There have been events in the world of sports which have made headlines this past month. The bullying case of the Miami Dolphins and the firing of football Coach Ron English were just two of the headlines. Both of these events happened inside a locker room and have language as a common theme. The language used in each locker room included slurs against women, certain races/ethnicities (in one instance) and GLBT individuals. What has been clear in the framing of the stories by the media and parties involved is that certain terms related to race should never be used, and certain terms referring to sexuality should not be used. However, language that is offensive to women seems to be fair game for individuals to use.
Mary Daly wrote about language. Gyn/Ecology (1978) was her seminal work which looked at patriarchy in different cultures. Her perception about patriarchy, including the topics of Chinese footbinding, the Indian suttee, and American gynecology was influential not only in her analysis, but in her use of language. Though-out her life, Daly re-created and re-claimed language. Daly realized that most of the time, verbal violence towards women (cunt, pussy), was “used in all male environments” (p. 323). This still applies in 2013 in the 100% male locker room environment. Women do not hear the words directly, but we can still be spooked by knowing it is being said. Daly elaborated when she wrote:
“spooking from the locker room, the unacknowledged noise of omnipresent male obscenities, constitutes the background music which continually confuses and fragments consciousness. Exorcising this invasive presence requires acknowledging its existence and refusing to shuffle….Exorcism requires naming this environment of spirit/mind rape, refusing to be receptacles for semantic semen. As we become experienced in detecting the patterns of this apparently passive aggression, we become aware of its more sophisticated forms” (p. 324).
Daly also noted that “women have had the power of naming stolen from us” (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/mary_daly.html#Up5QlzSiRYUTf7Sj.99).
The power of naming. A common derogatory word for women is “pussy”. The Oxford English Dictionary lists this word as a noun and an adjective. As a noun it is chiefly colloquial, meaning a girl or woman exhibiting characteristics associated with a cat, esp. sweetness or amiability…a term of endearment. Examples of this definition can be located in 1557. But the term also has historical references to male homosexuals ((1904), a cat (1699), a hare (1715), and for the purposes of the locker room, the female genitals (1699). Women were not the ones who had the power of naming their genitals. This use of derogatory language is perceived as acceptable in the male locker room.
The locker room. A locker. A compartment in a pigeon-house (1600). “A recess near an altar, fitted with a door and lock, for the reservation of the Sacrament “(1527). A locker-room. “Mere males are lucky to find sanctuary in locker room…(1906) (http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/109607?redirectedFrom=locker+room#eid39063613) . And from Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary (2001), “typical of or suitable only for a men’s locker-room (p. 845). The locker room. A male domain, away from women, with permission to own language about women. Jocks discussing women.
Jock. Origin unknown. Considered to be coarse slang about the genitals of a man (or of a women, both in 1790). After the 1800s, used more as slang about male genitals. But also used as an abbreviation of jockey. Jockey. Someone who races horses. Someone who gains advantage by outwitting others. Using language to deceive and outwit others who are not there to defend themselves. Jock. The power of naming and changing coarse slang from genitals to a male athlete or a male with a macho attitude (Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary, 2001). Macho attitude to name women in the locker room.
When Ron English, the Eastern Michigan head football coach who was fired for a profanity-laced tirade against his players, what was reported was a gay slur. As he stated:
“As a man who has coached 21 years, obviously, on this occasion and particular meeting, I lost my poise, got upset and used language that was inappropriate, particularly as it pertains to homosexual slurs. I regret that,” English told the AP in a telephone interview hours after the school released a statement explaining why he was fired.
Language. Right now in 2013, homosexual slurs can contribute to a coach getting fired. And that should be applauded. But what about the language against women? Are we, in our writings about LGBT issues forgetting other oppressions? Is the assumption that the word bitch used in the locker room is okay, but adding “queer-ass” to it makes it a job breaker?
Bitch. The female of the dog (c1000), the female of the wolf (1555), a lewd or sensual woman (1575) and applied to men (1749). It is a term whose continuous usage in modern times is considered a highly offensive term to women, although appropriate for dogs. Another term not named by women.
Daly (1978) discussed the word spinster and how it is a term to intimidate and deceive women. The modern usage of the term intimidates women into wanting to avoid being called a spinster. The spinster, a women who spun, a woman who was then defined as past marrying age, an old main. Yet the spinster is a free woman who takes the word back and re-invents it for herself.
Re-inventing. In 2014, it will be interesting to look back on the events of 2013. What will happen with the Miami Dolphins? Will Ron English coach next year? And at what point will individuals (of all genders and sexualities) speak up against language that is harmful to women? For although we seem to have taken a step forward with an increased awareness about language harmful to LGBT individuals, we have taken many steps backwards with regards to language about women. This is language that is heard in the locker rooms every day, and not thought twice about. Language that demeans women of all sexualities, and strives to hurt men of all sexualities behind closed doors.
Daly, M. (1978). Gyn/Ecology. Beacon Press: Boston.
Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary (2001). St. Martin’s Press: New York.