Gender & Cussing [NSFW]

As its title suggests, this post contains swearing and is Not Safe For Work. Consider this your warning 🙂

There are two employees. One is a highly-driven corporate executive, John Doe. Things get done, but John loads the pressure on his employees. Behind his back, they call him things like “prick” and “asshole.”

The other is also a determined executive: Jane. She shares many qualities with John, with one key difference: Jane’s employees call her a bitch.

This is the go-to swear when insulting women. Your psycho ex-girlfriend? Crazy bitch. Your coworker who never does her job right the first time? Stupid bitch. The girl who loves mainstream fads? Basic bitch. Regardless of who the woman is and in what context one knows her, when insults fly, she’s a bitch. It’s a one-size-fits-all word with a single, crueler synonym: this one starts with a C.

Insulting men, however, allows for a more diverse repertoire: a guy can be an ass and its variations (jack ass, dumb ass, etc.), a fuck(er) and its variations, a dick, and sometimes even a bastard.

Why are men’s insults more varied?

Graffiti reading "Bitches"

Photo Credit: Ben Tesch

Gender Bashing

Both swears for insulting women attack not only their behavior but their gender as well. Calling someone a dumb bitch says: “Not only is this person stupid, but she’s a woman, too” — as if this is an added offense, punishing her for slow wits as well as her anatomy.

But let’s say we want to insult a man. We may call him a “jack ass” or “dumb fuck.” Neither of these insult his gender. “Dick” is the closest we have to doing this, since it brings anatomy into the conversation, but calling someone a stupid dick? A basic dick? It doesn’t make sense; in fact, it’s almost funny.

And if we’re really mad at a guy, we may call him a bitch, effectively insinuating that the man in question is not only whiny, but acting like a woman, too.

Ouch.

Call Her What She Is

Some folks choose not to swear, out-loud or in their writing. When I write YA, I include cussing; swearing helps me create real people on the page.

But I also recognize the power in calling someone a bitch. Depending on the character, sometimes fiction can’t avoid this word; in the dirt bike novel I’m writing, a recurring theme is unhealthy friendships: one character recognizes the derogatory power of “bitch” and uses the word anyway.

But for me, the author — I don’t have to follow this character’s example. There’s already too much girl-hate; do I really need to insult her gender?

 

Is “bitch” a stronger insult? If yes, does this reflect a wider problem regarding how women are viewed? If no, why not? What experiences have you had with calling someone — or being called — a bitch? Comment below! 🙂

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80 thoughts on “Gender & Cussing [NSFW]

  1. Pingback: International Women’s Day | But Why?

  2. A very strong article !! Once, a friend-ish-enemy called me a bitch because I , by mistake, hit her with a ball! The use of such bullshit words is very common and i absolutely hate it!
    (Found you in the community pool)
    Happy blogging !
    Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I too have thought about this before, but couldn’t really come to any conclusion of why the person who did make it choose to make it sexist in a way.
    It was a great, thought provoking post though! Definitely following you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think that we still need to progress from gender norms such as notions that men are supposed to be dominant and women submissive. Therefore a women showing any signs of aggression or even authority is automatically a bitch. What are your thoughts on bitch now being synonymous with female? E.g. in rap songs and even day to day slang? I’m pretty sure there’s no male equivalent. I think it comes from the idea of woman’s body being a product that must be consumed e.g. just something to have sex with and disgard.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right – there really isn’t a male equivalent (at least, not one that I know of). Women are very much commercialized. Think about breast feeding — it’s okay to use breasts to sell products, but when they are used for their intended purpose, people are suddenly disgusted and upset. There’s definitely a double standard at work.

      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great article! I went to a conservative college and my anthropology professor walked in the first day of class an cussed us out. He then asked, “Why are you offended by those words?” The point is that culture has taught us that words that weren’t meant to be offensive, now are. I refer to myself as a bitch. I can be pretty harsh and I come with a bite worse than my bark 😉 I’m not offended if you call me one. I will agree with it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh girl, so true! Not only the use of bitch, but flat out calling some a “girl” or even a “pussy” is implied as less tha or degrative. “You play like a girl” and “Don’t be such a pussy”. And not to mention, the use of male anatomy ican be implied power. “Grow a pair”. Language is sooooo important. It can be so subconscious but it gives face to underlying systemic issues AND gives power so that inequality or bias perspective contour to hold strong. Thanks for shining some light on this issue with a touch of humor! Found you on Community Pool as well!

    Liked by 2 people

    • YES! Both of those insults attack gender as well as behaviour. A lot of it is subconscious and I think it’s difficult to combat those issues because they’re systematic – they’re very widespread. Gender is a powerful thing.

      Thank you for commenting!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Good article! And you’re right! That is the go to word for girls and I hate it so much! I feel like the term son of bitch is still a slap towards females more than males. Interesting fact I learned in one of my cultural classes: there are less than 30 derogatory words for males but over 2,000 for females in the English language. Most aren’t used commonly, but that blew my mind.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Wow, 2000?! That’s a lot – way more than I knew about. Yikes!

      And you’re right – “son of a bitch” really insults the offending person’s mother as opposed to the offending person him/herself. Sigh.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

    • That’s exactly what this post is about – insulting someone’s actions instead of insulting their gender. Besides, words are only gendered because society tells us they are 😉

      Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Interesting post, but I’m pretty sure that, historically, there’s always been a lot of gendered swearing, it’s just that they have either fallen out of use or become gender neutral rather than masculine (dog, cur, hog, etc.).
    I don’t really know anyone who uses ‘bitch’ against people, but sometimes it gets applied to ‘difficult things’ (e.g., completing a game, writing a complex computer query or replacing a headlight bulb). All pretty much gender neutral, I think. Unless there’s a subconscious link to females being difficult.
    I’ve always thought that male anatomy words indicate stupidity: dickhead, being a cock/prick, a load of balls, etc. Or I could be talking complete bollocks. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Certainly there always has been gendered swearing! I wouldn’t dispute that 😉 I’m simply arguing that many people use these words without questioning their implications.

      Since “bitch” doesn’t often apply to men, perhaps those difficult things are being compared to women – sometimes women are described as difficult to get along with, too!

      You’re the first person who has come up with insults that bash masculinity as well – sounds a bit British to me! Where are you from? Where I’m from (Northeastern US), we don’t use all of those expressions. But I think you’ve got a good point!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh yes, smack in the middle of England, me. Brits do use English in a different way to most others (although the Aussies use a lot of our terms too). We do also have the phrase “the dog’s bollocks” which means “the best thing ever” (and therefore also “the mutt’s nuts”) despite nobody ever wanting to get near to or possess actual canine testicles. We’re not really sure how we ended up with that phrase, to be honest.
        I’ve always thought that there’s a weird underlying meaning to genitalia-based swearing: men’s bits indicate brainless behaviour (cos apparently we’re only after one thing and never think about consequences). There are slight differences between downstairs lady bits (tricky, sly, vindictive are all associated with the C word, which I’ve heard more when applied to men) and upstairs lady bits (slightly daft, stupid but in funny way: boob and tit).
        Language, eh? 😉

        Like

      • It’s a pretty funny phrase! I don’t think we have anything quite like that in American English (though for humor value I wish we did!).

        Stereotypes are a funny thing… and certainly so is language 🙂 Perhaps I’ll do a second post talking about the “dumbness” associated with men’s insults!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh cripes, now I’ve gone all shy and awkward. It’s a reference to the, erm, ‘head’ of a man’s . And again, it means idiot: “He’s a complete bell-end”.
        There’s also “scrote” (diminutive of scrotum) which is used to indicate someone who is bad, shifty, unprincipled, etc. e.g. “some scrote has nicked my car.”
        We’re terribly inventive 😉

        Like

      • Hahaha sorry for making it awkward! I should’ve figured that one out. Thanks for being willing to share anyway!

        And “scrote” sounds synonymous with “prick” — I have a friend from the UK and I could totally hear her saying that. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • If she’s from Liverpool then her saying “scrote” would be a wonderful sound. You’ve actually made me think about the degrees to which any particular obscenity is either stupid or selfish or spiteful. ‘Prick’ is higher on the stupid scale, while ‘Scrote’ is more selfish, probably just behind “wanker” (another male derogatory term).
        One very specific female term we use in the UK is ‘slag’ which means someone who sleeps around. The Irish also have the term ‘bike’, meaning someone who is ridden a lot. In this respect there are no male equivalents, because it is presumed that sleeping with many women is a status symbol (“bit of lad”, “jack the lad”, “stag”, “stallion”, etc.).

        Like

      • Alas, she’s from London.

        Looks like there’s a whole spectrum of insults, then, depending on how stupid/selfish the person is!

        It’s funny how sleeping around is a positive quality in men, but a negative one in women. How is that supposed to work?!

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s been that way for centuries, but interestingly over the last few years I have heard some young lads described as “slags” by my teenage daughters, so things are changing!

        Like

  9. It’s very interesting to come across a post about swearing and name calling lol. It’s a very interesting read which got me asking myself on my swearing habits and the purpose of it. Fascinating haha!

    I don’t always call someone a bitch but when I do, I make sure they feel like one because they deserve it. Yup, I can be a bitch too lol!

    Anywho, great expression, awesome read. Thanks for sharing 😉

    Your friend,
    Benjamin

    Like

  10. This is a great post ! I can say that I am guilty of using the word “bitch” often. I have used it very often as an insult when I’ve been in a heated argument with someone I consider an enemy. However, I would never refer to a coworker or superior as a “bitch” because I just feel like that’s innapropriate. Now I have been on the other side as well. In the situations, where I’ve been called one by another female and it doesn’t phase me at all. But if someone of the male gender calls me a “bitch”, oh now it’s WW3 and we have a problem. When a male uses the word, i feel like its way more degrading and insulting. For men, it’s the closest thing to punching a woman in the face without the actual physical damage. On another note, when I see my really close friends and we’re catching up, it’s so easy to just say “OMG biiiittchhhh let me tell you”. It may just be an urban unconventional way of conversing with someone close. So it’s really all about the way it’s used and the way one perceives it.

    Like

    • I know people who use “bitch” as a term of endearment for their friends – I always feel a bit guilty playfully insulting my friends. I’ve always been an overthinker and I can’t help but think that they’ll be offended even if I’m saying something as a joke. But you’re right – perception is everything! Not everyone who says it means it as an insult (though I’m not sure this erases the gender-insult altogether. Perhaps it overlooks it?)

      However, I’m glad that the word doesn’t phase you – it doesn’t have power unless we give it power. So good for you! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Great post. Geeze, I HOPE no one has called me a bitch. I’m not one for cussing people out,so I truly can’t say that I use that one all that often. What always makes me laugh are the “Paris Hilton’s” of the world who use that word as a term of endearment for their closest friends! 😉

    Like

  12. I don’t understand why it has become so normal and mainstream to throw insults around to anyone. When insults start being used then your argument is lost. You’ve lost ground, you’ve lost your sense of intelligence and you’ve lost the other persons interest.

    Like

  13. such an interesting thought! amazing what the power of our words can do, especially when such a powerful connotation is put behind them. we have enough fights as women, turning against each other shouldn’t be one of them… loved this!

    Like

  14. Wow this is so insightful!. Yes somehow ‘bitch’ has become a stronger cussing word and it has gone deep into our subconscious. Now if I think of it, the word ‘bitch’ does carry that dark connotation because of its relation to female anatomy as if anything wrong has to with female. A gossiping woman is a ‘bitch’ because she’s not just gossiping, she’s a woman as well and if a man does it he also ends up under the same umbrella because gossiping=woman behavior=bitch. You won’t believe but when we were much younger, the ‘bitch’ word was a taboo and we rather said a female dog which makes no sense and is bloody sexist.. Thank god we left that behind.

    Moreover if you cal someone a dog, that’s not such a bad thing. In fact we call a friend a dog in a very friendly way. But the moment someone says bitch, the room goes dark, everyone’s serious and there’s hatred in corner.

    Like

    • It’s funny how calling someone a “dog” is okay, but calling them a “female dog” then becomes an insult… very interesting! I have also heard people using “dog” as a compliment/in a friendly way. But you’re right — “bitch” is much more serious.

      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  15. My experience has been that a generations pass, these curse words begin to “weaken” in how strongly they are viewed because they begin to be used as a common adjective. For example, I often will hear kids yelling across a park to a friend, “Yo, what up b****!” Whereas one might view this as very offensive, this particular person is just saying hi to a friend in his/her eyes. So, I think generational gaps are causing a shift in how we view this curse word, along with others.

    Like

      • Additionally, previously I was not very phased by the random words thrown around as I walk through my city. However, I will admit that my hair stands up now when I hear curse words being yelled as I walk through the same city…only this time I am carrying my infant child. Now I am re-evaluating my comfort level.

        Like

  16. I think bitch is more directed towards women and it actually IS based out of what a woman is. I use it for both men and women. I think the word “bitch” is just so versatile with women and varied, like you said. But I’d say the female version for “dick” is definitely cunt, for sure. In fact I honestly prefer cunt over bitch, but I just use hoe cause it’s so belittled for me from using it so much. Great insight though, for real. Cussing just got so deep out of nowhere lmao.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s funny, I rarely hear people say “cunt”, at least within my friend circles. The more I think about that, the more I want to ask them why that word seems so off-limit. Maybe they signed some contract about not using it without telling me, ahaha!

      Like

      • Haha. I think it’s just that it’s used more around the UK and it’s just really rare to hear around the states. Plus it’s like some people actually think “fuck” is REALLY bad to say. Cussing has just become second nature to me and it’s so normal for me it’s natural for it to slip out in almost any sentence.

        Like

    • I use it for both men and women also. I don’t intend to. I’ve noticed that when most direct it towards a male, it’s still indicating that he’s a lot more feminine or not as manly as other men. I think it was just the evolution of the word.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Absolutely love this! Real talk, right here. It gets tiring having your gender be the object of offense. My theory is that the guys or gals who do this constantly, just have no educated response to the last statement you said to them.. so, name calling is the next best step for them. It hurt them to be called names, so they turned them on others. But who really knows why?

    Like

    • It sure is tiring — and I think you’re right about the name-calling, too. When my siblings and friends outsmarted me as a kid, my first response was always, “Well, you’re just stupid!” So I think you may be right 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • It definitely adds a dimension of reality — that’s why my characters often swear as well. I try to find a line, though, between realistic swearing and cussing for the sake of cussing. There’s definitely a difference!

      And thanks! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I think there is too. When I write dialogue, I’m imagining the characters having a conversation in my mind. Sometimes they swear; I almost detach myself and think “It’s not me saying that; it’s them!”

        Liked by 1 person

  18. Amazing post! When I was about 10 or 11, I was riding my bike around my grandparent’s neighborhood. Their house was right off of a main road, so when I would ride my bike to their house I would have to, either, ride on the sidewalk or stick really close to it to avoid being hit by a car. But, because I didn’t feel comfortable riding on the street, I would ride on the sidewalk.

    Well, one day while I was riding to their house, there was a couple and their son (he was about 6 or 7) walking toward me. Usually when there’s someone walking on the sidewalk with me, they’d move over so that I could ride by, but this couple didn’t do that. I was riding in the middle of the sidewalk and they were walking shoulder to shoulder, with their son in the middle. That put him directly in front of me. I think they expected for me to ride off the curb so that they could walk by, but I saw a car coming and I freaked out. I was headed right for the little boy and I didn’t know what to do, but before I got to him his mother snatched him out of the way and I rode pass them.

    A couple seconds after passing them, I heard his mom say, “Say it.” I was confused until I heard him yell, “Watch where you’re going, bitch!” I was shocked and humiliated.

    Like

  19. You raise really good points. Bitch can be a really strong word when used maliciously–especially by men. In my own writing, I tend to make characters use the world against both men and women. I guess it’s my way of trying to “normalize” the word and remove its sexist sting. Does it really achieve that? Who knows. IMO, all swears should be gender neutral.

    Like

    • Thank you! In my writing, I do the same things — I’m working on a literary YA novel, and one character calls everyone else, regardless of gender, a bitch. Definitely a way to characterize a character!

      I’m all for the gender-neutral swears. When I insult someone, I want to insult their intelligence, not their genitalia! 😉

      Like

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