I recently read a post that got me thinking about the dangers of using derogatory terms to motivate. “I don’t want him to grow up as a sissy, but I don’t want him to be bullied either,” the mother says. She was soliciting advice about sending her child back to school after having homeschooled him for a year. She lamented the bully that had plagued her son for four years and her fears about sending him back into the dynamic.
Sissy, wuss, wimp, where do these words come from and why do we use them to describe our sons and our fears? Why aren’t these words used to describe those assigned female at birth? Let’s explore. The Oxford Languages Dictionary defines the word sissy as, mid-18th century (in the sense ‘sister’). In his article titled, This is why so many gay men say ‘sissy’ is a hurtful slur, Cyd Zeigler interviews several men, some gay, some heterosexual who discuss the interplay of homophobia, sexism and othering wrapped up in the word sissy, “the word’s very roots are homophobia and sexism (which, ultimately, come from essentially the same place).
Just like saying “that’s so gay” or calling someone “queer” — when used in a derogatory manner — we use the word sissy is to demean someone by linking them to femininity.” Mr. Zeigler is quick to point out that, just because you don’t know or mean a word to be homophobic or sexist doesn’t mean it isn’t. Friends, there are dangers to using derogatory terms to motivate people.
I’m sure this mom comes from a home where sissy is commonplace. Perhaps she is unaware that it is derogatory. In fact, I’ll bet that many of my readers have parents, grandparents, or coaches who have used these words to “motivate” you or your siblings. She went on to say that her son has a “huge heart and is empathetic,” great qualities in a person if you ask me. The feminist inside of me can’t help but think of an exercise involving a piece of paper that teachers use to teach empathy. Perhaps you are familiar?
Take a piece of paper and wad it into a tight ball. Now open the paper and try to smooth out all the wrinkles. Each time a person shames another human you place a wrinkle in their paper. With time and hard work, the wrinkle could become less prominent, but it will never disappear. Shame is defined as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” Shame is the opposite of pride. It is that feeling of being less than others because of who we are or the choices we make. It’s destructive. As you can see, there are dangers to using derogatory terms to motivate.
The words we choose are powerful, especially those spoken to or about our young children. Locker room talk is no excuse for toxic masculinity in the name of motivation. My readers, please think about your words. Think about how they make you feel and choose wisely. Shaming men and boys by calling them feminine should not be a slur, but it is. And don’t forget, using femininity in a derogatory reference harms the women in the room too. During this National Bullying Prevention Month please make sure you are not your child’s first bully.