[Warning: Naughty language ahead]
In perusing some of my favorite blogs and some of my friends’ Facebook pages, I have noticed an interesting trend. Many writers, conscious of sexist language, are now using invented gender-neutral pronouns. “Hir” is now used in place of “his/her,” and “zie” is now used in place of “he/she.” This is intended to show sensitivity for people who are transgendered as well as people of either gender.
I like this. It cleverly solves the problem of writing a sentence such as, “Everyone is invited to the party and ____ is encouraged to bring beer,” or “Everyone and ___ mother knows that Darren Criss is the dreamiest actor on TV.” No other word satisfies me. “His” is sexist, “his/her” is awkward, “their” is grammatically incorrect, and “one” is pretentious. I salute and encourage the use of “hir” and “zie” as replacements. I wouldn’t use them in work documents, of course – we’re not there yet – but when blogging, or writing friendly emails or Evites, why not?
Then I started thinking about gender-neutral insults.
Many words we use when talking about people we despise are gendered. Men are “dicks” and “pricks.” Women are “bitches” and “cunts.” Men are also called “pussies” and “wusses” if they act too feminine. To paraphrase Jessica Valenti (mostly from memory and I’m sure I don’t have the exact wording right), “The worst thing you can call a woman is a cunt. The worst thing you can call a man is a pussy. Basically, the worst thing you can call anyone is ‘female.'”
As a feminist, this bothers me. Clearly, there have to be gender-neutral or socially conscious insults available to use when dealing with the jackassery of day-to-day living.
My solution? Everyone’s an asshole.
Usually, the word asshole is reserved for men that are annoying jerks. I call foul on this. Women have assholes as well. If men can be assholes, so can women. If you have two bosses, one male and one female, and they’re equally disagreeable people, don’t call the male boss a “dick” and a female boss a “bitch.” They’re both assholes, because they both have them.
Jerk is also an acceptable word to use for men, women, and disagreeable people who are transgendered. Bill Haverchuck on Freaks and Geeks called Vicki Appleby a jerk when she was condescending to him. It was well-deserved, and she apologized for her less-than-nice behavior. If he had called her a “bitch,” I doubt she would’ve apologized. Calling someone out on hir (see what I did there?) nasty attitude is acceptable enough – why bring gender into it if you don’t have to?
Other acceptable, gender-neutral, and/or socially conscious insults:
Fuckwit (n). Definition: a person who shows lack of intelligence and common sense. Used in place of the offensive term “retard.” Other forms: fuckwittery
Douchebag (n). I like UrbanDictionary’s take (the second definition). Note: a deceptively feminist insult, as douching was an anti-woman practice designed to make women feel ashamed of their bodily odors. Calling someone a douchebag or douche is socially responsible because you are tacitly condemning a sexist practice. Go you!
And let’s not forget older classics: cretin, sleaze, dirtbag, and the like.
Of course, none of those insults roll off the tongue in quite the same way as “cunt.” I know. I understand. Deal with it.
Better yet, take a page from the book of the folks behind “hir” and “zie”: make up your own word! Try it! It’s fun! Bonus points to anyone who makes up a new insult and leaves one in the comments.