Google The Words ‘Bruce’ ‘Jenner’ ‘Emasculate’

One good thing to have come from this whole Kardashian Family Circus is that it prompted me to take a good hard look at the word ‘Emasculate.’ Rebecca Traister posted on her Facebook feed that she, through dumb luck alone, managed to go years without knowing anything about the Kardashians, but that she now had to come to terms with the fact that things couldn’t stay that way. She posted a link to an article by Tom McGeveran for Capital New York, who had also experienced a similar epiphany and wrote about the fiasco. I thought: anything Traister can read, I can read too! So I was reading it, until I came upon this little reference to Ginia Bellafonte’s review of the Kardashian pilot in the New York Times:

Acting as patriarch of the family now is Bruce Jenner, the 1976 Olympic gold medalist whose emasculation would seem to begin with the absence of his name from the show’s title, even though he is the only person in his household to have actually accomplished anything.

And a little light bulb went off in my head.

As someone who has an above-average interest in the Kardashian Family Circus — because I love clothes and I have a huge tight-knit family and I’m also amazed that Khloe, despite being a member of the family, seems to be an actual human being with her own personality and real thoughts — I can say I have a pretty strong idea of what Bruce Jenner has said and done in the show. I can say that his hobbies include miniature helicopter flying, plastic surgery, and cleaning those miniature helicopters. I can say that he seems pretty vested in making sure his two youngest children, Kendall and Kylie, remember that they’re not yet 18, no matter how much of the show is or isn’t staged. I can also say that his opinions of what is acceptable behavior fall more or less on the spectrum as what us normal people down here in real Reality would agree upon.

And so when I read the negatively connoted word ‘emasculation’ used in describing his storyline, I found myself basically knowing why it would be used, yet still rhetorically asking myself why it had to be a word that means figurative or literal castration.

I googled the words: ‘bruce’ ‘jenner’ ‘emasculate,’ just to make sure that it wasn’t a fluke description, but I got over 8 million hits. One of those hits was an Urban Dictionary submission for the neologism ‘manectomy’ that used Bruce Jenner’s plight as the perfect example of how a man can be stripped of his manhood. More than a few hits were suggesting that Lamar Odom and Scott Disick had, also, fallen victim to Kardashian Kastration.

I was starting to feel bothered by the whole thing. It wasn’t simply that the masses could sense that Bruce Jenner’s values or opinions don’t exactly align with his wife’s, and that his refusal to persuade or dominate her, or else anyone in the family, might suggest to the general public that he is spineless. That it’s viewed as a bad thing that he doesn’t seem very interested in making a correction of the seemingly asymmetrical power dynamic of their relationship, in real life or as a plotline in the show. That Khloe’s successful insistence that Lamar clean up after himself because she is his partner, not his mother, might indicate to the audience that Lamar’s headed toward emasculation-ville. That Kourtney giving Scott Disick the ultimatum to address his alcoholism for the sake of their child or to go away is similarly damning evidence of this pattern. It wasn’t just the implication that for a woman to be the head business decision-maker, it had to be at the expense of a penis, a penis had to be sacrificed somewhere.

It was also the very existence of the word.

It’s a multi-layered problem. To begin with, emasculation suggests that there are essences belonging to a man that can be taken from him, inherent qualities that originate from the penis. Anyone who has taken Gender Studies 101 knows that these masculine/ feminine constructs are totally bogus. But, further, when a man becomes emasculated, he becomes feminized, and that’s the moment when the connotations become negative. In the dictionaries I consulted, emasculation was equated with being effeminate. The antonym of emasculation is ‘empower.’ That’s a problem.

You see, this whole mess prompted me to ask myself what the equivalent of emasculation is for our gender. But there isn’t any. You can’t strip a woman of anything, because the assumption is that she doesn’t have any qualities that are ‘power’ qualities to take away. Our faulty language suggests that you can add those qualities to a woman’s inherent feminine qualities, but you can’t take away anything of worth, because there’s only her femininity, and, anyway, she’ll always have a vagina, the essence of all that. Eye roll.

So, after reading some of the 8 million tweets and blog posts and reviews that are so revealing about the way the general public perceives emasculation today, I decided it’s time to re-address the fact that our generation deserves better language. If there’s a neologism about ‘manectomies’, then we can do better. Like, what if we started using ‘whinedrogynous’ for when a person, man or woman, starts complaining and generalizing about the opposite gender. Example: Quit your whinedrogyny, you sound like an idiot who has never read a book. A good reversal on the word ‘hysterical’ might be ‘foreskinical’ (Example: You need to calm down and not be so foreskinical, you’re scaring the children.) Or we can play nice and simply correct ‘emasculate’ by making it ‘expoderate’ (devised from my virtually non existent knowledge of languages from antiquity).

At the very least, I propose a massive ban of the word ‘emasculate.’ And anyone who uses it can be called a lingo-tard. TC mark

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  • Anonymous

    I really liked this and I don’t watch the Kardashians, so all my knowledge is cultural osmosis. The often-used quip about Jenner is that he’s emasculated, but this is a smart new way of thinking about his characterization. (Though the show is about the girls, I presume so I never thought “Jenner” needed to be in the title.)

    • K.

      Ditto. Applause!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for this! I think a lot more people need to be aware that gender is a construct and this shouldn’t be something we have to learn in a classroom.

  • Albeards

    I absolutely LOVE this. I have always liked Bruce Jenner and I disagree with the use of the word ’emasculate’ to describe him. People, particularly women, who use this word are reinforcing the fact that women are less superior beings. It is unreal.

  • Guest

    great article. I can’t help but think that at least some of the hatred of the Kardashian women stems from a general fear and dislike of all powerful women – even if the Kardashian power is located in their bosoms and bums. Love it or hate it, those bosoms/bums have generated millions of dollars in business, yet the women in the family are always labeled “greedy” or “power/fame hungry” rather than as accomplished or business savvy.

    • https://twitter.com/iamthepuddles Jordana Bevan

      use that argument for an ACTUALLY powerful woman, not the Kardashians. perhaps they have a bit of cultural sway (though I suspect no long term influence), but I think a better reason is that… Kim is famous for a sex tape and all the others are famous because she’s famous? silly, silly silly.

  • http://www.realjohnson.com The Real Johnson

     “Anyone who has taken Gender Studies 101 knows that these masculine/ feminine constructs are totally bogus.”

    Ugh.

    Really? There are no inherent qualities of men and women that are defined by evolution and the nature of our species? Everything is learned? 

    Sorry, but I don’t think so.

    If that were the case, why even have the words “masculine” and “feminine”? Both pertain to the state of showing characteristics typically associated with our genders. 

    Men and women are different: we behave differently, we act differently, we even smell differently. 

    The word emasculation, then, is not flawed, here or elsewhere. Jenner lives in a household dominated by strong willed (albeit vapid and shallow) women, and as a result, his typically male behaviour has been changed. He does not behave in a typically male way. He has been emasculated. 

    If you’re dead set against using the word itself, perhaps we could start calling it “being Jennerfied.”

    • http://twitter.com/mung_beans Mung Beans

      “If that were the case, why even have the words “masculine” and “feminine”?”

      I wish we didn’t

      • http://www.realjohnson.com The Real Johnson

        How would we learn French?

      • http://twitter.com/mung_beans Mung Beans

        who cares

        USA USA USA USA USA USA USA

    • Vidas

      “If that were the case, why even have the words “masculine” and “feminine”? Both pertain to the state of showing characteristics typically associated with our genders.”

      Because over time we took those learned behaviours and put them into boxes, labelled the boxes with those terms and bequeathed them on every unsuspecting baby that we swaddled in blue blankets for the boys and pink blankets for the girls.

      • http://www.realjohnson.com The Real Johnson

        What does this even mean? I didn’t mention any “learned behaviours” and I certainly am not advocating for “boxes and labels.” 

        This aversion to “labels” is nuts. Words are labels that signify things, it’s called language. Not all calling-a-thing-by-a-name is inherently racist or patriarchal or misogynist, or whatver–and how exactly does one “bequeath” a box labelled with a term filled with a behaviour?

        Aaah! Head exploding from poorly formed pseudo-intellectual arguments and mixed metaphors! 

    • anonymous

      There is a certain amount of sexual dimorphism to our species on a very basic biological level, but your argument is inherently flawed. “Why even have the words ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’?” Language is a cultural construct. There are languages in the world that don’t have inherent sex to them. You cannot use words to prove a biological point. And furthermore, the majority of our language was invented during a time of archaic values and beliefs. In regards to race, religion, and sexuality language has evolved, but in regards to gender pejorative language is still widely accepted in society.

      • http://www.realjohnson.com The Real Johnson

        My point was that language didn’t create the differences between men and women (as some here seem to be suggesting). We are different — check out my scrotum if you don’t believe me. 

        I would grant that there is language that is pejorative–without a doubt–but the words “masculine” and “feminine” do exist to describe tangible characteristics.  They can be used in an offensive way, sure, but that doesn’t mean their use is always negative. Accordingly, the lack of those characteristics, or the taking away of them, is likewise equally valid as a word. One can be emasculated. The argument can thus be made that someone could be de-feminized, too. 

        I’m not exactly sure what the intention of your ad hominem about the time languages were created was meant to mean, but I suppose it’s about the relevancy of labels. This desire to shun labels is noble, but to take it to the extent where are we proposing that the words “masculine” and “feminine” don’t have meaning, or to suggest that we can’t use those words any more because we don’t want to acknowledge any inherently gender-specific behaviour is ridiculous. 

      • https://twitter.com/iamthepuddles Jordana Bevan

        I don’t think the argument is that gender specific language is inherently bad – I think the argument is that the word emasculate literally means to castrate a man, but we use it in a way that essentially means he is “acting feminine.” It’s not the words that are the problem, it’s that if a man (Jenner) is living his life happily with his wife and daughters but doesn’t control their every move, we say he has been emasculated – that his penis has been removed, that he is deprived of his ‘male role,’ that he is weak or less effective. it’s that we think, because Mrs. Jenner/Kardashian/Whatever is the major bread-winner and the girls (except 2 under 18s?) are adults with lives and LIVE those lives (just like most people) without 100% obeying his every word, he is less of a man. THAT’S the problem. the author’s reference to Gender101 masculine/feminine constructs isn’t saying MALE and FEMALE don’t exist, she’s saying that these “men are dominant” and “women are submissive” generalities are bogus (or at least are valid on a culture-to-culture basis). of COURSE there are differences between genders, but what makes a man a MAN and what makes a woman a WOMAN…. that’s where things get confusing.

      • http://www.realjohnson.com The Real Johnson

        Well said.

    • http://twitter.com/answerthecalls dahlia

      Yes, there is “masculine” and “feminine,” but masculine does not always equal a man and feminine does not always equal a woman. Thinking of it as black and white is what we’ve been taught and is not always accurate.

  • Anonymous

    ” To begin with, emasculation suggests that there are essences belonging
    to a man that can be taken from him, inherent qualities that originate
    from the penis. Anyone who has taken Gender Studies 101 knows that these
    masculine/ feminine constructs are totally bogus.”

    I agree that certain terms can be somewhat limiting, but there is
    irrefutable evidence that (most) boys and girls show differences in behavior
    and response from the moment they are born. It’s a lot of nurture, as
    well, but some differences are innate. We emphasize the differences for
    sure, but there is *some* biological basis for it all. There’s no reason
    we can’t acknowledge that  they exist while being flexible about what
    they mean. Just because little newborn boys and girls react differently
    to puffs of air against their skin, (one of the more widely-performed
    tests for innate gender-based behavior) does not mean we must hold them to some
    abstract notion of masculinity or femininity their whole lives. But I don’t think that merits completely denying any differences exist whatsoever.

  • spinflux

    I loved this article and I am always glad to see these points being made about gender somewhere other than a classroom. I have only seen a few episodes of the show but I agree that Jenner isn’t emasculated. He has simply joined a family of women who do and say what they want. They are strong, and strong-willed. It’s a matriarchal household, as it should be. If they were men this would be a non-issue, and that pisses me off. The ever-present default to patriarchy, and men who don’t must be “girly-boys”. He seems perfectly happy and content, and if he weren’t, he certainly wouldn’t be there. 

    I think it’s laughable to call a former competitive athlete “emasculated” just because he isn’t walking around swinging his dick in protest of not being the figurehead of all these gosh darn uppity women.  

  • Alasdair

    ’emasculation’ is an unfortunate word with sexist overtones, and one we should really try to avoid. But that’s not to say the NYT article was wrong about that Jenner guy. It says something that I, a person who’s never watched the show, know of the Kardashians through cultural osmosis but have never heard of Bruce Jenner (their father, I presume?).

    Maybe I’m just the wrong generation. I was surprised to discover Miley Cyrus had a famous father as well…

    • annerb

      i think it is just your generation. i was actually talking about bruce jenner with my mom recently and she said that in the 70’s or 80’s everyone knew who he was, because he was an olympic gold medalist or something and a big deal

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=508371039 Rayan Khayat

    I don’t think he is too emasculated, he’s very protective of his own daughters but I have to say that I really cringed when there was an episode about him getting plastic surgery…I mean it’s obvious that he gets them but he’s not even embarrassed by it.

    So I would say he’s pretty vain and narcissistic, just as all celebrities are

  • http://twitter.com/answerthecalls dahlia

    Fantastic article. I am sick of the pity for these men. They chose to be in the family.

  • beatrice

    Awesome article :). I love the kardashians and i love bruce jenner and i’m sick and tired of bloody humphries’ fans

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