Is it possible to insult someone who doesn’t value your opinion of them?

If a woman does not think being sexually active is immoral, then is it possible to ‘insult’ her by calling her names that are supposed to indicate she is sexually active?

If a woman truly does not see being widowed as immoral or criminal, then would she be offended if attempts are made to ‘insult’ her by calling her a widow? Maybe what is hurtful is that someone wants to offend or even hurt? But what does it say for the society that looks upon loss of a life partner (only for women) as not sad and unfortunate, but as an ‘insult’?

But then it seems telling someone they are acting like women is an insult, sometimes even women can be insulted with reminders that they mere women/girls.

Telling a man he is not a ‘man’ (or ‘man enough’) would also be an insult only if the man sees ‘not being a man’ as an insult.

What does such an insult say about the one who is attempting to insult?

1. In patriarchal societies adjectives/nouns/verbs/metaphors/etc that convey that women are not asexual, can be used to insult women and all the men authorised by Patriarchy to control their sexuality – these include their husbands, brothers, fathers, uncles, community elders, a neighbour’s third cousin who happens to notice her crossing her lakshman rekha, also, her country men.

2. Since aggression is seen as an essential ‘manly’ quality , insult can be attempted by accusing a man of lack of aggression. Sexual aggression is also seen as manly, in fact it is a patriarchal tool to either insult or control women’s freedoms, which is why some sexual criminals claim to ‘teach a lesson’ to either the people they rape or their families or communities. And which is why sexual crimes should not be allowed to be seen as anything less than the crimes that they are. Molestation or street sexual harassment are not ‘insults’ or dishonour, they are serious crimes that support more crimes by preventing/curtailing women’s freedom to  move out of dangerous or unpleasant situations.

It also seems adjectives that describe anybody or anything that does not support the cause of Patriarchal abuse of human rights are ‘insults’.

‘Insult’ is a powerful patriarchal tool – but it can’t survive without support from those who agree to be ‘insulted’ when they have been criminally, maybe even grievously assaulted and or when they have been told they or their family members do not fit into Patriarchal stereotypes.

How would those who attempt to insult, deal with men and women who don’t think being sexually active (or not) is anybody’s business but an adult individual’s?

A comment on the previous post asked a reader:

But you never find any insult to be worth being offended by. Do you ?

What would you find ‘insulting’?

Would you be offended if you were called a misogynist or ‘a foot soldier of patriarchy’? What if you were called a slut, a virago, unladylike, shameless etc (if you are woman) or ‘a woman’ or a Joru ka Gulaam, if you are a man? How would you react?

What control would patriarchy have if it can’t insult those it attempts to control?

Related Posts:

Would women be in some ways empowered if they saw no shame in what they could risk being called?

Babe In Total Control Of Herself – B.I.T.C.H.

What the hell is difference between a homemaker and a porn star?

This Shame belongs to Who?

TO CALL A SPADE A S****

Delhi Belly: Indecent, immoral, abusive language. Permitted everywhere except on screen.

“Here’s why I think the society should not obsess over a woman’s virginity.”

Romanticizing innocence, chastity and related taboos for women.

Every blogger should mind their language.

Why does Gender Sensitivity in Legal Language matter.

55 thoughts on “Is it possible to insult someone who doesn’t value your opinion of them?

  1. You can neither insult nor humiliate me without my consent, which I decline to give. And should you decide to physically assault me, please know that you will have the battle of your life on your hands. This is little woman has been taught from birth to protect herself – and anyone else who needs it – and she will not hesitate to do so. I wish there were a few more women so taught, or a few million more. I am sorry, but the fact is that we must respond to violence with self-protection unless we want to perpetuate the current state of affairs.

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  2. > What control would patriarchy have if it can’t insult those it attempts to control?
    None. Smthg my high school Physics teacher said (he was way ahead of his times!) ” No one can insult you unless you give them permission to”.

    > What if you were called a slut, a virago, unladylike, shameless etc (if you are woman) or ‘a woman’ or a Joru ka Gulaam, if you are a man? How would you react?

    For all my “feminisit, modern, rational, anti-patriarchy” stance, I must admit, that I’m not immune. I do watch my behaviour and try to avoid the ‘bad’ labels, like “aggressive” when I’m just being assertive, like “emotional/weird woman” when I’m just calling out someone’s inappropriate behaviour. I’d hate to be called a slut, a virago, a whore. I would be insulted. For a bit. And then once I’d calmed down, I’d probably get around to that those “insults” say more about the person saying them, than me. It just means he’s frustrated, or manipulative, and cant come up with a better way to vent. I’d pity him. And try to move on.
    I say “try to”, because not everyone can see that. If said in a social/public setting, the damnation those words imply, will linger on in the minds of those who heard them.

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  3. No one has ever said that, but if they do call me a slut, my ideal response will be this: I will smile and say “Thanks! I feel like a real complete woman! Thanks for the compliment! Yesss!!!”

    It’s easier said than done, though. A couple months ago, while trying to diagnose a mysterious disease my doctor ordered all kinds of tests including those for STD’s. My doctor said, ” I don’t want to judge your partner, but do you want to take the test?” I replied, “I don’t care what test you do as long as the insurance covers it”. A few days later, when I was showing my reports to my cousin’s husband who is a doctor, I cringed when I realized what test I had ordered and what he would think about me. The thoughts going in my mind were “We are not that type. Please don’t misunderstand me or my husband”. I don’t know why I felt the need to explain, though I didn’t say anything and he didn’t pay attention to it either. Maybe it’s the “good girl” tag I was so used to.

    I won’t cringe at all if people thought I was a virago, though!

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  4. Wonder what the problem was when Narendra Modi raked up the issue of the PM being insulted by being called a ‘dehati aurat’. Is it an insult being a woman in rural India? This is the type of mentality of the person who is expected to be the next PM.

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    • I agree to you completely, but apart from that I also think our PM is an idiot and allows to be insulted , he doesnt respect his “post” and “our nation” himself at all and hence no- one respects him…
      Yeda banke peda khana…Closed his eyes to all corruption and enjoyed all benefits or atleast title of “PM”

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        • no , definitely not. As a matter of fact i have seen ‘dehati women’more forthright , more assertive and having a strong sense of right and wrong and have the courage to fight against injustice meted to them without giving much to – LOG KYA KAHENGE.
          My domestic help ( a rural woman she is ) beat her promiscuous husband and threw him out of the house.She is raising her daughter to be financially independent.
          My another help (again dehati),married a man of her choice 30 years back , stood by him through thick and thin and her brothers who were once baying for her blood are now coming and begging for her help (she earns more than them and even her husband).

          I feel , there is nothing demeaning in being labelled ”dehati woman’ by anyone. But , Namo escalating the whole thing in a rhetoric way was a great put off. I would not want my PM to be so irrational , having poor / wrong sense of respect about women. I would want someone more matured in thought ,actions and speech.

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    • When he was addressing the FICCI ladies organisation, the entire media, led by Sagarika Ghose was condemning him for addressing women as “Maa” and “Behan”.

      Apparently, “Maa” and “Behan” are demeaning terms, but “dehati aurat” is not.

      Come on…enough with the fake outrage over Narendra Modi. People see through it now.

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      • Sumit, you completely missed the point didn’t ya? It is the context that matters.
        Addressing a group of women as ‘Maa’/’Behan’ is actively limiting the role of women in society to mothers/sisters and excluding women in the audience who were neither of those two. Even if someone were to argue that he was being respectful and addressing the women as if they were his own mother or sister, that too is objectionable because again it implies that only a mother or sister connection is respectable, just being a woman is not. This is disrespectful to all women in general.
        Hence the objection to his use of those words. He could have just addressed them as ‘Ladies’ or ‘Naariyo’. That would have been respectful to all the women in the audience.
        With the “dehati aurat” statement, he is implying village women as being inferior (see my comment below regarding this) and not worthy of comparison to a PM. Which is disrespectful to village women.
        The more Modi opens his mouth, the more he convinces me of his regressive thoughts regarding women.

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      • Umm, before a woman is a man’s mother or sister, she is a human being. Her life’s mission is not to live and die only as a man’s mother or sister.
        Respect women’s human dignity, not their being related to some man.

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    • Thank you vin for bringing that up. I was appalled by Modi’s reaction to the supposedly “dehati aurat” comparison of our PM. BTW, based on Barkha Dutt’s clarification, the Pakistani PM did not directly compare our PM to a “dehati aurat” – rather he was relating a story that involved two village women who took their troubles to a third party, but did not get the resolution they wanted. And I presume he was comparing that with our PM discussing issues with the US Prez. I could be mistaken about the comparison though.
      Anyways, coming back to the point, what is so insulting about being compared with a village woman? A woman who lives her life through sheer hard work and takes care of her family is someone to be proud of. Even if she does not do all of this, Modi’s condemnation of “his personal interpretation” of Pakistani PM’s words reeks of misogyny. He obviously is looking down on a “dehati woman”, considers her inferior and not fit for comparison with a PM. That alone reflects his condescending attitude towards women and makes him no different than the countless other misogynist male politicians in the country. With such backward thinking, he does not qualify for the post of PM of a country which is already facing serious issues related to women’s safety and well being.

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  5. I love applying Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote to this “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

    Insult to me implies some kind of anger–and in some cases, it’s very justifiable anger. I think it’s very important that we distinguish between feeling insulted and feeling ashamed or inferior.

    As for women being/feeling insulted by the word slut–it depends on a case by case basis. If a rape victim were to go to the police, and a police officer ended up calling her a slut, then she would feel insulted because this person holds power over her. It’s also an insult to rape victims and women in general because a person in power is using it to make a judgment and blame the victim.

    If it’s random members of ‘society’ who’re complaining about women in general and calling them sluts then I can’t bother to feel insulted because they’re completely irrelevant to me. They’re not people I would ever associate with so they’re just background noise that can be muted. I’ll hit the ‘real life’ spam button on these people without a second thought.

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  6. A good question. We are not entirely free until we can free ourselves from these insults.

    This reminds me of a character from an old Ken Follet book, ‘Pillars of the Earth’, set in the 12th century. Ellen is a ‘witch’ who escapes persecution from the Church. She is really something – she dresses and lives as she pleases – she laughs in the face of disapproval.
    She is ‘free-er’ of all the insults and labels that are used by the establishment to control her than anyone else – while the central male character in this book (although wise, admirable and multi-dimensional) is the one who clings to institutions.

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  7. I wouldn’t mind being called slut or whore if I was one. There’s nothing wrong with being a slut (as long as they use condoms). But why Would I be called one if I am not one. And since I am not I’d feel insulted. My friends who are sexually active are called these names but they give 2 hoots. Its often me who gets angry and go for fights on their behalf (not a sensible approach i know but I get soooo angry) – “their stand is mostly ‘Chhodna yaar… kya farak padta hai’.
    And yes, I get easily riled go into a rage if my friends, family or I are insulted.

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    • What is your definition of a slut, though? It can only be an insult if there’s a negative value associated with it (in your own mind). I don’t understand why your friends being called sluts makes you so angry.

      For example, if someone attached the wrong label to me – people where I live often mistake me for being European because of my last name. I don’t fly into a rage. I just correct them. And sometimes taking pains to deny that you are something, even if you are not that something, is a lack of solidarity with people who are fighting for the right to be whatever they are.

      I find that with the term “mommy blogger”. I have been termed a mommy blogger at a time when I wrote very little about home, children, etc. I choose not to correct the label because I feel like I would be one more person who is defensive about the label.

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      • My definition of a slut is someone who sleeps (not flirt) around- drunk-parties-one night stands, which s not uncommon in University. But when jerks fall short of smart retort, its always ‘shut up you slut’ ‘bloody whore’ or something like that. I do think that drunk one nightstands are not sensible 1. they mostly dont rem to use condoms 2. it becomes talk of the town as most guys boast of their ‘conquests’ in hostels (and they say girls gossip a lot).
        But random people judging & pass comments make me sooo angry
        I dont know if there is any negative value associated with it in my mind. But I know the jerks imply my friends to be bad & characterless just because they have an opinion & do what they like.

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        • Hmm it does seem to me that there is a negative value associated with “sleeping around, drunk parties, one night stands” in your mind for the reasons you mentioned (low condom usage, becoming the object of gossip) and thus the word “slut” is not something you want associated with your friends.

          But for those who see nothing wrong with “”sleeping around, drunk parties, one night stands” and are confident in their belief that there is nothing wrong with it, being called a “slut” (if that is the definition of slut) should have no effect whatsover.

          Regarding ” it becomes talk of the town as most guys boast of their ‘conquests’ in hostels”, this in itself should not be reason not to do anything. If there is nothing wrong with having sex as one pleases, why should the fact that people know of this activity be of any concern? Boys “boasting” should be , but that is their own problem as it only displays their immaturity.

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    • I think the insult lies in the truth that female sexuality is commodified while male sexuality is seen as a virile force of nature.
      That’s why the newly-coined term “man-whore” just doesn’t have the same sting as “slut” or “whore”.
      A promiscuous man is winked at, while a promiscuous woman is shamed by being called a slut.
      It’s shame that even in the post-feminist West, a woman’s character lies between her legs

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  8. I think male or female specific insults show the insulter’s misguided thinking more than anything else. If a person acuses me of selfishness, (which is something that applies to both men and women), I might feel offended. If the person says some guy is not “man enough”, or a woman is “dressed like a slut”, it shows his/her own warped thinking.

    Once I was standing in line at an amusement park with my kids. Another mom was behind me, with her kids. We were talking to pass the time. A girl of about 18, dressed in a short skirt passed by, with a toddler on her hip.
    The mom behind me said, “Wow, just look at her dress!!”
    Me: “You don’t like it?”
    She: “I mean … it’s so short! You can almost see her … you know … ”
    Me: “You don’t like short skirts?”
    She now realized what I was getting at. She looked me up and down. I was wearing jeans and a loose T. Not sure where this fit on her dress spectrum.
    I smiled and raised my eyebrows with a hint of challenge. Her face hardened, she realized she was being mocked.
    She burst out, “Well, she dressed like a SLUT!!! In case, it’s not CLEAR to YOU!!!”
    6 pairs of eyes turned to look at us.
    I continued innocently, “And your definition of a slut is ….?”
    She turned away in disgust, while the others shook their heads and laughed.

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    • Her definition of slut appears to be any woman comfortable enough in her own skin to wear whatever she likes. I think it hits the nail on the head. I feel the issue with “sluts” is not the idea of women sleeping with whoever they please – though of course, that is a main part. The deeper rooted problem people have is that these women openly mock societal norms by being true to themselves. They actually don’t care. The only people who can be slut shamed (or any other shamed) are those who care. The less you care, the more vicious will be the labels brought out…

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      • I think we should entirely stop using these words. Even if a “slut” is someone who sleeps around, so what? Isn’t that her personal business? Why give her a label when her behavior’s not impacting you in any way? If you have a relationship with her AND you both have an understanding that you will be faithful to each other, then you can break up because she is being DISHONEST and UNTRUSTWORTHY and CALLOUS. Why invent a special woman-specific word to describe such behavior?
        Same thing with the b**** word. I hate it when people use it. What are they really saying about the woman? That she is being aggressive? They say “she is aggressive”. Or you can say LOUD MOUTHED or PUSHY or BULLISH. Just like you would refer to a man who’s aggressive. Some men AND women are aggressive. I don’t particularly like either, I prefer calm, assertive people. But why invent a woman-specific insult word and make it a special crime for women to be aggressive?

        Because, as IHM says, words like “slut” deter women from making their own personal choices with relationships, and words like “b****” discourage women from being aggressive when they need to, when the situation demands it (younger girl fighting against abuse by an older family member, widow demanding her and her children’s share of the property, etc.) . Gender specific insults help keep people in their respective roles so we don’t rock the boat.

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        • This is an interesting perspective. We can oppose the use of these words on the grounds that they are a specific term created to limit the behaviour of only women.

          From an action perspective, though, we can most effectively do away with them by ignoring them, cultivating thick skins and a ‘so what’ attitude.

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      • Well if bitch refers to a woman I suppose douchebag, dickhead and asshole refer to men. I have certainly never heard those words being used for women.

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        • Words like a*****e and d******d don’t seem to have the same kind of impact on men as do slut and b**** on women. The former sounds more like Person A is pissed off at Person B. In the latter’s case, people start questioning the woman’s morals, character, and everything that’s not their business. I hate all gender specific insults (both men and women) but interestingly, those referring to women always refer to her sexuality, which is really no one’s business.

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  9. Hmm, this is complicated because as easy it is to say “i Don’t care” , on an average, i am an angry person and would be angry if people would try to insult me. But then, I may calm down a bit and know I actually give a shit about them & their opinions but my instinctive reaction is anger.

    I always feel, guilt and shame are used to control people using religion or culture or other institutions. Insulting to evoke guilt & shame is a part of that and I feel people should stop listening to it & do what feels right & good to them (without harming others. This is for sensible/normal people – even molesters may claim molesting feels good to them)

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  10. Can they insult me- no.

    Can they offend me- yes!

    I am offended by people who wish to insult women, not just me but any woman, by calling them ‘sluts’. I met a friend’s friend recently, who thought it was very funny to joke around calling people ‘aurat’. He got an earful. Not because I was insulted but because the idea that being a woman is a limitation is offensive. I personally think it’s important to call people out on random ‘funny’ daily misogyny. I find that some (like this guy I met) aren’t actually misogynistic, they have just learnt that this stuff is ‘funny’. They actually stop once you question it. If they don’t stop, then even more reason to keep calling them out on their bigoted ways.

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  11. interesting question….the one which i would like to take on a little higher level…if you learn to be indifferent to people’s opinions, their actions then that’s when we have acquired total control on ourselves. However, as a very normal being, I am not able to be indifferent to a person if he/she insults me even if he/she means nothing to me,Yes, I can choose to ignore but it would create some kind of reaction may be anger, may be sadness, may be hatred in me, which I may choose not to show.Now regarding the choice of the words, yes words like slut and others that convey sexualism are considered offensive..but the way in which it is conveyed also amtters…the tone of the words, how loud..If a person shouts something gibberish to me,even if its a perfectly civil word,the loudness and rudeness will insult me….but what is more interesting is the most obscene word universally used…it is used in all developed countries too…it is f**k…it being a sexual action I wonder what is so obscene about it that people shout it to one another as the filthiest insult…

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    • “F*#ck you” is construed as an insult because the interpretation is that the “f*@#ee” is being dominated and subordinated by the “f*@cker”.
      It’s a deeply sexist insult because it reduces sexual intercourse to dominance/submission. The implicit code is that in the sex act, men claim dominance and women accept submission.

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  12. I am not sure how I would react to these “insults”. I would probably be offended because of the intention and not the actual words used. I mean somebody calling me stupid offends me too though I know I am not stupid and way smarter than the other person (in some cases). I guess it is because I grew up in a kind of protected environment and never understood the meaning of insulting words. The first time I realized that a slut means a prostitute was in my first year of college. I only knew that certain words were bad and were meant to insult/hurt. This is hard wired in my brain I think.

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  13. I would like to know how any woman would react when in, say, a very crowded public place she is shouted at by someone from behind – “Hey s**t… give way!” Would she be pleased and take it as a compliment? Or would she be offended?

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  14. Of course i get offended, not by the names but because i find it abhorrent people cannot curtail their tongue, Think before you talk, I’m not saying they cant have an opinion , of course you may think I’m a slut but what’s the need to say it to me??? if I’m a slut obviously i know it and don’t care so why waste your time and mine and say hurtful things.
    I always tell my kids, they can a opinion, views etc., on anyone’s behavior but they don’t have to proclaim it to the world and the person. Someone’s habits and behavior is simply not their business. Likewise if someone judges them , i usually ask them to tell the person to ‘shut up’ and walk away. don’t listen to anything you dont have to or want to.

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  15. Apart from cleaning out our minds, we’ve got to learn to clean out our mouth too🙂
    calling someone names is rude. no matter what. and the fault always is with the caller.
    I get offended if someone calls me names, simply because what i do is not up for general discussion. we are free to have opinions on anyone and everyone but not free to say hurtful things. that’s simply rude and speaks of a poor upbringing, no matter who does it – 8 yrs old or 80 yrs old.
    It all comes back to personal space and our lack of respecting that .

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  16. I will not be insulted.. However calling names to me would make me irritated (in case of random neighbor or society ) or hurt(in case of close friend) depending on the person’s position in my life.. Ultimately I will get over it and learn not to bother about it…

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  17. While I do not feel insulted if someone tries to belittle me by calling me out for having sexual desires, not following norms, calling my husband a “wife”, at some point I do get affected by all the negativity associated with it. We humans are social beings and at a very basic level we want to be surrounded by people who are nice to us.

    Also, the harsh reality is that it is not just about name calling. If that was the case, women would not have to face consequences of that mindset vis a vis the glass ceiling, the earnings gap, unsafe streets, not being able to rent apartment because you are single.

    Infact, I would much prefer a world where people just insulted me and then minded their own business.

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  18. One of the ones that I get over and over again is “whore”….lol. Because apparently any Western woman who marries outside her race is morally corrupt or something. That I have “tempted” him out of “being a good Indian boy”. Whatever that means! (As if he is any less Indian for being with me)
    I guess it is supposed to insult me, but it does not even affect me. I have been with my husband for 8 years and there is no other man for me. Love knows no color… He is my soulmate. That, too for the next 7 lifetimes🙂
    I would be more offended if somebody called me a bad mother, or a bad wife. But nobody could ever call me that!😉

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  19. Pingback: “Everyone knows, when she decides not to keep relation, she will do that. But I don’t want to go far away from my mother, I want her to be with me.” | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

  20. Pingback: We need to teach our daughters to know the difference between… | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

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