men, masculinities and gender politics

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Like a Jungle

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People say that 'they are only words' when dismissing as 'politically correct' any attempt to resist insults. My response to this weird charge of political correctness is -'would you rather we kept calling people bints and spastics and wogs then?' Of course the real political motivation comes from those desperate to keep everyone in their place -submissive, mistreated and bullied in words and in deeds. A lyric from *The Message* by Grandmaster Flash has rattled in my head for years. How well it applies to women's resistance:
*It's like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder
How I keep from going under*

Reading about efforts to save *Bitch* magazine, I wondered why animal names are used to put women down while boosting men up. Of course, *Bitch* is a good example of reclaiming language and turning the negative into a positive. Reclaiming language is complex. In television drama the bitch, or even superbitch, is both admired and maligned. Does this change things for women or simply allow more insults? It is like the word 'nigga' reclaimed from racism only to become a dubious put-down between black people. It risks encouraging racism again. I call this the *Alf Garnett syndrome* (From *Till Death Do Us Part* an old sitcom). A writer sets up an obnoxious sexist, racist, bigotted figure in order to send up and ridicule such attitudes but people start admiring the character.

So, out there in the jungle, if bitch is used to describe women, are men dogs?. They are not called dogs except in the old fashioned terms 'gay dog' (not related to sexual preference) or 'old dog' used fondly for sailors. Apparently 'mad dog' is a term of reverence for aggressive men. However, 'wolf' is more common and it applauds predatory behaviour and harassment as in 'wolf whistles'. 'He is a bit of a wolf' is only a mild criticism with a big dollop of admiration. Strangely, dog is used to put women down by combining promiscuous and undesirable in one word. Names of animals are not used to insult men. In fact, men get bolder animals and compliments. How does 'hen' in hen party equate with 'stag'? Stags are wild and free but hens are tame and insignificant. Scary, isn't it?

The same happens with cats. Women are 'catty' while men are likened to lions and tigers or wildcats. Wakefield Wildcats are a rugby league team but there are many other examples of teams named or nicknamed after big cats. Millwall are called lions and play at the Den while Hull city are tigers, for instance. Admittedly, cat is also used for men but it tends to portray athletic or sharp in fitness and in fashion. It is positive. For women, once more, it is lower status and insignificant as in sex kittens. Men who play less well (and are seen as less than men) get called 'pussies' - a word used to name female sexual parts but also whole females. Men actually go out 'looking for pussy'.

Bull is an accolade for men. This is reflected in financial markets where it means success. Bulls are very strong and dangerous. They possess unlimited sexual prowess. Cows? Well they are beautiful creatures but the word offers nothing positive for women. This poem takes an old cliche literally:

*she was a complete cow
tail horns udders in place
nothing missing
black lands on a white sea
or white territories against
a blackened hinterland
huge forgiving eyes
hard to find in humans
watch her winding slowly
down the lea plodding home
warm in her fresian cold
an artist's dream
lucky that she never met
dylan's butcher beynon or
damien hearse*

Bulls become beef. Cows give milk. A former England cricketer was nicknamed 'Beefy' in praise of his bold achievements. You can hardly imagine a heroic woman called 'Milky' can you?

Pig is used in an insulting way for both women and men but sow is far worse and only aimed at women. However, pig is only a generic term really as boar is used, like stag, for the rutting male. Men like being seen as boars (rather than bores). Deer is a common term like pig but neutral in meaning. The specifically male term buck means fit in every sense while the female term doe conveys nothing except passive (doe-eyed for instance). For some reason women whom men fancy can be called foxy (I have no idea why) but foxes are not rated much by men and it would be quite odd to call anyone a vixen. Traditionally foxes in the UK have been treated as vermin -I told you, seeing people as animals is very scary! Is there a bizarre and frightening thread that a sexually attractive woman is foxy -available for sport but disposable?

Sheep are fairly non threatening creatures but ram suggests plenty of macho power while ewe is forgotten except in very corny puns. A male goat is a billy, the female is a nanny and the offspring kids -though most of the world seems to think human offspring are kids. I am no expert in language but is 'billy' derived from 'bully' and from the tendency to butt people? Nanny seems to copy the plaintive whimpering sound of goats but it is well known in southern England as a female grandparent -weird or what? Bullying in the animal world and in sport, and probably in daily life, is often admired more than condemned. It seems to be the driving force of government nowadays. Nannying or whimpering has no credibility.

Male horses are stallions while female are mares. Mare has become short for nightmare. I don't think it is used for women much but nag, a worn out horse, is applied to women though not to men. A man who nags and nannies is more likely to be called an old woman! Young male horses are frisky colts while young females are insignificant fillies. It gets tedious but I hope the point has been made. In reality, female animals are more active and important than decorative males. Demoted by language to that dreadful 'ess' class both female lions and female tigers do the hunting, fighting, home-making, cleaning the toilets etc while the males growl or sleep. Meanwhile, in the insect world, spider-man somehow sounds tougher than spider-woman (and gets better movies) but the male wolf spider, despite his macho name, gets eaten after sex. Maybe there is some mileage in 'vixen' after all -what do you think?

Written by Tom Hulley. I am told that everyone is equal now but I still see women cleaning toilets while men sit in the bookies.