Posted by: emjb | May 20, 2006

Unpack your (fun) bags

Over on Metafilter, there was a good post about the possible evolutionary origins of mammaries–an article about how they might just be outgrowths of our immune system. Good stuff. That’s why I go to Metafilter, because it excels at odd and interesting links.

But the post title was, in the frat-boy-jocular way typical of metafilter and other geek sites, “the origin of fun bags.” And a few of us women posters called out the poster on it. Because really, what an awful thing to call them, and how immature can you get? The immediate response was one familiar to any feminist who calls out sexist language–dismissiveness of our oversensitivity, prudishness, inability to understand a joke, etc.

And then I had to think about why I found so many “funny” terms for women’s genitalia/mammaries offensive anyway? I mean, I don’t have any trouble with blue humor in general, and think the word “cooter”, especially when used by women of my acquaintance, hella funny. Maybe because I’ve heard Tina Fey use it.

What I came up with illustrates to me the impact of patriarchy, even on something as trivial as sillly euphemisms for naughty bits. Because “fun bags” isn’t a term made up by women themselves…nor are most of the funny terms for breasts. Men make them up (new ones every day, it seems sometimes) and then large groups of moronic men yell them at unsuspecting women who dare to walk down the street. That’s how I learned most of those slang terms, when some gross pimply type sneered it at me on the bus. And that’s what women associate those terms with…embarrassment and bullying and the undefined sense that being female was somehow gross and shameful. That you weren’t a person, just a collection of silly and disgusting parts.

Hey, I know. I know when some guy says “Girl you got nice titties” he tells himself it’s a compliment. And when jokes are made about ta-tas and headlights, it’s not because the person making them is trying to enforce the patriarchy. But language carries a history with it. Women can’t make men feel as we do by using slang terms for penis, because men have also made up those terms and even take pride in using them to refer to themselves. And because none of the words for penis have the sort of vague shameful dirtyness of a word like cunt. Calling a guy a penis implies that he’s just stupid. Calling a girl a cunt implies that she’s a vicious whore with a venereal disease. There is no direct comparison, because sleeping around is not shameful for a man.

Plus, women aren’t supposed to talk dirty, so we don’t do as adolescent boys do and sit around thinking up new words for our genitalia. Though I have seen some new terms that seem to come more from women around the blogosphere (“pretty pink princess” was one of my favorites, hee), and those I have no problem with. They don’t carry the same baggage as the old terms, the ones guys whispered at any girl walking by in sixth grade.

So I guess, if you have to use a slang term, make it one that isn’t vaguely repulsive or insulting. Nobody wants to be referred to as possessing “bags” on their chest, however fun (and fun for whom, I might ask? I think we know, and it ain’t the ladies who own them). Pick a better, cuter, euphemism…”sweater bunnies” is kind of cute, though a bit confusing metaphorically. Or just, you know, call them breasts, if you’re over the age of 12.

I do understand why men can get frustrated with all the new rules. The old jokes aren’t acceptable, and we haven’t written a lot of new jokes yet. But you know, when I was a kid, my sister told me n-word jokes and Mexican jokes and Polish jokes, because that was considered ok then. And it’s not now. But I don’t find myself laughing any less. Sex is inherently comedic–sweaty (often) awkward, frustrating, confusing, and forbidden. We’re not going to have any trouble making new jokes about it.



  1. This is why I don’t read metafilter. It’s full of wannabe progressive males who have no idea that feminism means more than acknowledging that women aren’t baby factories. Well, that and it’s like a liberal

    Also, I think sex is funny enough without it being forbidden. If we could get rid of that part of it, our jokes about it (and the associated body parts) might be a bit less demeaning and defensive–and more light-hearted.

    Oh, and breasts are fun.

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