What Does it Mean to Call Someone a "Male Chauvinist Pig"?Roundup
tags: language, feminism, sexism
Julie Willett is a professor of history at Texas Tech University and author of The Male Chauvinist Pig: A History.
It would be hard to deny today that the male chauvinist pig is still alive and kicking, running amok in his own filth. The election of Donald Trump and his “grab ’em by the pussy” regime mixed misogyny, mockery, and race privilege with delight. Andrew Cuomo’s domineering behavior in politics echoed his sexually belittling actions in private. Both were proud of being jerks, personally and professionally, and both got called “male chauvinist pigs.”
Calling someone a male chauvinist pig offers sweet revenge, a chance to dehumanize those who dehumanized you. But the insult contains more than a laugh. The three jabs in quick succession—male, chauvinist, pig—are part of feminist attempts to place men’s sexism within a broader American political milieu. The phrase is also a prime example of how men respond to being called sexist: They think it’s funny.
Named after the (probably apocryphal) French soldier Nicolas Chauvin, who kept trumpeting Napoleon’s greatness no matter the ill treatment doled out to him, the term stands for jingoism coded as false honor.
Within the American Communist Party in the early 20th century, chauvinism was a common insult. It called out a tribal attachment—to one’s race, gender, or nationality—that distracted from class solidarity. Questions of how identity intersected with class played out among chauvinisms. Purges to rid the party of racists were discussed as ending “white chauvinism.” In complaining about sexism to Vivian Gornick in her book on American communism, one woman wondered how “not one goddamned Communist was ever thrown out for male chauvinism.” In the 1960s, as feminists—many of them red-diaper babies—created their own networks, they adopted the language to name patriarchy.
Pig was an obvious addition, an old insult for those holding corrupt power. Its historical links to racialized policing perhaps led to “pig” as a moniker for white police terror. In the post-Reconstruction South, Black Codes in some states included “pig laws,” which attempted to turn former slaves into captive laborers by penalizing minor infractions—like stealing a $3 pig—with long terms of incarceration. But Huey Newton of the Black Panther Party said it was simpler: “Pig” was chosen to show “grotesque qualities” and create a “detestable” picture “that takes away the image of omnipotence” of the white power structure.