Monday, July 30, 2007

Just because...

First of all, I've got about 4 shots of vodka in me, so, while I'm not exactly smashed, I'm also not totally lucid.

Earlier today I saw a bumper sticker that said "Just because you have one doesn't mean you have to act like one."

Now it seems pretty obvious, particularly since this is a bumper sticker I'm talking about, that they meant "dick." What struck me as interesting is that "pussy" would, semantically, work just as well (though obviously the meaning would be different). Thus two quite common colloquialisms, both derogatory, mirror the social gender divide; dicks are aggressive, attention-getting and insensitive, while pussies are submissive, passive, and weak.

Now I stopped calling people pussies years ago, for the obvious reason that I object to the rehearsal of the construction of feminine passivity. Pussies are not inherently passive or submissive, and equating the female sex organs with weakness is as misogynist as calling a woman a bitch just because she didn't let you have your way (you spoiled frat boy, you).

But the dual meaning presented by the bumper sticker made me reconsider my position on calling people dicks. I call people dicks all the time (but not to their face, cuz I'm a pussy [joking!]). My rationalization of this was this:

1) calling someone a pussy reinscribes the woman as passive and myself as dominant. Because most often the object of ridicule--that which is being called a pussy--is male, the implication is that the person in question has failed to adequately perform his gender role. Now, I'm not so post-modern as to presume that passivity or weakness are always valid choices, so when I felt someone was being unethically weak, I had to find alternative terminology (wuss seems to work. I used pansy for a bit, but that's clearly homophobic).

2) Dick, like pussy, is an appellation most commonly reserved for males. In this case, the man is being too male. Either his cockyness has impinged upon another man, requiring a retaliatory re-assertion of masculinity, or it has imposed itself upon a woman, who, like a strategic bit of territory, must be defended against such an unseemly advance. Now here, of course, I'm being critical of common usage, but it seems to me that "dick" can be redeployed in the service of critiquing this proprietary gender model. So when I call you a dick, I'm saying "dude, quit acting the part of the patriarch."

But is that true? Or am I embedding myself (like I work for CNN) in the conflict and, as a result, only acting out the normalized role? Does "dick" necessarily re-cite essentialist models of gender difference, or can it serve as a critique of essentialism?

EDIT: It was pointed out to me that the bumper sticker was probably talking about "assholes." I think it says a few things about me that that never occured to me.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Wuss is just as bad. It either comes from pussy-wussy (referring to a feeble man and homosexuals) or it was a combination of pussy and wimp.

Wimp is much better and probably comes from the word whimper.