bell hooks writes, “If I do not speak in a language that can be understood there is little chance for a dialogue.” Language matters. Words seem to shape our reality.
Part of what I love about the internet is that it gives space to feminist, social justice, and all around diverse voices. I love that marginalized groups are using the internet to share their experiences. I think of women like Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, Kat Blaque, all the ladies (Alesia, Fatima, Aurelia, & Ramou) at Black Girls Talking , all the ladies at Godless Bitches (please don’t pod fade). I know there are millions of people every day using their voices and dealing with the harassment and vitriol spewed all over them. I watch many of these people handle the worst of humanity without resorting to the ad hominem attacks, death/rape threats, and other tactics used by their harassers.
However, I’ve noticed a trend that makes me uncomfortable. I’m seeing a rise in terms like “chud” and “neckbeard.” Ok I had to look up “chud,” because I was really confused why people were suddenly bringing back the 1984 cult film C.H.U.D. – not the same chud.
Most people have heard or seen the meme about “neckbeards.” If you haven’t, “neckbeard” “is a pejorative term referring to unattractive, overweight and misogynistic Internet users who wear a style of facial hair in which a majority of the growth is present on the chin and neck.” I regularly hear people use this term to refer to a certain type of man – most often misogynists and/or MRAs. I certainly understand a desire and a need to call out misogyny or misogynic attitudes; however, I’d like to explore this particular meme a little more. Chud, seemingly less popular for now, has much the same meaning – while online definitions indicate a cross-gender use, I see it used for men more often.
Memes are pernicious. With a single click, and often very little thought, millions share these images. They, like all media, creep into our consciousness reinforcing all kinds of toxic thinking.
First, the use of “neckbeard” is an insult inherently based on appearance. These men aren’t attractive. Further, the description is also a form of fat-shaming (as overweight) is almost always in the description. It isn’t commenting on the alleged behavior these men are engaging in – only that they are unattractive and fat. So instead of calling out their behavior, we are making a statement about their appearance. This sounds eerily reminiscent of how men respond when a woman turns them down – you know that she’s fat or ugly anyway.
The second issue is the virgin-basement dweller. Dismantling this idea leads to the same toxic masculinity that leads to all kinds of problems. A man is only a man if he has sex – he must be virile and a sexual god, or he isn’t a man. This is a problem. There isn’t anything gained by participating in toxic masculinity. It perpetuates the attitudes these men are already expressing (in some cases). There is also the underlying sex-shaming built in as well. It makes me think of the Breakfast Club (is that too dated of a reference?). Claire (Molly Ringwald) and Allison (Ally Sheedy) are talking about sex. Claire has been asked if she is a virgin. Allison points out the question is a double edged sword. If Claire has had sex she’s a whore, if she hasn’t, she’s a prude. Women aren’t the only ones put into this position. Men are supposed to be sex-crazed studs. They are supposed to always want and will do anything to get it. Here’s the problem, it’s a lie. It’s a lie that leads to excusing men for rape. It’s a lie that belittles men for being victims of rape. It’s a lie that at best erases demisexual and asexual men (and that’s a terrible bar for “best” and at worst tears them apart for their orientation. Even if these guys are virgins, who cares? How is that relevant to their behavior? Because this meme is all about their behavior, right?
Finally, it ties into something bothers me, specifically what I’m going to call “fan-shaming.” So what if they like video games, or anime, or comic books or whatever? None of these things are bad – they may not be your thing, and that’s cool – but why attack someone else for their thing? While any media can be problematic, these interests aren’t intrinsically bad. I, for example, am a huge horror movie fan. Horror is notorious for its problematic content (Check out “Can Horror Movies be Feminist” for more on the horror genre). But my love for the genre isn’t a problem. The neckbeard fan-shaming is similar to the increasing popularity of calling women and girls “basic” or “basic bitches.” Again, a derogatory label attached to women for, I guess, not liking the “right things” – and if someone could get me on the mailing list for the “right things” that’d be great. I like a lot of things that many people would consider silly, childish, or yes basic. I don’t ask other people to join into my stuff, but I’m also not (or working on not) judging people for their interests. As women, we are already criticized for everything we do – why are we adding to that weight?
According to usage, both of these terms specifically seek to denigrate the appearance of men. Can’t we do better than call them names? And names specifically calling them unattractive? Patriarchy isn’t kind to anyone when it comes to appearance. Yes, men suffer from body shaming and body issues, so why add on to that?
So before you utter the phrase, neckbeard, before you share that meme of an overweight guy with an unkempt beard – think about what you are saying. If there is misogyny, call it by name. If it’s racism, classism, or whatever-ism – call it by name. Using the actual words matter. In 2009, there was a study that found men admitted to rape, as long as it wasn’t called rape. To me, this means, we can’t hide behind terms like sexual assault or neckbeard. We need to call the behavior what it is in order for it to change.