“Don’t Be A Pussy! Be a Panther” read the flyer I saw posted in my residence hall, and later noticed all over campus. An advertisement for the fraternity Alpha Psi Chi, the flier also featured a heavily muscled depiction of the forementioned member of the feline family.
In case you didn’t pick up on the wickedly hilarious double-entendre, the slogan asserts that you should be a big cat such as a panther, not a puny pussycat.
Further, it can also be interpreted on a “deeper” level that you should aspire to be muscular and tough, not a “pussy,” or wimp, fairy or any number of other terms used to denigrate men who fail to live up to societal expectations of uber-masculinity.
I can’t fathom how this particular flier made it through Campus Life to be approved. And this is far from a free speech issue. As far as I’m concerned, free speech on campus does not include marginalizing or intimidating any member of our community.
With that disclaimer out of the way, we need to examine exactly what the word “pussy” implies, because the issue is larger than some fliers posted by a fraternity.
As we all know, use of this and similar invectives is not monopolized by one group, or limited to the campus. This kind of language and the mentality it infers is saturated in our society.
On the literal level, “pussy” is a term for a woman’s vagina. The vagina would, I suppose, constitute the most basic symbol of femininity.
Sex is a biological fact. It isn’t much of an insult, when you really think about it, to state that a certain man is a woman. It is an allegation which the target of the insult can easily disprove.
However, this type of insult is not directed toward biology, but rather towards gender. The difference is that gender, as opposed to sex, is a social construct. This distinction opens the floodgates to societal implications stemming from the concept of gender and gender roles.
Since birth, we have been indoctrinated with our gender roles. In nearly every facet of life, certain expectations are created for young boys and young girls.
A plethora of examples spring forth from my childhood. I played with action figures, not dolls. I participated in neighborhood football games, not hopscotch or jump rope.
The onslaught of puberty added a new dimension to my and my male peers gender identities. Now, in addition to previous gender expectations, we were forced to constantly assert our heterosexuality.
This leads to the other implication of such insults as “pussy,” which is a reference to homosexuality in the pejorative sense.
Beginning around the middle school years, this charge became the ultimate insult. Men had to prove that they were “real men.” This usually involved macho posturing and usually the degradation of women in an effort to assert heterosexuality. The panther on Alpha Psi Chi’s poster evidently symbolizes that this is not a thing of our middle school past.
In addition to the muscular stereotype of men, we are supposed to be aggressive and emotionless, except for anger, jealousy and other manly emotions.
It is taboo for men in our society even to show non-sexual affection for other men in public. Cooking, cleaning and nurturing are probably out of the question for anti-pussies such as Alpha Psi Chi. I could go on for much longer, but I’ll leave it up to the reader to add examples from her or his own life.
Further, failure to comply with these rules will lead to being branded gay. Are we really so backwards as a society that somebody’s expression of human love and affection is used as an insult?
In college, it seems that gay baiting is less public and pronounced than it was in middle and high school.
However, as evidenced by the poster, it still very much exists. In society at large, although many legal strides were made recently, homophobia still exists.
Ultimately, gender roles keep people from reaching their fullest potential as human beings.
In addition, it is irresponsible for campus organizations, with tacit support from the school, to contribute to the solidification of confining gender roles and the vilification of homosexuality.