The Hostile Sexism Of Being "Pussy Whipped"

Within a week of getting engaged to my fiancé, Ian, two separate bouncers made a hurtful assumption about our dynamic. Before we met, Ian had a massive fro of curly hair, which he ultimately retired after graduating law school because the upkeep was difficult, and he wanted to look more professional for work. His driver's license still includes a photo of this mound of hair, though, and following Ian's proposal, the aforementioned bouncers made the same exact comment about his former 'do after glancing at his license.

"Did she make you cut your hair?" they each asked him, pointing at me.

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The first time this happened, I laughed. I never even knew Ian when he had his large mane, and I would have loved to have seen it and played with it as many of his friends did in the past. On the second occasion, I was less enthusiastic, not just because I'd heard the quip before, but because of its implications. While this comment might seem like a silly passing remark by a bouncer who screens hundreds of driver's licenses a day, it ultimately reinforces the sexist stereotype that nagging women are out to "pussy whip" their partners and suck the fun out of every situation. It's easier for some to assume that I made my partner "grow up" and cut his hair rather than consider that he might have made this choice on his own. This is damaging for women because it puts us in the role of the shrew or the shrill female who ruins everything.

The myth of "being whipped."

Many subscribe to the notion that men are easily "whipped" by their wives and girlfriends, meaning a woman has successfully exerted all control over her partner. Blogs have run wild with this idea, and a simple Google search will pull up dozens of "Signs You're Whipped" listicles.

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"Are you constantly walking around in fear that you forget to put the toilet seat down?" Jenni Maier wrote in a 2010 piece for BroBible. "Are people constantly flipping their hands and making semi-accurate whip noises whenever you’re around? If you answered yes to any of the above there’s a good chance that your very own balls are no longer in your possession."

It doesn't end with the listicles, either. Film and TV have capitalized on this stereotype for as long as I've been alive, and even a series that I really love, "The League," has perpetuated the bossy woman trope. In the program, attorney Rodney Ruxin is married to a gorgeous trophy wife named Sofia who puts a lot of restrictions on him. She doesn't let him watch porn, among other things, and he continuously complains to his friends that she is uptight. He does all of this while financing their expensive lifestyle and accompanying her on errands he'd rather skip.


Why the myth is silly at best, damaging at worst.

Earlier this year, British journalist Chas Newkey-Burden wrote in a piece for the Telegraph that he has witnessed men complaining about their "tyrant" wives many times.

"The typical culprit is the middle-class man who has reached that symbolic moment in life when, full of regret, he consigns his acoustic guitar to the attic," Newkey-Burden wrote. "Then, the moment he is in all-male company, out pour the denunciations of his better half ... I've been in social scenarios where it's even become competitive: a 'wimp-off' between a group of men, scrapping to mythologize their respective spouses as the bossiest, most possessive and least reasonable nag of them all."

This attitude sends the message that being domestic or "feminine" strips a man of his masculinity, and the woman is almost always to the force to blame. This also portrays the relationship as antagonistic rather than one of commitment and compromises on both sides. For example, a woman might ask her husband to switch the channel, because it is her turn to watch something; someone who says men are "whipped" might argue she is being controlling and trying to dictate what is watched. In reality, it makes her a fully functioning human being who just wants to watch the television show of her choice.


In his piece, Newkey-Burden pointed out that some men might rant more about their wives because of shifting gender roles at home. With more women in the workforce and more men helping out with household chores and parenting duties, "today’s middle-aged men are a bridging generation between two eras: the patriarchal times of their fathers, and the more liberal era their children will walk into."

"I can’t help thinking, though, that most men who boast of possessive wives are speaking wishfully," Newkey-Burden continued. "'She won’t let me out of her sight,' says one chap I know of his wife. I’ve met her — she clearly cannot wait for a night to her self."

The bossy woman stereotype goes beyond the home as well. A lot of women are penalized for seeming bossy at work while men are rewarded for demonstrating comparable traits. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who started the Lean In movement to encourage women to own their leadership qualities, has spoken many times about encountering resistance to her strong female personality. This inspired her to launch the "Ban Bossy" movement, which encourages young girls to embrace their leadership skills rather than feel ashamed of their bossy tendencies.


Many famous figures got behind Sandberg's Ban Bossy movement, including singer Beyoncé:

After Ban Bossy made headlines last year, Esquire writer Dan Hyman wrote a piece about why he loves his bossy wife and other so-called "bossy" women.

"Branding a young girl — the group predominantly given the label 'bossy' — with shame for taking control, leading the pack, albeit with a pushy mentality, is potentially damaging and definitely unfair. But every so often, and as was the case for my wife, and I imagine countless other successful women, being dubbed 'bossy' as a youngster does not at all hinder motivation for future success. Let me reiterate in more plain English: My wife is bossy. And proud of it."