It was an interesting situation. A male colleague called me , quite agitated and reported that he had been called a very "bad" name by a colleague during the course of an argument.
So what was this word?
He told me .
I looked puzzled as I am not exactly conversant with all the nuances of the Tamil language. Realizing this drawback the gentleman explained to me " Madam this word means impotent man!" Oh really?
Now how does this relate to the work environment? I mean we have not exactly recruited him for his virility. He has to implement projects and not impregnate people right? So why does this agitate him so much? I would have understood him feeling upset if someone had accused him of incomptency or dishonesty.
On my way back from work that day while travelling by an autorickshaw I was witness to another kind of name calling. A vehicle overtook this autorickshaw very rashly pushing it into a corner and the driver shouted out " You son of a ...." Shocking because the word he used was something that abused the offender's mother!
Another case of name calling!
Over the last couple of months I have started observing abusive language when I hear it being used. I find that whatever the language the abuses are essentially of two categories- one that directly abuses men which attacks their virility ( impotent man/ transversite etc etc) and another that targets women either directly or indirectly by abusing men who as said to be the sons of such women- this category of abuse is about the said womans' virtue!
I was discussing this with my husband the other day and wondered how this came about? Abuse is afterall also a part of language. We finally came to the conclusion that language mirrors social norms and values. In any society the expectations of a "good" woman is to be chaste and virtuous while there are no such expectations of men ( man we are told is polygamous by nature). So if femininity is seen as synonymous with chastity or virtue then masculinity is signified by virility..! We are conditioned to accept these definitions and thus any thing outside of this is seen as deviant behaviour and therefore worthy of taking on the status of an "abuse".
It is appalling how we continue this legacy of using such words in our anger. If our society is to change we should change our thinking and such changes are mirrored not just in our behaviour but also in our values. One of this is to desist from using these derogatory words by way of abuse and perpetuating antiquated social norms.
So next time a woman makes us angry let us try telling her something that reflects her behaviour more directly. For example if she is being manipulative we tell her so and if she is being aggressive we tell that as well. Similarly if a man is being difficult or rude we tell him that he is a rude man or an awful person instead of abusing his mother or casting aspersions on his virility!