Pussy

Today I got the tip on Twitter about a slide deck with information on how to create interesting presentations. Sounded like something I wanted to know more about, but when I went to the page and saw the first slide, I lost my interest.

What was the problem?

In the first slide (well, technically the third, as an overlay on the first background) it has the text:

Use type confidently – don’t be a pussy

Reading the word “pussy” made me feel like it wasn’t worth seeing the rest.

Before I go on, let me strongly emphasize that I don’t know the creator of the slide deck, Andy Whitlock; I don’t have a problem with him or his work, and I’m certain he has good experience, and most likely didn’t mean anything bad with it.

This blog post is not about Andy.

What it is about is the general behavior that’s ingrained in our society, with how we are using words and how they are loaded with mixed feelings for different people.

I could just shrug and move on. I’ve done that many times. But I’ve gotten tired of shrugging about things that I actually think matter. About words that regularly gets used, and often to push down other people and exercise control over them.

The word “pussy” is for many people quite a harmless word, and if he had said “cunt” or something else it would have been stronger/more clear that it was inapropriate.

So why am I so fucking sensitive about it?

Why I feel that way

In many places and context, gender words are used to convey a certain meaning. Somewhere along the line they got characteristics, that a certain gender got connected to a certain personality and behavior. I see it all over.

If we take the above meaning as an example – “Don’t be a pussy” – it implies that you are a coward, weak, not brave enough to do that.

And everyone knows that. And that’s the gist of the problem. Being a pussy is equal to being weak, and as an extension of that, it’s based on the notion that women are weak.

If it had said: “Don’t be a dick” it would’ve been really weird in that context, right? Wouldn’t really make sense. Because a “dick” isn’t weak. A dick is rather rude instead (naturally implying that all men are that).

What gets to me here is that it’s so completely unnecessary to use gender words to apply characteristics to a certain behavior. Just describe it instead.

The “explanation”

Usually when you tell people that maybe you shouldn’t say “pussy” you get a reply like:

It’s ok. I actually have female friends, and they weren’t offended. So I’m allowed to do this.

Which of course becomes as ridiculous as:

I’m not a racist, I can say/burn whatever I want, since I have a black friend.

or

I can call anyone a cock if I want, since I have one attached to my body

or

I sometimes watch Ricky Gervais, so I know edgy humor

(Note: None of the above were reactions from Andy. Forget Andy, this is about a bigger phenomenon.)

Somewhere along the line, the excuses people use to vouch for how they express themselves are both hilarious and a bit sad.

Comic effect

Presentations, humor, shows and more are a lot about comic effect. You want to be a bit edgy, balance on the border on what’s inappropriate. Get attention.

That’s fine! I’ve said many bad things, both on stage and in my personal life. Most things I can stand up for, some things I’m not that proud of. I try to avoid regretting things, because I know my reasoning when I did it, but I’ve learned along the line and I try to become a better person.

But I think it boils down to two things:

  • It should never truly offend someone
  • It shouldn’t connect a gender to a certain behavior

I’m fine with most profanity, nasty jokes and such. If someone gets upset and uses “cunt” or “cock” when they’re mad at something, it’s much easier to understand.

It’s also about context. What you say in private or what you say in a professional environment shouldn’t necessarily be the same. Because even if you and your friends are ok with it, even if you don’t find it offensive, even if you understand the joke, there’s an entire world out there.

And if you want to share your work and knowledge with them, if you want to be a role model, if you want people to be able to use your material, you need to take that into account.

The Cerebral Palsy approach

When I grew up, the most common word used between kids to be mean was saying that someone else was/had CP (implying Cerebral Palsy). As you might know, it is about “motor conditions that cause physical disability in human development, chiefly in the various areas of body movement.”

Basically, it was like calling someone retarded. And people in my age group still use this quite a lot, just to say that something is off/bad/whack.

Not because it really means that, or that there’s any connection, but that’s just what they learned when they were small.

Don’t mind that it’s insensitive, just use it because that’s what you always did.

What I want

It’s really easy. I just wish people would stop lazily using words out of old habit that, while fine to them, could be a word quite charged for another person/gender.

Don’t be afraid of comic effect, on being on the edge and pushing the boundaries. But don’t use words that it’s pretty obvious will leave some people feeling alienated, offended or left out.

Let our world move on, and be a place for children, where “pussy” doesn’t mean “weak” (but rather a cat), “dick” doesn’t mean being “insensitive” and where we don’t call chocolate balls “nigger balls” (yes, true story).

Just spend that extra second to think about the possible effect of the words you choose.

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