I’ve done a lot of crazy shit, but no matter what situation I’ve ever been in, I always treated women with respect.
Please… please do the same.
In a polite society, you’re expected to treat men and women differently.
Even leaving aside outmoded schools of thought like chivalry, there’s a tacit understanding of different rules for interacting with different genders.
You can say what you mean in as mean a way as you feel without running into trouble. However, women are more sensitive beings, and according to this logic, you need to be polite and on your best behavior — no curse words, no crass sexual talk and so on.
However, it’s worth highlighting some very valid reasons we should think about what we say to women differently than what we say to men. Namely, that women’s lived experiences mean that there are some things that are much more real, serious and painful to them than they are to men.
Simply put, there are things you can say to guys that don’t register remotely similarly in terms of impact as they will with women. To explore that concept, here are nine things you should never say to a woman, as well as why you should think before you speak.
1. Using Gendered Slurs
Why? There’s no male equivalent to “bitch,” “slut,” “whore” or “c*nt”
As gendered insults exist for both men and women, it’s easy to draw an equivalency. You might think that “bitch” is like “bastard,” “c*nt” is like “asshole,” “whore” is like “piece of sh*t,” and so forth. In a perfect world, those terms might carry equal weight.
However, the world we live in is a world where anti-women slurs like those are often used in conjunction with serious anti-women violence. That’s not to say that everyone who calls a woman a “c*nt” will also engage in acts of physical violence toward her, or even that men who are violent towards women use such language, but simply that the two are paired up often enough to make them extra powerful.
Think about it: Have any of your guy friends ended up in the hospital because his girlfriend beat him up and called him a “bastard” when she did it? Chances are, no. On the other hand, many women know someone who’s been a victim of male abuse — an abuse that often goes hand-in-hand with abusive comments.
When you use anti-women slurs, you’re signaling your own potential dangerousness. Don’t make women live in fear. If you’re angry and want to call them names, use non-gender specific insults, or better yet, calm down and talk it out like an adult.
2. Threatening Her With Violence
Why? Many women already live in fear of male violence
Male violence against women is a widespread and deeply damaging phenomenon.
Even if you never lay a hand on a single woman, threatening to do so puts you on the side of those who do harm, rather than those who don’t. As well, threats are particularly terrifying if you or someone close to you has actually experienced real violence.
Physical threats might come off as joking, non-serious or otherwise par for the course between you and other men, but it’s a very different situation when you’re using threats of physical violence against women, who typically cannot defend themselves in a one-on-one confrontation.
Even a semi-threat like, “If you were a man, I’d punch you right now,” comes across as deeply terrifying. Don’t do that.
3. Implying She’s Not as Smart as a Man
Why? Women have had their intelligence questioned for centuries
For a lot of recorded history, men have taken the lead on thinking. That’s why our school textbooks are full of male scientists, male inventors, male philosophers, and so forth.
However, to use this evidence to conjecture that women aren’t as smart as men is to commit a serious error. For much of human history, women were expressly forbidden from pursuing the same studies their male counterparts were encouraged to pursue.
As a result, any discoveries or advancements made by women were done against the intentions of the men around them. They did not receive financial support, they did not receive emotional support and they did not receive logistical support. Had the roles been reversed, it would be men who would be absent from our textbooks, not women.
If you imply to a woman that women aren’t as smart as men, you’re participating in this long history of injustice, and revealing yourself as a pretty shallow thinker, too.
4. Engaging in Slut Shaming
Why? Women should be allowed to be as sexual as men
A man who sleeps with a lot of partners is a playboy, a stud or a Casanova. You probably don’t need to be told that a woman who sleeps with a lot of partners is not described using such positive language.
People even come up with justifications for the double standard, like, “A key that can unlock many locks is a good key, but a lock that can be opened by many keys is not a good lock” — ignoring the fact that human genitalia and anti-theft devices exist for completely different reasons with nothing in common.
A particularly dark aspect of the way we shame women for their sexual desire is something known as “victim blaming” — when we imply that a woman who is raped, assaulted or harassed is to blame for her own misfortune, rather than the person who did it to her.
The implication being, if she had been more modest (i.e. “OK, but when you’re dressed like that, what are you expecting?”), she wouldn’t have been in that situation. If your buddy went on a date and ended up being raped, you wouldn’t tell him it was his fault for being alone with a stranger drinking alcohol late at night, would you? Don’t do it to a woman.
5. Implying She Owes Her Success to Her Gender
Why? Women deal with more gender-based hurdles than men
The thinking goes that because women are sexually desirable to men, they can get things more easily — free drinks, entrance into events, promotions at work, gifts, and so on.
While there is a degree of truth to this — men sometimes do give women they’re attracted to special privileges they wouldn’t accord other men — this is not a uniquely positive dynamic. Often, these freebies come with a subtle (or not so subtle) expectation of romantic or sexual favors in return, and broadly speaking, they exist within a culture where too many men see women as potential conquests, not fellow human beings.
Ask a woman if she would trade the ability to get free drinks at a bar here and there for the promise that she wouldn’t ever be stalked on her way home, and most would give a resounding, “Yes!”
Women may have a few small things easier than men, but broadly speaking, their lives are more difficult, and to imply otherwise is both ignorant and cruel.
6. Telling Her She’s Ugly or Fat
Why? Women face immense looks-based pressure
The trope that women are looks-obsessed is not entirely without merit. However, it’s due to them being conditioned to understand that their looks are the most important quality they have by a society that prizes female beauty above any other trait.
As a result, almost all women are hyper-conscious of looks, not unlike the way almost all men are highly conscious of notions of toughness and strength.
Telling a woman that she is ugly or fat is a direct attack on one of the most vulnerable parts of her psyche. In a world where the models for beauty are endlessly made-up and photoshopped, even the most naturally beautiful women in the world cannot compete with men’s expectations of that beauty.
There is no winning this game. Don’t add to the frustration of that by complaining that she doesn’t live up to your standards, too, or subtly suggesting she “wear some makeup” or “work out more.” It’s not necessary.
7. Shaming Her About Menstruation
Why? It’s a natural part of life for almost every woman
From around the age of 12, young girls begin menstruating, typically continuing to do so once a month for the bulk of their adult lives.
Societal messaging pushes that menstrual fluid is disgusting, and that women should be ashamed of it despite the fact that it’s natural, normal and essentially universal.
If guys had periods of wet dreams that lasted one week out of every month, it would be both awkward and deeply embarrassing for most of them, for starters. Consider offering women the same respect you’d like to receive in that kind of situation, rather than saying something like “Gross, are you on your period?”
As well, it’s worth considering that this is a feature of the human body intrinsically tied to the capacity for reproduction. Meaning, if your mother, her mother, her mother and so forth hadn’t had their periods, you would not exist. Have some respect, and be polite about menstruation.
8. Telling Her She’s Crazy
Why? Many men weaponize the concept of craziness to cast normal behavior as wrong
It’s tempting to call someone whose behavior we don’t understand “crazy.” If you get in an argument with said person, you’re absolved of any responsibility. You don’t have to win the argument, you don’t have to behave rationally, you don’t have to treat them with respect — they’re just crazy.
However, it’s an unfortunate truth that men weaponize the idea of craziness in a way that often targets women, particularly for the fact that women and men approach emotional matters very differently.
“She’s just crazy,” or “You’re behaving crazy right now, you know that?” are just particularly cruel ways of saying, “I don’t understand this reaction.” That said, just because you don’t understand someone’s emotional reaction doesn’t mean it’s not valid.
Quit telling women they’re crazy and start putting yourself in their shoes — what you learn might surprise you.
9. Belittling Her Concerns About Abuse
Why? We need to take women opening up about their trauma seriously
Recent years have seen a significant change in the way society sees sexual assault. Once-venerated men have been toppled from positions of power. It’s become normal for people who’ve been abused to open up about it.
That’s just the beginning of working towards a future where sexual abuse isn’t rampant, but it’s a start. As a man, it’s not hard to be an ally to women around these issues, but it’s also all too easy to come across as a supporter of abusers when the subject comes up.
If you say things like “Don’t go all #MeToo on me,” you’re making light of an incredibly serious subject. Rape and assault are deeply traumatic events that can mark the rest of a person’s life. Treat them with the seriousness that they deserve.
Victims of abuse deserve support, no matter what their gender is. Committing to treating these crimes like crimes and not like a frivolous annoyance that’s become common outs you as someone who’d rather maintain the status quo than live in a more just world.
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