Like most American boys, I grew up knowing dozens of terms that objectify women’s bodies and diminish women by reducing them to just a single part. It wasn’t until my 20s that someone taught me, and I started to understand, just how dehumanizing and common all this was. Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly videos have been particularly eye-opening.
In thinking about this weekend’s tragedy—and how normal and perverse is the notion of “this weekend’s tragedy”? —the misogyny that fueled Elliot Rodger’s worldview and rage were hard to miss. I again started thinking about words and all the ways we use them to diminish women. But I didn’t want to write another column about the word “slut;” I’m pretty sure you can find a million of those already.
Instead, I’m listing terms that describe relationships in ways that demean women. We do a very good job of dismissing relationships as unimportant in American culture, even though most guys value them very much. These expressions below need to go the way of the dodo. And yes, some of these could be applied directly to men by women or have easy parallels. Those expressions need to go away too.
Expressions that eliminate free choice:
Some of these are blatant, but some are more subtle like the notion that you can “steal someone’s girlfriend away from them.” Money, cell phones, and cattle can all be stolen because they can be legally owned. None of them, not even the cattle, have anything like human free will. But if you really believe that a guy’s girlfriend can be stolen, then you’re saying that she’s an object—property—and not a thinking human being who can make her own decisions.
Steal someone’s girlfriend: She’s an object without free will.
Do right things & she’ll be yours: There’s a formula that applies to all women because they’re all basically the same.
Win her heart: You win prizes, not people.
Trophy wife: She’s not a prize, she’s a person.
Take her off the market: She’s an object you can buy?
If you buy a woman a drink then she “owes” you some type of sexual favor. First, if you buy her a drink without her permission, she doesn’t owe you anything. That’s a gift and she is under no need to accept it or reciprocate. Second, if she agrees to let you buy her a drink, then she’s only agreeing to talk to you for the length of that drink; she is not agreeing to do whatever you want for the rest of the evening. Finally, if you think you’re being taken advantage of, then stop buying drinks for people.
Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free: She’s not a cow. See “owes you some type of sexual favor” for the rest.
Kept woman: Paying someone’s rent, keeping them in fine clothes, and otherwise paying their expenses does not mean you control every aspect of someone’s life, including what they do with their genitalia.
Expressions that show disrespect for partner:
In theory, relationships are built on mutual respect and trust. Even in “traditional” relationships that Feminists disdain, there’s an assumption of separate spheres of expertise (paid work vs. childrearing). These expressions show no respect for a guy’s partner.
Treat them mean, keep them keen: Apparently, women don’t deserve to be treated nicely and, doing so will, in fact, lead to bad things.
Old ball and chain: Your girlfriend or wife is a nearly immovable weight intended to limit your movement.
Battle axe: Your girlfriend or wife is a lethal weapon.
Harpy: Your girlfriend or wife is a mythical, filthy monster who lives for vengeance. Hmm, the living for vengeance sounds a lot like Elliot Rodger.
Bit on the side: She’s a person, not a “bit” which I’ve been told means “piece of a**” in this context. And I won’t bother to comment on the dishonesty inherent in having a second partner.
Make an honest woman out of her. Turns out honesty is based on sexual activity inside marriage and not the ability to keep one’s word. Who knew?
A lady on the streets but a freak in the sheets. Because double standards are so respectful.
Expressions that prioritize virginity. I have to admit that I’ve never understood the whole fascination of sex with a virgin. I wouldn’t want an inexperienced accountant or surgeon, so why would I want an inexperienced sexual partner? Whatever the deal is, these expressions say the only thing important about a woman is whether or not she’s had sex with someone before you.
Popping someone’s cherry. Do you really need someone with no experience so they’ll think you’re great in bed?
Sloppy seconds: Odds are anyone you have sex with who is 18 or older isn’t a virgin. Get used to it.
Leftovers (dating someone’s ex): See sloppy seconds.
When you get to heaven, you’ll be rewarded with virgins: Sexual slaves in heaven? Seriously? Doesn’t sound very heavenly for them.
Do I think that using different words would have changed Elliot Rodger? No. He had years of frustration at not getting what he thought was he was entitled to have. He needed a perspective transplant. But I do think that if we start giving credence to the importance of relationships and stop belittling them, we might make our culture a nicer place.
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Well, what such articles do wrong is not in the wording, but their very existence. They enforce the current inappropriate belief by making the tacit assumption that only men disrespect, or need to learn to respect women, that women are victims and men are perpetrators. One trip out there in the internet will show us that it is a virtual war zone out there, and truth be told, it is women out there disrespecting men right down to flaming insults to our very essence, our very masculinity. So conditioned are we to accept this notion that even in areas where… Read more »
It must be so exhausting to have things like the above article occupy your mind
many a time if we are sad or irritated or having mood swings , our partner very easily relate it to” girl’s hormonal issues(PMS)”,this is very depressing to hear, this is not the reason behind our agitation.
then the term” item” just hate it!!
I didn’t see “bitch” in there. I know it’s meaning has transformed over the years but it still is used to mean a woman who is perceived as “out of line” of course derived from the term for a female dog and meant as a slur.
In terms of relationships “she’s my bitch”
I read these kinds of articles and roll my eyes at some of it.. Yes, Im a man and I dont mean to be rude to the author or women…. The greatest person i’ve ever known or will probably ever know was my mother. I’ve never cheated or treated a woman any less, but they’re expressions or phrases because you don’t take it literally. If someone said he was digging for his lost coin like a dog… the person didn’t mean hes a dog. A lot were complaining about lady in the street but a freak in the bed(or however… Read more »
I like the way you think. I am also happy someone opened your eyes to the use of language in regards to women. Themes like these should be taught in schools to help young get to grips ( for want of a better phrase) with women and dating. Most are all at sea or selfish. Would help young men develop connections and teach empathy. These things are often lacking in young men who get violent. Women are just human beings like you guys. Not something to be conquered. Not just genitalia. Not hot/not hot/6 out of 10 etc. Good on… Read more »
Looks like my earlier comment disparaging Mr. Smiler did not pass his sniff test. What. Ever. As somebody whose background is in stuff like literature and language, I find that Mr. Smiler regards “won her heart” as an oppressive turn of phrase makes me Mr. Frowner. There is an element of vulgar philistinism in Mr. Smiler’s outlook that reduces the most personal poetry to prosaic politics. Really, he comes across as somebody who never “gets” humor or irony, and demands, in a very chillingly 1984-ish, Orwellian manner, that all expression be dumbed-down to the most banal literalism. My full name… Read more »
I have heard women use similar expressions as they apply to men, so attacking men for this is a little disingenuous. You have never heard a woman say “she stole my boyfriend”? I don’t really see a problem with “win her heart” and I have heard plenty of women use it to express their feelings for their husbands or boyfriends as in “you won my heart”. And this: Make an honest woman out of her. Turns out honesty is based on sexual activity inside marriage and not the ability to keep one’s word. – See more at: https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/andrew-smiler-terms-relationships-dehumanize-women/comment-page-1/#comment-1482403 Actually its… Read more »
“Since intercourse could result in the creation of a life engaging in it in the context of marriage is really the only place it should be performed.” That’s just your opinion. Sure, it *can* result in conception – that’s why we invented contraception, and if that fails, abortion. So that we don’t have to enslave ourselves to our reproductive organs, or each other.
I’m actually not a big fan of this list. As a woman, I’ve used most of these terms to refer to men as well. Are they respectful terms? No. But sometimes they are used for humor and sometimes disrespect is intended.
And sometimes the term could be appropriate. A woman who is highly, relentlessly, and unreasonably critical may very well earn the term harpy. Another article that operates under the base assumption that the man is wrong. Come up with alternate terms to describe such women in succinct fashion. Telling men not to use these terms isn’t as helpful as telling them what terms are acceptable in situations where he’s dealing with a “harpy”.
I think these terms shouldn’t be used _in general_ to describe someone’s primary romantic relationship (dating, married, whatever). If someone is in the midst of separating/divorcing, I can certainly imagine that “harpy” or “battle axe” might fit the bill.
“Steal someone’s girlfriend…” In junior high, some weird awkward guy that I used to talk to (casually/platonically) got mad when I started to talk to (also, casually/platonically) to another guy….he said that the other guy “stole” me from him…when, in fact, I did not “belong” to either of them…I was just talking in a friendly way ( I already had a BF)….weird how they got possessive of me in that short period of time, like a was a doll or prize that they had to win…I look at my 13 year old son and I see that he is way… Read more »
I’ve had girls use several of these against me. Frankly, I just try to avoid any catch-phrases of these sort anyway. It just sounds cheesy to me. But I remember in track, a guy was dating a girl I had a crush on. He explained to me the 3 D’s of dating: Date Her. Do Her. Dump Her. I’m a pretty passive guy, but that’s the closest I had gotten to punching someone in the face in high school. And it left me so conflicted afterwards. “I’m associated with these guys? Girls view me and him as one and the… Read more »
Here’s a list of alternatives, though some of the phrases are inherently objectifying, so the list is incomplete. Expressions that eliminate free choice: 1. “Steal someone’s girlfriend” – She left with the man who recognised how wonderful she was. 2. “Do right things & she’ll be yours” – Be good to her, and she’ll want to be with you 3. “Win her heart” – Engage her heart 4. “Trophy wife” – ? (this expression inherently objectifies the woman) 5. “Take her off the market” – Enter an exclusive relationship with her 6. “If you buy a woman a drink then… Read more »
Actually, for #15, perhaps a better phrasing would be “Reserved in public, intimate in private”.
Thanks John – Do you mind if I use some of these when I write a reply article to Andrew?
Sharing her first time. Like George Costanza, I don’t think I would want to be remembered as someone’s first…LOL
For #1, how about “she chose someone else”? The “wonderful” piece sounds much too flowery for my taste and reads a lot into what’s going on. I think the simpler “choose” highlights her ability to make decisions and thus reinforces my point.
Let’s not forget the dehumanizing words that grace most standard wedding vows: “To Have and to Hold”
At first, I thought this referred to holding one’s spouse in some sentimental or loving embrace.
But, actually “To Have and to Hold” is archaic legal language and is a standard phrase used on deeds and property conveyance documents. It refers to taking possession and control over the property or chattel in question. Slight reminder that marriage was (and at least partially remains) a property transaction.
There’s also the “man and wife” part of wedding vows. Where did that come from?
The “traditional” wedding vows have lots of problems. That’s one of the reasons many folks are choosing other texts. For some of my thoughts on wedding ceremonies (but not vows), check this out:
Paying someone’s rent, keeping them in fine clothes, and otherwise paying their expenses does not mean you control every aspect of someone’s life, including what they do with their genitalia. Of course not. However, If the person paying for the living expenses has no prior or preexisting obligation to support that person, he/she can put conditions and stipulations on the assistance he/she provides. So, yes, a “kept” person can refuse to provide sexual interaction at any point if he/she wishes. And the person who was paying for the rent and clothes for the “kept” person can also stop paying for… Read more »
True enough Megalodon.
While I agree with many of these and overall agree that many of these terms should go away like “the dodo bird,” linguistically, many of these terms are not exclusive to anyone sex. “Steal her boyfriend” is just as much a part of the vernacular as “steal his girlfriend.” I don’t find it necessarily a gender loaded term. Much of the language isn’t exclusive to anyone sex and I think context shouldn’t be lost as well. Psychologically, “stealing” one’s significant other is language that is meant to protect ego by the aggrieved party and also to show moral disapproval. Additionally,… Read more »
Ryan, There are certainly limits to the interpretation of words without further context; I couldn’t agree more. My goal was to list a set of relationship terms that I think are problematic. You’re certainly correct that emphasizing “steal” instead of the object of theft shifts the interpretation dramatically. I can’t speak to anything about Elliot Rodger beyond the video he recorded & the segments of his “manifesto” that I’ve read, so I won’t speculate on diagnosis. Regardless, mental health diagnosis is a red herring; millions of people in the US are diagnosed and don’t harm anyone even though they own… Read more »
“Sloppy seconds” is not about virginity per se. It’s much more limited temporally in scope. If you have sex with someone who is not a virgin, but has not had sex with anyone else that day, it’s not sloppy seconds. If you have sex with someone who has just had sex with someone else and has not cleaned up, that is sloppy seconds. The emphasis is really on “sloppy.”
I forgot about that meaning JT. I spend a lot of time with teens and some of them use it to refer to any girl who is no longer a virgin. I don’t know if that use is local or more general.
In truth, you will only be treated as you allow others to treat you. To say men have the power in this world is kind of far fetched (besides obvious authoritative positions). Men only act in a manner which they are allowed to get away with. With that being said, I have seen more bad relationships than good ones. The good ones are ones when men usually keep their mouths shut and the woman are particularly cruel to them. Seems a little backwards. The bad ones are when the men are complete and udder assholes and the woman let’s him… Read more »
“you will only be treated as you allow others to treat you”
In ongoing relationships with people you see on a regular basis – friends, family, partners, co-workers – I’d agree to that. 6 days ago, Elliot Rodger shot & killed 6 people and wounded 6 more. Did those folks “allow him” to shoot them?
So you are basically saying men will always treat women bad if they allow men to.
Of course we can and should teach everyone how to treat other people, and how they should be treated in return as well. And no, we should never ignore bad behavior, it needs to be corrected wisely.
Most women that are harassed everyday on the streets or at work have never allowed the men that harass them to treat them like that. And if we ignore it, it will prevail. That goes for any other bad or criminal behavior as well.
I don’t buy the devaluation of virginity. Don’t tell me that I should not prefer a chaste woman over pornstar that has spent 10,000 hours “mastering their craft.”
Totally; because all women are one or the other.
No they are not one or the other, but a virgin is preferable.
Maybe for you, but not for everyone.
I don’t know that you need to find a pornstar Tab, but with 16 as the average age of first sex for both boys males & females (in the US & many other Western countries, your odds of finding a virgin over age 18 are pretty slim.
any objection to someone who’s had ~1 partner/year? What’s with the false dichotomy of virgin or pornstar?
Look up the madonna-whore dichotomy, it sounds like you subscribe to that hardcore mr “Tab Spangler”
A lot of people has “spent 10,000 hour mastering their craft” (well, maybe not that much hours, but I get what you are/I am saying) with only one person in a relationship, not in the porn industry. You just dislike people with many past sexual partners, it seems. That is okay, as long as you are not an hypocrite (have not many past sexual partners as well) and don’t degrade or humiliate people that do. But we get it, you are just another guy with nothing better to say, so you just throw illogical shit around. The only problem is… Read more »
Who’s devaluing virginity here? The writer was simply stating that it’s an unrealistic brainwashing men have had put in their heads that somehow virgins are going to be desirable, despite having no experience whatsoever. Besides…virgins can only be had once. Do you intend to just go around finding virgins to have sex with? That leaves you with quite a restricted and limited choice since most girls aren’t virgins for long these days. I think the idea of a virgin is what most guys like you are sold on…but the reality is you are going to have to navigate through a… Read more »
All good except for battle axe. I’m pretty keen on being a deadly weapon myself
This is a great article. I enjoy the intelligence and compassion behind it.
Keep it up Erin. I was reading through some of you’re older postings and you are really insightful and even-handed. I’ve learned as much from you as anything or anyone else on the site here.
And kudos to the editing team for now explaining what is happening to a post. I haven’t seen that before. It all starts to get better when the communication gets better.
Personally, I’m not offended by some of these. Such as “do right things & she’ll be yours.” To men, that’s kind of just like saying be good to her and she’ll wan to be with you. I also don’t find “win her heart” offensive in the slightest. He’d be mine too, we would belong to each other. I also don’t think the phrase “popping someone’s cherry” suggests that someone *needs* to be a virgin. It’s crass, for sure, but I’m not sure it’s offensive. I think it comes from the fact that females can have that bit of skin that… Read more »
Thanks Erin. Good points, as ever. And yeah, not everyone will find everything on this list offensive, but it’s a start. There’s no way to know, but I’ll guess that if we took an offensive/not poll for each item, more than half of readers would say offensive for each of them.
Nag: Good point. Didn’t think of that one.
Just one thing. The hymen is actually a muscle and many people like myself never have any tearing. It relaxes as you age rather than by being penetrated by something. Blood on the sheets stuff generally happens because someone forces themselves into another persons vagina when it isn’t relaxed and the person being penetrated isn’t aroused.
Have a good day. Thank you for your thoughts.
Actually, the hymen is a membrane, like skin. They come in all shapes and appearances. Some women will never have an issue with them when it comes to sex; others need surgery to allow for menstrual blood to pass. All kinds of activities can tear them–horseback riding, bike riding, gymnastics…and yes, even consensual sex! It can indeed be elastic and suffer no damage, but still over 40% of women report bleeding from their first sexual encounter! They can’t all be cases of unwilling sex encounters.
The hymen is a membrane that sits either just inside or just outside the vagina. Only in extremely rare cases does it cover most/all of the vaginal opening. The membrane can tear if it is stretched too much without lubrication. But there is no need to “pop” the hymen during sex, even if it’s your first time.
The expression “popping the cherry” therefore communicates to those with a hymen and their partners that sex is supposed to be painful. It doesn’t.
Are you really as literal-minded as this article makes you out to be? Do you really talk about relationships in purely clinical language?
Hi AnonymousDog, At times, yes I do that. Word choice – especially when a person makes the same (types) of choices repeatedly – tell us something about the person and how they think. It’s why we have a “pro-choice” and a “pro-life” movement, but neither an “anti-choice” or an “anti-life” movement. I’m a therapist and a writer, so I spend a lot of time trying to get the correct thought across. Word choice may well be more important to me than to many others, but as a therapist, it’s one of the ways to notice what a client thinks that… Read more »
Anonymous dog,quit bitching man
Nice article Andrew.
Now for the real trick, can you take those 19 statements and turn them around to mean approximately the same but not objectify women.
Steal someone’s girlfriend = She left with the man who recognised how wonderful she was.
Treat them mean, keep them keen = Treat them as a partner and a partner they shall be.
An excellent idea Luke. Care to write it up & publish it?
And big thanks to you and to Alexander Yarde for your thoughts yesterday.
I second Andrew, I hope you’ll write that!
I’ll give it a try on the weekend.
Some of these are going to be hard – some are just plain mean rather than trying to make a point.
I love Luke’s idea! Maybe you can just turn some of them into jokes like with the cherry popping one you could turn it into “because sometimes it’s nice to open a woman’s cherry soda for her, not because she can’t but because you can” :p