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Mansplainin’ 2: Electric Vulvaloo! The dude who had a Twitter meltdown over the word “vulva” is back

Let me explain it to you one more time

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By David Futrelle

Some guys can’t take a hint. Or even several thousand hints.

Remember the dude who, only a few short weeks ago, had a Twitter meltdown after trying to “correct” a world-famous vagina expert on the proper use of the words “vulva” and “vagina” — a meltdown so epic that the folks at Dictionary.com felt compelled to step in to tell him that he was wrong?

Well, he’s back, and back on his bullshit again. Yesterday he popped up on Twitter, defiant as ever, with a 20-page (single-spaced) manifesto explaining why he was right all along.

The new tweet caused thousands of Tweeters to let out a sigh that could be heard around the world, and generated a truly astounding ratio: the last I checked, the tweet had more than 2000 replies — mostly from people telling him he’s wrong — and only eight retweets.

To refresh your memory on the original controversy. Bullen took issue with the word “vulva” being used in the headline of a Guardian article about a book of photographs of women’s, well, vulvas; he insisted that the “correct” word in this instance was “vagina.” When gynecologist Jen Gunter, author of the forthcoming book The Vagina Bible, reminded him that the word “vagina” refers to the inside stuff and “vulva” to the outside stuff, Bullen essentially suggested she was being a word snob because most people use the word vagina, informally, to mean that whole thing down there.

That’s certainly true. But he didn’t just say, hey, why not use the word vagina here since that’s the one people use colloquially to refer to both the vulva and the vagina. Instead, he insisted that the article’s correct use of the word vulva was incorrect.

And that’s what he does again in his new manifesto, in an even more convoluted manner.

“My opening gambit was to say ‘The correct word is vagina’ in response to a use of the word vulva where one normally would expect to see the word vagina,” he wrote.

I wasn’t denying that the things that we could see in the photos were technically called vulvas or parts of vulvas. I was claiming that the use of the word ‘vulva’ was solecistic in this non-technical context—although it I assumed it was intentionally so. And it may well no longer be a soleciscistic  in certain circles.

In case you’re wondering, here’s the definition of solecism from Merriam-Webster:

Definition of solecism
1 : an ungrammatical combination of words in a sentence
also : a minor blunder in speech
2 : something deviating from the proper, normal, or accepted order
3 : a breach of etiquette or decorum

So, yeah, he’s using this word incorrectly. There’s nothing ungrammatical, deviant, or even impolite about using the word vulva to refer to, well, a vulva. He continues on:

My general starting point is that the English language has evolved in ways that give some words both narrow and broad meanings. … One example of such words is vagina. Everyone knows it is used in two ways: (1) most commonly to refer to the female genitals in general and (2) to refer to one particular part of them. My position is that not only is this a descriptive fact about English language use, but that this descriptive fact determines correct use. Correct use here simply means that people will know what you are talking about and you won’t sound strange.

In other words, he”s insisting once again that using the actual dictionary definitions of “vulva” and “vagina” is “incorrect usage” because it “sound[s] strange.”

Then he takes aim at people like Dr. Gunter who use the dictionary definitions of these words because, in his mind, this is a violation of “standard usage.”

Just as people sometimes violate the law to bring about a revolution, people sometimes violate standard usage as part of a attempt to change usage. But these people are speaking “incorrectly” (coming across as solecistic) for the sake of making a change.

Again, the “change” Gunter and others are trying to make is to get people to use the words “vulva” and “vagina” correctly. But to Bullen this makes them incorrect:

That is where the issue should have been—whether there is sufficient reason to violate existing practice. … So there is a small number of women who say “vulva” when one would expect “vagina” as they are convinced it is the “correct” term. That’s pretty much where the issue lies.

Of course, the “small number of women” who insist on saying “vulva” when Bullen would rather use “vagina” are “convinced it is the ‘correct’ term” because it is in fact the correct term, as defined in the dictionary. As the people at Dicitonary.com reminded him.

His real objection to using “vulva” seems to be that feminists are using the term and he doesn’t like that, or them.

“I often resist changes in the language that are being made for what I take to be the wrong reasons,” he declares. After citing a number of not-particularly relevant examples — like “English speaking Canadians … pronouncing Quebec the way the French speakers do. And … Americans … pronouncing Chile the way Spanish speakers do.” — he gets to his real objection: he hates what he sees as “politically correct” language. He offers no logical explanation for this other than to suggest that such language is excessively euphemistic.

I may be willing to go along with saying disabled person rather than handicapped person, I am not willing to say person with a disability rather than disabled person. I am not willing to say enslaved person rather than slave. I was willing to switch from the perfectly good word Negro to black, but I was not willing to move again from black to African American. And I am not willing to say undocumented immigrant rather than illegal alien. There is a general neurosis caused by activists who like to announce every few years that an existing usage is problematic and should be replaced by what they say.

Well, that’s your right, dude. But don;t be surprised if people call you out for being the jerk that you are.

Still, it would seem that feminists insisting on the correct usage of the words “vulva” and “vagina” — using them according to the literal dictionary definitions of each word — would be different than introducing a new term, like African-American instead of black. But nope! In Bullen’s mind it’s all part of the same “neurotic” impulse.

So when I see attempts to say “vulva” where normally “vagina” would be seen, I suspect ideological influences or bad thinking. … I don’t jump every time an ideological faction says jump. I got off the euphemism treadmill awhile ago.

If I may eschew euphemism myself for a moment, he’s essentially saying: fuck you, feminists, I won’t say “vulva” because you want me to — even if the dictionary itself backs you up.

Bullen goes on reiterating points he tried to make in the original thread — suggesting that Dr. Gunter’s vagina expertise doesn’t count because we’re dealing with words and not medical issues, and even mansplaining the term mansplaining, which he insists he wasn’t doing. But you’ll have to sort through that yourself, as I’ve gotten tired of this pompous fuckhead and his fractal wrongness.

Sorry, I forgot that I’m supposed to be on the “euphemism treadmill” again.

Speaking of which, there weren’t a lot of euphemisms in the Twitter response to Bullen’s new and decidedly not improved mansplaination. “Dude, give it a rest,” tweeted Dr. Gunter. “This is egregious long form mansplaining.”

Others were equally withering:

A weird mons to die on
Is that monsplaining?
The Sermon on the Mons?
I’ve never seen someone so blisteringly unwilling to just take the L
Have you ever considered, a hobby, for example
I think his hobby might actually be being wrong on the internet.
You are fabulous. You are not using the word "correct" correctly
VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA VULVA

It’s Stop O’Clock all right. At this point I can only conclude he’s keeping this going because he wants to get on Fox News as the latest brave man to stand up against the evil feminazi laguage police. But somehow I suspect that even the folks at Fox would find Billen’s long-form mansplaining a bit tiresome.

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Bookworm in hijab
Bookworm in hijab
1 year ago

@ Weird Eddie,

Bravo! That was amazing! You win all the prizes!

reggie, the neighbour's cat and rare mutant
reggie, the neighbour's cat and rare mutant
1 year ago

Looking through the twitter thread and wow. This guy. I think my favourite part (so far) is where someone told him to make a graph to explain his point and he took them seriously and described a potential Venn diagram explanation.

Mish of the Catlady Ascendancy

@Weird Eddie,

That’s just beautiful. A masterpiece.

Re Mr Bullen’s treatise on mattresses that kupo referenced upthread: a Twitter friend has message Bullen requesting a copy. Said friend tried to present as an ally by professing his love for Don Trump Jr. It seems to have worked so far, as Bullen has asked for an email address to send the mattress document to.

I can’t help envisioning a multi-page discussion of life on Sqornshellous Zeta. Now that would be worth reading 🙂

comment image

kupo
kupo
1 year ago

@Mish
Oh wow, this should be fascinating.

solecism
solecism
1 year ago

I was claiming that the use of the word ‘vulva’ was solecistic in this non-technical context—although it I assumed it was intentionally so. And it may well no longer be a soleciscistic in certain circles.

Way to butcher my nym, dude. And total grammar fail beyond that. Twitter is awesome. Bullen is terrible.

A. Noyd
A. Noyd
1 year ago

Aaron says:

Well of course, but I meant that “black” as used to describe black people does not generally seem to be considered derogatory in America. Sorry if I was unclear.

From what I understand, it’s not inherently derogatory as an adjective to describe people. However, many Americans do have a habit of bringing up race when it’s not actually relevant, so black people might be a bit wary hearing it coming from others. Also, using it as a noun to refer to people is way more iffy and best avoided by anyone who isn’t black.

Cosmic Overthinker
Cosmic Overthinker
1 year ago

@Mish

I can’t help envisioning a multi-page discussion of life on Sqornshellous Zeta. Now that would be worth reading 🙂

Came to belittle misogynists, stayed for the Hitchhiker reference.

Steph
Steph
1 year ago

@ Evil Inky

“It’s a minor point, but “African-American” cannot be a politically-correct euphemism for “black”, as there are a plenty of PoC who aren’t American.”

You would be surprised at the number of people who genuinely believe “black” and “African-American” are interchangeable.

As I recall a guy once hitting on me by telling me he dated an “African-American woman” before (cringe). I asked whereabouts in the states she was from (he was Australian, we were in Australia), he said “oh, she wasn’t from the US, she was African-American.

I remain confused.

Steph
Steph
1 year ago

@Wetherby,

1) The term “African-Briton” most certainly can and does exist. Peruse the last census and you will see black Britons referred to as Black/African/Caribbean British (depending on preference.)

2) While in the past it may have been the case that most Black Britons were of Caribbean descent, that is not true now. Also many black Britons acknowledge both aspects of our heritage via the term “afro/African-Caribbean.

Steph
Steph
1 year ago

Also to those saying that “black” is semi-derogotary in American English when did this happen? Black is used alongside African-American everywhere I see, because they mean slightly different things. My family in the US for example are black Americans but not African Americans.

KG
KG
1 year ago

“Black” is already semi-derogatory in American English, but not so in British English as far as I’m aware. – dashapants

This is true – and amusingly, I have actually seen an American insisting that black British people should be referred to as “African-American”! More generally, the “euphemism treadmill” can cause difficulties even for people of goodwill (i.e., not Paul Bullen) if different countries are on different steps, or members of a group themselves disagree about preferred terminology. To give another British example, “Gypsy” is not considered derogatory in Britain* – indeed, the main representative body for this minority group in the UK is the “Gypsy Council”. To give an American one, I’ve been told by a Lakota that she, and many others, prefer “Indian” to “Native American” (in contexts where a more specific term such as “Lakota” doesn’t work). So my general principle is to refer to people how they tell me they prefer to be referred to – although I can envisage cases where I would demur because doing so would implicitly slight others.

*And this is certainly not because there’s no anti-Gypsy prejudice in Britain.

Jane Done
Jane Done
1 year ago

It seems odd that nobody has come down hard enough on him that he’s a (presumably cis) man. He does not have authority over women’s bodies or the “correct” vocabulary describing parts of many women. Like, seriously, some deeply misogynistic god complex going on there.

@Curious_Diversion:

Answer: A well, actually.

You win 1 internet today

@Everyone, RE: Black vs African-American

I recall seeing a video of a black woman who had the cops called on her for handing in an expired coupon. She objected to the term african-american, saying she’s black and quote: “Black isn’t a bad word”.

Is there anyone else here who can verify this first-hand or from black/african-american friends? I realise not everyone of a demographic agrees on word usage (i.e. ‘queer’ is offensive to some people, while a self-label for others), just wanna double-check that it’s a mostly-safe word to use as a white person.

Jane Done
Jane Done
1 year ago

Also, did he just replace his essay/manifesto/screed with his own made-up attempt at rick-rolling?

dashapants
dashapants
1 year ago

I think the rule of thumb when dealing with ambiguous terminology is to see how it was used in a sentence.

When “black” or any other euphemism for dark-skinned is used solely as an indicator of appearance, even as a noun (though yes this is iffy), then that is fairly neutral.

When it’s further modified by any adjective not pertaining to appearance, such as “nice” or “clever”, it’s at best patronizing and at worst derogatory, and constitutes racism, sometimes intentional, sometimes ignorant, but racism nonetheless.

Juniper
Juniper
1 year ago

I’m certainly no expert, but most (maybe all) of the dark skinned people of mostly African ancestry I’ve ever been around have used the term “black people.” They refer to themselves as that, and don’t seem to mind other people referring to them as that.

And then there’s “Black Lives Matter.” “African-American Lives Matter” doesn’t have the same ring to it, I guess.

Now, referring to them as “the blacks” is derogatory, as far as I can tell. If you take out the “people” part, now you’re dehumanizing them.

And of course it’s silly to refer to someone like Idris Elba as an “African American.” I think that comes from certain ignorant Americans not knowing that there are black people in Britain. (Obviously folks who don’t watch enough British TV like Doctor Who or The Great British Baking Show. 😉 )

But admittedly, I’m a white lady who doesn’t really know that many black people personally, so if any African-Americans are reading this and want to correct me, please do. It’s really not that much of an inconvenience to call people what they want to be called.

kupo
kupo
1 year ago

It seems odd that nobody has come down hard enough on him that he’s a (presumably cis) man. He does not have authority over women’s bodies or the “correct” vocabulary describing parts of many women.

Don’t worry, the majority of Twitter has come down on him pretty hard for this.

epitome of incomprehensibility

Re the last thread on this – I suppose what I called “labia” as a kid was actually the pubic mound. I wondered if the “front part” had a specific name & I couldn’t think of anything. Thank you, Twitter punsters & mammotheers!

English speaking Canadians … pronouncing Quebec the way the French speakers do

Me: Kay-BEC.

Paul Bullen: I’m offended!

Me: Okay, well, today I went to the depanneur* in the metro** station…

Bullen: MAKE IT STOP!

*corner/convenience store
**subway

Crip Dyke
Crip Dyke
1 year ago

@epitome:

Now I’m imagining you saying, “It!” to him.

cornychips
cornychips
1 year ago

OMG!!

yall should check out pauls latest bullshit screed attacking dr jenn

The same person who is shaming ordinary women (and presidents) into saying “fetus” rather than “baby” is also shaming women (and men) into saying “vulva” rather than “vagina.”

Now dr jenn is shaming women into saying vulva?????? Wtf!??!!

cornychips
cornychips
1 year ago

Blockquote monster!!!

Steph
Steph
1 year ago

@Jane Die

“I recall seeing a video of a black woman who had the cops called on her for handing in an expired coupon. She objected to the term african-american, saying she’s black and quote: “Black isn’t a bad word”.

I have never heard that the term black is “bad”.

I don’t get why people struggle with this though. It’s not either/or. It’s just a different descriptor.

I have never heard people struggle with white American vs. Italian or Irish-American. So why does that change with black American vs. African American?

weirwoodtreehugger: chief manatee

Now dr jenn is shaming women into saying vulva?????? Wtf!??!!

Maybe he should look into what Dr Gunter has written. Like a book called The Vagina Bible. I don’t think she’s exactly opposed to women saying the word “vagina.”

epitome of incomprehensibility

@Crip Dyke – Ha, I get it (make “it” stop). Took me a second, though. 😛

I’m not that annoying. Well… not usually.

As for the current discussion, I *was* that annoying (white) kid who didn’t like saying “black/white people” because people’s skin wasn’t literally black or white.

But it’s a useful and accessible shorthand. Most people will understand what you mean.

Audre Lorde, at least in her book Zami, capitalized Black, e.g. see p. 17 here. It makes sense – that way it’s like other proper nouns in English. But I’m suspicious of white people who write White. They’re probably racists. It’s like saying, “Why isn’t there a white history month?” as if all things were already equal.

zaunfink
zaunfink
1 year ago

I’m sure he’d be delighted to find out that his little screed has caused me to realise the important difference between “disabled person” and “person with a disability” and that I’ll now endeavour to use the second phrase.
Because it’s nicer and more true and more inclusive. And that’s a good thing.
Asshole.

kupo
kupo
1 year ago

@zaunfink
A lot of disabled people (myself included) prefer “disabled person” over “person with a disability.” For one, the latter is a mouthful. For two, “disabled” isn’t a dirty word, so we don’t need to tiptoe around it. Just like you wouldn’t say “person with low melanin content” you would just say “white person,” you don’t need to put person in the front.

The other issue with it is that it’s basically used to remind us that disabled people are people (that’s the whole idea of person-first language) and we argue that this isn’t a thing one should need to be reminded of.

Of course, disabled people aren’t a monolith! Some prefer person-first. Maybe ask the person you’re speaking about/to what they prefer.

Katy Preen
1 year ago

Amazingly, he also seems to have used the word ‘solecism’ totally ass-backwards as well. The gift that keeps on giving.

Tartaros
Tartaros
1 year ago

Oh my god check out his website:

http://paul.bullen.com/

Frederic Christie
1 year ago

@winterjaimes: Exactly. What makes his position even more untenable than it would be otherwise (which is that [i]in the best case[/i] he’s being a pedant, but in reality he’s being a pedant [i]who is wrong[/i] which should be a violation of the Geneva Conventions) is that the original article was about vulvas, full stop. The article writer, correctly, chose to use the word that was more specific. This had the result of educating on the issue while also narrowing the article down. Indeed, even dipshit’s own argument is a good reason why the choice was a solid one! By picking a piece of language that some people would find odd or unfamiliar, it made the headline more memorable and attention-grabbing. This was an instance where every single part of the choice was absolutely the correct one from the perspective of what the article wanted to accomplish. So it’s not just that he’s technically wrong but has a point in writing style or usage, he’s just wrong wrong wrong wrong.

@cornychips: I often say that someone can be dishonest even if they say nothing false or that they believed was a lie when they said it. This is an example. No one debating word choice will ever need to reach so low as to ask if people are feeling psychically mutilated from a different word choice. “We used the word that is appropriate for our style guide and for literally the article itself, because in this case [i]general was not appropriate and specific was[/i]” is not indicating psychic mutilation. People were roundly mocking him but no one was being mutilated by some dipshit who got his word wrong. He framed it that way so he could win the argument in his own head.

Robert
Robert
1 year ago

Regarding ‘black’, I’m reminded of the Venture Brothers character, Jefferson Twilight. He described his profession as ‘killing Blaculas’, and someone asked, ‘Uh, don’t you mean *African-American* vampires?’ No, he replied, he’s killed vampires in Britain and they don’t have African-Americans there.

Hetneo
Hetneo
1 year ago

Re the euphemism treadmill and the African-American vs black thingy, would asshats like this one refer to as black to someone who was born and raised in America to a WASP and Afrikaner couple, or any other white African? Seeing that he believes that those two are interchangeable terms, instead of intersecting.

@epitome of incomprehensibility
I can tell you that mons pubis is fatty tissue on top of the pubic bone, based on what I remember of high school anatomy. It is ending where the labia majora are starting, and it’s part of vulva. And both males and females have it, it’s just that females have it more pronounced.

Jenora Feuer
Jenora Feuer
1 year ago

@Robert:
To get more pedantic, Britain very probably does have African-Americans at any given point in time, it’s just that they’re tourists or there on some other form of visa.

(Granted, probably fewer now. I suspect the Brexit mess is doing a number on the tourist industry as well.)

Wetherby
Wetherby
1 year ago

(Granted, probably fewer now. I suspect the Brexit mess is doing a number on the tourist industry as well.)

The counterintuitive answer may well be “more now”, if only because the pound has lost a fair amount of its value since June 2016, and so Britain is a much cheaper tourist destination today than it was prior to then.

Where Brexit is unquestionably damaging tourism is with regard to British tourists going abroad – unsurprisingly, because nobody knows what the hell is going to happen after March 29th, bookings for flights and package holidays after that date have fallen off a cliff. The upside is that there are some spectacular Easter-holiday bargains to be had right now as tour operators become increasingly desperate for any measurable business, but the downside is that they can’t guarantee that they’ll be able to deliver.

Chris Oakley
1 year ago

Update: The know-nothing know-it-all(credit TV Tropes for originally coining the phrase) has taken his Twitter account private.

none
none
1 year ago

“Black people” is the most common terminology used in the US ime.
I personally mostly saw from white ppl.
A non-Black person saying “Blacks” comes off as racist, bc thats how racist white ppl talk.
White people like Bullen really shouldnt be talking about these terminologies in this way. Its so cringey that he took his moment in the spotlight to try to take little sneaky pot shots at Black people.

anon
anon
9 months ago

I know this is old but every Black person Ive ever met, read, or followed except a few academics in the early 00s use the term “Black” and will correct you, often teasing you, if you use “African American” which was a really briefly used term, the same way people with disabilities was only briefly used, usually by abled liberals (here meaning center-left) in the latter case and white liberals in the former.

I suppose it’s a bit like the word “Queer”. Just a little bit, mind you. Just in the sense that a small number of people object to it’s use for themselves but most of them still dont object if others use it.

I feel like it’s kinda sad this group is so white that this has been a conversation without much if any Black input. :/