After I wrote my take-down of the word “bitch”, I started wondering about other explicitly gendered insults. More to the point, are there any primarily masculine-gendered insults that function in any way resembling the true horror of “bitch”?
And I started thinking about the word “prick”. This is an insult that is pretty exclusively applied to men. And I wondered: does the application of this insult mirror the use of “bitch” as a way of tearing down women.
To reiterate: the thing about calling a woman a bitch (in the sense of “overly-aggressive”) is that you’re actually accusing her of some sort of magical form of over-aggression that apparently only women are capable of (as indicated by the fact that overly-aggressive men do not get called “bitches”). And this is a patently false, and extremely sexist/gender-policing way of looking at overly aggressive women. It’s disingenuous, and unfair.
So, is the use of the word “prick” similarly unfair? Does it reify some culturally assumed male-only character flaw that is actually just a more general, genderless flaw that we already have a gender-neutral word for? What does prick mean, anyway? And when do we choose to use it rather than some other, less gendered insult?
My instinct is actually that there may be some room in discourse for explicitly gendered insults against males (hear me out, people!) – something related to taking male privilege for granted or abusing the power that it gives men, for instance. This is a thing that men sometimes do that women definitely never do, because they don’t have that privilege. An example might be a dude pointing out that women shouldn’t complain about being objectified, ’cause he’d totally love to be objectified, donchaknow! (If you’re a dude who seriously thinks this, um, here)
But, then, unacknowledged privilege is not solely a male failing – and I don’t think that a failure to check one’s male privilege is substantially different from the failure to check white privilege, or ability privilege, or size privilege, or whatever else. And anyway, we do already have insults for people who fail radically in these ways; they’re sexist, or racist, or otherwise bigoted. So then, there’s a good chance that “prick” is problematic in ways that are similar to (some of) the ways the “bitch” is terrible. Let’s judge it on its own merits, then.
I think that perhaps the most literal interpretation is that calling a man a “prick” reduces him to nothing but a penis. So I guess it means that he’s thinking/acting in accordance with his penis alone? This is a really common way in which men are demonized – it relates to slavering beast theory, in which rape is just a force of nature that overtakes some men sometimes. It ignores men’s actual autonomy, their ability to think critically and to understand their actions. And it’s pretty not ok.
Like with bitch, when we call someone a prick, the actions that we mean to criticize may legitimately deserve calling out, but if we take this meaning of prick, it’s definitely not an appropriate method of making the call-out. It’s actively destructive to the conversation, because it basically says that the dude isn’t worth listening to anyway – and it also has the even worse implication that he’s ultimately not even responsible for his actions in the first place. He couldn’t help it!
Once again, there is absolutely nothing good about any of this. It’s unfair to men, while at the same time excusing them of responsibility for the shitty things they do. That’s an impressive superpower, but definitely not one I want to support.
So yeah, just call dudes that are behaving badly assholes – it’s a body part everyone has, and it’s not one that ever gets accused on controlling people’s actions.
Say it with me: why use a sexist term when “asshole” will do?