Friday, November 5, 2010

Speaking English: Man Up

Sarah Palin said President Obama didn't have the "cojones" to crack down on illegal immigration. Christine O'Donnell told Chris Coons to get his "man pants" on. And, most famously, Sharron Angle told Harry Reid to "man up."

After the jump, what such language tells us about the state of American society today.

Use of such language by women is a sign of society advancing. Women show they are just as tough and can mix it up with the men in the rough and tumble world of politics. That, at least, is good.

It's probably no coincidence that the examples above are all from women relatively inexperienced in politics. It's less likely to be Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison telling President Obama he lacks "cojones." Or Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi telling John Boehner to "man up." Or Secretary of State Hillary "Pantsuits" Clinton telling anyone to put his "man pants" on. All of these strong women have reached a level where their toughness doesn't have to be proven with schoolboy taunts.

Still, the language shows that we aren't (yet) in a gender-neutral world. Toughness is still associated with the masculine words, not the feminine. And women can still make sexist comments whereas that long ago started getting men in trouble.

The reason for the double standard is simply because a double standard still exists in this country regarding women's rights. The double standard is a crutch, like affirmative action. The next step forward, where the electorate frowns on women and men equally for use of sexist language, can't be taken until women and men are respected equally in all aspects of society. We're a long way from that.

The last step forward would be a world where men and women both can freely use colorful language again, not in a sexist way, but in a good-natured way, much like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart cracks jokes about women, blacks and Jews. This works because, and only because, women, blacks and Jews have equal rights on the show. (Recently, there were stories about the second class nature of women among comedy writers on late night television. Whatever truth there may be to the charges causes the jokes to fall flat.) Will the world of politics ever advance enough to take this last step? Maybe someday, but not yet. Today's politicians don't have the balls.

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