Not your Ernst?! You’ve got to be kidding me?! Finally, we reach the third bag adorning the wall. A wonderful example of Denglish. Rather than delving into how this phrase came about – because frankly who cares?! – we shall look at something that would provoke such an exclamation. Much more interesting! Sexism in the English language. I was hesitant to pick this subject as a man; I certainly don’t want to appear to be talking on behalf of women, but I do feel that it is a valid and interesting topic to look at. Rashida Manjoo, a UN human rights expert, described Britain’s sexism as more ‘pervasive’ than any other country; stating that the sexist culture in the UK is worse than any other country she has visited.
A friend of mine recently told me about when he had backed out of a bungee jump; later, full of regret he told me that he had acted “like a girl”. Not your Ernst?! Whether he had intended to or not, by attempting to describe himself as scared, he was equating masculinity and “acting like a man” with strength and women and “femininity” with weakness. For someone to unintentionally perpetuate negative sexist stereotypes through a very common expression, sadly shows just how deeply engrained sexism is in our society. This got me thinking about the many other sexist expressions commonly used by English speakers (NB: I am not implying that other languages are not sexist – please!)
I want to look at five examples in common usage. We will have all used them. Starting with the one that really leaves me cold:
Boys will be boys
In playgrounds all across the UK you can hear parents say: “Ah well, boys will be boys” to excuse all manner of things at any given moment. And as those boys grow up into teenagers and start acting like the little s**ts they often are, we hear it again. Even amongst post-pubescent men as they swagger into the working world thinking themselves the big we-ares. It is instilled in the minds of men and women alike as they grow up: guys can do whatever they want – the same would not be said for the girls. Using this expression implies that men can do X, Y Z freely but girls must not. A disgraceful double standard that we would do well to avoid.
Sow your wild oats
The age-old double standard of “sow your wild oats” legitimises male promiscuity and objectifies women as sex objects; propagating the “player/slut” dynamic – parlance casually used with too much regularity in the UK. I was once told a hideous analogy involving a key and a lock – I will not leave its poison upon this page. “Sowing your oats” is portrayed as some kind of masculine biological-anthropological “natural need” even in the 21st century.
Man and wife
“I now pronounce you ‘man and wife’”. Announcing that the woman is the man’s “property” (instead of declaring “husband and wife”), this expression is thankfully nowadays less common than it used to be. In other languages however such as French, the term “femme” meaning “woman” is still commonly used to refer to your wife. The UK still has the archaic tradition of asking a man for his “daughter’s hand in marriage”. From father’s ownership to husband’s ownership.
To be a sissy (or in some cases: To be a Nancy)
Where to start with this one?! This horrible expression has it all: sexism, homophobia and transphobia. By calling a someone a “sissy”, you’re referring to him as feminine (female-like), “unmanly”, weak and cowardly, as opposed to an apparently strong, brave, “rugged” male specimen…again instilled at a very young age. My teacher even called me a sissy at school; I’d fallen playing rugby and had begun to cry. I was eight and made to feel pathetic by my teacher. All of us were called sissies at one point or another and many went on to say the same to others as they grew older; sexist language is so casual that it helps to impregnate young men with an abhorrent toxic masculinity.
To grow a pair (of balls)
Women don’t need male genitalia to be strong – despite what the opposite rather vulgar “female equivalent” of this expression would imply! A person is strong irrespective of their gender/sex. We are all on various journeys and paths of development and there are many kinds of strength (emotional, physical, spiritual) which are also irrelevant to sex/gender. Also…a flick to the above can bring a “macho” man to his knees…nuff said!
Sadly, all of the above and many more are used time and time over and will continue to be. That was this week’s Thursday Thoughts. Until next time.