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Sexist Slurs: The Overdue Conversation

I’m not sure if we’re ready for this one. 

I’ve been holding off on this article for this exact reason, but a mumbled insult about one of my female professors last week pushed me over the edge. We cannot keep pretending that many of the curse words we use are not gendered and we cannot keep pretending that the way we use them is okay. 

I scoured the internet for data to support something that just felt like a bad taste in my mouth for the longest time and found few conversations to be had about slurs against women and how normal they are. As we as a generation dive deeper into accountability and basic human respect, we can’t deny how completely normal it feels to say the words. 

B*tch. C*nt. Sl*t. Wh*re. 

However, I did find one study that focused particularly on slurs targeted towards women. This study, entitled ‘Sexist Slurs: Enforcing Feminine Stereotypes Online’ found 2.9 million tweets in just one week using those four keywords stated above. The study focused on how these words enforced feminine stereotypes and therefore, continued a dialogue that forces women to fit into a certain box. To me, the most interesting part of the article was this line: 

“The implicit message, therefore, is that women should align themselves with traditional images of beauty, sweetness, and innocence—that is, there is a correct way to ‘do gender’.”

Additionally (and unsurprisingly), the study found that this could have a negative psychological effect on women because this aggression operates strategically to keep women within bounds of societal constructs. Sentiments using the four words studied often included complimentary insults such as ‘ugly’ and ‘fat’ that serve to insult women for not fitting into a patriarchal beauty standard as well as ‘stupid’ and ‘ignorant’ to attack their behavior, but always have roots in critiquing women.  

Even used casually, slurs like this can be very harmful and we should treat them as such. I can’t count the number of times that myself or one of my female friends has been degraded using one, if not multiple of these words. 

So, here’s what we can do about it. Think about the way that you’re using slurs. Whether you are doing this intentionally or not, this study alone shows that these aren’t just words. They have a gendered nature, and they are used to enforce patriarchal standards for women. They are used to strip women of their femininity and shame them for their expression or behavior. Start holding yourself and your friends accountable for your language.

Abuse of women should not be normal.

Rachel is studying political science, marketing, and public policy at the University of Alabama, pursuing a career in civil rights law and politics. When she's not busy with school and writing, she advocates for survivors of interpersonal violence through work at the Women and Gender Resource Center and her organization, End The Silence. In her free time, she runs, spends time outdoors, and watches bad tv.
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