Sexist Language [Red-blooded American Sexist, Part 3]

For those just tuning in, this is Part 3 of my series on a small blurb that Joseph Lisner wrote for Wizard’s “How to Draw” series (found here [JPG]).

The language Lisner uses throughout the blurb Others, dehumanizes, and ultimately objectifies the women that he’s talking about — both drawn and real. The chart below compares the language he uses to describe women versus the language he uses to describe men. In terms of variation of terms it was equal (4 on 4), but the distribution of those terms reinforces the general message being sent in the blurb — men as people, women as objects.

Term # of Uses Term # of Uses
Women 2 Men 4
Female 4 Male 1
Girls 1 Guy 2
Ladies 1 Gentlemen 1

Lisner uses “female” the most to describe women and “men” the most to describe men. In fact, the one use of “male” is a correct usage of the term, while most of the way he uses “female” are inappropriate outside of a nature documentary or science lab. Before I get into the nitty gritty, however, let me first explain the differences between “female”/”male” and “woman”/”man”.

I. Adjectives Versus Nouns

“Male”/”female” are most commonly used as adjectives used to list characteristics or otherwise modify nouns. In the former case, since the nouns being modified are inherently gender neutral, it can be useful to specify a gender if one wants to address that section as a whole. Some examples include “female gamer,” “male doctor,” “female teacher”, and “male artist”. There are also times when the noun is implied, rather than stated. When you say, “I am female,” you are stating a characteristic like saying, “I am tall.”

These terms can be used as nouns, but this is typically confined to scientific settings. In nature documentaries, for example, you will see this employed to talk about the animals (“the male sleeps peacefully,” or “the female leads her pack on the hunt”). For reasons I will get into below, however, this use of the term is, if not incorrect, then certainly sexist outside of a scientific setting.

The terms women, girls, men, boys are all nouns used to describe types of humans. You use them when you want to specifically address one kind of human: “Girls and boys go to school,” or “Let’s join that group of men over there.” Using nouns is the typical way to distinguish between genders.

II. Why It Matters

You wouldn’t typicaly say “I am a female,” (you are a female what? person? bat? fruitfly?) but rather “I am a woman,” and not just because it’s grammatically ambiguous. There’s a reason why, outside of a scientific arena, we don’t commonly refer to people as “the male” or “the female” — it’s dehumanizing. Because the most common usage of “female” and “male” are as adjectives, using them as nouns serves to remove the human element (ala. “the gay”, “the black”, “the transsexual”). With “male” and “female”, this is further reinforced by the setting we do see the words used as nouns in, which is to say in reference to animals.

III. The Terms In Action

Lisner illustrates this dehumanization process perfectly. Men, to him, are clearly people and so his most common reference to them is as “men” (or “guys”, which is also a noun). The one instance in which he uses male, he uses it as an adjective describing himself (“heterosexual male”).

Let’s contrast this to the way that he described women.

Anyone attracted to the female must ask themselves, “What turns me on? What about the opposite sex hits me like lightning and instantly shatters my self control?”

His language here is reminicent of a documentary, “The wild males of the flock are attracted to the female, but which one shall be her mate?” So, already, we have the animal connotations. It’s also important that the concept of woman is important here only in terms of facilitating men’s lust: “the female” is the vehicle in which men are turned on, important because some effusive quality of this concept of “the female” is so powerful that it “instantly shatters [men’s] self control.” The actual woman here is non-existent, and ultimately not important.

Many is the time I have been out with a girlfriend and some female would walk by and totally blow my mind.

Again, here we have the use of female as a noun. This is dehumanizing on two levels.

First, the use of “some”. We use “some person” to mark the information as unimportant (A: “Who was at the door?” B: “Oh, it was just some guy.”)– it wasn’t a person, it was some person. Not always, but often, its used with negative connotations: “Jeez, some guy just ran the red!” or “Some person’s cell phone went off in the middle of the movie!” or “Some woman was yelling so loud I could hear her in my room.” Writing this, I am also struck by the way that “some man” doesn’t seem natural to me. “Some boy,” sure. “Some guy,” okay. “Some dude,” even. But “some man” hasn’t, in my experience, been a phrase that has gotten a lot of play. I’m not entirely sure why.

Anyway, the second way that it’s dehumanizing is in the same way “the female” above is dehumanizing: it reduces the woman in question to an object of Lisner’s lust. He reinforces this opinion when, later on in the exchange, he excuses his rude behaviour (obviously checking out another woman while he’s out with his girlfriend) by implying that the woman he checked out had such an impressive breast/butt/pair of legs that he couldn’t help himself.

IV. Conclusion

You can argue with me over the technicality of the issue — “male” is listed as a noun to mean “man or boy” in the dictonary, just as “female” is listed as a noun to mean “woman or girl.” But definitions are only as good as their context; when the most common usage is to refer to animals and in the rare instances its used to refer to people it’s almost always “female” and used in a dehumanizing context, can you honestly say that calling a woman “a female” or “the female” or “some female” isn’t insulting? I personally don’t think so, and I’m not the only woman who feels the same way.

Men Stereotyping Women [Red-blooded American Sexist, Part 2]

For those just tuning in, this is Part 2 of my series on a small blurb that Joseph Lisner wrote for Wizard’s “How to Draw” series (found here [JPG]).

In Part 1 I discussed how Lisner relies on stereotypes of masculinity to create a “boy’s club” environment meant to set his presumably male readership at ease. In Part 2 I will be focusing on the ways that he constructs femininity and in the process Others and objectifies women.

I. Women: The Othering

This “femaleness” is a mysterious thing, and everyone defines it in their own terms. Anyone attracted to the female must ask themselves, “What turns me on? What about the opposite sex hits me like lightning and instantly shatters my self control?”

This is, basically, how the blurb begins. We have an immediate setting up as men as “default” (“everyone”, “anyone attracted to women” meaning any men attacted to women because of the use of “opposite sex”) and the women as “Other” (“the femaleness”, setting up women/femininity as “a mysterious thing”, “the female”).

Late to the party, Lisner says that, “I am–of course–writing this from the point of view of a heterosexual male.” No shit! I thought you were a lesbian woman by the way that you used inclusive language to refer only to men, and how you used language to turn women into nothing but objects. Wow, glad you cleared the air on that one.

He then goes on to address us “female artists” (an acknowledgement of our existence, how gracious of him) only to tell us that he can’t explain himself (“Please don’t ask me about the masculine/feminine mystery.”). He then goes back to addressing his target audience (male artists) and talking about what American men must find attractive. The only other time in the article that he acknowledges women is when he says, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am a guy, a red-blooded American guy.

II. American Femininity

If Lisner wanted to win the award for most masculine stereotypes in a short blurb, he also wanted to firmly establish some of the more pervasive female stereotypes as well. Most notably he addresses (or, rather, fails to address) the Beauty Myth, adds a “catfight’ story for some titilation, and finishes with the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” line.

Ignoring The Beauty Myth

There are certain cliches of beauty–basic elements that no one really argues about.

Oh really? It doesn’t even make sense as an argument, seeing as directly preceding the quote, Lisner says this: “Don’t ask me why ‘tall and skinny’ is sexy to some folks and grotesque to others.” Maybe if Lisner spent less time thinking about these issues, he wouldn’t write such obviously contradictory crap.

It may be a shock, but beauty is not an absolute. It’s a mixture of personal preference and societal standards. Standards, I should point out, that are reinforced as innate by the blurb that Lisner has written.


Many is the time I have been out with a girlfriend and some female would walk by and totally blow my mind. My girlfriend would notice my reaction and say, “God, what a face–she’s so ugly!”

No discussion of femininity would be complete without showing women blaming other women for men’s bad behaviour. In this hypothetical situation, Lisner’s girlfriend was feeling insecure because of his behaviour and so, of course, the only appropriate reaction is to insult the other woman who has comitted no crime except to have crossed the path of a misogynist creep.

Does Lisner react with, “Gee, I’m sorry honey, we’re out on a date and it was rude of me to leer at other women”? Hah, yeah, right. He pulls the “boys will be boys” excuse and says that his typical reaction is to say, “Yeah, but did you see her [tits/ass/legs]!” So, not only does he agree with his hypothetical girlfriend that the girl he checked out was ugly, but he further dehumanizes the poor woman by reducing her to a nice pair of T or A.

The truly horrible part of this scenario, however, is that many women would react that way. We’re trained — partly through growing up with stories such as Lisner gives — to see that as the appropriate reaction. After all, we’re told, all men are pigs anyway, so why should we be surprised when they show it? The other woman is the easy target — the whore, the hussy, she’s not as pretty as us anyway! But what’s the result? The man who created the problem gets off scott free, our self esteem hasn’t been pulled up, and the woman has not only been objectified by Mr. Misogynist, but also verbally torn down by us because it’s easier to attack her than to question our own relationship.

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus

All I can say is that men and women see the world differently.

Yeah, it’s a thing called privilege, something that you seem to have in spades, Mr. Lisner. Although, to be fair, it’s not really men and women who see the world differently, but rather those with unchecked privilege and those without it.

III. Conclusion

Men stereotyping men, men stereotyping women… the only thing left is to see how his language serves to reinforce this “Men as people”/”Women as Other” dichotomy that he has set up. That’s the subject of my next post, and, believe me, it ain’t pretty.

Men Stereotyping Men [Red-blooded American Sexist, Part 1]

Disembodied Womanparts, Yay!
What kind of man misogynist are you?

Right now the comics blogsphere is abuzz with criticisms of Wizard Magazine’s latest disaster: their How to Draw series. Well, perhaps not latest, as it seems that there have been complaints about this series for a while now.

Following a trail of links, I came across a 2005 post by LJ user Rat Creature. Which lead me to a link about the “Triple Threat” — which, contrary to what it sounds like, is not a wrestling move. The triple threat, of course, references the three ways (boobs, butt, legs) in red-blooded American guys objectify view women! The blurb that I will be tearing apart can be found here (JPG). For reference, the person writing it is Joseph Lisner, known for drawing Dawn.

I’ve actually split this analysis into three sections, the first of which will deal with the way that Lisner constructs American masculinity.

I. Introduction: Red-blooded American Masculinity

I’m somewhat surprised that Linser managed to pack in so many negative stereotypes about men into such a small space. I know I’ve said this before, but articles like these make me realize how stupid it is to call feminists man-haters — those who buy wholesale into the Western construction of masculinity do far more in the way of painting men negatively than feminists ever could. Anyway, let’s see what tropes he has brought out this time.

II. Men as Beasts

What about the opposite sex hits me like lightning and instantly shatters my self control?

This trope is used everywhere from journal articles about rape (the good old “boys will be boys” defense) to abstinence only education (“you gotta hold on to your virginity, girls, because those men are beasts who would take it without a second thought!”). One reason I think this one is used and abused by men is because it acts as a “get out of responsibility free” card — “I can’t be held accountable for my behaviour, Your Honor, after all I’m a man and she’s a woman!” kind of deal. Men lose their self control around women and become these sexual beasts who can only think of the woman sexually and, sometimes, will go to any length to get what they want.

But, really, what does that say about men? That y’all are, deep down inside, horrible people? That you have no more control over yourselves than a baby does over its bladder? Is this really a view of manhood that’s worth perpetuating?

III. Men as Buffoons

To any female artists out there reading this, if you’re looking for some cosmic insight the best I can say is “good luck.” Please don’t ask me about the feminine/masculine mystery… I’m just as lost as the next guy–I’m only following my nose.

This one is somewhat less insidious than the “Men as Beasts” trope, but is similarly used to abdicate responsibility for bad behaviour (see the Ellison incident). You can see this in other areas, too, such as domestic product commercials that feature men — you know those ones where the man is responsible for cleaning up, or cooking dinner, or whatever and he botches it so badly that you wonder how he got through life without accidently killing himself from sheer stupidity.

Though presented in a comical fashion, the underlying message here is that men are just large children. As I mentioned above, this can be played to men’s advantage in certain situations, but overall I’d say that most men recognize this stereotype as insulting. Too bad Lisner isn’t one of those men.

IV. Men as Simple

In America, men usually like to keep it simple and break down their preferences into three basic groups.

A variation of the “Men as Buffoons” trope, this one is about simplicity. Sometimes this is “men are simple minded” and sometimes it’s “men like things simple,” though in the above instance I’d argue it’s a bit of both. I’m not exactly sure what benefit this trope gives to men, but I’ve seen it used often in a way that presents men as wanting to avoid having to think, which implies that they don’t have high intelligence.

V. Men as Pigs

Yeah, yeah, yeah men are such pigs (smart men never argue this one).

Which brings us to the last stereotype that I could find in the article: men revel in their own misogyny. This one is, in some ways, a combination of the “Men as Beasts” and the “Men as Buffons” tropes. It has that “men are naturally beastly,” element of the former while throwing in that bit of “aren’t I a naughty little boy?” inherent in the latter to act as a deflection of any criticism that could be lobbed at them for misogynistic behaviour. In terms of negative stereotypes — well, the last time I checked, men don’t exactly like being labelled women haters, and even if this on the surface deflects such criticism, I just can’t see it as a good thing to pretend that men naturally hate women.

V. Conclusion

Lisner did not invent these constructs, but that he so naturally employs them in order to form a sort of “buddy-buddy” relationship with the (presumably male) reader is rather disturbing. The tropes that he employs are harmful to both women and men, and serve to reinforce this strange dichotomy where men are on the one hand portrayed as the rational, logical gender and on the other hand portrayed as beastly children who have no self control.