4 Common Phrases You Probably Didn't Realize Were Misogynistic
It's pretty much impossible to get through the day without some form of communication, be it verbal, written, or otherwise. That said, language and linguistics are actually pretty complex subjects with intricate histories, and our common and colloquial phrases, over time, have largely been shaped by societal views and values. Makes sense, right? Unfortunately, women have historically spent a lot of time as second-class citizens, and as such, many common phrases are rooted in misogyny and sexism — whether we're conscious of it or not.
Luckily, our language and means of expression are constantly evolving and changing. Often, this means our language is becoming more inclusive, and that's a great thing. Gender neutral pronouns, for example, are becoming more popular in every day life, including in journalism and the media and on college campuses.
All of this is awesome — but the unfortunate reality is that we've had literal ages of societal and structural sexism built up in our language, so misogyny still lingers in ways that we don't always catch on the surface. Of course, some words and phrases we quickly recognize as misogynistic (and those, arguably, are also the ones we're also trying to reclaim), but others rest just below the surface: Enough to be commonly heard in our conversations, but not enough to garner major attention and discussion.
Here are some common phrases rooted in misogyny. Remember, if you use them, don't despair! Just work on consciously trying to make your language more inclusive and less sexist, and encourage others to do the same.
"Whipped" is pretty common in our vernacular, and breaks down into two usages. "P*ssy whipped" is a phrase we often hear in reference to a man who is controlled by his female partner's sexual wiles. "Whipped" can also refer to a partner, usually a male, being more submissive and dependent, because the female partner is controlling, bossy, and domineering. This phrase hinges on the idea that if a woman is in charge, she's taken on the negative traits typical of male leaders, while the man in the relationship is afraid of standing up to her. Of course, this stereotype also hurts men, as it implies that if men are not in dominant roles, they are weak or inept.
Obviously, the undertones of physical violence are also strong with this one, and actually relate back to assault. The term "whipping boy" first became popular during the Middle Ages, where young peasant boys were punished when princes misbehaved. That's right: Poor boys got beatings for things wealthy boys did. In this sense, the "whipping" conceit stems back to the idea that when a man in contemporary day is "p*ssy whipped," he's being punished or controlled by a domineering woman unfairly or unjustly.
2. "But You're Too Pretty to Cry"
This phrase is often meant to a compliment, but is actually much more nuanced and problematic. First, it relies on the idea that women are "supposed" to be pretty. From there, it relies on the idea that women should be valued on their level of perceived attractiveness. The phrase hinges on the concept that if a woman is (perceived to be) pretty, she should have nothing else to worry about or be upset over: Schoolwork, job, family, health issues, or any of the other innumerable things that make up a person's life. When we value women solely on their appearance, it sends the message that her appearance (success in being "pretty") is the end-all of her being. This also dehumanizes women in that, in this mindset, they become one dimensional beings who lack complexity and a range of human emotions.
3. "Who Wears the Pants?"
This is a phrase a lot of have probably heard our grandparents say. It's seemingly harmless and usually intended to be playful, especially when asking about the gender dynamic between a couple. Unfortunately, however, the phrase relies on some very gendered notions of what it means to "wear the pants." In this sense, "wearing the pants" refers to being the dominant person in the relationship and making decisions. Traditional gender norms dictate that the male be the one in charge, which is an expectation that is also damaging to men. Of course, the assumption that men should inherently "wear the pants" send the message that women are incapable of making decisions and leading in their relationships, which is simply sexist.
4. Referring to Women as "Females"
Whenever I heard a person refer to a woman as a "female," I always felt really uncomfortable, but I wasn't sure why. "Female" is, of course, not nearly as polarizing a word as others used to describe women in negative or demeaning ways. So why does it unsettle me? On a basic language level, "female" is often used as an adjective (ex: "a female tiger...") and not as a noun, as it often is when in reference to women in a misogynistic way. After all, you never hear men referred to as "males," right? Kara Brown at Jezebel hit the nail on the head when she explained, "In the most technical sense, it's correct, but by employing this word that is usually an adjective as a noun, you're reducing her whole personhood to the confines of that adjective." In a world where women are routinely objectified and viewed as non-human, when even our language reflects that, the result can feel pretty chilling.
Again: If you use these words or phrases, don't beat yourself up over it. We're all growing and changing and no one is perfect in their words. The best way to combat misogyny is to educate yourself and make it a goal to drop sexist phrases, like the ones above, from your vocabulary, and encourage others to do the same.