Words Denigrating Masculinity

May 4, 2009

It’s something I’ve been wondering about for some time. There’s an argument about the double standard based on the language and custom. I.e. while there are words denigrating women – comparing them to prostitutes – there are no male equivalents.

It’s not true, at least not in Polish. While a man may aspire to having many women, and other men may envy him, women and some other men may call him words. I’ve seen it done many times, and those words aren’t new, which means it was done in the past, long before women were granted equal rights. Moreover, those words tend not to have their female equivalents, so their target were always men.

Some of the mildest ones are bawidamek and flirciarz.

Bawidamek is someone who entertains the ladies, or rather too many of them. It’s not yet said that he sleeps with them, but his judgement is scorned for lack of discernment. At the same time the word is a diminutive, which is condescending in itself.

Flirciarz means ‘flirt’, and this one has a female equivalent flirciara. Both denote the same kind of behaviour, however, I think it’s less scornful in case of a woman. She is only not serious in her feelings and may be deceiving men without giving them anything, while he is laughed at for taking too much effort and lowering himself to a level a real man would not stoop to. Words like donżuan from Don Juan, and kasanowa from Casanova can have the same meaning.

Pochlebca – flatterer – deprecates for lack of dignity. Its female form pochlebczyni is rarely used if ever.

Alfons – pimp – is a really harsh one, and its diminutive alfonsik is pure derision.

Then there are these that are counted on undermining a man’s sexuality and potency directly.

Lowelas from Lovelace – the fallen hero of Richardson’s “Clarissa” – took on its own life in Polish. Clearly the rapist was laughed at here, as to be called a lowelas in Poland means to be an impotent, indolent libertine. A man who brags of his contests and fancies to be very successful with women, but in fact both his contests and prowess are imaginary. Lowelas is a ridiculous fop no woman would ever go to bed with. Likely Poles assumed that if Lovelace were a man he wouldn’t have to stoop to rape in order to have sex at all.

Which also brings another interesting notion to mind. There are no sexual predators in the Polish classical literature (or at least I really cannot think of one Pole abusing a woman in a Polish novel, drama or poem from the 18th or 19th century), while there are plenty of them in the English one.

Jebaka is a man who has sex for sex’s sake. That is one who’ll engage in a sexual intercourse with about anything.

Gawędziarz-jebaka is a mixture of jebaka and lowelas. A man who has sexual adventures one would rather not hear about and they exist only in his own tales.

Przydupas – ‘near one’s arse’. That’s a truly sore case – a man taken by a woman in order to provide her sexual satisfaction. This one shows that the double standard might not be as universal. For example two contemporaries – Maria Walewska and Stanisław August Poniatowski, king of Poland – were met with an exactly opposite treatment. Maria Walewska is a national heroine for becoming Napoleon’s mistress, Stanisław August is Poland’s disgrace for becoming a przydupas of Catherine the Great. Walewska’s story is romanticised, Stanislaw August – well, Poles didn’t even want to bury him properly, and that in Poland speaks volumes. Even though the king is applauded for many other things. We never speak of the tsarina as the king’s lover. It’s always he who submitted himself to her.

Kochaś – although generally meaning ‘love stricken’ can also be used in the sense of przydupas.

Utrzymanek is a male equivalent of ‘kept mistress’.

The above three are fairly often used by women gossiping among themselves, so men, beware!

Finally there’s also męska prostytutka – male prostitute. This phrasal noun, although not a diminutive, is especially denigrating by not granting men the male form of it. In Polish, where every word can have either its male or female form it’s not a problem to call a man of this profession simply prostytut. Yet this female form doesn’t allow men to escape any of the connotations the word might carry in reference to woman.

All the above words refer to the image of proper masculinity. True, a man could have even 10 lovers, but he should be at least discreet about it, and a contest alone is not enough – he should show some discernment, because the choice of his lovers speaks about him.  He should not allow a woman to use him without being offered at least partnership, and his courtship should be limited to one woman at once. He should also be able to provide for himself. Otherwise a man becomes a boy, is emasculated, and his dignity and reputation suffer.

I don’t encourage anyone to undermine men’s masculinity, but, for example, lowelas is an archetype in the Polish literature. Pumpkin from Aleksander Fredro’s “Zemsta” (The Revenge) is so famous a character that when Andrzej Wajda proposed the role to Roman Polański he accepted it at once.

Are there English equivalents? What do they mean and how are they supposed to be offensive? Is the image of man the same? And why on earth the English invented the archetype of sexual predator? Even vampires and aliens are sexual predators in the Anglo-Saxon culture. Whenever English speaking people talk about libertines they put emphasis on any promiscuous sex, including rapists as well. How the word came to be so misconstrued?

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3 Responses to “Words Denigrating Masculinity”

  1. Lon said

    Sylwia
    First what a great post. I will be thinking on your insights for quite awhile. I also enjoyed the video at the end, and wish I could have understood the words. What is the video from? From your post I come away with an appreciation for the richness of the Polish language; makes my own American English feel a little boring.

    I think all the questions you have about words, sexual predators, and historical content come down to the question of how sex itself is viewed (good or bad) and much of these English words being defined in a male dominated Judo-Christian world. I wonder what was the dominating factor in Polish society if not faith? I think for many centuries the woman was always blamed for the failure of man in affairs and all the poor judgments we make when it comes to sex and matters of the heart; your fault Eve. Many of your words above talk about how us men degrade ourselves in pursuit of sexual conquest. So I do find it interesting that Polish has many more words that essentially cast a shame on the man vs the women.

    I think I just talked in a circle and not even sure if make much sense in the end. So in the end I will refer to Scatts post on Polandian that this very intersting topic would be good for the wine bar, face to face.

    I would love to read a post of how Warsaw is in the spring as summer approaches. How are summers in Warsaw( I am looking at a late summer visit (Aug-Sept)?

    • Sylwia said

      I wonder what was the dominating factor in Polish society if not faith?

      Money! Not only in Polish society but everywhere. English women couldn’t inherit, so they had no monetary value. The practice of entailment put a great emphasis on blood, so woman’s virtue was a guarantee that her husband’s money would not go to another man’s issue. At the same time men could not be disinherited, so their conduct didn’t matter. An English woman couldn’t divorce, but if her husband divorced her she’d be left penniless and be expelled from the society.

      In Poland the inheritance laws for women and men were the same, so they were treated more equally by the society. They weren’t equal of course, but the differences were nowhere as big as in England, and women were independent from their husbands. I.e. her money was never his. If she divorced him he’d be thrown out of her house.

      Moreover, the Catholic religion was better for women than the Anglican, because the head of the Church of England was the same person that the head of the State. In effect the faith was steered in the direction the society needed it, and not the other way around. The Catholic Church would not compromise. Of course it means that it still doesn’t while the Anglican Church is very lenient today, but then we still have the Church and the State separated, so it doesn’t matter in practice.

      The video is from Zemsta (The Revenge). Here’s the link to it at imdb http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0314942/ It’s a comedy. In Polish it’s hilarious, but I think that in English it’s still funny. Incidentally it has two strong female characters and many foolish men, with just one exception.

      Warsaw in summer is warm, and sometimes stormy. Summers are hot, and sometimes stormy too. But warm and hot is relative. Depends on what weather you’re accustomed to. ;)

  2. [...] Words Denigrating Masculinity pochodzącym z bloga Sylwii „Wars and Sawa” zakańczam moje dywagacje na temat [...]

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