A study by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers found that the top insult in UK schools is "gay," with 83% of teachers reporting hearing it. The others were Bitch (59%), Slag (45%), Poof (29%), Batty boy (29%), Slut (26%), Queer (26%), Lezzie (24.8%), Homo (22%), Faggot (11%), and Sissy (5%).
So the insults go to gays, women, women, gays, gays, women, gays, gay women, gays, gays, and feminine gays.
I'm noticing a trend.
Of course, the misogynist slurs (bitch, slag, slut) center around women who don't conform to sexual puritanism. The common thread between all of these is that it's an insult to be penetrated or to be accused of liking to be penetrated.
Volumes can and have been written about our culture's anxiety around penetration and hatred of anyone perceived as enjoying it. What's particularly interesting here is that nothing else made the list - not "stupid" or "dumb" or racial slurs.
(Although calling someone an insult of another race makes no sense, but calling them an insult of a less stable group like queers, a group that defines itself by abstract concepts like desire, attraction, and verbal identity, is a whole lot harder to deny. How can one really prove or disprove attraction?)
School is an important time to lay down the groundwork for bullying and shaming people into following sexual and gender norms, for teaching kids to whom they have to submit and who's allowed to feel good about themselves.
It's a big ship and hard to turn around. The teachers interviewed in the article said they had a hard time coming down on the word "gay":
"It's tricky because it's often a casually throwaway remark and said without any obvious malice," says Deborah, a teaching assistant from Essex. "Terms such as 'batty boy' are clear homophobic insults and much more straightforward to deal with."
I empathize with her as an educational para-professional myself. Often I hear or maybe hear kids saying something that might be a gay insult, but the context isn't obvious because I was paying attention to the other 28 kids in class. It can be very Lord of the Flies at times.
Still, I think we need to recognize what's going on here and that these kids aren't just coming up with these insults for no reason and getting them from nowhere. Education specifically around diversity is needed because, as this study shows, the insults all have a specific intent, an intent that's bigger than just hurting someone's feelings.
I wonder if the list would be any different in America (well, poof, slag, and batty boy wouldn't be on it, but I mean substantively). Thoughts?