How to insult a woman, through the ages

In the book of Genesis, Jacob is a patriarch, father of twelve sons, who are the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel. He also had a daughter, Dinah, whose story (Genesis chapter 34) is not often preached on. She was visiting some local female friends when a rich man called Shechem took a fancy to her, kidnapped and raped her. He then decided he loved and wanted to marry her. Dinah’s brothers agreed to this on condition that he and his people were circumcised, which they agreed to. The brothers took advantage of their temporary incapacity to slaughter them in revenge.

When Jacob rebuked his sons, rightly thinking that this wasn’t going to make him popular in the neighbourhood, they responded, “Should he treat our sister as a harlot?”

(Long ago, I picked up a Christian book called something like “Women of the Bible and The Lessons We Learn From Them.” As far as I recall, the lesson to learn from Dinah was that single women cannot be too careful of their behaviour. We didn’t have the term “victim-blaming” in those days, but I was incandescent with rage. That is a digression.)

A harlot is a prostitute.

Let me move on to the year 2009, and the rebooted “Star Trek” film. We are here shown the childhood of Spock, son of a Vulcan father and an Earth mother. As far as I remember, other children taunt him by calling his father a traitor and his mother a whore. It’s the second name, of course, that gets the rise, and he beats them up, and we’re supposed to cheer.

A whore also is a prostitute.

Jacob’s sons evidently thought that treating their sister as a prostitute was a bad thing to do. But to me the odd thing is that Shechem (“he”) surely didn’t do this. Men rarely marry prostitutes.

Similarly, the nasty Vulcan bullies evidently thought that a prostitute was a bad thing to be. But did they even know what the word meant?

Generally, although there are exceptions, prostitutes sleep with any man who pays. The essence of the role, which is also the essence of its negative image, is that the affection of a prostitute is bought with money – and that it’s bought by a large number of men.

Amanda Spock, on the other hand, loved her husband so much that she abandoned her home planet and race to marry and live with him. It’s hard to imagine any behaviour less like that of a prostitute.

There are logical, although still very unpleasant, insults the children could have thrown – “alien”, maybe “spy”, “roundy-eared freak”. But no, they have to call her a whore.

Because that’s how you insult a woman, even in the 23rd century. Any woman, and any woman’s son.

Prostitutes are people, mostly female, who earn money for themselves and their families by letting men pay to sleep with them.

We may take a disapproving view of this behaviour, but at least the women usually need the money. Unless you believe that men just have to have sex all the time, and can’t help themselves, it should be obvious to the meanest intellect, Vulcan or otherwise, that the greater sin is with the man who pays – he doesn’t need the money, he just wants the illicit pleasure.

And yet there is no standard insult, so far as I know, for the customer. The word “john”, as a generic male name, is apparently used in the trade by the women, but I haven’t come across it used as an insult.

It would be very useful for my work to be able to think of an easy-to-use word for such a man, but I haven’t thought of one yet. Ahem.

But any woman you want to insult can be called a whore.

This is why we need Swords Without Misogyny.

Now with added hashtag! #SwordsWithoutMisogyny!

Love from the PPI Blogger

  • Stephen Hall

    12th June 2019 at 11:22 am Reply

    I’m not sure ‘whore’ is a wholly generic insult that may be levelled at any woman. Theresa May has been called many things but never that! It simply wouldn’t be the mot juste. When ‘whore’ is used as an insult, it is used to imply supposedly excessive, unlicensed or unusual sexual appetites is it not? But it’s not right for women to be insulted for these things when men generally are not. Perhaps ‘rake’ is a largely archaic male equivalent, which incorporates moral criticism, but without perhaps packing the same punch.

  • Stephen Hall

    12th June 2019 at 1:55 pm Reply

    Thinking about this some more on my very wet dog walk.

    I assume your natural dislike of the term ‘whore’ as an insult isn’t only on the basis of its being gender-specific? There are plenty of unpleasant male-only insults e.g ‘d**ckhead’. So I take it the difficulty is with the often unjustness or inappropriateness of the insult?

    Many men seem to have a particular angst about women who sleep with men they are not married to. It has been argued this comes from a fear of raising children who are not one’s biological offspring. All nature is hard-wired to want to pass on its own genes. For many men, if they are going to devote a large portion of their life to bringing up a child they want to be sure it’s their’s and not a cuckoo in the nest. Barring the odd hospital baby-swap this isn’t a worry that afflicts women. None of this excuses being insulting, but it perhaps explains the emotion lying behind this particular insult.

    The use of the term for Spock’s mother is puzzling, but looks to me more like bad writing than evidence to build a thesis upon!

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