Midweek Musings: Eliminate Emasculation

In a 2013 TED Talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie expressed her frustration with the word “emasculate,” saying there was no other word in the English language she so disliked. The word is unique and describes a specific kind of shame and humiliation that men feel when their “manliness” is taken away. “Emasculate” is harsh — it's a figurative castration for which there is no female equivalent.

Men are continually told that the worst thing they can be is womanish or feminine because to be like a woman is the ultimate weakness. A constructed concept of ideal masculinity is so essential to a man’s sense of self that when a woman acts out of her assigned role — takes a man’s “masculinity” — she is castrating him, crushing his sense of gendered identity. Fragile masculinity has been so prevalent for so long that it became necessary to create a word describing stolen manliness.

The dictionary defines an “emasculate” man as “deprived of or lack strength of vigor; effeminate.” In our uncomfortably sexist society, femininity is the opposite of strength. Notice how there exists no female equivalent of this word; there is no single word that means to weaken someone by depriving them of their femininity because one who is feminine has no strength to lose.

Like Chimamanda Adichie, I harbor a profound dislike for this regressive word. English is a beautiful and intricate language with many powerful words. “Emasculate” is not one of them. To say a man has been “emasculated” is no different than calling him a “pu**y. Men are not weak because they act “like women.” That logic operates on the sole principle that men are superior to women. Generalizing gender in saying that men and women have different unifying traits perpetuates the idea that people are controlled by the gender roles society constructed. People aren’t born with certain personality traits because of their sex or gender; those ideas are given to them. Equating femininity with an unwanted weakness while idealizing toxic masculinity only reaffirms a strict gender binary that shames people into harmful speech and action.

In recognizing that the gender binary and its expected gender roles are exclusionary and sexist, it follows that words that reinforce these tired ideas are just the same. “Emasculate” is an antique of a time we are currently passing. Men do not need to be violent, aggressive, sex-obsessed breadwinners to be considered men. Forcing emotion, compassion and vulnerability into the box of “feminine,” and then deeming those traits and that gender weak and inferior, is a primary function of sexism. Feminists constantly battle gender roles and constrictive ideas that words like “emasculate” exemplify. We are all smart and progressive enough to know that women are incredibly strong in so many ways, and to ignore that is not only sexist but a true disservice to women everywhere. Men are not the animalistic “alpha males” — again, another terrible phrase — that they are often painted to be, and emotions and personality traits do not belong to specific genders. Stop telling men they’re being effeminate whenever they dare show emotion or wash a dish. Stop using “feminine” like a dirty word. Stop equating weakness with femininity. Stop feeding us the lie that says femininity is anything but powerful.


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