I bet you’ve heard this phrase at least once in your life being said to a boy when he fails to do something or does something out of the norm. I was pretty intrigued to find out what was so insulting about being feminine that appearing as so has become a frequently used insult in our discourse. The phrase is often used when a boy doesn’t live up to the social perception of masculinity and is suggestive of cowardliness and fragility. I wanted to examine the larger social implications of this ‘harmless joke’ in different perspectives and discuss why we as a society should not degrade someone at the expense of another, or perhaps, not degrade anyone at all!
In the spirit of analysing the phrase in the perspective of the ‘butt of the joke’, as the woman, I used to feel belittled and weak every time femininity was associated with weakness and fragility. Furthermore, I assume commonplace insults like these play a pivotal role in normalising the gender stereotypes in our society by associating admirable qualities such as strength and braveness with masculinity and lessening the woman to the shy, scared and subservient position. While there is nothing wrong about depending on another, it is often thoughts like these that fuel a girl’s inferiority complex growing up, as she is constantly made to feel as if she is not strong enough to stand by herself. However, being the object of the insult, I assume the damage done to the feminine identity is impliedly understood, what is more interesting is to examine the implications it may have on the boy who is insulted.
After a few awkward ‘interviews’, I’ve found several answers to the question of what the boy feels when being told that his behaviour echoes femininity. Given that boys are often exposed to these phrases from a very early age, it is no doubt that they significantly shape the behavioural patterns of the child, which he then carries onto adulthood. When his ‘weakness’ is received with repulse, being a child, he would go to any length to prove otherwise. As these phrases are often used when a boy is scared or doubtful of something or is expressive of something that is not conventionally masculine, it would actively dissuade them from ever appearing scared or doubtful of something. It also discourages them from expressing any emotion or conduct that deviate from the typical masculine identity. The issue with this is that while women have the space to be weak and the ‘privilege’ of reassurance, the boy is expected to stand strong despite the ups and downs of his life, thereby upholding the ‘powerful’ masculine identity. It is quite clear that sexist insults like these, cause much harm to the society at large while leading to no positive development.
Often, when I oppose the use of this particular phrase, I’m told ‘it’s not that deep’ or that ‘I need to chill a little and be normal for once’ and it’s pretty interesting the extent to which we have normalised this kind of behaviour that bringing it back to balance is perceived to be an overreaction. But as change happens with the tiny steps we take towards it, I think society would function much healthier when we are all treated equally thereby giving all of us an equal chance to be scared, doubtful, strong and brave without any judgement or label. The absurd practice gendering emotions or behaviour and posing judgement thereof has been key in causing significant mental health issues and in normalising misogyny in society. Through adopting simple practices such as discouraging the use of misogynistic discourse and accepting people as they are, not only do we tackle the issue of the socially created toxic masculine identity and the submissive female, but we would also be one step closer to true equality!
Rtr. Sajani Jayasinghe
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