Calling somebody a "dick" as an insult. Problematic?

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Post by The Wisp on Sat Dec 20, 2014 5:19 pm

I was thinking about this recently. Feminists often are very angry that calling a woman a "cunt" is one of the worst insults you can throw at her, i.e. referring to her as a vagina being insulting is extremely problematic because it reinforces sex-negativity and shame about being a woman. Furthermore, it's a gendered insult, which is itself bad.

Then I realized, "dick" is actually the male equivalent. Now, at least in the US, calling somebody a "dick" is not nearly as insulting as calling them a "cunt", so there is a difference of degree. But in terms kind, they're the same. Both are largely gendered insults (when was the last tie you heard a woman called a "dick"?) and both refer negatively to genitals and thus reinforce sex-negativity. Furthermore, I think "dick" being an insult contributes to rape culture, casting the penis (and male sexuality) as inherently mean, crude, and insensitive. Yet, "dick" is a pretty standard insult, even among very gender-aware people. Should it be?
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Post by eselle28 on Sat Dec 20, 2014 5:39 pm

No, it shouldn't. Neither should prick or pussy or anything of that nature.

Asshole is a good word. Everyone has an asshole. I'll occasionally use douchebag, which is gendered but not sex negative, as douchebags themselves are sex negative objects.
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Post by BasedBuzzed on Sat Dec 20, 2014 5:49 pm

Scrubbing your vocabulary of oppressive language is a noble effort, but men are generally a bit higher up in the power hierarchy, so perhaps casual ableism is a bigger priority, as many of the underprivileged white men are so because of disability: http://www.autistichoya.com/p/ableist-words-and-terms-to-avoid.html

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Post by Enail on Sat Dec 20, 2014 6:26 pm

It's funny you should bring this up, I was just thinking about the phrase "bag of dicks" and wondering if "bag of cunts" would read the same to me, and I couldn't decide.

I tend to consider 'dick' less problematic an insult than 'cunt' both because of the power differential and because the level of hostility/aggression associated with the use of 'dick' tends to be considerably lower (in North America, at least - in the UK, they're on somewhat more even footing).*

That doesn't mean it isn't problematic or that it should generally be used by gender-aware people.  Beyond slurs that may have a threatening connotation to the people it describes or ones that are pretty strongly backed up by societal prejudice, I don't feel  terribly strongly about language politics, but I do avoid the insult and prefer that others do so too.

I'm with Eselle that both asshole and douchebag are the best generally all-purpose alternatives. I'm fond of some of the more creative insults people come up with, but they always feel a little too lighthearted to my taste.


*On my personal Validity of Insults Meter, 'dick' is also more acceptable b/c I think it has taken on more specific, descriptive meaning, rather than just being generally "male, and that's bad." It's gendered, but it has meaning beyond the gender. I put "bitch" in the same category.  But my personal Validity of Insults Meter is not a generally recognized system of measurement. Wink
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Post by Guest on Sat Dec 20, 2014 8:12 pm

I wonder if 'dick' is seen as less sexist than 'cunt' simply because it's seen as 'punching up'? (Er, what Enail said...)

I also wonder if people in general prefer the aesthetic quality of any word a bit more than the negative connotations the words themselves may carry? Eg. why is it that we are more likely to hear 'bitch' and 'dick' than 'cunt'? Is it because the former two are easier to say/pronounce? Or am I just over-simplifying?

Personally, I've never had too many reservations about using 'dick' as a casual insult (I never have, but I would use it on women too). I would place 'cunt' on a more obnoxious level on par with 'slut', 'hoe' and 'whore'.

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Post by Caffeinated on Sat Dec 20, 2014 9:04 pm

This is an interesting thread. I hadn't really ever considered dick as a gendered or sex-negative insult before, but looking at it in the context of other gendered or sex-negative insults, I can't say that there's much difference to point to, other than the general feeling of it being a mainstream kind of insult. A lot to think about.
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Post by Guest on Sat Dec 20, 2014 10:47 pm

Dick is another name for Richard, which is why *I* don't hold it as being much a sexist insult towards men. Now if you say "dickhead" or "swingin' dick" then I could say those are far more insulting.

"Dickhead" because you're only referring to the tip, you're not man enough to be an entire penis. Whereas "swinging dick" refer to someone as a nobody, "any swingin' dick will do", almost like your expendable.

At least that's how I've rationalized it. Otherwise, I've always called dudes "fucker", "fuckhead", "asshole", "motherfucker", "dickhead" and bunch of others I can't remember off the top of my head.

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Post by Autumnflame on Sun Dec 21, 2014 12:14 am

I don't know that I consider it as big a problem as "cunt" or "pussy," but yeah, for reasons similar to what's been said, I don't like using it myself. Douche (/bag/nozzle/weasel/whatever), asshole, etc. all convey the same idea without carrying the same connotations. That said, I've been known to use "gigantic prick" for people who aren't really terrible, but are kind of annoying and obtrusive and you only want to handle them in small doses, if at all, without thinking about it. Probably time to retire.


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Post by reboot on Sun Dec 21, 2014 2:03 am

I tend to go scatological rather than anatomical: shithead, shit for brains, etc. Asshole and douche in its many variations often serves. Dick, oddly enough, is a stand in when I want to say fucker but am in polite company. Cunt or twat, in the same situation, would be considered vulgar....not sure why since it is an equivalent body part.

Bag of dicks is a no go for me because it reminds me of an unpleasant piece of evidence found in a Congolese village back in the day.
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Post by tseug1 on Sun Dec 21, 2014 8:10 am

douche is a tricky one because a lot of people assume you mean vaginal douche.

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Post by Guest on Sun Dec 21, 2014 8:25 am

tseug1 wrote:douche is a tricky one because a lot of people assume you mean vaginal douche.

Really? I've always taken it to mean an unpleasant person. Kind of like how 'faggot' (depending on the user) isn't necessarily used as a homophobic slur. It all depends on context, of course.

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Post by UristMcBunny on Sun Dec 21, 2014 8:54 am

Outside of 4chan NO ONE thinks of faggot as being "not a homophobic slur". And I live in a country where the same word also refers to a traditional meatball served in gravy.

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Post by Enail on Sun Dec 21, 2014 1:10 pm

Yep, faggot is absolutely, 100% a homophobic slur - just because some people/some specific environments use it so much that it no longer connotes gayness to them doesn't make it not a slur.

(Unless you mean that gay people use it to self-describe, making it a reclaimed slur. But that's a bit different)
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Post by nearly_takuan on Sun Dec 21, 2014 3:41 pm

Always wondered if using "fuck" as a vulgarity was a sex-negative and/or rape-referencing thing. Ditto "screwed". A lot of related phrases certainly don't sound very consensual.
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Post by Robjection on Sun Dec 21, 2014 5:06 pm

It looks like we're talking about various vulgar words used as insults? If that's the case then the one I really cannot get behind is "son of a bitch". I have my own hangups about the gendered-ness of "bitch" already and this phrase is not helping, but as well as that, I thought you were trying to insult the person you're talking to? Technically someone who is a "son of a bitch" could actually be a pretty cool guy; we only know that one of his parents is a "bitch".

EDIT: Come to think of it, this phrase isn't usually said in the vicinity of the parents of the intended insultee, so ... you're trying to insult one person and instead you're insulting another person who isn't even there.
Calling somebody a "dick" as an insult. Problematic? Tumblr_lkh26ovh9i1qfy7a6

I also don't get the appeal of "yo momma" jokes for pretty much the same reason.

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Post by Guest on Sun Dec 21, 2014 7:59 pm

UristMcBunny wrote:Outside of 4chan NO ONE thinks of faggot as being "not a homophobic slur".  And I live in a country where the same word also refers to a traditional meatball served in gravy.

Enail wrote:Yep, faggot is absolutely, 100% a homophobic slur - just because some people/some specific environments use it so much that it no longer connotes gayness to them doesn't make it not a slur.

(Unless you mean that gay people use it to self-describe, making it a reclaimed slur. But that's a bit different)

No, what I meant to say was that people can absolutely missappropriate this particular word, if they're being ignorant and lacking in sensitivity towards the history behind 'faggot'.

Because I'm sure I've used it some years back as a means to express contempt for someone (sexuality didn't even come into it) and it might as well have been interchangeable with 'douche'. I wasn't privy to the severity of the word and it's origin until after I left that culture.

I've also seen 'faggot' used to convey contempt towards pretentious people.

Just to be clear, I wasn't advocating that 'faggot' shouldn't be treated as the slur it is. It just seems like there's a tendency for some people to take liberties with adding meanings to a word that already has negative connotations (to dilute it somehow), or missappropriate words altogether.

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Post by tseug1 on Sun Dec 21, 2014 10:39 pm

"faggot" is used to insult pretentious people because one stereotype of gay men is to have rarified or refined tastes and behavior. It is absolutely a homophobic slur in that context because there is a deliberate attempt to make a man feel bad for doing something gay men do, and to make gay men feel bad for being 'abnormal' or doing 'being-a-man' wrong.

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Post by Guest on Sun Dec 21, 2014 11:14 pm

I see. So for eg. Louis C.K. is still using the word distastefully even in the context presented in the video below from 16:47 - 17:43?


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Post by Enail on Sun Dec 21, 2014 11:15 pm

I do think Hermit's right that it's used so widely by some people that they use it as an all-purpose negative, rather than specifically connecting whatever they're insulting to a stereotype of gay men, though. A veritable rainbow of ways to use a slur! Neutral
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Post by Guest on Mon Dec 22, 2014 1:36 am

UristMcBunny wrote:Outside of 4chan NO ONE thinks of faggot as being "not a homophobic slur".  And I live in a country where the same word also refers to a traditional meatball served in gravy.

If I recall, the shorthand, 'fag', is also used to refer to cigarettes in the UK, correct?

Enail wrote:I do think Hermit's right that it's used so widely by some people that they use it as an all-purpose negative, rather than specifically connecting whatever they're insulting to a stereotype of gay men, though. A veritable rainbow of ways to use a slur! Neutral

Basically this; Hell, even South Park has a whole episode dedicated to the word "fag/faggot".

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Post by Guest on Mon Dec 22, 2014 1:46 am

The Mikey wrote:
If I recall, the shorthand, 'fag', is also used to refer to cigarettes in the UK, correct?

Yeah, but when you use 'fag' on a person you're not calling them a cigarette, are you?


Basically this; Hell, even South Park has a whole episode dedicated to the word "fag/faggot".

I don't watch South Park, but from some of the discussions I've read regarding the show, the handling of the word and it's connotations was apparently done poorly.

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Post by Guest on Mon Dec 22, 2014 1:55 am

HermitTheToad wrote:
I don't watch South Park, but from some of the discussions I've read regarding the show, the handling of the word and it's connotations was apparently done poorly.

Maybe I'm not the best judge of that, but all I know is that the way they interpreted it in that specific episode was that "faggot" was synonymous with "asshole" and/or used in reference to someone who was annoying, not necessarily someone who's gay.

You can read about it right here.


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Post by The Wisp on Mon Dec 22, 2014 3:54 am

I'm a pretty big South Park fan, but I don't think that was one of their finer moments. I definitely got the point of the episode, but it should have been made with more nuance. Also, it was really annoying that the message of the episode contradicts the message at the end of the episode (from 3-4 seasons prior IIRC) on the N-word (where they said non-black people shouldn't ever use the N-word ever because they can never truly "get it").

Personally, on the word "fag", I do think a lot of people use it as a generic insult. When I first heard (well, actually, read) the word "faggot", I was playing online games when I was like 10 years old, and I didn't know it had anything to do with gays. I thought it was the equivalent of calling somebody a jerk. It didn't take long for an adult to side-eye me when they overheard me using it, which caused me to ask my parents about it and I found out what it really meant (and subsequently never used it again).

I could see how it might have completely lost it's connotation of homosexuality among certain young people (i.e. mid-teenagers with no sense of the broader world), though maybe I'm being naive. Still doesn't make it acceptable to use it as an insult, though.
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Post by helbling on Mon Dec 22, 2014 12:24 pm

Edit: redacted, as I think I misunderstood the basis of the original question! :-)

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Post by OneTrueGuest on Mon Dec 22, 2014 1:12 pm

A lot of insults may have seem to have lost their original meaning and just mean something negative. A lot of people use them not even thinking of the specific person they are actually insulting. It still doesn't make them right. Calling someone retarded doesn't mean you actually think that person is mentally challenged, it means you think they did something dumb or annoying or whatever. Saying gypped means you were taken advantage of in some way, not that the person was Romani. Saying faggot means you are putting someone down in some way. Not that the person is homosexual.

BUT. If you really ask yourself WHY they are insults, you still see the original meanings in there. "Retarded" because someone did something dumb? Well there are certain forms of mental handicaps where people have a lower IQ. "Gypped" because you were taken advantage of? Well the idea is once upon a time the Romani people were swindlers and criminals. "Faggot" because you want to put someone down? Because being gay was considered a bad thing to be, because no one would want to be called a homosexual because that's a bad thing.

Ultimately it is best, I think, to get rid of those insults from your vocabulary. There are so many other delightful things to say that don't have a history of oppression and derision towards people you are not. Heck, there are even options beyond gendered insults, to get back to the point of this thread. Asshole is a great one, because everyone has an asshole. Fuck is delightfully universal. Shit. Etc. There are other options out there. Let's leave the reappropriation to the people from the groups being insulted. We don't have that right, and let's just get over the fact that oh no we have to not use a word. It's really not that big a deal in my opinion.

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