Of Virtue and Virility

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!


  1. true...
    even while being abusive,a man is much conscious about the masculinity of his gender.....as ours society only demands this from man .Not a strong character or moral strength.may be this the reason that in our part of the world macho types boys are more in then and sophisticated ones are called by titles like ''mummy daddy boys''

  2. Nicely analysed.But I do not think while men use such words of abuse they think of its meaning.They are more swear words in common parlance heard from young days .But thst is no justification.The usage of such words are not common generally amongst educated classes.It also reflects the environ in which one is brought up.

  3. @ Parthasarathi, no one actually think of the meaning. I was trying to get to the etymology of the word and it certainly stems from the way our society is structured because language after all a means of communication developed by the social animals called human beings!
    @ Heavenly muse I completely agree with you. The concept of masculinity is all about virility - virility defines power in a male. Strange but the same reflection of sexuality in a woman is seen as something to be ashamed of. An unfair world..

  4. Such a valid observation. I also wonder why swear words not only in India but in the world are aimed at women. More than anything else, it reflects the pettiness of men. And, I guess those who abuse do it to hurt and not really to rectify one's behavior. That explains these inflammatory abuses which are sure to provoke and hurt.

  5. I have been following your blog for more than a year, but i don't know how did I miss this critical piece. I often feel that if some one wants to abuse another one, the easiest way is to say something that targets sexuality, either of his own, or of someone who is very close to him, (mother for example)..thanks for directing me to this article, which i missed when you wrote it fresh..

  6. Congratulations :) This post in one of the winners of 'Tejaswee Rao Blogging Awards - 2011' (TRBA 2011). We would like to create an ebook with all the winning entries in 47 categories on Feminism and Gender Issues in India (and one category on Animals Rights). Please do let us know if you are fine with your winning post/s being included in this ebook. ( Please click here to let us know).

  7. OMG .. I have too wondered about this.. Like to abuse the son why bring the mother, what is his mother got to do that he was driving rashly.. I have also found a young lady using such abuses(mother****) on a middle aged woman too..These abuses in a way represnts sexual repression of women as a way of humiliating the man related to the women like mother, sister.. And also a man's masculinity lies in his sex organ, hence being impotent is humiliating or not being a man enough.. So being called impotent outrages and insults one.. Truly represents our social beliefs...


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