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.