Gender-labelling: How Offensive Is It? Very!

03 October 2012 by

Has anyone been watching X Factor? Well I have (sue me) and like you, was of course thrilled to see mother-of-two Melanie Masson (above), go through to the final 12. After all, the woman can sing. My moment of joy was swiftly punctured, however, when I realised what her ‘defining attribute' was. You know, her back story. That Melanie deserved to be in the final 12, not for her unnerving handling of octaves, but because she has children. That Melanie appears to have a partner is by the by. But who cares! Melanie Masson gave birth. And for that she deserves your vote.

All of which got me thinking: would a man ever be defined like that? Unlikely. I mean who knows if Kye the chimney sweep has children? And if he does, does anyone care? No, rather he is defined by his job.

Of course being a mother is a wonderful thing, don’t get me wrong, it’s just using it as a perennially defining adjective which grates. It’s almost the tip of a gender-biased iceberg of labels.

Women-geared labelling of course is ubiquitous. It always has been but that doesn’t make it right. And while I would never group ‘mother’ alongside gender-dependent words like ‘bitch’, it just feels that men don’t endure quite the same level of gender-biased offence.

I have often been called ‘love’, ‘darling’ and ‘dear’. The latter thankfully never by David Cameron, but more often by not by men of that generation. Old school, yes. Charming, no. Of course men are periodically labelled but never, it seems, by their gender. They are never called ‘dear’ or ‘love’ are they. And the slander gets worse. For all the ‘loves’ and ‘dears’ there are the ‘slags’ and ‘sluts’, again for which the male counterparts are generally more genial. As far as I’m aware, ‘stud’ and ‘Casanova’  are borderline compliments.  And what of women being defined by their hair colour (red head, blondie)? Or the regular use of genital slang – ‘t*at’, ‘c**t’ – as a diss. Yes, we regular deploy the male equivalent, but ‘penis’ doesn’t sting quite so effectively does it?

It happens everywhere, from the workplace (where to be a woman in power regularly lands you the dainty moniker of ‘ball-breaker’) to parliament, where two women disagreeing will come to be known as a catfight. What happens when two men argue? Is it a dogfight? Or just a fight. Generally, the latter. And sadly, this social acceptance of woman-only obscenities does not bode well for equality in society in general. For what comes after verbal abuse – sexual? Physical? And by allowing it to go on, are we making both of those outcomes all the more possible.

Such objectifying of women using some strong, hurtful and just out-dated vocabulary might seem harmless and, in the grand scheme of things, not exactly new. But watching X Factor, and realising just how often labelling (however gentile) occurs, it’s just not a good sign for women in general.


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Sophie Davis (Wed Oct 03 22:03:23 BST 2012): Melanie spoke about her job too, but it was taken as a joke considering the nature of it. She also chose to speak about (and show) her children television on more than one occasion. Yes, we don't know if Kye has kids, but we did see Joseph Whelan,, who also chose to speak about and show his son on the show. I know that I for one cannot remember what he does for a living, largely because producers were overly keen to remind us that he has a child. I think the issue of "vote for this contestant because they have a child/children" is important, but perhaps not as gender-based as it would appear. A more prevalent issue would maybe be "Lucy Spraggan is gay, let's give her a makeover to make her appear girler, thus more widely marketable" instead of "Melanie has procreated - let's vote!" - just a thought...