High on my list of “words and phrases that I hate” are the use of the word “pussy” to mean weak, and any permutation of the phrase “You (insert verb here) like a girl.” Both insults imply that the worst, and weakest thing that the insulted party can be is female. Anyone who has ever watched a birthing video knows that “pussy” is the opposite of weak, and girls can do pretty much all of the things that boys can so…. If you’re going to insult someone, be creative. Have some pride in it.
One particular Philadelphia Eagles fan was not feeling particularly creative, or prideful, when he declared that his favorite team had “played like they were wearing tutus!!!” Get it? Tutus? Like they were girls. Because girls wear tutus. Look at those frilly ballerinas, they’re so the opposite of hardcore, right? I’m all aflutter from their wit.
It’s worth reading the response from the Pennsylvania Ballet in full (the original commenter is going to need some cream for that burn). The Ballet makes the excellent point that their dancers are expected to work through the pain, adapt on the fly, and without backup. But in a lot of ways, they don’t even skim the surface of how hardcore dancers really are.
Ballerinas and football players are both athletes. And ballerinas and football players both wreck themselves in the pursuit of their goals. If you have a strong stomach, do a Google image search for “dancer feet.” Dancers put themselves through the wringer, and mangle their feet, to do what they do. And that’s not to mention the sprains, stress fractures, tendinitis, and the “breakdown of muscle and bone” due to improper nutrition. Dancers are epic.
But unlike football players, who are allowed to wear their battle scars with pride (or can at least slink away to the injured roster), dancers are expected to hide it. They are supposed to still be beautiful, and graceful, and ultimately, feminine. They are supposed to be tough as nails and delicate as a butterfly at the same time. Because gender norms. Try telling a linebacker that he has to go out without pads because they ruin the line of his uniform, see how well that goes over.
But even if dancers weren’t hardcore (which they are), the original insult would still be infuriating. Because underlying the concept of “they were playing like they were wearing tutus” is the idea that “they were playing like girls.” This, again, implies that the worst thing the football players could do is be female. I wasn’t watching the game, but I’m sure there were several, specific criticisms that could have been made about the players. Or even a generic, “They played badly, and now I’m mad because I live vicariously through this faux battle and otherwise my life is meaningless.” (I’m pretty sure that’s what the fan meant to say.) Saying that the team members were playing as if wearing tutus is a cheap, sexist shot that skips right over valid critique and settles in misogyny land.
If the best insult you can come up with is “you perform this action as well as 50% of the human population,” you need to work on your material.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not calling the doctor to report sick burns, she studies gender in popular culture.