During Donald Trump’s election, rife with insults, name-calling, and an ‘anything goes’ attitude, there were debate nights filled with his choice collection of hate speeches. These were targeted at varied topics, from Hilary Clinton, to minorities, to babies, to anyone who came to mind, etc. Unfortunately, rather than a more (and expected) outraged reaction, the response that was cropping up everywhere on the internet, was that of humorous memes, relating to the qualities of “nasty” women. Of course, these brought light-hearted relief in an election so defined by the aggressive (and almost vicious )invective of Mr. T, but one cannot help feeling concerned about the negativity he uses, quite flippantly while putting down all and sundry, that this actually reflects our long-standing biases and stereotypes. There are so many slurs we’ve readily come to accept, as if it were a daily chore, to the point where it becomes a habit to hear them, and turn a blind eye….or a deaf ear.
What is an insult then? Or a slur? It’s essentially language that is aimed at you to tell you that you’re something that you ought not to be….of course this is always according to the perception of the one spewing the crude remark, but yet, we are offended by it. Whether you’re a man or woman, or belong to any other social group, insults hurt all the same…. Or do they? It’s noticed, that stereotypes, biases of the unconscious and what-have-you preconceptions, change how we use language to describe women. As far as language goes, male is considered the norm, so if you’re talking about a doctor, you may automatically think of a male, as opposed to the term lady doctor, to describe a woman of that particular profession. This prompts one to suggest that certain words, at least, in English, are gradually and subtly undergoing a metamorphosis of becoming gendered….particularly words like nasty and bossy, and the like, according to leading linguists like Deborah Tannen. A woman is called hysterical when she puts her foot down, a male is called strong or authoritative or even powerful at times. The connotations are clearly different and so are the implications. Maybe this is because these words are targeted at strong women who don’t conform to the expected norms of ‘well behaved, good women’. And these norms, who makes them norms? Women? Men? Both? Maybe they’re accepted because important or powerful people ( men and women ) have put them there, to be meekly adhered to. It’s very clear that bad language and hate speech, particularly aimed at a fellow presidential candidate, Hilary Clinton, was largely accepted by the American public, as Trump went from victory to victory…at least by all conventional standards of the word victory.
Insults have been around for years….and not just coming from nasty men(there are ample examples in history!!)… In the latter part of the Elizabethan era, women who opposed the patriarchal authority of the all-knowing Catholic Church, were labelled ‘witches’ and openly used invective speech while defying authority….And also in everyday life, as Edith Parsons, a nasty woman of days bygone, popped her head out of her window to eschew insults at her neighbour, another nasty woman…. “thou arte an arrant whore, a bitche yea, worse than a bitche, thou goest sawghting up and downe the towne, after knaves….” Her neighbour, one Sicilia Thornton, promptly sued her for defamation of character, which just goes to show that such gendered slurs (by members of both sexes) were practiced even in olden days, and that you could be taken to task if you ventured into that territory. It also shows, among other things, that nasty women get things done, one way or another!
By Scherezade Mansukhani
Scherezade is a Clinical Child Psychologist, Part-time mother, blogger, French teacher and IATA teacher. She has worked with the differently abled, and now works on and off as a teacher.