Trapped By Gendered Language? Is There A Way Out?
I was travelling by the Intercity Express one morning from Mumbai to Pune. Having had no time to reserve a seat, I got a ticket for the general compartment. Little did I know what I was getting into—an immovable crowd with no seating space or leg space where I stood for almost three hours. This is not about my train journey though. It’s about a fight that almost took place in that cramped space because of the word ‘bh*nch*d’.
While some fifty of us struggled to stand in space meant for twenty, there were a few people sitting on the floor in the compartment. This seemed unfair. One man yelled at a younger man asking him to stand and make place for others. He ended his sentence with a ‘bh*nch*d’. This riled up our young man who was, by sheer happenstance, travelling with his sister. The duo were furious about him cussing unnecessarily. And I completely agreed with them. Alas, silently. The younger man almost got into a fist fight about the language used. The older man was visibly scared but tried to hide the fact that he had his tail between his legs. He kept retorting and let another ‘bh*nch*d’ out and seemed annoyed about it. That’s when I realised he had no control over what he was saying. He didn’t really mean to swear but that language was engrained, natural and normal to him; it was like saying, “I need water, bh*nch*d.”
He didn’t really mean to swear but that language was engrained, natural and normal to him; it was like saying, “I need water, bh*nch*d.”
This isn’t me feeling sorry for him but realising how gendered and violent our language sometimes is and that it is has been normal and acceptable too. It’s okay for some people to keep saying ‘motherf*cker’ and ‘sisterf*cker’ because they’ve grown up listening to it all around them. They don’t even realise the gendered violence it perpetuates or might trigger. A while back I listened to a close friend let loose a stream of ‘bh*nch*ds’ because the milk spilt over the stove. Go on, roll your eyes. I did too.
This incident made me turn to beloved, omniscient Google to find out the why’s and how’s of these swear words. While bh*nchod and m*d*rch*d translate directly to sisterfucker and motherfucker respectively, they aren’t always uttered in this context. Since ages (as early as the 1800s) and in the watered down, normalised, colloquial tongue, they are often used as slang and vehement replacements for ‘sh*t’ and ‘f**k’. Bh*ench*d has its variations in pronunciation depending on which part of the country you come from—UP, Bihar, Punjab, Delhi, Haryana, and other states too.
It’s okay for some people to keep saying ‘motherf*cker’ and ‘sisterf*cker’ because they’ve grown up listening to it all around them. They don’t even realise the gendered violence it perpetuates or might trigger.
But it comes down to one question—just because it has been normalised does it mean it is okay to continue using violent and gendered language?
Women have been the recipients of anger for a long time. Mild, submissive, lesser in strength and stature and of course, taught never to rebuke a man or say, “No!”, they were easy targets of violence. Physical attacks, whether sexual or not, were seen as ways of controlling a woman, keeping her behaviour in check or simply the reason – “If you don’t vent on your woman, where will you?” Well, times have changed. We are standing up to our patriarchal society. Physical violence is punishable; verbal violence should be condemned too.
There we go again calling anybody and everybody, ‘Bro, Dude and Man’ because the feeling of being a part of a close-knit (possibly toxic) boy gang is so much cooler than calling a woman—a woman!
Here’s some more cool slang people are comfortable using—‘pussy’ means you’re weak, ‘dick’ means you’re a jerk, a ‘sissy’ means you need to toughen up, etc. Sure, but language, bro? There we go again calling anybody and everybody, ‘Bro, Dude and Man’ because the feeling of being a part of a close-knit (possibly toxic) boy gang is so much cooler than calling a woman—a woman!
I have caught myself using gendered and violent language too. If we normalise it in our words, we tend to normalise it in our deeds. Years of conditioning will not change in a day but we can definitely try. We definitely can’t stop swearing when there are so many deserving candidates, can we? How about we look for swear words that are gender-sensitive and non-violent?
The views expressed are the author’s own.