Another gendered moment in the comics

On the 25th it was a Calvin and Hobbes on art by girls vs. boys. Then came this recent One Big Happy, featuring Joe, his dad, and gendered words:

Three beliefs contribute to Joe’s reluctance to deal with sweet and purse as spelling words:

(a) Some words are intrinsically feminine; in English, these include the adjective sweet (because girls are sweet — “sugar and spice and everything nice” — while boys are tough) and the noun purse (because women carry purses and men do not)

(b) The construction of masculinity crucially involves avoiding anything feminine

(c) Avoiding a word means avoiding, as much as possible, the phonological content of that word (regardless of the meaning conveyed)

All three beliefs are problematic, in ways that have been discussed on this blog before.

(a) involves a confusion between words and things, quite strikingly in the case of purse.

(b) is a major element in the American (and no doubt wider) ideology of masculinity, leading to fierce antipathy to anything viewed as feminine (or gay).

(c) is a persistent theme in the annals of taboo avoidance, where a taboo against a word with some sense contaminates all occurrences of the phonological content of that word. This is the belief that Joe’s father mocks in the last panel of the cartoon, with his masculine deployments of the words purse and sweet.

One Response to “Another gendered moment in the comics”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    Well I remember my father (1906-93) when I was a boy, when he came back from the war – appalled at the feminisms in my speech (from my mother and my grandmother and their friends), and instructing me in a number of words I was to avoid. (Particulars on request.)

    I’m particularly interested in gender and color naming (“men know eleven color words, women know 300”). In my idiolect, “pink” is a primary color name in informal usage, but not in formal usage.

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