapons.

“Lucky, you’re coming with me,” barked Col. Marc Sasseville.

They were gearing up in the pre-flight life-support area when Sasseville, struggling into his flight suit, met her eye.

“I’m going to go for the cockpit,” Sasseville said.

She replied without hesitating.

“I’ll take the tail.”

So. The next time someone says “like a girl” to me, I think I might counter with “oh, you mean like an F-16 pilot willing to sacrifice her life in defense of her country?” And the next time some clothing company sells dreck like this (as Forever 21 is this fall, if they haven’t yet responded to numerous requests that they stop)

I think I’ll sneak out in the dark of night and cover their mannikins, guerrilla-style, with truth like this

because pilots are badass, and badass girls use their brains.

…like a girl.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, for reasons I’m not entirely clear on, about the ways we use words that mean “female human” to insult each other.

There’s “scream like a little girl,” of course, which, you know — ok. Little girls are high-pitched. It’s meant as an insult, but there’s some grain of reality to be found in it. Perhaps I will someday “scream like a linebacker” or “like a South Pacific Islander.” Or something.

But once you get past “scream,” there’s:

  1. Throw like a girl.
  2. Run like a girl.
  3. Hit like a girl.

Not to mention:

  1. Pussy out.
  2. Be a pussy.
  3. Be a little bitch.
  4. Be X’s bitch.

And so on.

In the largest, broadest sense, I believe that these kinds of insults hurt us all, male and female alike. The recent bullying-related suicides of several gay-or-maybe-gay boys have their roots deeply buried in our fear of males behaving in anything but a society-approved-manly fashion. Witness the clear discomfort experienced by adults when five year old boys choose to wear girls’ clothing.

Witness that, and then think about women in pants suits, or girls in jeans. When women adopt and co-opt a traditionally male form of dress, we are empowering ourselves. When men adopt and co-opt a traditionally female form of dress — they get beat up. Because we do not value women as we value men, and we are frightened when men choose to give up the prerogatives of their gender. So, yes, everyone suffers when we continue to maintain and perpetuate misogyny.

But women and girls suffer more. Because we are the ones you shouldn’t be like.

I’ve known this for years, of course. I’m not new to noticing misogyny. I’m not new to feeling its sting and pushing at its edges. But it’s suddenly struck me how powerfully we telegraph our contempt for women merely by opening our mouths and starting to talk.

You throw like a girl. Don’t pussy out on me, bro! I’m gonna make that job my bitch! Close your eyes for a moment, and substitute any other person-naming noun/pejorative for the words “girl,” “pussy,” and “bitch.”

You throw like an Asian. Don’t Hymie out on me, bro! I’m gonna make that job my nigger!

Suddenly, the mind reels a bit.

Good lord, like most non-racist white people, I had a hard time just typing the n-word — but absolutely stand-up folks, men and women alike, without an otherwise bigoted bone in their bodies, will insult each other with words that describe me and my body, with nary a second thought. They will do it loudly, among friends, in print, on television, in movies. It’s just, you know: The way we talk.

But I cannot help but believe that we hear these things, we women and girls, we hear them, and we steep in them, and they go in and down and twist and burrow into us, and they damage us. They leave vapor trails in our thoughts and scars on our hearts. They tell us, day in and day out, that we are weak, we are not worthy, our bodies are the stuff of mockery.

When you’re someone’s bitch? You’re under their violently-wrested control. When you’re a pussy? You’re untrustworthy. When you’re a girl? You are just plain weak.

And who the fuck would want to be any of that?


  1. corkingiron

     /  September 14, 2011

    Many years ago, a pick-up soft ball game on a gorgeous Tuesday night. I’m catching, and we have this tall farm girl out in right field. Macho dude at the plate hits a long drive deep to right. Farm girl races to catch up but it’s over her head and to the fence.

    Macho dude has already rounded second and is well on the way to third when farm girl retrieves the ball. Macho dude never even looked cuz – well – she’s a girl. She wheels and throws a frozen rope – one hard bounce in front of second and into my glove, right at the plate. I tagged a very surprised macho dude when he was still five feet away.

    “She throws like a girl eh”? Sez I.

    That was fuuuuun!

  2. caoil

     /  September 14, 2011

    You always manage to eloquently sum up the things I am thinking!

  3. I remember when I was young (a young girl) various adults, teachers, parents, etc. were always telling me I could be “as good as a boy” if I wanted to be.

    I know they meant well. But it’s real hard when you’re seven to suddenly realise that you, by default, have been delt the crappy gender card. I always used to feel slightly envious of boys who were already fine, whereas I had to *work* to reach their level.

    • Karen

       /  September 15, 2011

      Thanks for that, Lab Rat. I’m raising a girl, and while I’m doing my best to compliment her on things other than her amazingly adorable appearance, I need to remember that saying things about being as good as any boy might also have consequences. (So far I don’t think I’ve said that – she’s only 4, so peeing on the potty is about the only accomplishment expected of her.) Good column, Emily. I will also try to remember not to say “puss out” as much.

  4. Dean Clouse

     /  September 15, 2011

    Now I am completely confused about the female of our species. For years now I’ve been told that no one should refer to an adult female as a bitch, pussy or girl. Now I read an article that guys shouldn’t be called a bitch, pussy or girl because it is insulting to women. How could it be insulting if women aren’t a bitch, pussy or girl? If someone called me a nigger (I am white), I would look at them as if they were morons. I understand that the term nigger is insulting, but it in no way applies to me. Therefore, if a guy is called a bitch, pussy or girl, the only way a woman should feel insulted is if she believed it applied to her. There is a huge difference between being insulted and feeling insulted.

    • I’m sure you are very comfortable with being confused by The Female. Your lack of understanding is willful and practiced and makes your life easier, so why should you try? How pleasant and convenient for you.

    • Way to draw a fallacious analogy as white people aren’t regularly called niggers as an insult but men and women both are called bitches.

      Both ways it is used imply there is something wrong from the start with being female.

      I hope that’s a short enough summary for you since you somehow missed the fact that the whole article you’re replying to explains the same thing, you ignoramus.

      • I agree with your point [as I’m guessing you might have guessed! 🙂 ], but I do want to try to steer away from name-calling and so on. Thanks!

    • Idran

       /  September 16, 2011

      Because the fact that the terms are used as insults _implies_ that being female is a bad thing. They wouldn’t be insults if there wasn’t that lurking implication in their usage as such, and so using them as insults perpetuates that implication.

      I mean, if the person using them didn’t think that being female was a bad thing, why on earth would they be using insults like that? It makes no sense to use a term as an insult if you didn’t think the group the term refers to was bad.

    • It’s important to listen to the lived experiences of other people. Women experience this kind of unthinking dismissal on a regular, constant, daily basis — the fact that you don’t see it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

      As an example: Because you’re a human being, I feel safe in guessing that you’ve had some personal relationship that’s been hard on you (because we all seem to get at least one!) — but if I only ever see you and that person behaving pleasantly with each other, or that person’s behavior doesn’t bother me, that doesn’t mean that your bad experience doesn’t exist. It just means I don’t share it.

      Similarly, if I were to yell at someone in frustration “Don’t be a fucking Dean Clouse!” you might be insulted, even if you were not the person I was yelling at.

    • BinJabreel

       /  September 16, 2011

      If I called you a nigger in the context of, say, you having to do slave labor for me, would it be more obvious?

    • Claire

       /  September 18, 2011

      You may have no problem being called nigger, but I’m certain any black person would be insulted that that word is being used as a way to insult others. It’s the same as something being “gay” has started to mean being rubbish. It’s the connotations attached to the word in the context that it is used that are the problem.

    • Alex Caro

       /  September 18, 2011

      Dean, really? So, by your reasoning, I guess it’s fine to call people “gay” as an insult too. After all, if someone’s not gay, the insult simply doesn’t make sense right? I guess you don’t understand “the male of our species” either, because quite a few of them find that offensive.

      The implication when someone says, “You hit like a girl,” or something along those lines is that: 1) you hit like a girl, 2) girls are weak/being “like a girl” is a bad thing, and 3) therefore you are weak/something is wrong with you. That’s why it’s wrong. Calling someone something they’re not (or, in fact, may be) in order to insult them is wrong. Plain and simple.

  5. Brendan

     /  September 15, 2011

    You should take a look at women’s flat track roller derby. It is a grass roots movement that demonstrates physical toughness and femininity as perfectly compatible. A popular insult is to say “You hit like a boy” 🙂

  6. Carolyn Collins

     /  September 15, 2011

    Bravo! Also the idea must be getting through to some people who sell to children because Target is selling shirts with baseballs on them that say “You wish you could hit like a girl!” I bought one for my 9 year old neighbor who is as tough as they come.

  7. I agree that ‘X like a girl’ should die. Nobody ever says ‘you throw like a boy’ or the like.

    This, however, I have to disagree with:
    ” Pussy out.
    Be a pussy.
    Be a little bitch.
    Be X’s bitch.

    And so on.”

    As well all know, to be a dick, dickhead, pecker, peckerneck, or cock are not things to strive to. I often think that while there is plenty of male-worshop in our culture, there is also plenty of disparagement. I’d go so far as to say that most gender-neutral curses are male-connotated. You generally don’t yell ‘asshole’ at a woman, for example.

    Pop quiz: You are driving down the highway and a car cuts you off. You let off some steam by saying “_____” Odds are, the answer is ‘this guy is an (insert favorite term here). Interesting that the automatic assumption is male, eh?

    I won’t get too far into it (I have a bad tendency to blog on other’s blogs…), but I look forward to the day when people are people. Not boys or girls or black or brown… and god forbid that acting like one of the other groups is somehow bad.

    • BinJabreel

       /  September 16, 2011

      When it comes to driving, the feminist I know the best usually yells, “You dumb fuck!!”

      And think hard about what you’re saying. Being a dick is occasionally seen as a good thing, being a pussy never is. Ditto bitch. And let’s not forget the many, many insults that revolve around someone taking the female role in sex. (Because how else did cocksucker become an insult? That’s one of the nicest things you can do for a guy!)

      What do all those gendered insults have in common? That the female ones imply weakness or inferiority, while the male ones imply some kind of action or aggressiveness. You say those same meaningless platitudes about people being people when you just finished defending the idea that you decry in your last damn sentence.

      • jodietron

         /  February 3, 2014

        A lot of people trying to avoid disability-related insults would be offended by the use of the word dumb. It’s hard to find expletives and insults that don’t offend people for the wrong reasons. I’m forever on a quest to find decent ones.

  8. Bill Goodwin

     /  September 16, 2011

    “Good lord, like most non-racist white people, I had a hard time just typing the n-word — but absolutely stand-up folks, men and women alike, without an otherwise bigoted bone in their bodies, will insult each other with words that describe me and my body, with nary a second thought.”

    Awesome moment in this article. Really well done.

    I think we (guys) want to believe that because we use “pussy” for “weak”, “dick” for “stupid or insensitive” and the non-sexual “asshole” for…well “asshole” (a range of negative connotations) that there is some equity or fairness in the use of the sexist terms; that acknowledging the reality that the average male has more upper body strength than the average female in euphemisms “hit like a girl” or “throw like a girl” is fair because of the underlying truth of the average even though it is not universally true. We’d like to think that because you can say he “dances like a white guy” or make some other common negative male or caucasian based comment that “all is fair”. And especially for the nice guys out there, we don’t want to think that we are running around damaging people with unconscious (or conscious) sexism (or racism or homophobia, etc). I think that we should also look at the other side of the pendulum when we say things like “you better man-up”.

    It is quite the pivotal point to recognize that by using these terms and euphemisms that we are conveying a sense of value and indoctrinating young girls to devalue and artificially limit themselves in the possibilities of what they can do as well as training a whole new generation of sexist pig boys to continue the tradition. Perhaps because we, like our chimpanzee cousins, have a legacy culture of male domination through physical strength these terms have a deeply ingrained meaning that is difficult to uncouple. If we had descended more like our happy, hippy, fruit-eating bonobo cousins maybe these terms would not have even arisen.

    Check out the studies Geena Davis is doing with her foundation. It’s shocking to see what we normalize. http://www.thegeenadavisinstitute.org/

    • jodietron

       /  February 3, 2014

      I might be wrong but Bonobo chimps are matriarchal. I’m not sure if we’re genetically closer to those guys or the other patriarchal chimps.

  9. Ray

     /  September 16, 2011

    And why is it when a girl who throws, runs and hits like a girl is considered inferior?

    • Danon

       /  September 16, 2011

      If you control for training, then draw ability is dictated mostly by physical aptitude.

      So a guy can throw faster due to more muscle (not universally, but on average)

      A guy can sprint faster, but a girl can go farther

      A guy can hit the ball farther, but hand eye coordination is equal.

      So if you choose to look at it in terms of being superior/inferior, guys are better than girls in those three things by a small margin. But again, with even a small amount of training these natural differences can be overcome and are by no means universal in their application.

      • Adam

         /  September 20, 2011

        Exactly where did you get your idea that women can run further than men? I have never read anything that states men or women can run further than the other, given equal conditioning, training, etc… It seems you are talking from the side of your mouth on this one.

        • Danon

           /  September 28, 2011

          I actually ran 6 years of track in high school and college, and girls always had a leg up on guys due to less body weight. The guys who did well had to do a decent amount of slimming down. The girls didn’t have to slim down as much because they didn’t have excess muscle to shed. So when you look at a guy weighting in at 170 and a girl at 145 going distance, missing that extra 25 is a huge difference.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_differences_in_humans, in text link #3 shows that men weight more than girls by about 15%. That is referred to as sexual dimorphism.

          I did have trouble finding a link for you proving that it is easier to carry less weight than it is more weight, but that apparently falls under the category of common sense. But don’t take my word for it! Go outside and saddle up with 15% more weight and go for a long distance run, then try it without the extra weight.

          BTW, it took me all of 2 minutes to get you a link for that, did you even try to confirm or deny what I wrote? But it’s cool, accuse me of “talking out the side of my mouth” when the usage of Google seems to elude you. It makes me giggle on the inside.

          • Funny, I also ran track and cross-country throughout high school and I noticed no such advantage. Apparently one of us has a confirmation bias that has altered the “evidence” of our memory. (It happens. You can Google it if you want.)

            Perhaps you are overly focused on just one aspect of sexual dimorphism. What about leg/stride length? Where do you think the dimorphic advantage lies in that case? Is it significantly more of an advantage than the weight issue? Is that the only variable you missed?

            • Danon

               /  September 29, 2011

              First: A confirmation bias can only exist if information is presented and one side continues to selectively pull out information that supports their position while ignoring all other valid information that detracts from their position.

              To put it a different way, you claim to remember a different experience in your running days and then turn around and claim that my memory is a confirmation bias battle ground. That’s called hypocrisy, you can Google it. While it is possible for me to have a confirmation bias, it would be equally likely that you simply had no critical thinking skills during your running days or that you are selectively remembering things which support your assertions.

              Now as to stride effecting ability, you must remember that my first post only addressed base ability and did not have anything to do with those who trained. Stride was very important once a runner was in training for a while, as speed leveled and efficiency was more important.

              For those with no training, stride was great when you were sprinting and only needed explosive movement for a short distance. But in the beginning of the running season stride meant very little for distance runners. Guys had a bunch of extra muscle sitting around in their upper body for the most part that they had to lose, while the ladies only had to contend with body fat. Yes, it is also the case that girls have a higher body fat ratio to men and it is so much easier to burn body fat than it is to get rid of muscle. So by the time guys lost that extra weight and they could point to their longer strides as being an advantage, girls already lost their extra weight faster and were working on efficiency. Ultimately stride has to do with efficiency and form and not leg length.

              Tl;DR a six inch longer inefficient stride matters little compared to running 5 miles with 20-40 extra pounds on your body.

    • Byrk

       /  September 16, 2011

      What is meant by “throwing like a girl” is standing facing your target and throwing with an elbow motion. Take a look at how Obama throws a baseball to get an idea who this works. This is poor mechanics, and nobody can throw a ball hard in that way. It’s how you throw a baseball when you haven’t been taught how to do it.

      The assumption is that girls spent their childhood indoors playing with dolls, while boys were outside throwing rocks at each other.

  10. I don’t understand the problem you have with insults like ‘bitch’ or ‘pussy’. Yeah they are demeaning, but that’s what insults are supposed to do. When people are pissed at each other, they don’t stop and think of a PC insult, they will use whatever insult is demeaning to the other person.

    • It’s not a question of asking people to dip into their PC bag when they’re pissed — it’s a larger question of: Why are these words demeaning?

      I know why it’s demeaning to call someone a moron or an asshole or a hack or fucking useless. Why is it demeaning to call someone a female (girl/bitch) or a female body part (pussy/cunt)? That’s the question we need to ask ourselves, more broadly.

      • Sam

         /  September 18, 2011

        The question of “why are these words demeaning” is an excellent one, of course, and I believe the thesis of the article is that, for whatever reason, it is the association with women that somehow was a negative thing, and therefore labeling someone as a “woman” became a method of insult. I agree that there are indeed shameful instances of terms used today where this is the case.

        The case of the word “bitch” is an interesting one. Originally, calling someone a “bitch” really was associated with calling them a “female dog”, as female dogs were often saucy towards other (often female) dogs, especially when they have pups or are in heat. I guess that because the original (and still correct) use of the term “bitch” to mean, specifically, a female dog, precluded its application to men. Nowadays, most people do not first think of “bitch” as being “female dog” but instead the pejorative term for a woman. One must ask, however, if this matches the thesis of the article, which questions why is it that terms that refer to females convey something negative? Here is a case when the term was only later applied to women, rather than inherently refers to women. It’s certainly not nice either way. But technically, doesn’t it fail to satisfy the thesis of the article?

        The history of the vulgar “c” word is rather odd indeed. Back in the day, the Saxons were considered by certain Europeans to be a bunch of barbarians. Their language was therefore considered vulgar, as the tongue of the enemy. Other words, including “fuck”, were actually perfectly valid non-vulger terms to a Saxon, but were considered words of the savage enemy by other European tribes. History was such that the non-Saxons won, and so the dominant assumption of their terms being vulgar persisted. Nowadays, one of the most vile words, the c-word, is specifically used to imply someone who is particularly evil or contrary in their ways. It is applied commonly to both men and women. It is true that this word derives from the non-vulgar Saxon word for vulva, and today can still be used to refer to that body part, but the history of its use as an insult has long been separated from that connotation. When someone calls someone else a c***, the first thought is not of vulva, nor women. For this reason, its use too does not match the assumption of the article.

        The best (worst?) examples are the “hit like a girl” usage. Those terms are not acceptable at all, and imply that girls are somehow inherently inferior in some way. Terms such as this, that more directly imply inferiority, are, in my humble opinion as the father of two girls, much more insidious.

        • Rhamantus

           /  September 23, 2011

          While all of that history is interesting (and believe me, that’s not lip service — I didn’t minor in linguistics in college because I wasn’t interested in exactly that sort of knowledge), it’s irrelevant in this context — you have to look at how words are understood in their modern context to get a true feel for their sociolinguistic impact. The modern connotations of these words *do* refer to women or their body parts, and the users of these words understand them as such. Diachronic studies of word usage and semantic shift don’t really add anything to this understanding this.

    • SWNC

       /  September 16, 2011

      When someone calls a man a bitch or a pussy, it’s very, very clear that they are implying “You are weak like a woman.” As if 1) women are weak and 2) being a woman is a horrible, nasty thing.

      • “When someone calls a man a bitch or a pussy, it’s very, very clear that they are implying ‘You are weak like a woman.’ 1) women are weak”
        I agree, it does imply that.

        “2) being a woman is a horrible, nasty thing.”
        This is where you’re wrong. If anything it implies that it’s OK for women to be weak, but not men. Men have to be strong and tough, and must protect women. If they don’t they’re are worthless.
        That’s where this article goes wrong in my opinion. The author makes it seem, in my opinion, like these insults are only sexist towards women.

        • “That’s where this article goes wrong in my opinion. The author makes it seem, in my opinion, like these insults are only sexist towards women.”

          I disagree. She stated very explicitly that using female words as insults also involves sexism towards men. “In the largest, broadest sense, I believe that these kinds of insults hurt us all, male and female alike. The recent bullying-related suicides of several gay-or-maybe-gay boys have their roots deeply buried in our fear of males behaving in anything but a society-approved-manly fashion.” Sexism hurts everybody.

          Also, the connotation of “pussy” and “bitch” with weak generally implies less that it’s OK for women to be weak and more that it is their state of being, and that weakness makes you a woman; it’s a defining feature. That is, viewing this connotation as women having more “options” misses the point.

          • “But women and girls suffer more. Because we are the ones you shouldn’t be like.”
            Throwing a blanket statement on an entire gender, and saying they suffer more, is ignorant. Suffering differs from person to person. For every female out there that is a victim of sexism, there is also a male victim as well. And how exactly does she determine that the female gender suffers more; facts, statistics?

            This article only touches on one side of a small problem, which makes it biased.

            • What is ignorant is refusing to listen to the experiences of those who lives differ significantly from yours and, moreover, suffer systematic discrimination and oppression.

              I am happy to have conversations in this space, and as you can see from this comment thread, certainly willing to have people who disagree with me and with each other speak their piece. Insults, however, do not fly, and neither does attempting to dismiss the lived reality of 50% of humanity. If you have something substantive to add, beyond “You’re ignorant and sexism ain’t no thang, because I say so,” feel free to carry on.

              If your contribution will be to double down on either side of that equation, however, your comments will be deleted. This is not a space in which women are going to have to suffer through hearing that women aren’t the primary victims of patriarchal sexism. Period.

              • “If you have something substantive to add, beyond “You’re ignorant and sexism ain’t no thang, because I say so,” feel free to carry on.”

                Never said sexism wasn’t a problem. And when you make statements such as, “But women and girls suffer more. Because we are the ones you shouldn’t be like.” You need to back it up with facts, or examples.

                “This is not a space in which women are going to have to suffer through hearing that women aren’t the primary victims of patriarchal sexism.”

                This is what I’m asking. How does one determine which gender suffers more? For every women who is hurt by sexism, there is one who benefits from it. It is the same way for every man. Each person is different, There can’t be an entire gender that is a primary victim of sexism. I guarantee that there is a man out there that has suffered as much, or more, than you have. And I can guarantee that there is a woman who has suffered more than him. And so on. But when you tell a man that there is no way he can suffer more than a woman, well, that just seems sexist to me.

                • How does one determine which gender suffers more?!?! You are so unbelievably insulting and infuriating. How about domestic violence statistics, income gaps, educational disparities, rape statistics, rape acquittal scenarios? You are obtuse in the extreme.

                  • 1-Both men and women are victims of domestic violence. Yes women are victims more so than man, but that is in one area. What about the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence act 2005? Even though men are victimized in domestic violence, there isn’t an act for protecting them? That’s sexist.

                    2-Income gaps are a myth, just type in ‘wage gap myth’ into Google and you will find that out for yourself. And EVEN if there is a woman being paid less for doing the same amount of work, it is illegal. All she would have to do is file a lawsuit against her employer. Think about it, if women could be paid less for doing the same work, why not hire all women? This would decrease the amount a company has to pay their employers. That would = PROFIT

                    3-Not sure what you’re talking about in educational disparities. In First world nations, there is not an issue, third world countries yes, women are less likely to be allowed education. But again, this is one issue. One could also say that men have to put their lives on the line to protect their tribes, and women don’t. You’re biased because you only speak on behalf of female victims.

                    4-Rape does affect women more. But what about false rape accusations? This affects men, and even if the woman is proved to be lying, she will not be jailed for it.

                    5-This is a non-issue. If there is not enough evidence to support a person’s claims, than the person is found not guilty. It’s the way the justice system works. It’s the same way with murder, theft, and assault. Innocent people don’t belong in jail.

                    With your reply, you are just pointing out the things women have to deal with. What you are doing would be similar to me saying, “Iraq needed to be invaded because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and other terror attacks committed.” Which would be painting America as the sole victim. Without looking at the other side of the spectrum. In which America would, for example, invade Iraq for oil and set up dictators, and fund terrorism. You are giving one side of the story. I could say that men are more likely to be victims of random acts of violence, false rape accusations, drafted in times of war, considered less important than females, domestic violence against men is considered less important, as well as the results of child custody battles.

                    • You’re done. I did warn you!

                      This, is, collectively and in its discrete parts, nonsense, and if you don’t know that, and are not willing to listen to those whom you are now trolling, then there’s nothing I can do for you here.

                      I’m leaving this comment up as an example of what is Too Ridiculous To Be Tolerated on this blog, but you have been banned.

                      PS Well done! You’re only the third person to whom I’ve ever had to do this!

                  • Elsewhere you apologize, and I want to say that there’s absolutely no reason. Dude was trolling, and it was, as you say, both insulting and infuriating! All told, I’d say you stayed on the right edge of the line. Thank you. : )

  11. SWNC

     /  September 16, 2011

    Thank you, Emily! This is an awesome post.

  12. skm9

     /  September 16, 2011

    Not that this is the point of the article, but it’s fairly disturbing to me that our airforce is so dismally unprepared that their best solution to bring down a hostile aircraft was to fly an F-16 into it.

    • I agree, and apparently so does the Air Force, now. Click through to read the article. Things are a little different in 2011! We’re forever getting ready for the last war, we humans.

  13. Jim Baerg

     /  September 16, 2011

    “When women adopt and co-opt a traditionally male form of dress, we are empowering ourselves. When men adopt and co-opt a traditionally female form of dress — they get beat up.”

    I think a factor there is that ‘traditionally female’ forms of dress often impend motion more than traditionally male forms. The burka is the most extreme case I’m aware of, but long skirts or high heel shoes fit also. So the ‘traditionally female’ dress is often both a symbol of & instrument for oppression of women.

    • jodietron

       /  February 3, 2014

      I don’t know, I think male fertility would benefit a lot from some breezy medium length skirts.

  14. Sam

     /  September 16, 2011

    Great article, but I’m fairly certain that the term “pussy” to mean “wimpy” has nothing to do with genitalia, but derives from the innocuous term “scaredy cat”, or “pussy cat”. Consider someone who “pussy-foots around”, meaning they tread softly around an issue, rather than dealing with it directly. They are “pussies” for not dealing directly with something, but rather avoiding conflict or hardship. Using “pussy” to imply weakness just doesn’t seem to have anything to do with women per se.

    • I couldn’t disagree more. The word pussy has been associated with women for 400 years. From Wikipedia: “Philip Stubbs, an English pamphleteer, wrote in his 1583 book “The Anatomie of Abuses” that “the word pussie is now used of a woman”.” And, more importantly, if you ask people today to talk about what the word means and what it’s derived from, most if not all will note that association with femininity. I’ll just cite here the Parker-Stone Pussy-Dick-Asshole Theory, from Team America, a classic manifesto on gender and class in our times.

      • Sam

         /  September 17, 2011

        You are not disagreeing at all, in fact. The term “pussy” has multiple meanings. My point was *specifically* to its use to mean “wimpy”. That specific use of the term does indeed derive entirely from “pussy-footing”, as in, an actual feline animal treading softly around something to avoid conflict.

        Your point applies *solely* to the use of the term “pussy” in reference to genitalia, sex, or associated derogatory uses. “Pussy” meaning “wimpy” is not related to that mode of use. There are many words in the English language that have the same spelling and sound, but have different meaning that derive from different sources; “pussy” is one of them. All of the references you cite above deal specifically and solely with the use of “pussy” in the sexual origin sense.

        • And yet, somehow, I am disagreeing. Yes, the word “pussy” has multiple meanings; however, as most people understand it today in its “wimpy” connotation, it is distinctly feminine. And it’s pretty clear from Matt Parker and Trey Stone’s exposition of the Pussy-Dick-Asshole theory that pussies are wimpy, cowardly and ineffectual- not solely a genitalia use there.

          The use of it to refer to cats has become limited almost entirely to “pussyfooting”. Not to mention that “pussyfooting” has less a connotation of wimpiness and more a connotation of carefulness and exactness. That is to say, I believe your etymology may be off; why do you say that “pussy” derives entirely from “pussyfooting”?

          What I really don’t get is why you’re trying to explain away the word pussy and insist that it’s not offensive or sexist. It seems that you’re saying that we shouldn’t be offended when people use that word as an insult. Is that accurate?

          • I love this comment – disagreeing, asking careful questions, maintaining a tone of conversation, rather than jumping to conclusions. Thank you. I want always to err on the side of polite discourse.

          • *sigh* I will try to be more like Susannah. For real. This is why I usually just lurk blogs and quietly fume at the Mikes and Sams of the blogosphere.

            • I said elsewhere that you did fine. It’s hard to stay calm in the face of the infuriating, and all told, if that’s you losing it? I’m not too worried!

            • Sam

               /  September 18, 2011

              I apologize if I infuriated anyone. That is certainly not my intent at all. I was just trying to make a small point regarding the mistaken claim regarding the use of one of the words above. I hope it is understood that, by pointing that minor thing out, it in no way implies that I do not agree with the sentiment of the article. I certainly hope, too, that voicing a minor disagreement over an etymological issue isn’t cause for fury for not towing the party line or “drinking the kool-aid”.

              Matthew, your comment made me go back and read earlier comments by yourself and Mike. If I understand it correctly, Mike’s point is to demonstrate that there are no absolutes, but rather, like most things in life, suffering is also a relative thing, and very subjective in nature. If I understand it correctly, he is basically saying that since suffering is a subjective thing, it makes it difficult to claim definitively if one group suffers more than another. I can certainly see arguments either way, but his points are interesting and valid. In sad contrast, I now see that many of the posts here are absolutist in nature, with little tolerance for differing viewpoints or challenging questions. Mike, for example, was banned for trolling, yet his points were in fact stated in a factual manner in a format that could have been systematically debunked in a respectful tone.

              I’m not certain, but I am beginning to wonder if I myself would get banned, or whether this comment would be blocked. My original comment was meant solely to clarify an issue that I felt weakened an otherwise excellent piece. I respectfully ask, so that I understand how I might better convey such points in the future, why you take my posts to be infuriating?

              Meanwhile, I humbly offer this advice to all: facing challenging questions with calm and reason, respectfully trying to understand another person’s view, and offering open debate on important issues, are good things. Sometimes topics are emotionally charged — it is in such circumstances that it is most important, but also the hardest, to avoid absolutism. Otherwise good points can be missed, valuable gains can be lost, and open discourse degrades to fanaticism.

              • I didn’t find you infuriating – I’m sorry I wasn’t clear. I was, personally, referring to Mike. I might disagree with you, and at a certain point ask you to let something go because it’s off track, but I see in your comments that you’re making an effort to engage, and that’s the real point.

                Not to belabor the point (because frankly, at this point in a life of activism, I have begun to tire of feeling like I’m explaining that the wheel has already been invented) but the fact of female oppression, world wide, is a fact, and I am not going to take the time in this space to break it down. There are many, many books, and many, many articles, and many, many blogs where a person might read up and understand the details. But bottom line: It is a fact, and it shapes the life of every woman you know. Some less, some more, some have other advantages (being white, perhaps, or better yet: White and wealthy) that serve to mitigate the impact of that oppression — but the oppression is no less factual for all that.

                It’s not enough to look at individual cases or individual lives and make comparisons. One has to have a sociological imagination, to look beyond one’s own experiences and to see the entire world and all of the forces within it. It’s not easy, and it requires a lot of sitting quietly and listening, but without a sociological imagination, humanity has no chance of ever getting very far.

    • If it didn’t once, it certainly does now, particularly in the American context, where the only time one hears “pussy” used in reference to a cat is in double entendre, where the real intent is sexually-charged humor. Whatever the original meaning of the word “fag,” for instance, I must admit that it now means something very different, and speak accordingly. This is the same for “pussy.”

      • Sam

         /  September 18, 2011

        @emilyhauser: Well, in Canada, if someone is “a pussy”, they are just weak. Nothing relating to women or genitalia at all.

        @Susannah: I really don’t think that Matt Parker and Trey Stone are the best source to cite for the origin of words. In particular, the “Pussy-Dick-Asshole” theory you reference starts with the same incorrect assumption you are making in conflating the common “wimpy” use of “pussy” versus the more vulgar uses. The fact that Parker and Stone also conflate the two concepts only proves how easy it is for people to jump to that incorrect confusion – it doesn’t prove your point.

        And yes, of course, I am indeed trying to explain that using the word “pussy” to imply “wimpiness” is not sexist at all. That is the point. It isn’t sexist at all when used in that context. The same way “Dick” is not sexist when you are referring to someone named “Richard”. Same word, different origins, different meanings, different contexts. Anyone who takes “pussy” to be a sexist comment when used solely to mean “wimpy” is, in simply truth, mistaken. Feeling insulted after being called a “pussy” (meaning wimpy) should be solely at the umbrage of being considered wimpy, not because one is being called “feminine”. To take insult for the latter is, factually, due solely to the mistaken understanding of the recipient. I can certainly understand that there may be some groups in America that for whatever reason, experience a life in which “pussy” always meant “feminine” when used to mean “wimpy”. However, this is the exception not the rule. The wikipedia article on “pussy” and its origins regarding “wimpy” is of interest and worth reading. Note also that they refer to the completely separate origin from the word “pursy”.

        To be clear, if someone uses the term “pussy” in a derogatory sexual sense, for example, to demean a woman in a manner that implies that she is only good for sex, then that is certainly sexist. Using it to call someone wimpy, or to call out to your cat (“here pus, pus, pus”) is not sexist. Etymology really does matter.

        • And this is where I ask you to drop something.

          I am forever saying that “Words actually mean something,” so yes: Etymology matters. Really.

          But so does common usage, and if you don’t know that “pussy” refers to female genitalia, let me have Hal Sparks explain it to you: https://emilylhauserinmyhead.wordpress.com/2011/07/31/good-stuff-on-the-relative-fortitude-of-the-various-reproductive-organs/

          Please walk away from this.

          • Sam

             /  September 19, 2011

            Fair enough. I of course know the various uses of that term, which I tried to make clear. Certainly, I hope we both agree, that only a fool wouldn’t know the other common usage of that term. And I’m sure that you were only kindly jesting that I would not know that.

            The failure is on my end for failing to clearly convey that I was referring solely to a particular usage of “pussy”, specifically that usage’s independence from the common usage for the body part; I wasn’t claiming nor denying anything at all about other uses. Just as calling someone an “ass”, meaning “stubborn”, has nothing to do with the body part, my responses were an attempt to rectify this distinction. Apologies.

            There are other issues here that are much larger than the minor point I wished to make, and which may cause stress or upset and make it difficult for people to consider things in isolation. I failed to anticipate that difficulty. 😦

            Kindest regards.

            • I’m sorry if this reply is inappropriate, if so please delete it, but I wanted to respond to Sam’s comment that “in Canada”, pussy isn’t used to mean female genitalia. Sam is just incorrect here, it’s used pretty much the same way here as in the States, and I feel like this was an attempt to decrease the scope of pussy as a misogynist insult by saying the female genitalia use was not as universal as this article says. It is, certainly in Canadian mainstream culture.

              • Not at all, and thank you. I’ve felt that wasn’t quite right, but as an American, didn’t want to speak up!

              • Sam

                 /  September 19, 2011

                This is just silly. Of *course* “pussy” is used in Canada to refer to female genitalia. How could anyone read my comment and take away from it that I said it is not used that way?

                What I said was then when you call someone “a pussy” with the intent to imply “wimpiness” that, in Canada, it has no female organ connotations at all. This is a fact. Just to be clear, if someone in Canada talks about “wanting to get some pussy”, or some other such crass phrase, it is not only common, but obvious what the intent is. (My apologies for having to make use of a crass phrase.)

                How crazy would I have to be to actually claim with a straight face that “pussy” is never used in Canada in the alternative sense of female genitalia? I just don’t get how this confusion between me speaking about “pussy” solely in the context of its use to mean “wimpy” and any other use. Just please, go back and actually read my statements calmly. Certainly you will see that I make no silly claims, and moreover, that I am not, in fact, saying anything offensive. Really. Just actually read what I wrote, calmly.

                I have yet to make any comment at all regarding the other, perhaps (in America) more common usage of the term “pussy” to mean female genitalia, other than to agree wholeheartedly with other peoples viewpoint.

                Emily, it is unfortunate that your jesting above about me not knowing the alternative term has confused people. Certainly you, at least, have read my posted and see that at no point have I made claims as silly as “Pussy is never used for female genitalia in Canada”.

                I’m done here, as even my very minor but nonetheless validly expressed points are being construed as entirely different, invalid, and emotionally charged straw-men arguments. It’s like there are two very different conversations happening, where the words say one thing, but the readers see something else. You have a very positive message here. I wish you the very best in continuing the good fight. I humbly suggest you manage the fury and ignorance (not rudeness, just to be clear) of your readers for the betterment of all.

                • No, here’s what’s silly: You not walking away from a etymological discussion of the word “pussy.”

                  I do hope you keep your word and stop. Please.

    • jodietron

       /  February 3, 2014

      I came on here to mention this same thing – that I’ve always taken pussy to be a more severe way of saying scaredy-cat. I grew up in Britain calling cats pussy (although my mum did tell me off once when i ran down the street wearing my coat as a cape singing a song about my superhero persona ‘pussy woman’). I was surprised when one of my gaming buddies had a go at someone over calling someone else a pussy. This comment train and article has made me question whether the use of pussy as an insult to mean coward is as innocuous as I thought it was.

  15. @Bill Goodwin: excellent comment. Thank you!

  16. WavegirlThinks

     /  September 17, 2011

    OMGoodness, yes! I spent most of my childhood and earlier teen years wanting to be a boy. Not because I’m transgendered, but because essentially everything around me was telling me that boys got to do the cool things. The child heroes in cartoons and movies? Boys. The sidekicks could be girls but they were never as cool as the main hero. Boys got the cooler guns, the cooler armour. Boys were (to my child indoctrinated mind) better at math and science -or at least it was supposed to be easier for them if they tried. Hell, I actually refrained from some of my sciencey interests because I didn’t think I could ever be as good at or as knowledgeable about it as a boy.

    On top of all the insults about being a girl or being a pussy, there were the ‘compliments’. I was brave and tough so my dick/balls were big/made of steel/stone or some other male-anatomy variant. I play as good a boy. Back then I didn’t know much of anything about feminism and misogyny, so I didn’t understand why those ‘compliments’ would always make me so angry.

    These days I’ll just grin and say; “You mean ovaries of f*cking steel.”

    • Me too, lady. Me too. I still wish I were a guy sometimes. I remember very well the group of friends I SHOULD have been hanging with in high school- if I’d been a boy, I would have been in like flynn. But being a girl… it was just too awkward. I was in the Ladies’ Auxiliary.

  17. Very well written. As you mentioned this also hurts those of us that doesn’t fit well into either gender-category. I am bigendered, more female than male, but born male. But it is not acceptable for guys to have feminine qualities in our society. Every time I hear things like “… like a girl” I get a little bit angry and a little bit sad. What the hell is wrong with being a girl?

    There is no need to use this kind of language, not the sexist version nor the racist version, the last one is obvious to most, the first one is not. It hurts people around you, and you may not even know you hurt them.

  18. Len

     /  September 17, 2011

    There’s also the practice of guys referring to other guys as “ladies” in a pejorative sense.

    • Sam

       /  September 17, 2011

      Well, in that use, the term is “ladies”, which is typical used in the “Lady” sense of “Prim and Proper” behaviour, such as the mode of behaviour expected of Victorian women; delicate, soft, used to being taken care of, perhaps spoiled a little. It’s use is to convey exactly that, that the guy is acting too delicately to deal with things forcefully, or to accept a burden and deal with it. This is another case where the insult is not actually towards women at all, but a use that derives entirely from a historically accurate stereotype and is directly applicable to the issue at hand.

      The same holds with the term “pussy” specifically when used to mean “wimpy”. That derives solely from “pussy-footing around” and similar uses, which are based on the actual feline (cat) animal softly padding around so as to avoid conflict. It has *nothing* to do with the use of the term “pussy” to mean genitalia or a women suitable for intercourse. Conflating the two just looks silly.

      If one is going to complain about the use of terms with negative connotations that specifically demean women, at least complain about the ones that satisfy the logical assumptions of your thesis. Lumping every possible female-connoting term that is ever used in a derogatory manner as all being equivalently insulting to women just looks foolish and diminishes the strength of an otherwise very valid argument.

      • Actually, I think it is you that appears foolish and silly when you bend over backwards to imagine (and it is your imagination) that “lady” and “pussy” aren’t implicitly tied to the feminine when used in a derogatory way regardless of what frickin’ country you live in. Even when confronted by a woman with her own real experience you refuse to see. Try this on for size, just put it in your brain and live with it for at least a few days… When a female, young or old hears someone ask “What are you? A fucking pussy?” it is an insult to a part of their person. It is not a reference to a goddamned cat.

        • Sam

           /  September 20, 2011

          [Moderator: I was on the way to deleting this reply to Matthew when I saw your request that I do just that with all of your comments. Done and done, at least on this one. I won’t delete the others though, as that would require deleting many other comments, and I’m not going to get into that. This is probably a good object lesson in the process of letting something go earlier rather than later when it needs to be let go of].

          • Sam

             /  September 20, 2011

            Emily, could you please just remove all traces of my comments? I never intended any of this to cause such emotional stress as I see that it has, and overall, the exchanges are not adding to your article. Kind regards. Sam.

          • Sam

             /  September 20, 2011

            [Moderator: Also deleted, and now banned. The words “walk away” and “let it go” also mean something].

  19. Kerry

     /  September 17, 2011

    Great post. Thank you.

    Also, you may already know this, but just in case, the “I can kill you with my brain” quotation on the black t-shirt comes from the Firefly/Serenity (scifi series & movie) character, River Tam, a 16-year-old girl who was badass in both brainy and athletic ways. And who did eventually kill a couple dozen bad guys with her ninja-like skills.

    • I did NOT know that, thank you! I’m the only person like me who never saw Firefly or Serenity. I really have to get on that, because, clearly: I really have to get on that!

      • Unusual and wonderfully un-contrived gender dynamic between Zoe and Walsh as well as a respectful portrayal of Inara who is a sex worker would be points I would add to encourage you to watch.

        Thanks for the affirmations of my posting etiquette as well as this great post.

  20. Helle

     /  September 18, 2011

    I like the fact that you take on a topic so overlooked in society that it has become part of the norm. I come from Denmark which is a country that pride itself on being a very equal society. But the terms you mention are also widely used in the Danish language. This implicates that as a girl you’re not part of the team and if your let in your not an equal to the other team members. I have surprised many men academically in my day and i am not about to stop and step aside for any man who makes an assumption of me being inferior because of my gender. I was just trying to think of any men in my circles whom the accusation does not apply to. And I am sorry to say I can’t think of any – so much the equal society of the kingdom of Denmark.

  21. Kim

     /  September 20, 2011

    oh my God – what a fantastic post. And so, so true. I have two daughters – 7yo and five months and I’ve pledged to do everything in my power to make sure they don’t grow up with these stereotypes. But it’s so hard – we are so conditioned in our culture to just accept saying things like “cried like a little girl or throws like a girl…”. Your post is inspiring! And something that everyone should read – men and women. Well said!

  22. Rebecca

     /  September 20, 2011

    On the whole anatomy/words issue, a humerous look at this is portrayed in comedian Hal Sparks’ special “Charmageddon,” which I believe is still streaming on Netflix instant. He talks about how ridiculous it is that “pussy” and “dick”/”balls” are used the way they are – he thinks they should be reversed. Check it out if you want a laugh (I apologize in advance that parts of the special are crude and crass – I’m not a fan of that sort of humor generally, but I liked his outside-the-box thinking on that particular matter!). 🙂

  23. Was gonna write a long comment, but made a blog post about it instead 🙂

  24. Katherine

     /  September 28, 2011

    Whenever someone says ‘cried like a girl’ I always correct it to ‘cried like a boy’, because I’ve seen more boys and men crying than I’ve seen women and girls crying. I’m usually poking fun at their comment, because I realise my sample is biased as 90% of people I’ve seen crying have been people I was dating.

  25. Andrew Wakefield

     /  September 28, 2011

    My god, you are complaining like a girl.

  26. rich

     /  October 1, 2011

    Middle aged male here…I’ve always been amazed that women seem to be ok with the term, “pussy” being used to describe weakness, when it is usually associated with the most powerful sexual power on earth when comedians talk about the same thing. Please read Warren Farrel’s book, “The Myth of Male Power” which is an in depth study of sexual power dynamics with some very surprising conclusions that most women will be moved by.

  27. Rex Bovee

     /  January 14, 2012

    Well, we DO evolve: Lately I hear, “Time to pull up your big girl panties and …” deal with whatever the situation is as much as any male-centric aphorism. It’s humorous, wry and an ironic counterpoint to the classic guy-isms.

    • jodietron

       /  February 6, 2014

      I tried this on a friend today and he wasn’t overly amused.

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