I was watching a Reality Television show called Southern Charm when Chelsea Meissner erupted at a male cast member who was having a meltdown. She said something along the lines of check your pants for a vagina and I’ve got a bigger penis than you. Meissner, as you might imagine, has more than a bit of There’s Something About Mary in her. In any case, it got me thinking.
Meissner did not intend to denigrate women but the phrases she used most certainly did. On the baseball diamond it was not unheard of to say, and I’m as guilty as anyone: You throw like a girl. What is meant is not that girls throw badly but the person in question is not good at throwing. The reality is it insults women and makes negative assumptions about their throwing ability.
In the same way Meissner was subtly, although I’m sure unconsciously, suggesting men are better adults than women. Her point was the male cast member was throwing a temper tantrum like a small child and that he couldn’t handle even the slightest bit of adversity without falling apart. This was absolutely true. She was accurate in her assessment but the phrase she used is clearly denigrating toward women in general. That’s the problem.
We have a culture of terminologies that make clearly false gender assumptions, particularly in this modern day and age when women, in progressive countries at least, are finally being given all the same opportunities as men and proving, over and over again, they are equally capable.
What’s to be done about it? I think it’s important to come up with new phrases that will, hopefully, slowly enter the culture. We can easily find ways to make our point without insulting one gender or the other. Instead of you throw like a girl we can simply say you don’t throw well. If we want a bit of color, I’m sure there are ways to make the phrases both appealing and gender neutral. You throw like a penguin perhaps. I’m sure someone else can do better.
It’s got to be a conscious effort. I have to stop complimenting a person’s boldness by tying it to the size of her or his testicles, non-existent though they may be. You have to do the same. It takes time, these changes, but it can be done with a concerted and honest effort. When you say something that denigrates a gender unfairly, you are setting an example. Try to be better, I am.