Language and sexuality: a few thoughts of no real consequence
Phrases that we all hear — and say — on a regular basis:
“That guy is such a pussy!”
“Can you believe my boss? Such a dick!”
“Know what, bud? You can just go fuck yourself!”
“Tell me, what’s it like being an asshole all the time?”
What I find perplexing about these and countless other examples is how we take parts of the body meant for pleasure and actions likewise meant for pleasure and turn all of them into raging, casual insults. Nothing new, of course, but in these supposedly more enlightened times, one has to wonder what impact movements like @metoo will have on our language and the words we use to communicate such displeasure with each other. For example, calling someone an asshole loses its bite when one realizes that assholes by and large provide a useful function… while I gather that the person so called as such does not. And while we may also refer to someone as a “dick”, it’s largely rare that it’s anything more than just a light insult. To say that someone is being a dick usually means frustration, not contempt. Yet, in the larger linguistic landscape, our choice of anatomical insults seems to focus more on the bottom or submissive role in a sexual encounter. “I am going to fuck you up!” “Dont try to fuck me over!” — and of course, the classically succinct “Fuck you”.
What this says about the relationship between sex and language should be obvious, but what I find surprising is that no one seems willing to own up to the message behind these words. No one wants to admit, for example, that saying “Fuck you” to someone implies that you see them either as a woman or as a sexually submissive man — and regardless of which is intended, the concept remains: to be the submissive or the bottom — or even just the woman— in a sexual relationship is to be beneath contempt and therefore to be dismissed. You give someone “the shaft” because you mean them ill, but also because you see them as a lesser human being for being the recipient of that same shaft.
At this point, of course, you no doubt draw the back of your hand to the moué that are your lips as you quiver in perplexed fear. “But Sean!” you say breathlessly, “that’s not what I mean!” — and yet it is what you say, and it’s somewhat difficult to accept the presumed innocence you no doubt intended… sorta like folks saying “That’s so gay!” wasnt really a homophobic insult because, you know, it’s not really about gay people.
But whatever. If actions like #metoo are to succeed, part of that will depend on a new look at how we use words to hurt, even to assault.