Noblesse Oblige

Or, Was I Offensive to Little Girls?

There was a phrase in the previous blog entry on the 6-year-old kid, where I imagined the school staff: “Run in circles! Pull out your hair! Scream like a little girl!”

Today Nancy in Illinois complained that was “sexist language.” She writes:

I’m not about to accuse you of being a sexist, because everything of yours I’ve ever read makes plain you’re not. It seems likely you wrote as you did just because the offensive phrase you employed has been repeated so much that its inherent derision has become muffled. But in the ZT piece, did you HAVE to phrase your justified ridicule as ‘Scream like a little girl!’? It is tough enough as a girl to grow up feeling like a full and empowered member of the human race, when virtually all murder victims in TV fiction are portrayed as pretty young women. We females don’t need an added implication that we ARE the weaker sex by an (even unintended) putdown suggesting we even start out less brave and more dramatically hysterical than boys. Just ask Kit.

Of course, Kit (my wife) didn’t voice any problem with the phrase; like me, she’s not particularly enamored of political correctness. The fact is, girls do scream more than boys, especially when they’re little. When I said as much to Nancy, she replied:

Having raised both a boy and a girl, I’m not persuaded that their vocalization rates differ as significantly as claimed, but that is irrelevant. Your writing, while entertainingly intolerant of stupidity, bigotry, and meanness of spirit, consistently upholds high standards of courtesy to the innocent and well-intentioned. That is not political correctness; it’s just politeness, perhaps even noblesse oblige [italics from the original]. The fact that your track record consistently has been so sterling is what made the exception stand out.

Standing Out ≠ Outstanding

Nancy successfully avoided the knee-jerk reaction of “I’ve read you for 10 years, and thought you were wonderful, but now that I see one thing I disagree with I’ve come to understand you’re scum and I quit.” — which so, so many people have done in the past. (I appreciate that, Nancy!)

I have to admit I raised an eyebrow at the “Just ask Kit!” part, as if any woman could instantly see what a man could not …which I’m sure some would think was a sexist idea. But I passed it over to Kit again to ask specifically. Her response: “I get her point, but if your analogy had been ‘screamed like a stuck pig,’ would that have been bad or OK? It seems to me you hit a nerve.”

Certainly! So that leaves the question: is this a case of my being insensitive, or Nancy being overly sensitive, even “politically correct”? From my dismissal of hysterical adults she made an immediate connection to murder victims and French chivalry. Since she did me the favor of not knee-jerking her reaction, I’m returning the favor by asking for feedback — I’d be interested in what you think: comments are open below so we can get a discussion going.

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99 Comments on “Noblesse Oblige

  1. It’s an overreaction on Nancy’s part.

    Do little girls scream? Yes or no? Yes, they do, therefore your analogy was correct.

    By the way, had you used the “stuck pig” analogy, I’m sure PETA or some other pork-hugging group would have objected as well.

  2. As a 66-year-old man, I can remember when “screamed like a little girl” meant nothing more than what was said.

  3. I don’t know if Nancy overreacted or not. My feeling is that the phrase is a tired cliche, and is not worth using. It is lazy writing, and you are not a lazy writer.

  4. I don’t think it is political correctness gone awry. If you would listen to my 4 year old boy cry, of which I put about 4 minutes of on youtube today for posterity, you might agree that the sex doesn’t matter, but the age often does.

    That being said would scream like a little boy have created the same imagery in your reader’s minds?

  5. I beg to differ with Nancy; she is in fact demanding “political correctness”. And yes, I think she has her sensitivity meter cranked up too high on this one.

  6. What could you have used as an analogy? What did their screams liken to? Themselves perhaps?

    Analogy is useful to put a picture into the reader/listener’s mind in order to fully or more clearly pass on the emotion contained in the report. Without this analogy you could have said, simply ‘They screamed’. Dull and inexpressive.

    Some expressive stereotype was needed to convey the story appropriately. Should you have said ‘screamed like a Scotsman?’ Or ‘screamed like a man in labor?’

    The ‘little girl’ reference may not be flattering but is is a common stereotype and is often true. I think Nancy would have been justified in her complaint if you had been directing your ire at women, little girls, herself or some other person outside of the story.

    It is unfortunate that this phrase was taken by Nancy as an insult but your intention seems to have been to insult and, when choosing to insult someone, there are no cases where the insult itself will not be offensive. Perhaps Nancy would have better served her intentions if she had offered constructive advice on what you should have written rather than just what you shouldn’t have.

    Bottom line, to refer back to Bill in Maryland: I’d much rather be “lazy” than “dull and inexpressive”! -rc

  7. Isn’t it bleeding that stuck pigs do well?

    I suppose “shriek like a banshee” would have worked.

    In Irish mythology, a Banshee (“woman of the fairy mounds”, or in Welsh, “Hag of the mist”!!) is always female — so I would have had the same problem! -rc

  8. Over-reaction.

    I raised two boys and four girls.

    If you had written. “Run in circles! Pull out your hair! Scream like a little child!” I would have imagined one of my daughters, never one of the boys.

    Now that they are grown, none of them would do it.

  9. Well, I am female, and I STILL scream like a girl because that is exactly what I am, and I’m proud of it. The fact that I can scream more, louder, or at a higher pitch than some men or scream more often that most men makes no difference to me because it is the way God made me.

    Case in point: Last week I’m awaiting a pizza delivery. We live on 20 acres outside of town in the “extended delivery area.” Pizza delivery person calls and is lost. I peek out window and see him in front of my driveway. I open the door so he can see the open door and flip on the porch light. I scream bloody murder into the phone because there, on a giant web, in what would appear to be a perfect Halloween decoration is a spider the size of Texas. I slam the door shut, throw down the phone and tell my husband that I’m moving out if he does not act quickly – to which he gives a small eye roll and proceeds to the door. He opens the door, expecting a small spider, assuming I have emotionally over-reacted as usual in his estimation. Instead, he finds a spider that was about 3.5 by 2.5 inches at perfect face level. Its back has neon green spots. It looks like it is ready to eat us. He is equally as shocked as I was.

    Did he scream? No.

    He said “HOLY $H!*!!” (emphasis on HOLY like HO LEE as if it were really two words) — and slammed the door just like I slammed the door.

    I am a woman. I was made different. And I am proud of that fact. It is perfectly okay to scream like a girl. That is who I am. That is a characteristic of most girls. The problem is not that we are different. The problem is that people try to make out the fact that we ARE different as a bad thing.

    Well it’s not.

    I scream like a girl, and I fight like a girl. Women are stronger than men in a lot of ways. We can do things they can’t. They can do things we can’t. I’m speaking in general, of course, not in absolutes.

    Nancy seems to think that screaming implies that you are weak. I find it a part of human nature. “It is what it is.” I scream …A LOT. I can’t help it. I probably scream more than three-fourths of the women I know. I can’t watch a half-scary movie without screaming. Does that make me weak, Nancy?

    No. No way in hell.

    Does being scared of spiders make me weak? I don’t think so. I think it is a healthy fear since I know nothing about which spiders are bad for my health, and which ones are my friends. Does anyone want to call my husband weak for that? I dare you to do it to his face, and good luck in ICU if you take me up on that.

    I think you took the comment a step further away from alleged sexist, Randy, by bringing it from just being female to being a child, and I can’t find any fault in what you said.

    I think Nancy should do some self reflection and ask herself why she thinks that being who you are is the same as being weak?

    We need to teach our young children that when somebody points out a difference in men and women, it is not a bad thing. When somebody tells me I fight like a girl, I say “You’re damn right!”

    Yes, there are definitely differences between men and women. There’s a French phrase for that, too: “Vive la différence.” And that’s one I completely agree with! -rc

  10. “scream LIKE a little girl”. to me that implies that it would have to be a male doing the screaming. you wouldn’t say that “a girl screamed like a girl”…since by definition they would. so to say that someone is screaming like someone or something they are not, (in this case) it would appear that you are being sexist, only that you are implying that it is a male that is doing the screaming. but as a man, I am not offended.

    but seriously. anyone who is looking to find insensitive messages hiding in writings are going to find them. as I have just shown, if you try hard enough you can twist ideas into just about anything you want to in order to fit your own preconceived notions of what was intended.

    best advice I have ever been given, nobody can insult or offend you unless you let them.

    That is good advice. But regarding your premise, “‘scream LIKE a little girl’ implies that it would have to be a male doing the screaming,” not necessarily. A little boy could, a grown man can — and a grown woman might. -rc

  11. Screamed like a man kneed in the groin?

    I’ve actually never heard a man scream from that. Usually the sound is pretty muffled. -rc

  12. To raise a strong person, it is better to teach your child to be strong than to teach everyone around them to watch what they say. You don’t learn how to be a good football player by telling the other team to be gentle, you lift weights and toughen yourself up. Teaching your child to protest every innocuous comment they hear is closer to teaching them how to whine than teaching them how to be strong.

  13. “Scream like a woman” would have been sexist and generally wrong, a put-down for which Nancy in Illinois would have grounds for complaint.

    But “Scream like a little girl” seems different. Since Nancy is going to the effort of carefully explaining why she felt offended, I suppose it’s worth analyzing why it, nonetheless, was not inappropriate.

    First, whether or not a person is offended is their business; if Nancy or anyone else say they were offended, that’s the end of the question.

    But whether Randy was offensive depends on why the phrase is mockery. If it had been directed against little boys, then the mockery would be gender based and therefore wrong. However, it was mockery of ADULTS. It related primarily to age-inappropriate fearful behavior MUCH more strongly than than to gender stereotypes.

    (One could quibble that it’s not clear whether there WAS a gender difference, to the extent that some of the school staff was female, but since Nancy didn’t quibble it would be silly for me to.)

    It’s good to be aware of the potential for problems in a gendered language, but in the grand scale of things, this case is as meaningless as dressing a girl in a frilly skirt. One would be better off fighting gender stereotypes like Halloween witches (female, malevolent, sneaky) and Frankenstein’s monster (male, strong).

  14. I think it is the adjective “little” that saves you. If you had just said “like a girl”, well, I’m not sure I could forgive you. 🙂

  15. How about the old standby, “When In Danger, When In Doubt, Run In Circles, Scream And Shout …”?

  16. “Screamed like a little kid” would have been preferable. There is no difference in scream frequency or pitch or volume at the small-child stage, as far as I’ve noticed; once the age of gender-related differentiation in the acoustic range of males and females is attained, “little girl” is a demeaning epithet.

    It was meant to be. But then, “screamed like a little kid” would also have been. -rc

  17. Screamed like a girl. To scream like a girl. Hmmm. I truly think this phrase has nothing to do with gender, bravery, weakness, or age. I believe it has to do with pitch. No one can hit that high note, that ear piercing, screeching decibel better than a little girl… or a man who has been kneed in the whatsis. “Screamed like a girl” is easier and quicker to say and maybe less offensive to the sensitive. I have a younger brother, husband, both a son and a daughter, and two grand daughters. I’ve heard my share of screams and this is my opinion. Thank you, Randy and Nancy, for making me think one more time today.

  18. Hmm. I can see her point. The picture of the school board running around, pulling their hair out and shrieking like little girls does seem to lump little girls in with idiocy and weakness, and I’m wondering if that’s what you meant to do – like Nancy said, it just doesn’t seem like you. I suppose that’s the problem with simile. Things aren’t always completely like another thing. I can’t say it particularly offended my female person, but I suppose I can see why someone was offended.

    Perhaps it would have been better to picture it as it likely was – running around and shrieking like idiots.

  19. I might not have noticed when you posted your comment, but I will say that that particular comment is often used in a sexist way. This is not to say that that’s how you used it, or that it’s always used that way. However, I’ve certainly heard a number of people use it as a put-down. Screaming when one is frightened or surprised may be a perfectly normal reaction for many people (I personally trained myself out of it at a reasonably young age because it made my throat hurt), but a lot of people look down on it condescendingly for reasons that I don’t understand. I’ve heard several snide comments about it that were probably unjustified, but still stuck in my craw.

    One example that I will never forget was a time in high school when I was playing a game with some youth group members. We were in an unfamiliar building in an area that wasn’t the safest, and the game (Sardines) involved wandering around in the dark, so everyone was a bit on edge. My best friend and I were hiding next to what we assumed was a closet door, ears straining to hear anyone coming to find us, when all of a sudden the “closet door” opened and some of the youth group guys jumped out. She was very startled, and screamed. They all said, “Oh, what a girl!” and started making fun of her. I was livid. Why make fun of someone for screaming in that sort of situation??

    That’s just one example (probably the one that’s annoyed me the most), but I’ve heard it so many times; a female friend of mine will scream for whatever reason (justified or no), and then I’ll hear, “Oh, you’re such a girl,” or “Stop being a girl,” with perhaps follow-up comments suggesting that you’re weak or a coward. So while again I don’t think that Randy, you were being sexist, I can understand that this could be a sore point for someone.

  20. Randy, after years of Sunday school and Church camp, I can assure you that young girls can scream at frequencies that can make your ears ring and eyes water. I expect that sound is what folks imagine a banshee sounds like! The high shriek unique to little girls is exactly what I imagined when I read the description. And, yes, I am a “little” (5’2″) girl, and yes I scream…but I certainly cannot attain the volume and range that I am sure I could when I was 10! The phrase is somewhat overused, so possibly the reader was a bit “rubbed raw” but previous uses and yours put her over the edge? In any regard, I certainly wasn’t offended, and the visual provided by the words was spot on.

  21. On behalf of porcine-Americans coast to coast, I find her proposed alternative wording deeply offensive.


    PS: sheesh

  22. Once again, I must turn to the words of the late, great George Carlin:

    “There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of those words in and of themselves. They’re only words. It’s the context that counts. It’s the user. It’s the intention behind the words that makes them good or bad. The words are completely neutral. The words are innocent. I get tired of people talking about bad words and bad language. Bulls**t! It’s the context that makes them good or bad. The context. That makes them good or bad.”

    I truly believe that we, as a society, have taken “political correctness” too far, because we in the western world have raised PC to a level where it can actually become offensive, thereby defeating the whole purpose.

  23. It *is* a phrase that I dislike, because it does seem to say that screaming is something for weak, little, girls. Of course, the word “hysteria”, also completely in our consciousness so that we don’t even recognize it, is incredibly sexist. It is from the word for uterus, and means:

    1. an uncontrollable outburst of emotion or fear, often characterized by irrationality, laughter, weeping, etc.

    2. Psychoanalysis. a psychoneurotic disorder characterized by violent emotional outbreaks, disturbances of sensory and motor functions, and various abnormal effects due to autosuggestion.

    Whereas, to have male reproductive organs is to say someone has guts.

    Just a couple of things to ponder. I do realize that prepubescent and adolescent girls have the *ability* to scream in a range not found in most adults, but still.

  24. I have to agree with FJ from Wisconsin, that “screamed like a little kid” would have been easier to take. Being a woman and being teased about being “such a girl” whenever I’m frightened or out of my depth is rather frustrating. Weakness is not a sexual trait… men get frightened too. I recognize the phrase and know its intent as an insult to those in a panic for no reason… but its frustrating to hear people perpetuating that stereotype while I struggle to assert myself as a confident, capable woman.

    I beg you to remember that language is a translation of thought. How you speak reflects how you think. You revealed your unconscious bias by your choice of phrase. (We all have biases.) It goes the other direction too: you can change your thoughts by changing your language. That’s the real intent behind “political correctness”. It isn’t to be whiny or play the “victim game”… it is to change thoughts and improve communication. People take it to an extreme which weakens its real purpose.

    I would like to address: “From my dismissal of hysterical adults she made an immediate connection to murder victims and French chivalry.” What a dismissal on your part! She didn’t make the connection you say she did. It was a connection to political correctness. You make it sound like she jumped to unreasonable conclusions.

    In the end though, I respect you and your publication and most likely always will. I know you meant no disrespect, and maybe Nancy was a trifle oversensitive. (It’s hard not to be when the frustration builds.) It is impossible to think about the implications of EVERY common phrase, which is why I forgive it when I know the speaker in question is known to be as thoughtful and deliberate as you.

  25. The picture I got when reading your article was incoherent, screaming adults running in circles and being idiots – accomplishing nothing very loudly and annoyingly.

    ‘Screaming like idiots’ might have worked as well, but then wouldn’t someone complain about using ‘idiots’ in such a manner because it disses idiots? And then you’d still have this thread!


  26. I find Nancy’s comment to “Just ask Kit” far more offensive than any reference to screaming girls. Is Nancy implying that all women share a common opinion due to their gender?

    As a young girl I could out-scream most anyone. As a grown woman I am capable of forming my own opinions, based on my experience and independent of my gender.

    Also, I want to know on what research Nancy bases her statement that “virtually all murder victims in TV fiction are portrayed as pretty young women”. What TV fiction is Nancy watching? I enjoy many evening dramas and see a wide variety of victims of both genders portrayed. Perhaps Nancy needs to broaden her viewing habits.

  27. To me, this proves the point that some people just WANT to be offended by things other people say. I honestly don’t see how anyone could get offended by the statement “scream like a little girl”…and especially to say that it’s “hard enough to grow up as a girl feeling empowered”. REALLY? It just shows weakness, and almost that they aren’t happy unless they are unhappy.

    I am almost 100% non-PC. Secretaries vs. administrative assistants? Employees vs. Team Members? Handicapped vs. Differently Abled? If you are too weak, or get offended by meaningless words or titles, then I have no desire to be around you or talk to you anyway.

  28. Randy Cassingham wrote “It was meant to be [a demeaning epithet]. But then, “screamed like a little kid” would also have been.”

    The second phrase seems to capture more of what I’m guessing you were trying to convey, i.e., that adults were acting like kids by not using the wisdom that is supposed to come with age. The original phrase seems to be conveying that they were acting irrationally by not using the rationality that comes with being a male.

    How many people have to be offended for it to be something we should try to eliminate from our language? If one in ten is offended, it’s PC and the one is whining? If three in ten are offended, it’s truly offensive and we stop using the phrase? I think our language is so rich and full of possibilities (and Randy is such a wonderful artisan with it) that we can always find a phrase that works as well or make up a new one, when we find one that has become offensive to even a small minority.

    I don’t believe Nancy was whining and the phrase bothered me too. However, I think her polite, well-worded note would have been better answered by a quick response of “Thanks, I’ll watch that in the future.”

    If it’s truly something to be bothered about, then why isn’t it worthy of public airing and discussion? -rc

  29. As the father of a “little girl” (she’s 8 now), I am often in the company of several of them. Leaving aside fear responses and generalizations about gender, I have noticed a distinct difference to the tonal quality of her and her friends’ shrieks and screams to that of the boys on the block and in her school. To ‘scream like a girl’, as far as I am concerned, is to emit a shockingly jarring and high-pitched scream or squeal. Usually inside and unreasonably close to my ears.

  30. Of course, if you did say “scream like a little child” I’d fully expect someone to call you ageist.

  31. It depends on what you mean by “little girl”. I don’t think there’s any difference in kids, but by the time you get to young teenagers there’s a certain type of girl who screams in a way that seems to snap-freeze my spine. True, it tends to be when they’re excited or in mock fear (eg, about to be thrown into a pool) but it’s really quite nasty.

    I’m pretty sure these girls are the minority of girls of their age — but they do happen to be the loudest.

  32. I have raised three boys, and have several nieces, not too mention being a ‘girl’ myself. ALL small children can make your ears bleed when they decide to have a fit (my youngest male child is especially loud and shrill). However, in my opinion, only a girl child (myself included) can escalate the drama to the extent that properly paints the picture you were shooting for. Close your eyes and picture a person totally freaking out, running in circles, and screaming. What does that person look like? She’s a female, that’s what. Because guys cuss and punch things when they get freaked out. It’s not a stereotype, it’s an honest observation on the differences between the reactions of the male and female human.

    As for how this observations interferes with being a strong, capable, adult female, I don’t understand that one. I am a very strong (physically and emotionally) woman, and I still scream my head off when the boys sneak up behind me (they think this is hilarious). I think the problem is with the perception, not the intent.

  33. I have four kids all grown now. And I can tell you the girls always screamed louder than the boys did. And it was much more irritating to hear. Which is where the saying comes from in the first place and really had nothing to do with girls or women being weak.

  34. To me Nancy’s logic is twisted. Randy didn’t imply weakness by the phrase, he described a situation. Nancy however is the one associating screaming little girls with weakness, and therefore she is the one actually being sexist.

    I hate political correctness. It’s silly. It gives people an opportunity, or an excuse even, to be offended where no offense was intended. And even more silly, gives people “the right” to be offended on someone else’s behalf.

  35. I have to agree with Nancy on this one, especially the statement that, “Your writing, while entertainingly intolerant of stupidity, bigotry, and meanness of spirit, consistently upholds high standards of courtesy to the innocent and well-intentioned.” She only wrote what a lot of us were thinking, but much more eloquently that I could have written it.

    Like Nancy, I have a daughter and son, too. My daughter, though younger, was always the more aggressive of the 2 children. The screams I heard were usually my son’s — after he’d teased her 1 too many times and her temper kicked in.

  36. I think this is a case of oversensitivity – although I do understand the argument about subconscious programming of stereotypes. However I like to think that, after a lifetime of hearing jokes about an Englishman, and Irishman and a Scotsman I do not automatically assume that every Irishman I meet is stupid nor that every Scotsman is a tight-wad.

    To me a perfect example of the stupidity of people in this area was the Los Angeles “Master/Slave” thing in 2003 (see CNN report). What’s wrong with an accurate description of a technical relationship that’s perfectly acceptable in the world of computing?
    A few years ago my employer ran a series of one-day workshops on “Recognising Diversity”. I came away from that thoroughly depressed. The strong message that came across was “Whatever you and say and do will offend somebody – therefore do say/nothing”. There was nothing about the flip side – recognition of ‘diversity’ and acceptance of that that fact that other people’s words/actions are mostly likely not intended to offend. Lighten up and do not read meaning into sentences that isn’t there.

    Also World please note that if I tell you euphemistically to “go away” it will be because of something you have said/done – or maybe because of the mood I’m in. It will have nothing to do with your skin colour, hair colour, racial origins, the fact you’re older/younger than me, your sex, your sexual orientation…

  37. I’m going with Randy on this one. I just saw Paranormal Activity at the theater. When a dude with a basso blotto voice screams in terror in high pitched voice, it sounded just like a little girl.

    Maybe such is sexist, but it’s spot on. What I find intriguing is that Nancy is upset at sexism, but yet still demands an unfair “gentlemanly conduct” from Randy. Sexist? Or rules of noblesse oblige?

    Which is it gonna be?

  38. In my neighborhood, boys and girls in their first decade of life seem pretty well matched in the decibels their screams can produce. However, the girls clearly have an edge when it comes to the “quality” of shrillness. Future alto-sopranos must get their start somewhere, eh?

  39. The simile is a powerful tool, however, it does typically invoke a stereotype to create its effect. I think I tend to agree in this context that the stereotype of little girls being weak and vulnerable is one that should be discouraged.

    I agree, but I said nothing about “weak and vulnerable”. So who is being sexist by coming up with that image from a mere scream? -rc

  40. screaming like a girl, running like a girl, while not meaning to offend, are phrases that encourage a lack of future change. I can think of no reason that girls would scream (perhaps more correctly said, squeal) more than boys, or not run as well as boys, beyond the fact that they’re expected to squeal more and run worse. So it’s really up to you. If you want boys and girls to continue in their (pointless?) traditional gender roles, keep pointing out the differences. If not, don’t. Maybe your verbal caution won’t have an impact, but in case it does… Let me say that I wasn’t offended, but that I totally see Nancy’s point.

  41. In my experience, little boys yell, little girls scream. I could go into a theory about evolutionary comparatives and males being predisposed to respond with aggression, but in my head it’s largely a semantics issue — I use yell vs scream based largely on pitch — a boy yelling focuses on raising his volume, a girl screaming focusing on raising her pitch.

    I don’t think it’s sexist or politically incorrect to acknowledge differences between genders. Of course, I also think people should focus more on the message being communicated than on searching for something to get offended by. I’m not saying that how something is said isn’t important, I’m just saying it’s not as important. Besides, just because someone takes offense at the way I say something doesn’t mean I shouldn’t say it. I’ve known since middle school where that road leads.

  42. My wife and I have raised two girls and have close friends that have raised boys and girls. I’ve watched both sexes react to fear and surprise. Admittedly, this is a small sample, but from what I have observed, the first reaction of most of the girls have been to scream… loudly… in a VERY high-pitch, intended to cause discomfort and incapacitate their assailant. The boys on the other hand (with a some exceptions) may scream, but WHILE striking out! In fact, I remember an incident in my youth when my father tried to surprise my younger brother by jumping out and saying “boo”. My brother (who was probably 4-5) didn’t make a sound, he simply slammed his pudgy little fist into our father’s nose, THEN he got scared… I think from the sight of the blood.

    My point is that I feel that she’s overreacting. Sometimes, a statement doesn’t have to be ACCURATE to create the desired visual imagery. “Scream like a little boy” may cause the reader to THINK about the statement, and perhaps examine the phrase, but it would not cause the image to immediately come to mind. So, the phrase serves its intended purpose.

    Does it promote feelings of inequality between the sexes? Perhaps only in those predisposed to see the differences in every shadow, and behind every door.

  43. Jeez, does Nancy overanalyze every teeny tiny phrase she reads? Seems to me like a huge waste of time and brainpower.

    I agree with commenters who suggest that Nancy is overreacting and is the one screaming like a girl over the comment.

  44. I have to admit that when I first read “screamed like a little girl,” I was thinking that it was a rather tired — and untrue in my experience — phrase. I grew up with three sisters (and I am a female). I also don’t remember a whole lot of screaming…unless you count when we would hide under each other’s beds and grab the legs of an unsuspecting sister as she climbed into bed in the dark.

    I guess I’d just rather we retired that phrase.

  45. “Scream like a little boy” is never an insult, whereas “scream like a little girl” always is. At least in America, where I live. So is “throw like a girl”, “run like a girl”, and “cry like a girl”. Hmmmm, seems to be a pattern.

    If someone told me I “scream like a little boy,” you can bet it would be meant as an insult. To insist it wouldn’t be is to be what I’ve been accused of: unthinking. -rc

  46. There are a number of children in my neighborhood, and the screams as they play can be rather piercing. Up until about 4 or 5, the scream rate seems to be about equal. After that, the girls scream more often.

    Of course, the exception that proves the rule is the 7-year-old boy who is often driven to tears & screams by the mental torture of the little girl across the street.

    At one time, I would have objected to the phrase as well, but as I age, I begin to see that extreme PCness is another form of ZT. If one spends time to examine every utterance for possible offense, conversation would grind to a halt.

  47. You used a generally accepted phrase that, while based on a stereotype, conveyed the idea you wanted to convey. Was it sexist? I suppose so. There is no freedom to not be offended in this country, in spite of what the politically correct crowd seems to think. If you talk long enough you’re bound to offend someone, if just for the sake of expressing faux indignation. She was offended, she spoke up about it. Are we done here?

    As for “It is tough enough as a girl to grow up feeling like a full and empowered member of the human race…”, I grew up as a male (Pretty sure I still am a male) and at no time in my childhood did I feel like a full and empowered anything. Life, the universe and everything pretty much conspired to remind me daily that I was small, insignificant and nobody really cared what I thought. Welcome to childhood. The quicker you get used to it the less painful it will be.

    So true! -rc

  48. My first thought that it was an overreaction and in fact regardless of her experience of raising both a boy and a girl, as I did, girls generally are bigger screamers. Just look at the audience when Elvis or the Beatles were performing, who were the ones screaming? However, I did think about in terms of myself. Whenever I hear comments that equate Jews as being cheap I find it annoying. Granted there are cheap Jews but so are there cheap people in all backgrounds and some of the biggest philanthropists are Jewish. With that in my mind, subjectivity wins out over objectivity and I guess I can concede Nancy her point.

  49. Oriana in Seattle wrote: “People take it to an extreme which weakens its real purpose.” I think she’s on target.

    There are several interesting “threads” running in the current news cycle over a recent allegation of “racism” against a potential buyer of an NFL team. Some of the most thoughtful comments I’ve heard in response are from those who would be justifiably offended by truly racist comments … and their main point against those crying “racist” in this case? That the “frivolous” use of the term “racist” has weakened its true meaning.

    I think Nancy is treading on the same thin ice, throwing the “sexism” epithet about when the situation is so tenuously “sexist” weakens the use of the term in situations where it is deserved.

  50. I’m with Nancy on this one. Kinda. There are quite a few references of this sort in the language (most of them not fit for decent company), and I’m bored with them. I don’t believe that girls scream more than boys, and (with respect to the more off-color references), I suspect that males are more likely to be subject to genital pain than females.

    It seems to me that some people attribute weakness, vulnerability and hysteria to “the girls” when, in fact, these characteristics (in the context of this discussion) more rightfully belong to “the boys.” When such expressions are used by someone only occasionally, I pay them little mind. Recurrent usage gives me a creepy feeling that I’m in the company of one whose worldview is more skewed than I want to deal with.

    IOW, don’t make a habit of it.

  51. I asked my girlfriend what she thought about the quote, and about Nancy’s response. I submitted that Nancy was over-reacting.

    In retrospect, that was not the brightest choice I could have made. We had a frank and invigorating exchange of ideas.

    In fact, she was starting to get red in the face by the time we stopped exchanging ideas. I think I can safely conclude that my girlfriend thinks that Nancy was right.

  52. Frankly, anyone, who writes because of this, to me, need to set their priorities right… One would have to forbid almost every funny joke, if one were to be as strictly politically correct as Nancy seems to expect from a publication.

    Plus (not wanting to accuse anyone, but) often women, who react in that way, see nothing wrong whatsoever in being sexist toward men.

    Basically the attitude of “We are better because we are [insert group of people]”, which runs through too much of the earth’s population as to become better soon.

  53. Personally, I think “screamed like a little girl” is fine here, and perfectly appropriate usage. My experience is, little boys shout at the top of their lungs; little girls scream. (And, as an aside, that shrill scream goes through my head like a jackhammer through drywall.) I have plenty of friends – male AND female – who use “And then I screamed like a little girl”, and don’t intend anything in the least derogatory by it. Little girls DO have higher voices than little boys, and they DO have a more penetrating scream, and they are more likely to scream when surprised by, say, a spider or a friend, or just when having a really good time.

    (Actually, to be honest, it drives me nuts. Not only does it totally jam my thinking, recreational screaming has the “cry wolf” nature. It becomes very hard to differentiate between a scream of alarm and a scream of excitement or amusement. But at least the occasional screams of rage are usually distinctly recognizable.)

    In this case, I think Nancy is over-reacting.

  54. As a father who has raised a mix of boys and girls, I got a different take on your phrase. I think it was descriptive and appropriate. It definitely gave me a mental image of exactly what I hear.

    Go to any playground or back yard where young children are running and playing. You can nearly always tell the difference between the girls and boys by the sound of their yells.

    (Most) Girls definitely have a very high pitched squeely shriek when they yell. Boys have a lower pitch to their yells, even before their voices begin to change. It’s not a matter of being ‘sexist’, it’s factual. Just go listen.

  55. When I read the comment originally, it really jumped out at me because it seemed so unlike something you would write, Randy. It sounded sexist though you didn’t mean it that way. I do think that “screamed like a little kid” would have been better.

  56. I didn’t find the phrase objectionable. But I wasn’t raised as “a little girl”; my father treated me like his first born son. All aspects of “boy stuff” were open to me … I had trap door spiders and desert horned toads who squirted blood from their eyes when upset. If I wanted to know how something worked, I was encouraged to ask questions, and taught new skills. “I” built my own play house (about 10ftx10ft with a ceiling high enough for adults to stand up. I didn’t do the frame-up, but did apply shingles, pounded nails in where they were needed, and even helped make free-form stepping stones (take a barrel hoop, bend it in and out until it looks right, put it down on gravel and pour concrete in). I never heard “boys do better in math” or anything “boys do better at”. All this despite my mother working hard to keep me looking like a little girl in pretty dresses with nice hair, etc etc etc.

    But most people of my generation, and the boomers which followed close behind, had to live with the sexist deprecations which everyone seemed to think were “facts of life.” There are still “experts” out there who say male and female brains work differently. The thing that isn’t stressed is the fact that most problems have more than one approach to a solution.

    So if someone says things about “screaming like a little girl” I simply grin and know that some day they’re going to be shocked by a “little girl.”

  57. I think it’s sexist, but not simply because of identifying the gender of the person in the analogy. Rather, the problem is that the fact that the person in the analogy is female is intended as an additional deprecation. In my experience only men, and unidentified-gender people assumed to be men, are accused of “screaming like a little girl”.

    “Is this a case of my being insensitive?” Very mildly, if so; as your (original) correspondent points out, this is a fairly ingrained phrase in our language. But I think it’s best avoided.

  58. I don’t like the phrase “scream like a little girl.” I read everything in True and yes, it’s one of the most even handed publications. There are some phrases need to be re-examined. Gender stereotypes and labels limit what people (both male and female) can feel comfortable doing. I agree with the group that says that words and phrases matter. I am a woman who works for a truck driving school in the Northeast, who owns her own home and does all the maintenance on it (that doesn’t require a specialized plumber or electrician). I also have a lot of outdoor hobbies like kayaking and it’s very common that if I’m buying gear that a man will assume that the gear, tools, or equipment are for my husband or boyfriend. Got new lawnmower tractor blades this spring and the salesperson at Sears started out by addressing my boyfriend. Who promptly corrected him to speak with me — the one with the notepad and information on what was needed.

  59. Randy, I’m 81 so maybe my memory’s not what it should be, but as I recall the girls “screamed” and the boys “shouted”.

  60. When I read your line I laughed out loud, which doesn’t happen all that much lately. I pictured the school board running in circles and screaming in loud, high pitched voices. Your phrase “scream like a little girl”, to me, meant to scream in a loud high pitched voice. Nothing derogatory there, just an analogy. If you had said “scream like a little boy”, the image would have been the same, but the screams would have been a lower pitch and thus far less amusing coming from adults. Seeing the school board in my mind, running and screaming in a high pitched voice was much more amusing. Some people are way too sensitive and think that everything said is an assault on them or on their demographic instead of realizing that, perhaps, it was just an analogy.

  61. I am reminded of an episode of, I think, the Tonight Show after Brandi Chastain won the WC against China. When Leno said something about her, someone in the audience yelled “you kick like a girl!” Leno’s reply? “Yeah, I remember when that was an insult too!”

  62. To me, it was obvious that no sexism was intended nor did I take exception. Randy was exaggerating the school administrations overreaction with highly descriptive phrases. I’m with Randy and Kit on this one. I dislike political correctness in all its constructions.

  63. My wife has a girl scout troop and has had one for almost 20 years and the little girls have always screamed. I have 2 sons and 2 daughters and the girls would always scream and the boys would not. I don’t know why “screaming like a little girl” is such a bad thing. It seems that everyone knows they do and it’s not like they can’t grow up to be pilots, carpenters, truck drivers; and screaming is just what little girls do. I volunteered at the girl’s school from time to time and on the playground, the little boys would run around, sometimes at the girls which would cause the girls to – SCREAM.

  64. When I read the phrase, I thought nothing sexist about it. That one little word, “LITTLE”, is what made the difference. Not scream like a girl, but like a LITTLE girl. Is it a clichéd expression? Absolutely; to describe a clichéd situation: “We are required to react in politically correct fashion, Zero Tolerance, no less is expected!”

    I asked my wife about her reaction to the phrase, “Scream like a little girl,” and if she took offense at it. Her reaction was, “WHY?” After all, as a mother of 4, she’s certainly not a little girl. Also, as my chief instructor for the karate studios we operate, she really enjoys the expression, “You fight like a girl.” When she fights like a girl, most men are usually knocked flat on their cans. This, from a former model who is still often mistaken for a model today.

    Little girls DO scream and they use their talent very well, even through their teenage years.

  65. I was a little girl and I am raising two girls. I am not a typical woman and get annoyed when it is inferred that I am. That being said, little girls scream. They scream at a pitch that crawls up and down your spine. I have been to schools and kids parties and the like. Boys scream or shout, girls scream or shout, but the sound of a girl screaming when they are worked up makes me think my eyes will bleed.

    I think the analogy is perfect and spot on the nose. You didn’t say “Scream like a woman” or “Scream like a teenage girl” or “Scream like a female”. Those could have been offensive. Little girls scream, it is a fact. And little girls are not oppressed by this statement, only maybe by people who choose statements as a reason to oppress girls.

  66. In payback for all those times I’ve stood behind one in line, fully aware of the ageist connotation, I offer “scream like a two-year-old.” Or even “act” like one.

    The best thing about someone being two is that every day gets closer to them being three.

  67. One more to the growing list of “LITTLE girls” just scream differently. I have a son and a daughter.

  68. I agree most with Nancy. I, too, noticed this phrasing when I read that piece and it bothered me, also. I also agree with Nancy that, generally speaking, your writing is great and so this stuck out for me.

    I can appreciate what some posters are saying about the high pitches that women can hit (when I was a teenager, we had one teacher who used to say, “It’s an aviary! It’s an aviary!” when my girlfriends and I would start squeaking pretty high) and I think that most people when they say, “like a girl” they mean it to be derogatory. People also say, “Don’t be a p-ssy” and that’s certainly meant to be derogatory.

    On the other hand, you specifically wrote, “like a little girl”. Not “like a girl”. So I think that whether or not you realized it, you were trying to avoid being obnoxious. Nonetheless, all the kids I’ve taken care of shriek in the same range. So I think, “like a little kid” or “like a small child” would have been good.

    I also liked the suggestion “running in circles like an idiot”. So perhaps you could have used, “run around like the Keystone Kops”.

    I also like “squealed like a pig” (not a stuck pig) because I had read that phrase for a few years and then finally saw a little piglet being picked up by a human and the ruckus it raised was impressive. I LOL when I heard that as I then immediately – and finally – understood the phrase.

  69. I also noticed the phrase in your newsletter and didn’t like it, but didn’t feel like calling you on it However, since you asked… It is not about whether girls scream louder or more piercingly, you were trying to give the image of people running around in a useless, hysterical way. Therefore, in my opinion, it was sexist.

    No one gets it right all the time, and I admire you all the more for putting this up for discussion.

  70. As a teacher for 35 years, of children ranging from K to 12, (although mostly 3rd and 4th grade) I can verify that, in the population of children I was with, not only did the girls scream a lot more than the boys, but it was often the boys who did things to make the girls scream in the first place. LOL

  71. Randy, I read, and understood your comment “Scream like a little girl” and didn’t think anything of it. I grew up with 6 sisters and I can tell you girls do scream.

    But I can also see Nancy’s point and I too know of some young boys who’ll out scream every girl in the room. My 5-year-old nephew comes to mind. So, I guess the PC way of phrasing your statement might have been “Scream like a child.”

    But, as you said, and I agree, the whole PC thing has gotten out of hand.
    Keep up the good work!

  72. I live next door to both a little boy and a little girl. While the little boy has and does make noise, his little sister squeals – like a pig. When I drive past elementary schools, who do I hear? The squealing little girls. The classes I teach have mostly boys, but who makes the most intense noises? The squealing little girls. I don’t see this as sexist; it’s just the way things are.

  73. In my experience as a parent, the smaller child will resort to making shrill noises when they know that they do not have the physical wherewithal to win a battle otherwise. In my case I have an older daughter and a younger son (he’s 5 1/2 years younger): trust me the boy can scream quite loudly when provoked!!!

    Be that as it may: “screaming like a little girl” conveys a very precise picture. However, that picture *does* carry a loaded gender-based stereotype with it. Perhaps instead of ‘girl’ you could use ‘brat’ — even though I hate to demean even brats by lowering them to the level of those administrators.

    I think that Nancy has a point, when you use stereotypes of a group to help make your point, the group usually deserves its reputation. Still, if you used the phrase ‘mama’s boy’ I don’t think that would generate any email. This case is a tough call — but I’d work on another phrase if something like this comes up in the future.

  74. Zero Tolerance is to Reasonable Rules as Political Correctness is to Changing Sensitivities.

    I do not think that “Scream like a little girl” rises to the level of sexism but I do think it no longer fits with the sensitivity growing in a progressive country. Even granting the argument that most girls scream more than most boys is categorically different than saying (all) girls scream more than boys. Our society still makes it more difficult for women to reach parity with men (though I think it is definitely moving in the right direction) so I would refrain from using that phrase.

    Think of the phrase, “Throws like a girl”, then watch some of the premier female softball teams and ask yourself, “Can I throw even half as well?” I think stereotypic statements are just losing their usefulness and should fall by the wayside.

    As to most of your comments: your tag lines can make my day.

  75. This shouldn’t “offend” any normal adult, but it does, because of how thin skinned and intolerant people have become.

  76. While nancy makes a good point about the expression scream like a girl, I have to resist the urge to be annoyed at the generalization that we as women should all be offended by such things. While many of these antiquated sayings are generalizations they oft times come from traits noticed in certain groups. While generalizations are just that, general statements, I think that we as a people should use a little more common sense and a little less ZT mentality when it comes to taking offense. Others around you will quickly learn what is and is not true about general statements. And those who don’t,well does it really matter what they think anyway? Getting offended prob won’t change their mind anyway.

  77. Girls and boys are different. Men and women are different. Asians, whites, blacks, latinos, etc., we’re all different. When we can learn to laugh at ourselves and aren’t offended when others poke fun at our peculiarities, then we can begin to rid our culture of the scourge of racism.

  78. To my mind, it isn’t a question of either political correctness (a phrase I despise because I think it was invented solely as a way for the right to put the left down when they were trying to advance sensitivity in language) or of who screams more, boys or girls. It’s a question of, given who we are and where we are socially as far as sex roles (answer: still partway stuck in 1950) is this a GOOD choice.

    It’s colorful and immediately visual–a nice turn of phrase. But the fact that it reflects the reality of today doesn’t mean it’s a great choice for a sensitive writer. I always like to compare sexually touchy comments with racially touchy comments. In the US, black children are much more likely to be hungry than white children, yet I doubt you would throw that in as part of a simile or metaphor, because it isn’t sensitive to larger issues.

  79. I’ve been reading all of the comments and I’ve thought of a few things I would like to point out.

    First, when you mention girl as in “scream like a girl” you are automatically referring to a stereotype. This does make it sexist.

    Second, as many mentioned, usually unconsciously, boys and girls start to scream differently around 4 or 5 years of age. This is a product mostly of nurture and not nature because the vocal cords have not changed that much.

    Third, Randy was probably not being sexist intentionally, just trying to evoke a ready made image. That’s why stereotypes work.

    Fourth, Nancy was probably picking nits, but that is possible with better writers.

    Fifth, “just ask Kit” was worse than ‘scream like a little girl.” which goes to show that we all have unintentional biases.

    Sixth, I think we will all continue to read Randy’s work even if he is unintentionally sexist, ageist, or idiotist on occasion. Part of being PC is remembering to control yourself as well.

    Lastly, a death by a thousand cuts is a horrible way to die, even if it is metaphorical.

    To say that acknowledging a truth absolutely makes someone an “ist” is an insufferably sad loss for all of humanity. -rc

  80. Brendan writes: “‘just ask Kit’ was worse than ‘scream like a little girl.’ which goes to show that we all have unintentional biases.”

    Huh? What makes it worse? Nancy was suggesting that Randy (who is male) ask for the perspective of a female that he trusts, and who is likely to give him an honest answer. What is biased about that suggestion?

    That’s where it’s handy to read other comments, such as this from Julie in Woodinville, Wa: “I find Nancy’s comment to ‘Just ask Kit’ far more offensive than any reference to screaming girls. Is Nancy implying that all women share a common opinion due to their gender?” Nancy was “just giving a suggestion”? Yeah, well, I was “just making a (true!) comparison”! -rc

  81. Oriana: Randy didn’t make the connection to murder victims and French chivalry, Nancy did. Or didn’t you notice her line about TV murder victims? And noblesse oblige is a term from French chivalry, “Whoever claims to be noble must conduct himself nobly” is one definition.

  82. Doesn’t this whole discussion sound vaguely like that scene from Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian”? Or Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL, 1968) who couldn’t say Good Morning without 43 pages of qualifiers to ensure no improper implication would take place in the phrase?

    The arguments here make lawyers look like the masters of brevity.

    You know what kills me, Mike? This silliness has spawned WAY more comments than the actual real-life evil that the kid DID suffer — the subject of the blog entry in question just prior to this one. If only I could get as much “citizen involvement” in the actual harm done by the people we pay to teach our kids in the ways of the world! -rc

  83. I liked what John of Woburn, MA had to say; “Zero Tolerance is to Reasonable Rules as Political Correctness is to Changing Sensitivities.” To be “offended” by someone’s choice of terms (like “screaming like a little girl”) is not the same as to object to language that TRULY dehumanizes someone or a group and contributes to societal attitudes where people lose quality of life because of those attitudes.

    I loved the example someone reminded us of about the “master/slave” electronics deal. The type of computer hard drive that is configured “master/slave” has been around since circa 1990. In the roughly TWENTY YEARS that these types of drives have been around, has that terminology actually contributed to discrimination against or dehumanization of blacks, or contributed to a movement to have all blacks relegated to slave status, and returned to plantations to pick cotton? I’ll let the hysterical laughter breaking out right now answer that question.

    On the other hand, there ARE stereotypes, images and words that DO actively hurt people and reinforce treatment of people as sub-human. One group; those who contend with some form of mental illness. Doesn’t the phrase itself send shivers down some of your spines? Doesn’t it conjure up images of a “wacko”, a “psycho”, or newer words like “nutjob”, “whackjob”, “nutcase”? In this era where it’s finally being realized that “mental illness” really is an illness, a medical condition, and someone who has one is genuinely suffering, hurting, in need of support, struggling with something they can’t really control (whether the resulting behavior is just quirky or outright dangerous), words, images and concepts that create mental images of Quasimodo are still running around unfettered.

    Practical side; our soldiers in Iraq who come home with clinical depression or PTSD (which has been around a long time; the name dates to the Vietnam era, but the same thing was around in Korea and called “battle fatigue” and in WWII and called “shell shock”) are afraid to seek out help for fear of their careers, perceived as weak or one of many other things. So instead they suffer with a brain that’s out of balance WHICH COULD BE HELPED WITH TREATMENT, and sometimes end up doing horrible things that could have been prevented if the mentally ill were treated with compassion and respect, like human beings with an illness are supposed to be.

    Sorry, Nancy, but when I think of things like this (which *I* and others I know have to put up with — I speak from personal experience), I have nothing but contempt for your offense to “screaming like a little girl”. Go find something WORTH getting angry about.

  84. Randy, is this a blatant example of your sexism? No. Is it an example of how our entire society – and even the way we use language – is gendered and sexist? Absolutely.

    Reading through the comments, I’ve seen more than a few others comment how little boys can scream just as piercingly – but how that would not create the same image in a reader’s mind. Likewise, I’ve known more than a few “girls” who could hit, shoot, and throw much better than an average male.

    Our language and worldview has set women and female qualities as being less worthy than male ones. Why else would “that’s so gay”, or “you [insert quality here] like a girl” be considered an epithet at all?

    IMHO, I’d stick to stuck pigs and banshees.

    Although, as I pointed out in a comment response early on, “Banshees” are by definition female, so you’re apparently encouraging continued sexism. -rc

  85. Well… personally, I’ve been irritated for a long time by the tradition of using female pronouns and synonyms as insults. If a football coach wants to encourage more work out of his team, what does he do? He yells and calls them ‘sissies’, ‘pansies’, ‘girls’, or worse (some terms not fit to print!); inferring that to be female is to be less. Drill instructors in the military do the same thing. Ordinary men, joking back and forth with each other, toss off insults by calling each other ‘ladies’. I understand it’s a part of our modern culture, and I always thought that no one else but me even thought twice about it. But honestly, it irritates me. Really, how can we honestly expect to curtail violence against women when the overriding attitude of society is a casual acceptance that women are second-class citizens to men, and that for a man to be referred to as female is an insult? Gentlemen, please: find another way to assert your dominance with your buddies. There are plenty of ways joke around, put each other down, and encourage excellence from teams without slamming 50% of society.

  86. Being the parent of an 8 year old boy and frequently involved in school activities, I would say from personal experience there is precious little difference between little boys and little girls torqued up to screaming pitch. However, at this point in time in our society, the image really doesn’t work if one uses “Scream like a little boy”. I tend to use “screaming like little piggies”; but I’m in a job where such sensitivities are very important. I fully support Nancy’s point; and I cheer her pointing it out; but let’s not throw Randy out with the Imus on this one.

  87. Wow! This has clearly hit a nerve! Good going, Randy!

    For me (I can’t speak for anyone else) I would say that “Scream like a little girl” IS sexist in the strictest sense. I agree with many, many here to say that I don’t believe that you are sexist yourself. The phrase, however, is one of those deeply buried cliches that we retain unknowingly. I’ve raised a girl and two boys and I can tell you that they all scream. Why we associate the scream with girls … I don’t know. It’s perhaps because, although they DO it, boys aren’t “supposed” to scream?

  88. Reading all the comments, I’m a little surprised at how many seem to think that using gender based stereotypes by definition is being sexist. Stereotypes, while not accurate in all cases, are based on some sort of “fact”. Why are some people so sensitive about it?

    By reverse logic, if comparing men to girls is an insult, is comparing girls to men a compliment? I’m not sure many girls would like to be told they look like a man. But should I as a man take offense to that? Are all men then considered bad looking compared to women?

  89. I actually had to chuckle on reading your “Scream like a little girl!” description of the possible over-the-top reaction of the school staff!

    The reason for my amusement is all three of my children (two girls, one boy) had higher than normal pain-thresholds and would rather watch getting a shot or an injury being stitched than cry or, worse, get hysterical. I would usually be the one sobbing in a locked bathroom after my “baby” was attended to! LOL

    However, being a frequent classroom/field trip volunteer and “Kool-Aid” Mom, it was often humorous (after-the-fact, of course) that injured boys were usually the ones who would cry, scream and/or work themselves into hysterics. So, NO, I was not offended nor did I think your descriptive behavior of “Scream like a little girl!” was sexist.

    In fact, that was EXACTLY how I would relate the boy’s behavior when retelling the story later. Truth be told, my best friend’s son could screech like nails on a chalk-board, but louder and longer than any emergency vehicle’s siren (which you would have thought was needed for the stubbed toe or the scraped knee he had sustained).

    I think there are far worse out there for young girls to deal with than a very old “traditional” saying. I raised my “girls” to be stronger than WORDS and am VERY proud & happy with the independent young women they have become (but we DID have very interesting and rough sets of teenage years in between – LOL)!

  90. To borrow from a published work, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus! There ARE general and stereotypical differences between males and females. None of them always hold true but this is why we have the concept of generalizations. There are reasons that we have stereotypes. They exist because everyone can see them, even the people who are excessively afraid they might offend someone a little bit. It was said earlier that it’s insulting to call a man a woman, but that’s not sexist, it’s reality. And it’s just as insulting to call a woman a man. How many women actually appreciate being likened to a male? It’s an insult both ways! There’s nothing sexist about this. “Screaming like a little girl” is a valid simile except properly, it should be written “screaming AS a little girl”.

    We speak like this not because we want to insult the little girls we’re likening them to (there’s nothing insulting that little girls are expected to scream a lot), but because we want to insult the person/people who is/are acting like children. To say screaming like a little boy’ would be mixing a metaphor just as badly as saying ‘screaming like a stuck pig’. I’d rather be insulting to a ZT zealot and risk insulting a screaming grown-up, little girl than mix up a metaphor in print.

    I do not think it’s sexist to say ‘screaming like a little girl’, it’s just a harmless generalization. But as soon as I saw it, I knew RC was going to hear from the screaming PC mee-mee’s. Ooh… was that offensive to the mee-mee’s?

  91. I share your views on ZT and PC, all this proves is that there is always someone who is offended by anything.

    “Screaming like a little girl” is a perfectly acceptable way of portraying a message. Everyone understands it. I have chaperoned numerous school events involving bug hunts in boggy surroundings and, I can tell you from first hand experience, that little girls do indeed scream.

    Boys do too! Just not as much.

  92. One of the things that always annoyed me when I was a young girl was the “screaming like a little girl” behavior. Yes, we do it…some of us anyway. Some girls (and women) think it’s ok to behave like a moron. I think they are the ones who are sexist – not you, for using a phrase that’s all too descriptive. I use it myself when I’m being derogatory.

    Anyone who unsubscribes and calls you names is perfectly welcome to scream like a little girl and exit the room waving her arms and shrieking like she’s seen a spider. Toodles honey, you won’t be missed. 😉

  93. I have been married for 18 years. I have 3 children, 2 girls and 1 boy. My wife and kids are all afraid of spiders and my son and youngest daughter scream a terrifying, blood curdling scream when they encounter one. My wife just tells me where it is and “to go and kill it because I am the man and that is my job!” along with jobs like taking out the garbage. I am not offended at this generalization that its a man’s job, I just tell her to quit acting like a “little girl.”

    Does that mean that both of us are being sexist? No, we are just using general phrases that have been used forever and that work to get our points across.

    My son plays little gridders football and is a lineman. He is still learning how to play the game and sometimes is not aggressive enough. I tell him “stop blocking like a little girl and hit somebody.” I don’t say this to him to insult little girls, but as a way of making him play better. He then reminds me that there IS a girl who plays on one of the other teams and blocks better than most of the boys do. Does this mean that her parents tell her to stop blocking like a little boy? And if they did would that be considered wrong? Especially when she is better at it than most of the boys that she plays with?

    Words and sayings have different meanings to different people. What a person hears or reads and how they interpret it many times differ from what the person who said or wrote it actually meant. They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I think that the same is true about things that people deem as sexist. what is every day usage to one person may be offensive to another. A lot depends on our “culture” for lack of a better word, and our sphere of influence. If where you live and to the people that you associate with regularly “screaming like a little girl” is a commonly used and accepted phrase, then you would not find it sexist. If you and you friends do not normally use phrases like this and try to use more “inclusive” language and be “politically correct” then I assume that it would offend you.

    As an example, my family likes to trap and skeet shoot. Over this past summer my oldest daughter shot in a women only trap league sponsored by one of the locale trap clubs. It was designed to introduce more women to the sport. At the end of the 10 week league, each woman who participated was given a t-shirt with a picture of a broken target on it with the words, “shoot like a girl…if you can!” My daughter is very proud of the shirt and wears it a lot. Is the shirt offensive? We think not, but I am sure that someone somewhere will find it offensive.

    Can we all agree that people by nature will not always agree? Imagine how boring life would be if everyone thought the same.

  94. Just last week, my teenaged son accused his brother of “screaming like a girl”. The second son responded with, “Oh, suck it up, Princess!” At which point, to my pride, my 6-year-old daughter rolled her eyes and bopped them both with a nerf bat.

    I love my kids!

  95. To paraphrase Honest Abe: You can offend some people some of the time, everyone some of the time, etc., as the feedback indicates. Had you been a female reporting this, would it still be controversial? Offense is in the ear of the hearer.

    While I commend Nancy for speaking up when she perceived something that was offensive to her, she has done what so many men cry foul about, especially during a tiff between spouses. (Yes, I’m married.) She dredged up all the “slings & arrows” flung against the female of the species down the ages unto this day. A very PC thing to do, & something I learnt in the Human Potential Movement as “NOT PLAYING FAIR.” Argue only about the current strife.

    When I ran a book review site, a New England high school student wrote worrying about the language in an assigned summer read. It was a best seller about commercial fisher folk set in this student’s neck of the woods, & I’d highly recommended it. Having enjoyed the rough & tumble vocabulary, I was saddened that this student was stuck on the language, thus missing the whole adventure. Perhaps it was too “grown-up,” more of a college level read.

    Hot house children don’t survive out in the real world where cold shoulders, barbed words & cliches are viral. Little girls shriek: about boy bands, Hannah Montana, mice, bugs & things that go bump in the night. That’s why every Halloween movie ALWAYS has screaming females. Little boys find that hysterical. I know, wrong gender except hilarious doesn’t sound squeaky enough.

    There is something far more sinister at work here, though: that there are those who think we ought to pasteurize & homogenize our colorful colloquialisms into offend-none pablum.

  96. Interesting comments from thoughtful people. I think the gist of Nancy’s comment relates to screaming being learned behavior – and there being an overabundance of cues in our society which encourage girls to scream at the drop of an insect, insult, or inconvenience. The two daughters who scream at spiders obviously learned to do so from their mother. And screaming except in anger is a deliberate expression of weakness. It’s annoying in little girls, unconscionable in women.

    Obviously, anyone may scream if adequately stressed. But I can’t recall ever hearing my mother scream, or any of my sisters. I’m not sure I know any women who scream at trivialities; certainly no woman I know would be proud of her ability to scream.

    So yes, Nancy’s perhaps a bit sensitive, but I certainly wouldn’t dismiss her concerns as yet another instance of political correctness. Words do have power, and cliches can have subtle effects on cultural standards.

  97. Here I was reading this very interesting comment thread (it’s amazing, Randy, that you’ll not only accept criticism, but ask people to debate it on your own web space) while listening in the background to my favorite weekly radio show, “Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me” (the perfect companion to This is True!)

    NBC News anchor Brian Williams was the guest this week, and at the end the show’s host, Peter Sagal, remarked that it was fun to have Williams on, because he was able to make him “cry like a little girl.”

    “Wait, Wait” is, of course, on NPR, which isn’t exactly known for its conservative rejection of Political Correctness.

    While I was reading and found the arguments on both sides compelling (when it wasn’t wrapped up in overdramatic emotion), I was already coming down on the side of Nancy and her ilk being way overreactionary. But really: if radio hosts on NPR are willing to make virtually the same comments (and in this case simply to make fun, not to dramatize the ridiculous hysteria of public officials), I’m 100% behind you, Randy!

    And with that, I think everything that can be said has been. There’s obviously not going to be an agreed-upon conclusion, so I’m going to close down comments now with this one, the 99th. I wanted a debate, and I got it! Thanks, all! -rc

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