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Gender Neutral Insults

May 10, 2012

As one with strong opinions and a fondness for words, it’s possible that I’ve hurled (and received) a few insults in my time. Like most people, I do it without thinking the words through all that thoroughly. I mean, I’m smart enough to avoid the really obviously offensive ones like “that’s so gay.” But I’m not 100% there in my avoidance of some that I know offend other people.

For instance, I kinda like the word “douche” to describe a guy that is all talk, just for show, totally ridiculous and bad for you, because that’s exactly what a douche, the kind that goes in a vagina, is. I don’t find it insulting to vaginas or people who have them, because we all know that a douche is all talk, just for show, totally ridiculous and bad for  you, just like the guys who get called by the same name. And neither one should be allowed anywhere near a vagina. Period.

Today, however, when a TwitterPal @FourthAndFirst called me out in a link to a blog post about gender neutral insults, I had to think about how I insult people, and what it means. The idea of the post was that we shouldn’t use any insults that use body parts in a derogatory way. I can kind of get behind that. I don’t tend to do it anyway, though I’m not really all that bothered by it. That said, it has proven good food for thought.

For instance, I tend to call people “assholes” or “fucking assholes” if they really boil my blood. It’s gender neutral, so that’s good. But, wait. I have no issues with assholes, as body parts. I kind of like them, actually. I also have no issue with the act of fucking an asshole. I kind of like that too, actually. So why on earth would I call someone a fucking asshole? That’s kind of a compliment, from some perspectives. And since how one feels about assholes, much less fucking them, is contextually variable, it’s not a good insult. For all I know, I’ll call someone an asshole, and they’ll picture a nice tight fit and thousands of tingling nerve endings, get a big smile on their face, sigh contentedly and say, “yah, an asshole, mmmmm.”

I am aware of various racial slurs that people use as insults. Gypped, for instance, is a reference to gypsies who were thought to all be crooks. That’s a blatantly racist comment that’s about as valid as saying “she drives like a Chink,” which I sure as hell hope no one would say. I tend not to say “gypped,” but I’m not perfect. Likewise, I tend not to say that something is “retarded,” even though I think that refers to the nature of something being not fully developed, and not comparing it to a person, but it’s not territory I’m comfortable on, just in case.

Seems to me that gender neutral is the least of our issues when it comes to insults. They have to actually communicate something that the recipient will understand, and presumably agree with.

When I was teaching creative writing in the Juvenile Detention Center in Saint Louis, I used to tell my students that they could swear if they wanted to, but they couldn’t do it INSTEAD of communicating. They could call me a fucking bitch if they wanted to, but they still had to describe what I did that made me a bitch, how it made them feel, and what they wanted to do as a result. Otherwise, you have not fully explained the situation in a way that would create an accurate picture in the minds of a reader, much less serve as a call to action that would create change. So, “that fucking bitch tries to control everything I do, pacing up and down the aisles like a snake with her beady little eyes darting….”  You get the idea.

So, calling someone an asshole? Eh, doesn’t communicate much.

Well, shit, what will then? What are some gender neutral insults that would communicate how we feel about those who we just can’t stand, for whatever reason?

Shortly after that, a friend of mine posted an article, on Facebook, about an ignorant and bigoted person (who I would have typically called an asshole) and his opposition to gay-marriage. (For him, arguably, “fucking asshole” would be an insult, as I’m assuming he objects to the idea of asshole fucking.) In my comment on her post I referred to the man as “… that shoe-gum of a human being.”

That’s gender neutral. It also describes something that you wish wasn’t there, then you can’t really get rid of, makes horrible sounds, interferes with freedom of movement and is generally dirty, gross and regrettable. It kinda worked for me. “That guy is like shoe-gum” means more than “he’s an asshole.”And, I think, since it is not as obvious or over-used as something like asshole, it would make someone stop and think. And it doesn’t necessarily escalate the level of vitriol and “noise” in a discussion to the point of, well, obfuscating the point.

I like it.

Then I started wondering what else there is that we could say that is gender-neutral, descriptive, and thoughtful while at the same time making one’s disapproval obvious. My stream-of-consciousness list:

  1. Shoe-gum
  2. Car Alarm
  3. Jalapeno Diarrhea
  4. Hacking Cough
  5. A nightmare you can’t wake yourself up from
  6. An ingrown hair (in your bikini line)
  7. A festering and infected boil
  8. Roadkill
  9. A flat tire on a mountain road in a blizzard at midnight
  10. A rabid hyena

Yah, they’re “funny,” and may not seem all that “tough” but I think we’re on to something. After all, you could call someone an asshole, or you could say that you’d “rather have a flat tire on a mountain road in a blizzard at midnight than go out with him again.” I know which one sounds worse, and indicates a future course of action.

You could say that you don’t trust him, he seems like he’ll gyp you, or use the tried and true, “that’s a bit like leaving the fox in charge of the hen-house.”

You get the idea. I’m fine with insulting people, really. Some people just deserve it, or at least their actions do. But I think that we do need to think about how we do it a bit more carefully. Not JUST to avoid gender-shaming (I am, after all, one of the least PC people I know,) but in order to elevate the level of dialog. We yell and scream too much. We throw around insults without even thinking about them. We have lowered the level of discourse about issues to that of drunk monkeys in a crowded square just trying to rob everyone of everything including their dignity. We obfuscated dialog in favor of throwing poo, as monkeys do.

You can call me a pussy, I guess. I’ll take it as a compliment.

Calling someone a “dick” is a compliment to anyone who likes the male anatomy as much as I do. Next time someone calls someone else a “dick” in front of me, I’m going to ask what kind, gleefully. Soft? Hard? Curved? Hooded or not? A pussy? You mean like a Siamese, or a woman’s vagina? “What do you have against pussies?” I will ask. Personally, I think they’re wonderful, both the ones that rest on, and between, a nice lap.

But tell me that some guy is the human equivalent of Jalapeno Diarrhea, and I’ll know exactly what you mean.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 11, 2012 1:09 am

    Also, a little humour can be incredibly disarming to a heated discussion. Swearing and using offensive words gets people’s defenses up. How can you have a civil discussion with someone after that? Difficult. Things escalate, insults fly from both sides, then you’re all covered in intellectual jalapeno diarrhea. Make someone smile a little and they may calm down enough to carry on.

  2. May 11, 2012 5:20 pm

    Verbal aggression is not what it used to be.

  3. July 26, 2012 6:36 am

    I love the post. The last paragraph is awesome.

  4. Anonymous permalink
    October 19, 2012 4:31 pm

    thank you so much for this post–I’ve been trying to find some good gender-neutral, non-coded/shaming language for when someone has just completely gotten under my skin.

    This is awesome.

  5. Emma permalink
    September 9, 2014 11:36 am

    Asshole is a gendered insult. You calling women an asshole doesn’t change that; it just makes you weird.

  6. Alyssa Royse permalink*
    September 9, 2014 11:56 am

    How is “asshole” inherently gendered? Do we not all have assholes?

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