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Can We Stop Acting Like “Feminine” Is A Dirty Word?

November 17, 2010

This post was co-authored and morally supported by Lauren Jenkins.

Today’s post was going to be about CJ Chivers’ great book talk at Politics and Prose last night, but instead we’re talkin’ gender and language (ooh, bet you didn’t see that one coming!). Our hackles are up, and unsurprisingly, we’re feeling sassy about it.

Some quick background: Bryan Fischer, head honcho of government affairs (read: lobbyist) for the American Family Association, wrote some crap about how the Medal of Honor has been wussified because it’s now awarded for the saving of lives, not for the mass destruction of enemy forces. Of course, he couches this call for death in a whole lot of holy rollin’ later on. Jesus was all about the killin’, apparently – maybe we just have different versions of the New Testament? Anyway! In Mr. Fischer’s words:

But I have noticed a disturbing trend in the awarding of these medals, which few others seem to have recognized.

We have feminized the Medal of Honor.

So the question is this: when are we going to start awarding the Medal of Honor once again for soldiers who kill people and break things so our families can sleep safely at night?

I would suggest our culture has become so feminized that we have become squeamish at the thought of the valor that is expressed in killing enemy soldiers through acts of bravery. We know instinctively that we should honor courage, but shy away from honoring courage if it results in the taking of life rather than in just the saving of life. So we find it safe to honor those who throw themselves on a grenade to save their buddies.


How horrible. How weak and girly of us. It’s crucial that we prove how stereotypically manly we are as a country by putting as many bodies on the ground as possible. Isn’t that why we’re at war?


Huh. Okay then. Moving along.

Adam Weinstein makes the excellent counter-argument of “Way to be a Christian, you hypocrite” (we paraphrase). Ink Spots’ Gulliver goes in for a clinical dissection of what heroism is in the modern military. Both make salient points, and they’re both worth reading on this – especially Adam and his poignant shout-out to his battle-buddy, Baskin-Robbins.

But let’s get back to the language used here, which falls under the rubric of “women, and everything to do with them, are inferior.” According to Fischer, “feminizing” the Medal of Honor is So Not Okay.

Too often, this is the subtext of modern discourse (see: here, here, pretty much the entirety of here). Frequently it’s so subtle that it goes unnoticed, but this is a particularly egregious example, done consciously and with the full intent of denigrating women (which Adam points out). Implying that the “feminization” of anything is by default a negative is Really Not Okay.

Fischer uses “feminized” to stand in for what he really means to say: we, as a nation, have lost a Jesus-like willingness to spill our enemies’ blood. Basically, Fischer is just asking for a fragging if he ever comes across either of us playing Call of Duty: Black Ops.

We’ve become weak. Er, “feminine.” We’re all clear that that’s what he’s implying here, right? Because that should make the answers to these next question obvious: Is it “weak” or “feminine” to protect life instead of (or in addition to) taking life? Does weakness have anything to do with gender?

Did you answer “no” and “no”? Congratulations, you’re smarter than Mr. Fischer! If there is a trend here, it has more to do with changing societal norms about how we prosecute wars and exactly nothing to do with anything intrinsic to being a woman. Or a man, for that matter.

Women are not weak. Being female is not an insult. Being female is not incompatible with heroism, duty, and honor. Setting aside the question of whether preserving life is of higher value than taking life, Mr. Fischer sets up a false dichotomy between men and women, implying that preserving life is strictly in the feminine domain, and therefore an unacceptable action for a man. He would prefer to see men engage in the approved-for-men-only action of killing, and to be awarded medals for destruction. It’s patently ridiculous to say that both men and women are incapable of taking life – or of preserving it – when needed. These are not gendered actions, nor should they be. It’s 2010. Let’s move on as a species, and stop pretending men and women are from different planets. Let’s stop using “feminine” as a dirty word.

We are, of course, happy to discuss further, either here in the comments or on Twitter (@dianawueger & @laurenist). However, we’d like to direct your attention to this comic first. Then you may feel free to suggest we make you some sandwiches, at which point we’ll give you a phone number for some great Thai take-out. The end.

One Comment
  1. November 17, 2010 6:36 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more. There is no reason that the Medal of Honour shouldn’t be awarded to those who have preserved life. However, and I might shoot myself in the foot a little here (I don’t agree with Mr. Fischer, and I did answer “no” and “no” to your two questions), I do think that the use of the term ‘feminine’ to describe the more ‘compassionate’ acts of war is not derogatory, for no other real reason than it provides a useful distinction.

    Really, the argument is cyclical and self-perpetuating. And it is most definitely time to “stop using ‘feminine’ as a dirty word.”

    Great post!

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