***please note there is a paragraph of purposefully obscene sexual language in this post used for observation. If you think this will effect your own conscience, turn back; if you feel like this will cause you to think less of me, please continue reading.***
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But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.
– George Orwell, 1984
Culture and language are inextricably linked, both informing and revealing one another. Last year, I shared some thoughts on Strong Language. The basic gist of that post was that Christians should “swear” more in appropriate contexts and just because you don’t use “curse words” doesn’t mean you have pure speech or a pure heart. Today, I want to look at words again and make a few observations on their harsh usage towards gender. Both Jesus and St. James hint towards the tongue being a faithful messenger of what’s inside us as humans. So what is our speech uncovering about the inner depths of our culture?
Have you ever taken a quick survey of the most popular obscenities and the gender they are associated with by definition? If not, let me list them for you. I’m not making the association with which gender is called which, but more so where they stem from. There are neutrals that could be shared with both sexes or are non-sexual: hell, shit, fuck, piss, bastard, and ass (of the hole or jack persuasion). Then you have the lady linked: bitch, mother-fucker, pussy, cunt, and douche bag. Then finally the gents: dick, prick, cock-sucker.
Women have been oppressed or repressed by society and in language is no exception. We can see that women tip the scales slightly “in their favor” with being the muse of the obscenities above, but there are some more specific examples of our societal customs that have double standards.
For instance, if a woman sleeps around with multiple guys, what’s she considered? A slut. If a guy does the same thing, what is he called? A stud. Another instance “style” wise: if you would walk up to a female acquaintance who was dressed up, you wouldn’t compliment her saying, “Hey! You look like a high class prostitute!”, but if a guy is styling it is acceptable to say he’s pimp. I suppose there is a mentality that thinks the business end of prostitution is justified as good ole entrepreneurial ingenuity.
The most common put down on femininity, though, isn’t vulgar in nature and doesn’t have sexual undertones. It’s the simple slight that comes with a question from one guy to another of, “What are you, a girl?”. I was surprised how often this came up even among smart, decent, sometimes Christian, guys.
And here’s the thing, I think men and women are different in many ways and are designed that way; a woman should be a woman and a man a man. There are a million false ideas of what that is and isn’t, but that does not make it any less true conceptually. So the redemption of gender does not look like a homogeneous asexuality. Rather it values, respects, honors, and mutually submits to the differences and strengths that ultimately together are the Image of God. However, this phase, “like a girl,” is never meant in compliment, it’s always meant in a less-than and demeaning way. At work when the phrase comes up, I’ve been trying to respond with a slight witty ignorance, attempting to turn the question on its head…
JoShmo [to another employee]: Stop asking so many questions, Todd. Stop acting like a girl.
Justin [butting in as usual, sarcastically]: Wait… how is Todd acting like a girl? Is he trying to more fully understand something so as to communication clearly?
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JoShmo: Yeah, Todd took a sick day today. He’s such a girl.
Justin: Yeah, Todd really knows how to not overextend himself and live within his means.
The problem with a male chauvinistic society is not that its focus is men, the problem is that its focus is something other than God. Both sexes are sinners, we’re just more used to the social climate of discrimination towards women. Similar degradation would happen in a feministic society, albeit in diverse ways.
Do we have male equivalent to the “like a girl” phrase? Not exactly, but over the past few decades it has become popular to put down men for clichéd reasons. This is especially true for fathers. Sometimes this sexism is direct in language, other times it’s visually communicated in the portrayal of men/dads in commercial media, usually tarried to humor and more subtle.
Aaron Gouveia in his article It’s Time to Stop Treating Dads Like Idiots says the following…
The same people — mostly moms — who claim to be overworked and desperate for dads to do more are all too often the first ones to criticize them for not doing things right when they do step up. And by right, I mean their way. I’ve seen dads criticized and made fun of for how they dress the baby. For how they feed the baby. For how they handle things differently than moms. Despite the fact that most first-time moms are just as clueless and confused as first-time dads, it’s chic to make fun of the dads, while moms are assumed to know absolutely everything. As if the parenting instruction manual is imprinted in the female DNA. The fact that mothers face an unfair societal expectation to be a perfect parent from the get-go is a separate, albeit deserving, issue. But it’s no reason to crap all over the very same people you just asked to help more.
Guys see the low bar set for dads on commercials and TV shows and will only rise high enough to meet it. And when their wives dress the baby in a shirt that basically calls them idiots, they’ll soon learn they’re expected to be know-nothing dolts, so there’s no need to improve.
While, on a personal level at the moment, I’m more concerned about the more prevalent verbiage communicating lower-worth towards women, both sexes are affected by sexist remarks. And that’s because there’s a bigger humanity picture of what’s going on here. Our language, whether verbal or visual, reveals that our culture has a false perception of justice.
Now, we would probably never say this, but humanity’s idea of equal rights is more rooted in retribution than anything else. It is our thought that justice is something that needs to happen only in reaction to something wrong. Justice that is only reactionary is easily twisted into vengeance. Justice that is proactive, is love. Living and speaking justly is a good thing, not simply a response to an evil deed. It seems, though, that it is all too easy for us to define equality as “you did something disrespectful, so I should have the right to also do something disrespectful as well, then we’re even, equal.” Sure, it’s not written like that in our laws, per se, but it is in our relational currency.
Modern example: Bachelor parties. I can’t think of a better way to prep your heart and mind for the covenant of marriage then getting drunk, seeing some tits, and sowing some wild oats. Nothing says “I cherish you” to a bride-to-be better than a man doing something for-unlawful-carnal-knowledge in celebration of his narcissistic, self-gratifying boyhood.
But now flip it. Bachelorette parties are becoming more raunchy with the same foreplay because rather than men proactively walking justly in the scenario and honoring their fiances in how they celebrate (which can be a little wild and fun and free without it being some cover up for evil), women are reacting by having some good ole debauchery of their own, hence equally evening everything out. The men can “have it all” so why can’t the women. Well, because having it all is a bunch of crap. Both are settling for something less rather than being life-giving in the scenario–the men in their lack of proactive justice, the women in their reaction of injustice (and in different scenarios, the opposite would be true).
Becoming a people of pure speech has less to do with not using “curse” words (posture of reaction) and more to do with using God’s language as defined by the heart of the Word made flesh. The Word sanctifies our thoughts, giving us the mind of Christ, enabling our words to speak truth and love and life to the world around us.
We have heard it said that justice is an eye for an eye, but Jesus has a better way of justice that isn’t always reactionary. It has something to do with doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. In the kingdom of God, all this isn’t about whether females are better than males or males better than females (see Galatians 3:28), it’s about the supremacy of Christ and Him redeeming the image of God, calling out distinctive beauty and strength in each of us.