A Jerk's a Jerk

I was chatting with Burnside contributor Diane Nienhuis this morning. As occasionally will happen, Diane brought up concerns over gender equality at Burnside, that we should have more female writers.

That's a topic for another day. I told Diane she should write an article about it, and she assured me she'd started one many times. Then Diane said something I've heard before: "If a man gets fired up about something, it's okay, but if a woman does, then she's an angry bitch."

I wholeheartedly disagree, and I told her so. I think claiming a double standard here is a trite cliche.

She said we should post it on the blog and ask the readers, so that's what I'm doing.

Here's my side: a jerk is a jerk. If you're a man who bullies others to get his way and treats others as inferior, then you're a @$$hole. If you're a woman who bullies others to get her way and treats others as inferior, you're a bitch. In my life, I don't want to deal with you either way.

There's this idea that our society somehow likes @$$holes! You know why Donald Trump had a hit TV show? You know everyone wants to see Kobe Bryant lose in the NBA Finals? It's because we can't stand these people, and we want to seem them fail. These people aren't famous because of how respected they are...they're famous because the world needs villains. It makes the good guys that much better.

Men are, to some extent, expected to be jerks more than women are. Our culture expects women to exhibit the finer qualities of humanity: kindness, empathy, caring. We expect men to be drink Monster energy drinks, read Maxim and act like idiots.

Do you see the problem there? It's not what we call women when they participate in the female equivalent of those endeavors...it's the way men are expected to act. Is the answer to change the standard so women are expected to act like idiots?

Anyway, let me know if I'm off here. I just don't see the double standard, but that's probably because I have a penis, and can therefore never understand the plight of modern women.


  1. A simple linguistic test:

    When you hear, completely out of context, that someone was "acting like a total jerk", what is the sex that you imagine this person being?

    When you hear, completely out of context, that someone was "acting like a total bitch", what is the sex that you imagine this person being?

    Going on the assumption that you associated a man with "jerk" and a woman with "bitch", one can assert that the language is sexed.

    If you can say "jerk" in a movie for children, but not "bitch", what does that say about way our society values the two? Isn't the fundamental message that it's okay to be a jerk (and be a man) while it's not okay to be a bitch (and be a woman)? Or, put more positively, it's not _okay_ to be a jerk, but we must accept the fact that there are jerks (importantly, men) in the world; on the other hand, one should not expect to have to deal with "bitches" -- their societal presence is an aberration rather than an expectation.

  2. Also, I would assert that this statement is very revealing: "I just don't see the double standard, but that's probably because I have a penis, and can therefore never understand the plight of modern women."

    As men, to function in society, we don't _have_ to understand, because we hold the privilege. Our ability to say "I don't understand" (and leave it at that) shows we are in a beneficiary position. The very ability to disengage from the question indicates the situation of power.

  3. Here's a better test:

    When you hear, completely out of context, that someone was "acting like a total asshole", what is the sex that you imagine this person being?

    The reason I used "jerk" in this post is because it is much more acceptable than the word "asshole", (which is also less acceptable than the word "bitch").

    If you like, go back through my post and replace every use of "jerk" with the word "asshole". That should more accurately convey what I was trying to say.

    My point is we should not have to deal with "assholes" or "bitches", male or female.

  4. This reminds me of something I heard a long time ago on the Spin Doctors' live CD. Before "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong," the lead singer says something like, "This song is about how you don't have to be a woman to be a bitch - you just have to be a bitch."

  5. @ John:

    Is there anything the Spin Doctors can't teach us?

    @ anonymous' second comment:

    That statement was made tongue in cheek.

    To me, the lack of understanding is more a question of "what am I supposed to do?" Should I never use the word "bitch"? Would it be more equitable if all jerky women were referred to as "assholes"?

    That's the absurdity of this cliche complaint. What purpose does it serve? Their argument is rooted in a fallacy, which is that culture at large reveres assholes and despises bitches. Culture can't stand either.

  6. I prefer, 'Don't tell me my business Devil woman.'

  7. ...Or try this one on for size - if a man is emotional about something - or reacts a particular way - is he considered moody the way a woman is?

    There are so many he/she double standards out there, linguistically or otherwise, but like the writer of this post I hope that we get to a point where we aren't bitches or jerks. No matter our gender.

  8. if a woman is emotional is she considered weak by her peers?

    We could go back and forth, really.

    I agree with Jordan.

    Now, I am going to go get a tribal tattoo before my next cage fight.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. I expect boys to drink Monster energy drinks, read Maxim and act like idiots...but not men.

  11. @John:

    You're right. That was a poor point on my part. I also understand culture expects some women (girls) to behave like the lunatics on "Rock of Love".

  12. If a woman is too tough she's a bitch; if a man is too emotional he's a fag. There are more men than women in screenwriting (it's visual, action-driven medium) but women rule the pop novel (an interior, descriptive medium).

    Men read Maxim, but women have girl porn. It's called Twilight.

    I feel bad for Christian men. The ladies are pissed off that men don't have the cojones to ask us out or take the initiative. But then we make them sing power ballads to Jesus and listen to our feelings. The guys who want to keep their nads run screaming. And then we complain that we don't get to be bitches and they are too male to see both sides of the story.

    Testosterone severs the two hemispheres in vitro. MEn organize information differently in their heads. There's a reason men compartmentalize and don't think globally about how everything affects everything else and why they need to listen to our feelings.

    It's NOT because they have a penis. It's because they have a scrotum.

    I'm not a girlie girl. I grew up with my dukes up. I'm a bitch, controller, harridan... who cares, I got shit done. Now that I am married, I have to struggle to let my emotionally-available husband love me.

    There may not be enough women writing for Burnside. But it's not because Jordan hasn't asked. I'm supposed to write a monthly column on Hollywood, but I have been too busy, too-diffuse thinking, too may irons in the fire, blah blah blah. If there aren't more women writing for BWC, who's to blame? The women who aren't writing, that's who.

    Call me a bitch for saying it.

    Love and kisses to Diane,
    U know I <3 U!
    <3 <3 <3 <3

  13. it's not when people act like assholes (and maybe i'm a prude but bitch holds as much power as asshole does, and i don't think we can use either lightly), it's how strong they are in getting things done that gets read differently. if a woman pushes for excellence at work, and speaks out about what should be done better or what is wrong, she's the resident bitch. when a man pushes for excellence at work, when He dares to speak out about areas of weakness in a workplace, he's a leader.

    in fact, this has not only been my experience in the office, it has also been at churches, in social circles, pretty much anywhere. well, except for my predominantly african american neighborhood. thank God i don't live in a white neighborhood because i finally have a place where a strong woman is considered normal. i'm much more comfortable in my neighborhood filled with folks from another culture than i am in my own, for this very reason.

    i've watched this double standard happen with others, and i've experienced it placed on myself over and over. i am the resident bitch at work. i get shit done, and things are improving and people are getting inspired-- when they aren't talking behind my back about how honest (read: outspoken, pushy) i have been. i was told in a conversation with another woman recently that we are not supposed to speak up no matter how bad things are, we are supposed to put up a "positive image." bleh.

    this just once again reminded me that, whether we're honest enough to admit it or not, women are expected to be sweeter, nicer, calmer, more demure. men, on the other hand, would be considered weak if they didn't speak up.

    we both lose out. men lose less power, and there's the rub when you talk about equality.

  14. Susan, it was a slow Sunday night here on the Walton's mountain of my mind...you made me grin all the way down to my screnis and my protum.

    Goodnight, all.
    (Cue the Earl Hamner music)

  15. I wonder if we realize our perspectives are how we choose to view things. We choose to label or not label. We choose to love or not to love. Jordon's words struck me as rather victim-like. Does he really believe he has no choice but to act as (how he sees) culture expects him to? Or how his penis expects him to (to use his words)?

    As a male I may be encouraged by certain cultures to read Maxim or objectify women; but I know that is not helpful, to me nor to women. Ergo, I choose not to. Granted, it's very difficult at times to resist the constant barrage of messages sent to me which do not lead to living the best possible life. It is tiring and sometimes lonely not being part of the larger herd, but really--is short term gain (fitting in to one segment of culture to get an immediate sense of identity) worth long term pain (not feeling comfortable in my own skin)? Just the opposite. It's the difficult steps I constantly take, the ongoing choice of trusting that living the way of Jesus is the best possible way to live, that provide me with long term peace and confidence.

    So I ask this question: what do we feed our eyes, our brains, our thoughts, our bodies? If I tolerate a lifestyle of Maxim, then it only seems natural that I will consider that "normal" behavior. But when that behavior does not encourage or lift up or respect someone, it's going to be hard for me to understand why because my eyes are focused on what's making me feel good about myself and no one else. However, if I am patient and filter what messages are given to me, I choose what I want to believe and allow myself to see that the world is larger that just me. I see value in looking for ways to build people up. I see that there is ALREADY value in life, and celebrate that.

    The world does not need villains in order for good to seem better. The world needs heros to act like real heros so that we are no longer fooled by half truths (thank you Jack Bauer and Jack Ryan). But I'm not clear on Justin's stand here. Is he upset with how men are portrayed but not knowing what to do about it? If so, then why not be the change you want to see (thank you Ghandi) instead of waiting for someone else to do that so we can simply follow?

    Lead with respect.

    Gender is not the issue here, in my opinion. if someone is acting a certain way that you (enter your name here: ______ ) deem inappropriate, are you inclined to get angry? Or, are you willing to have a calm discussion... and if the discussion starts to get heated are you willing to suspend it until you can come back when you are calm? Communication requires respect.

    -Dan VanDeSteeg

  16. A couple of things:

    1) I worked as a speechwriter/comm consultant with CEOs/senior execs for many years. None were any different in the boardroom than Martha Stewart was described to be in news reports that cast her as a bitch. I recall reading those reports - she was short tempered, demanding, aloof - which describes many (not all, but many, CEOs I've encountered). Emotional attributes (unless they are weak) are rarely used as fodder for character assassination with men.

    2) Hey guys, if you got pulled over to find that your license had been suspended, landing you in jail for the night and a 6'4" fella came over and said he planned to make you his bitch for the evening, what would you think. Speaks to the gender aspects of the word.

    3) I am a woman. I'm a professional writer. I'd write for Burnside. I'm still trying to figure it out, though. Pitched once and was told my piece that quoted no scripture, never mentioned Jesus but referred to my adult conversion from atheism was "too Christian." Maybe I'll try again one of these days...

  17. truth be told...i want a man who can be emotional, because that is strength to me.....

    We all share different aspects of God's male & female parts, so I say embrace that where we see it - whether male or female.

  18. "Our culture expects women to exhibit the finer qualities of humanity: kindness, empathy, caring. We expect men to be drink Monster energy drinks, read Maxim and act like idiots."

    I have this theory that the portrayal of women as maternal earth angels and men as a.) simple/weak or b.) conniving and power-hungry started in 19th century fiction written by American women. It's throughout works by authors such as Harriet Beacher Stowe, Kate Chopin and Sarah Orne Jewett.

    My guess is that a generation of women not allowed to vote or really have an opinion of any sort and did the one thing they could do to get their thoughts out there - write. Not only write, but publish, which wasn't a walk in the park for a woman at that time. I think their anger/ frustration at the men in their lives filtered through their writing and spawned another 150 years of stupid men written into the American lexicon by women.

    That's my theory. It's worth noting, also, that if a woman gets emotional, it's assumed that her hormones are out of whack. If a man gets emotional, dude needs to get it together. We are a society afraid of expressions of emotion, and I think that crosses the gender line.

  19. It's difficult to see how "contributor's statistics" turned into a gender battle of identity.
    Maybe it's because I just graduated college, and I'm tired of making blanket statements to assert a stronger thesis, but I don't think I want to try to label innumerable groups of people.

    This is where I pull out of the discussion and think, "Be an admirable woman and be an admirable man. Screw the opinions and just be godly."
    And I know we're talking about all sorts of men and women, Christians or not, and that's where I say again, we should give up on the qualifying statements.

    In conclusion, I would like to say that the 19th century British empire was the most noble government of all time.

  20. Ok, I'll admit to my own gender stereotypes: I skip past the sections on BWC about sports. There are a lot of articles about sports on here. What if the opposite were true? What if there were a lot of articles on here about fashion? I'm by no means saying that all women are into fashion or that men can't be into fashion, but -- but! -- don't you think that if there were more articles on fashion than sports on here that BWC would get labeled a chick website even though right now it's considered gender-neutral even though it kinda caters more to stereotypically male interests like sports, beer, and politics? (Again, I'm making a generalization, I know. I saw in another recent post that a lot of you women are into beer and "Lord of the Rings," and politics are obviously something that affect us all.) My point is: Isn't it easier for the world to accept stereotypically guy things than stereotypically feminine things?

    Rather than argue semantics, Diane, women, men, what do you want to see covered on BWC? And are YOU willing to step up to cover it?

  21. emily.timbol@gmail.comJune 1, 2009 at 12:27 PM

    There is undoubtably a double standard when it comes to how men and women's attitudes/personalities/@hole qualities are perceived. It's not as simple as the difference between the vernacular; forget about trying to decipher whether "bitch", "jerk", or "Hillary Clinton" is the worst thing you can call someone, it all depends on how you react to them.

    I love men, I really do, and the last thing I want to happen is to be accused of being a man-hating-bra-burning-femin-nazi (wouldn't be the first time) but I am so tired of them saying things like, "oh I totally admire and respect strong women, I think it's sexy. Also, looks aren't important", and then walking down the street with Kiki, the 5'10 65lb model who like, totally loves Hannah Montana and thinks politics is yucky.

    Strong women are consistenly ostricized in the media/culture as being "bitchy", "over-bearing", "harpy", "feminist", or etc because, like it or not, there is still a prominent societal belief that women should be submissive, gentle, and follow their husbands wherever he chooses whist maintaining a 34 inch waist and having dinner on the table. That is especially true in the Christian circles, if I have one more guy tell me he loves how strong I am and how great it is that I speak up in church, and by the way do I have Kiki's phone number, I'm gonna lose it.

    If a man is a "jerk" he gets promoted, high fived, laid, and respected. If a woman is a "bitch" for exemplifying this same qualities she is ostracized, berated, demoted, feared, and usually single.

    It's not fair, but I think that's all part of what comes with the punishment we get for the fall. God said that Eve would (I forget the exact wording) fight against Adam, which is exactly where all this stems from.

  22. @emily: I agree with 90% of your comment. All except this part:

    "If a man is a "jerk" he gets promoted, high fived, laid, and respected. If a woman is a "bitch" for exemplifying this same qualities she is ostracized, berated, demoted, feared, and usually single."

    The thesis of this entire post is that this statement is untrue, not because women won't be labeled "bitch", but because the male jerk (asshole) is not nearly as admired as your statement suggests.

  23. @Jordan

    oh I got that, I just disagree. I'm not saying that the male "Jerk" won't be called that publicly, I'm just saying he won't have any ill come his way because of it. I feel like there are a lot of male "Jerk's" in positions of extreme power and influence, who make no attempt to hide there "jerky-ness". They might socially be a little less desirable (I don't want to invite Alec Baldwin to a dinner party) but when it comes to influence they are actually more respected, whereas women are not. Does that make sense? It does in my small, feeble minded female mind (kidding).

  24. As a female reader, I've noticed that BWC tends to be geared more for a male audience. I just don't get why 1/3 of the magazine is devoted to sports. While there's nothing wrong with sports, and of course some women are crazy about sports as much as men are, it just seems like it's a very male editorial decision to devote so much time to that topic. An article here and there, great. But a regular section on sports -- just don't get how that fits in with BWC mission of being an "alternative to franchise faith." Is the main problem with franchise faith publications that they don't cover enough sports stories?

    If BWC collective wants to reach out to male readers, then it should bill itself as a publication for guys.

    Also, Susan Isaacs writes in her comments:

    "If there aren't more women writing for BWC, who's to blame? The women who aren't writing, that's who."

    Well, I'm an experienced woman writer who has submitted a few articles to BWC. The first one was rejected because it wasn't quite the right tone. Fair enough. I've been in this business long enough to take rejection in stride. I tried again, and never got a response from BWC even though I tried emailing it a second time. Still, no feedback whatsoever.

    I've been published several times in Christianity Today and other national publications and am getting a small book published. So I'm no novice. If I'm not the right type of writer for BWC collective, that's fine. Just tell me. But if they really want women writers -- here I am, willing to write, but I don't really feel inclined to submit again.

  25. The sports articles are an attempt for we men to justify the hours we invest on the couch. It may look like slothfulness to our wives, but dammit it's research.

  26. Yes, we want to see them fail, but God wants them to see them converted

  27. As one of the women contributors to BWC I see a couple of things:

    First, though some women do follow sports, it seems that some readers and contributors see the 'sports' section of the magazine as indicative of a male bias.

    Second, I don't see a preponderance of male voices on the site. I see a lot of women writing for the site.

    Third, BWC is bound to be reflective of the cultural context in which we find ourselves, and therefore, somehow biased in favor of men (and whites and tall people). Perhaps because we have never taken a stand against it, we do not show a 'pro-woman' tendency.

    So, here's my question:

    Should BWC have a section focused on 'traditionally feminine interests'? What would that be? How could we pursue more 'equality' without falling into stereotypes? For example, my husband is a much better cook than I am, but he's also the 'breadwinner' in our house, as I spend more time than he does watching our kid and doing other 'domestic things' (mostly because he's in a *dominant male* profession that brings in much more than I would as a writer.)

    What would BWC look like if it was dedicated to publishing and promoting women's voices and women's 'issues' (and HOPEFULLY a diversity of voices in general?)

    I'm seriously asking. Please leave your thoughts!

  28. Ah, Penny--your words are a sweet fragrance. Good questions.

    If we are an alternative to franchise faith, that means we can do whatever we want. :)
    But seriously. Maybe we should make a special point to emphasis stories and people who are doing an exceptional job at living with Christ's principles, regardless of gender stereotypes.
    "Therefore, there is no Greek of Jew, slave or free, male or female, but all are in Christ, and all are equal."

    I am eager to see us pursue articles of beautiful life that celebrate this equality before Christ.

    Perhaps I am still too vague, but I'm glad this discussion is going somewhere.

  29. I'm with Dan, and Douglas R. Hofstadter, and Ruth King, and Candace West, and myriads of others who present evidence about the ways in which language can be and is used as a barrier to women.

    I think, Jordan, that your argument is a dangerous one precisely because you are a member of the demographic least likely to face prejudice (perhaps in the world?). I recognize that you are aware of this.

    This type of argument frustrates me because it is both incensing and silencing; this is why it took me so long to respond. I think it's because I read some troubling implications in your argument.

    IF the problem is solely with cultural expectations of men, and not with attitudes toward women, THEN:
    1. There is no sexism in language toward women who speak out.
    2. There is no sexism in the workplace toward women who speak out.
    3. There is no sexism toward women who speak out.

    This is the guillotine blade to my voice. It says to me, you silly dove, what are you complaining about? Don't you know there is no problem here, and that this is just a cliche? I feel like speaking up with a rebuttal will earn me a pat on the head.

    Would you like to read some sociolinguistic analyses of language toward women vs. language toward men? I am able to provide you with some references.

    I am happy to cede that both men and women have difficult expectations placed on them. As a man, you must have had some experiences to teach you this. However, I am not willing to allow you to do away with my experiences; for I am also a woman who gets shit done, and is willing to speak out, and who has been called a bitch.

  30. I see the double standard, Jordan. I understand what you mean with not tolerating antisocial behavior from either gender. But there's another source of annoyance-- the leader who must aggravate the team out of complacency, who must tell and unpopular truth, or who must motivate a lazy employee to get the lead out.

    It's in those moments you see the gender bias clearly.

  31. Oi, plenty to respond to.

    @anonymous reader who was rejected by Burnside:

    I'm sorry for your frustration, but this is a straw man; just because YOU'VE been rejected doesn't mean we reject women writers. That implication is ridiculous and insulting. Considering your experience in the writing field, it sounds like we dropped the ball. Or maybe we just didn't like your article. Either way, it has nothing to do with you being female, and I resent the accusation.

    As for sports, Burnside started around the time a revolution was happening in sports blogging, primarily from sites like Deadspin.com. I loved what was happening there, and felt Burnside had a similar ethos (irreverent, DIY, in opposition to the status quo). So I added a sports section.

    If there's a similar section we could add to make us seem less masculine, I'm all for it. I'm all for anyone who wants to write good content and head a new section. Unfortunately, it costs money to change the site completely around (money we don't have).

    As a final point, I went back over the last 10 articles in the SJ and General sections of Burnside.

    In the General Section, which John Pattison and I edit, 8 of the last 10 articles have been written by women.

    In the SJ Section, edited by Penny, 7 of the last 10 articles were written by men.

    I'm not sure what that says, but the cries of "Unfair!" come off, to me, like victimhood. Maybe it's because I'm a big, bad, oppressive white male, but blaming someone else when things don't go your way pisses me off.

  32. IF the problem is solely with cultural expectations of men, and not with attitudes toward women, THEN:
    1. There is no sexism in language toward women who speak out.
    2. There is no sexism in the workplace toward women who speak out.
    3. There is no sexism toward women who speak out.

    This is the guillotine blade to my voice. It says to me, you silly dove, what are you complaining about? Don't you know there is no problem here, and that this is just a cliche? I feel like speaking up with a rebuttal will earn me a pat on the head.

    I'm sorry you took this to be my meaning. I wholeheartedly agree there is sexism in the workplace, in our language, in about everything we do.

    But dismissing this argument as trite doesn't dismiss those things. It just points out the fallacy of THIS argument.

  33. Jordan,
    Sorry if I sounded like I was accusing BWC of rejecting me because I was a woman. That wasn't my intent. I was just reacting to Susan Isaacs comment that there aren't more women being published because there aren't women submitting articles -- I was trying to point out that that may not be the case.

    Also, if I sounded accusatory, it wasn't about being rejected, but more about not getting a response. I'd like to write for BWC, but if I don't know why my article was rejected, it's hard to know what to submit next time. I know it's probably hard to respond to all of the submissions you receive. I'll try to extend some grace next time....

    I may simply not be the type of writer you're looking for -- that's cool.

    With your article count comparing male to female writers, it's obvious that the male/female ratio is more balanced than it seems.

    So that begs the question, why does it seem to women like Diane and myself that BWC seems masculine? I'm not sure adding a fashion section is the answer....

    But it's an interesting discussion. And obviously a heated one...

  34. Anonymous:

    Thank you very much for responding to my last comment gracefully. I probably didn't give you much reason to, so I really appreciate it.

    It IS tough keeping up with all the submissions we receive (right now I have 19 articles open on my desktop). One of my biggest frustrations with myself has been an inability to communicate with everyone who sends stuff in.

    Please keep submitting articles! We're trying set things up to better respond.

    Also, to let everyone know, this awesome comment board has spurred some discussions between Penny and myself. I'm more than open to any suggestions anyone might have on how to even things out a bit.

  35. Decided to put my money where my mouth is and submit a piece. Wish me luck!