Blog PostsGender-Neutral Insults: Everyone’s an Asshole!

[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.

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22 Responses to Gender-Neutral Insults: Everyone’s an Asshole!

  1. jenna says:

    I read “assdrip” as an insult somewhere, and I;m working to incorporate that into my insult repertoire.

  2. How about, “Everyone is invited to the party and encouraged to bring beer”? Or “Everyone and their mother knows that you can solve this problem by alternating his and her, and without needing to resort to new words.”

  3. I don’t want to offend turtles, I mean, they are adorable. But they are kinda weak so I use turtle as a replacement for when douchebags would say pussy. I can’t have the spiciest curry today, I’m being such a turtle!

    • Elias says:

      Apparently, they insult people for being weak or cowardly by calling them “cabbage” in Russia and I feel like we should adopt this practice.

  4. Angel says:

    does it really matter? I mean if you are insulting someone there`s no need to be polite, and if so there would be no point to insult someone, its either all or none, to me at least

    • Lady T says:

      Keep in mind that I’m partly tongue-in-cheek with this post. But even then – the point is to insult the person’s actions, or to insult the person without attacking the whole [i]group[/i] the person belongs to. If a person of color acts like an asshole, I’m not going to call that person a racial epithet – the person’s race has nothing to do with hir being an asshole. If a disabled person acts like an asshole, I’m not going to call that person a retard – the person’s disability is not related to the assholish behavior. So I’m trying to extend that to sex and gender as well.

  5. ashly says:

    once i tried to type ‘douchebag’ and my phone thought i was trying to say ‘doughnut’, so we all said that instead for a long time. haha.

  6. Bill says:

    None of the sentences in the second paragraph are grammatically correct if using singular pronouns (i.e. he/she, his/her) because the subject in both sentences is “everyone”. I get your point though, in formal essays where you can’t use personal pronouns like “you, I, me, myself, we, us, our, etc.” you have to use “one”. That gets tricky when you write sentences such as, “If one wishes to bring positive change to the world, ____ should start with ____self.” Usually the tendency is to go with the male pronoun which I guess is sexist. I’m in favour of pronouns that are singular but are still gender neutral for that reason.

  7. Pingback: Dancing with gender anger | The Storyteller Project

  8. Dana says:

    I really like this post, and have thought for some time that we need to become more gender-neutral with our insults. On my view, the ‘gender’ of an insult often has less to do with the literal meaning of the word being used (e.g. body parts), and more to do with the group that it’s conventionally applied to. In the UK, for example, it’s not uncommon to call men a ‘cunt’; and various US subcultures (e.g. hip hop culture), it’s not uncommon to call males a ‘bitch’. As I see it, insults like ‘jerk,’ ‘douchebag,’ and ‘asshole’ are in fact gendered, due to the fact that they have conventionally been almost exclusively applied to males. (Surf the net, and it’s very very rare to see a women called any of these.) Likewise, ‘slut’ or ‘whore’ are gendered, not because they explicitly refer to women (men can be promiscuious or prostitutes too), but due to the meaning that arises through conventional usage. So instead of taking what I take to be male-gendered insults (asshole, jerk, douchebag) and start applying them to women, I’d like to see people use other insults that don’t already carry this kind of gendered baggage and connotations. Unfortunately, I’m pretty hard-pressed to come up with any good examples though. In short, I agree with the problem, but would disagree on the details regarding the best solution.

    • Lady T says:

      In short, I agree with the problem, but would disagree on the details regarding the best solution.

      That seems fair. You raise a good point about how words have different connotations in different cultures.

  9. Youssii says:

    Singular they is plenty grammatically correct (unlike this sentence).

  10. GodlessK says:

    I learned to appreciate “shit-bag” as an insult while I was in the Army. I first heard it in Basic Training back in 1992 and I still use it to this day. My Drill Sergeants liked to throw around “fuck stain” and “oxygen thief,” too. There were plenty more that I heard (and used) quite frequently over the years, like “fuck face,” “shit heel,” “dip-shit,” “shit head,” “dumb fuck,” and so many, many others. It’s not really all that difficult to come up with them if you have even a modicum of imagination.

  11. Travis Andrews says:

    “Asshat” is my second favorite after “douchebag,” but DB feels better to say despite its gendered undertones. I’m thinking of switching to “colostomybag.” Asshole is fine, too.

  12. Gemma says:

    I wash my vagina with water just as I wash my underarms, not out of shame, but to be clean. So when I hear douche being used as an insult, I think “I would Not want that scum sucking, codswallop in or near my vagina…”
    An good list of non-gendered insults.

  13. ‘Cretin’ literally means someone who suffers from Cretinism, an illness that causes mental retardation. Therefore, using it as an insult is degrading of people with Cretinism.

    I prefer ‘retard’, as mental retardation is the medical word for a severe lack of intelligence (below a certain IQ threshold, generally accepted to be around 70 or 80.). A lack of intelligence will never be considered a good thing and it doesn’t refer to a particular disorder. Of course, the mentally retarded (and even the non-medically stupid) do deserve some pity, so I do prefer ‘retarded’ or ‘medically stupid’ (used to great effect recently in The Social Network (2010)).

    I’m guessing ‘douchebag’ is negative probably because of associations these literal ‘douchebag’ have to do with the fluids of the vagina, but since I’m not American and don’t own a vagina, I’m not so sure on this one. Still, it seems to me that it is potentially misogynistic, because it uses the vagina as a thing of revulsion.

  14. I found this article googling for gender-neutral insults and it’s a tricky thing to attempt. How you swear shows your understanding of the nuances and emotional properties of various words and your ability to apply them. It shows your level of emotional and linguistic sophistication. Taking pains to be gender-neutral could result in using the ‘wrong’ insult or one with less emotional appropriateness or poetic beauty, which in turn could result in you seeming dim or socially inept. I think that is a price I am willing to pay.

  15. if this is still active or someone sees this anyway.
    check out Foyles Philavery… very very interesting book on words that are falling out of use:

    Nugatory = of no value/importance (you are so Nugatory!)

    Nudnik = a pestering nagging or irrtating person, a bore

  16. J.R. Miller says:

    ok…it’s like the have a penny/leave a penny concept. I picked up “assdrip” which is a pretty foul insult–which is good to have. I need to go to Urban Dictionary on “codswallop” but that sounds awesome. Ass-hat has been in my repitore for a while. Shit-bag and fuck-stain are lost gems. Thanks for their return. And kudos for turtle. Especially, the context example. I like that. Since I am taking a few, I will leave a few. Fucktard, numbfuck, fuckwad, (and duckweed is the newest created by autocorrect). I also like ass-clown when the kids are in the car–they chuckle when I use it. I hope you find these of some use.

  17. Yes, George Bernard Shaw, Shakespeare, and even the Oxford Dictionaries are promoting grammatically incorrect usage. I really appreciate your impeccable adherence to norms of English grammar. However, like the rest of ignorant, uneducated country folks, I prefer to use “they” in singular. Fun fact: everyone who talks about grammatical accuracy forgets that if they really try to apply all these absurd grammar rules they believe in, they just can’t speak or write anything that makes sense.

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