Posted by: ellendahat | October 22, 2009

Women and derogatory terms used about them

I often observe that there are so many derogatory terms used about women. In Bahasa Indonesia, for example, terms such as perempuan jalang (literally means wild women), or perempuan sundal (immoral), perempuan nakal (literally means naughty girl) or the slang, lonte (prostitute) or perek (perempuan eksperimen), which literally means a girl for an experiment) are the phrases or terms used to refer to prostitute or women who have sexual intercourse with many men.

All these terms are only used with the word perempuan (women) and these phrases are used mostly in swearing. The word pelacur which is the generic term is often associated with female although people know and the dictionary defines it as a neutral or generic term.  It will also sound odd to hear someone says laki-laki pelacur (male prostitute) when swearing.

In Bahasa Manggarai (the language spoken by my parents), the phrase ine wai da’at or inewai toe di’a (literally both mean bad girl/woman) or slang such as skumet are used to refer to prostitute or women who have sex with many men. Although it makes sense if someone says ata rona da’at/ata rona toe di’a (both means bad boy/man) the meaning has nothing to do with sexual behaviour.

When I looked up the word perempuan in A Comprehensive Indonesian English Dictionary, the adjective (jalang, nakal, sundal, as well as the slang lonte and perek) are listed under the entry while I could not find any of these adjectives or anything related to this negative meaning attached to the word laki-laki (men). Gigolo is a loan word from English and it is used only when talking about the male prostitute but never used as a swear word.  There is only one Indonesian phrase I know used in this context, which is not a standard variety but rather regional variety spoken or understood in most parts of Indonesia: laki-laki gatal (literal: itchy men).

What about in other languages? Is the use of the derogatory forms are more common with women or it is equal? Is there any reason (s) why more of this disparaging terms are addressed to women than to men? Does it have something to do with culture?



  1. The derogatory terms that you proposed based on gendered person, for me, I reckon that it is also influenced by culture, too. Since in West Papua, Indonesia, we also have several derogatory terms regarding to their sexuality and I would say that the words are used to address female rather than male.

    In general we also have some words that you proposed, we have ‘perempuan nakal (literally means naughty girl) or the slang, lonte (prostitute), ‘laki – laki gatal’ (literal: itchy men). We also other words like the loanword ‘hostess’ (formerly to refer for the female worker in the bar but then refers to ‘prostitute’), and the recent slang in the Bird’s head area, makucula (its shortening form; cula). The recent slang actually is an abbreviation from ‘makan kurang cuki lancar’ (literally means ‘less eat but having sex more’. I reckon this recent slang is actually the neuter term but it is mostly used to address female rather than male, even though I had ever heard another man called by this term.

    I also reckon when I was in my undergraduate uni, there were also some slang words relating to word ayam ‘chicken’ such ‘ayam sayur’ (literal: vegetable chicken; I have no idea why people use this word) and ‘ayam kampus’ (literal: university chicken) and these terms only use to refer female students who work as undercover prostitute. My brother once said that these terms occured especially ‘ayam sayur’ because it related to the life of the female students who stay away from their parents and need extra money for grocery, that is why, in my hometown we also have another idiom to refer the sexual behavior of female student who works as prostitutes as ‘cari uang/harga sayur’ (literal: seeking for money to buy vegetable’. However, I still think whether the use of word ayam ‘chicken’ is influenced by a slang word in English ‘chick’ or not?

    I would say that these derogatory terms that refer mostly to female generally occurs in the patriarchal society (a social system in which men dominate; a social system in which men are regarded as the authority within the family and society, and in which power and possessions are passed on from father to son. Encarta Dictionary Online 2009). I think that it also relates to what Zimmerman and West work in terms of ‘dominance’ as Meshtrie (2009: 227) says that “the greater degree of power more generally available to men”.

  2. It is interesting that the author of this blog did not specify the “prostitute” in the first paragraph as a “female prostitute” or a “male prositute”. It seems that the word “prostitute” in English is specific designed for women.

    In Chinese, we have a special term for female prostitutes and a special term for male prositutes. The female prositute(s) is/are called “ji” which means chicken and the male prositute(s) is/are called “ya” which means duck. More interestingly, there is a spcial term for male prositute(s) who only serves male customer, which is called “e”, which means goose.

  3. Thanks for the comment 🙂
    When I was in highschool, the term “ayam” (literally means chicken” was also used to refer to a girl of the same kind, but there is no term for boy. It is also interesting to learn that the same term is used in Chinese (chicken), but it seems less bias as there is also a term for men.

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