I think a lot about language within a social justice context. When one spends the better portion of one’s free time engaged in activism of some sort, and Internet activism in particular, language becomes more and more important. So many words and phrases never stuck out to as being wrong or marginalizing or oppressive or offensive until I saw them written down, black and white, on a sheet of paper or on a computer screen. I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about the popular insult “butthurt,” which sounds benign enough until you actually stop and think about it.
There are many words within the social justice blogosphere that we don’t say. We don’t call people gendered or racially based insults. We don’t say stuff that’s blatantly homophobic or transphobic. We’ve actually gotten pretty good about it, and I credit the feminist interwebs with sneaking into my vocabulary such brilliant words as “asshat.” Feel free to suggest more, you clever people.
One word that is particularly common on the internets is “butthurt,” typically used sarcastically or to ridicule someone who is whining about something they don’t like. I mentioned my distaste for the word to a friend of mine earlier this week. “I had no idea that the word even meant that,” she said. Her first thought was that it was some rape joke, and she found it to be rather confusing in the context. She had to look it up in order to discern its common meaning. But her first thought was right. It can’t be separated from that meaning, and that’s my problem.
Just think about it. The term implies less of “pain in the ass, I sat on something unpleasant” and something far more sexist and homophobic. This is mostly because of the context the word is typically used in. Sandra is in a bad mood because Hugo took her parking spot? She’s just butthurt. Mike won’t stop complaining that his bro beat him playing video games? Butthurt. Essentially, the term is used when someone is upset that someone else has gotten the better or them or beaten them or bested them in some way. That is to say, they dominated them. You know, like when someone is raped. This just isn’t funny. Not only is the term sexist, because it hinges on domination and anal rape, which is primarily a male device, but it is also homophobic. I’m pretty sure that gay men don’t think the threat of anal rape is hilarious, and I’m also pretty sure they don’t enjoy an act they enjoy once again being used as a display of cruelty, disgust, and derision.
The English language is so wide and varied that surely we can think up a word that doesn’t have such awful connotations. No, it’s not the worst thing anyone can say. The thing is, danger lurks in seemingly harmless words like this. Words like this contribute to the ever-present rape culture that makes our society perilous for marginalized groups. So come on, I know you’re creative. Can’t we think of something better?