Tag Archives: gender

A Latin-x Proverb directed at Women

Informant Info:

  • Nationality: Mexican
  • Age: 22
  • Occupation: full time student
  • Residence: Los Angeles
  • Primary language: English
  • Relationship: Friend


“Calladita te ves más bonita”

English translation: “The more quiet you are, the prettier you look”


ES grew up here in Los Angeles, but her parents are from Mexico. The proverb pertains to her Mexican culture and household. She first heard the proverb above from her grandmother. Her grandmother would tell her “Calladita te ves más bonita” as a form of advice. ES told me, “I always interpreted it meaning that oversharing can be dangerous from listening ears, or the less you say the better.” She also told me that she remembers her and her aunt would use the phrase as a comeback in a lighthearted way to make each other laugh. ES pointed out that she never had realized it before, but the phrase is targeted towards girls/women. 


I also grew up hearing the proverb in my culture, and I greatly identified with the informants take on the phrase. When discussing the proverb with her, I too realized that it is a saying that isn’t really said to men/boys. In Spanish the ending of a word is meant to distinguish between genders. If the word ends with ‘a’ it is usually feminine. The words ‘calladita’ and ‘bonita’ end with an ‘a’ and are feminine. If it were targeted towards men, the words would end with ‘o’ and be considered masculine. Growing up, I never heard the saying told to my male companions. Sometimes in Latin-x culture, there can be a lot of toxic masculinity or “machismo.” Machismo means a sense of strong masculine pride, male overbearing control over the wife and family, and sexist ideology. Younger I didn’t really associate toxic masculinity with the saying, but now from an older, more mature point of view, I can acknowledge that it is present. ES and I were having a conversation about how in our latino culture, it is very much embedded into women from a young age to sit still, look pretty, and be quiet. Of course, we aren’t trying to stereotype our culture from this lens, we are simply acknowledging some patterns we noticed. 

Saying: We’re All Girls Here


“We’re all girls here”


The informant recounts that her old synchronized swim teacher would say this saying in response to young girls being afraid to change or be naked in the locker room. The intention as the informant remembers was to create a sense of solidarity and safety among the girls and to tell them that it was safe and not taboo to be naked in this space.

The informant also notes that she has brought this saying up with her boyfriend who has played football (and therefore, presumably been in many a men’s locker room). He was unfamiliar with the saying and did not recount a male equivalent to the phrase.


To me, this saying is an example of teaching or imposing gender on children. This phrase indicates a need to remind children of the gender systems around them. When children are young they are generally unaware of gender. when they go to school and exit their homes later in life they are introduced to gender and what that means for their lives. This saying informs young girls that around other girls and women it is safe and acceptable to be naked and show taboo body parts like genitals and secondary sexual characteristics. It also subtly indicates that it is unsafe or unacceptable to be naked around boys and men.

The fact that there was not a clear or memorable male equivalent saying indicates to me that boys and men are not held to the same standard of concealing their bodies. Nor are they taught of exposure being something dangerous.

Thumb War Masturbation Joke


“One, two, three, four,

I declare a thumb war.

Five, six, seven, eight,

I use this hand to masturbate.”

The joke is performed in the context of a traditional “thumb war,” in which two opponents hold hands and attempt to press down the other person’s thumb.


AD is a college student from New Jersey. He first heard this joke in middle school, around sixth or seventh grade. “It was right in the beginning of puberty,” he explained. “So nobody really knew what was going on.”

Thumb war tournaments at recess and lunchtime were already a big thing at AD’s school, and there was one boy who would perform the joke. “He was always the kid that would say that kind of stuff… Everybody was scared to say that word, but he would say it,” AD explained. “Everybody would get around him and wait for him to get somebody new. We would go up to the younger kids and do it, too.”

“If you didn’t know, you would freak out the first time you heard it.” The trick is that you are holding hands when the ‘punchline’ drops. “That’s the fun part,” AD said.

AD noted that the joke was exclusively performed among boys.

“It’s stupid now, but back then it was the funniest thing.”


AD’s joke stood out to me largely because I had never heard of it before. Another male-identifying friend of mine from California had an experience almost identical to that of AD, even from across the country. As someone who has been socially conditioned as a woman, it made me curious about the differences between boys’ and girls’ experience of the social construction of their sexuality.

It is not surprising that such a joke was popular as AD and his peers entered puberty. Jokes have a normalizing function, providing a safe space for pubescent boys to explore their sexuality.

However, the boys’ self-policing contained the joke within their gender, and I am unaware of an equivalent masturbation joke for girls at this age. I see this discrepancy as deeply reflective of the differences in the social construction of boys’ and girls’ sexuality during puberty. Masturbation is an action — an act of agency over one’s body and sexuality. That the normalization of this action is denied to girls of the same age thus denies them a form of agency over their sexuality.

In a larger context, the deficit of sexual jokes of any nature among pubescent girls may contribute to a lack of knowledge about their sexuality, and feelings of shame due to missing out on the normalizing function of such jokes. This can lead to misinformation or shame about sex and sexual development, rendering teenage girls vulnerable to sexual abuse. 

I would argue that folklore in the form of sexual jokes can function as a form of sex education and that pubescent girls may benefit from sharing this folklore amongst each other — especially with relatively harmful jokes, such as this one. (Note how AD now finds the joke “stupid.”)

Lastly I would comment on the adult policing of pubescent sexuality. It really stood out to me that only one boy was bold enough to say the word ‘masturbation’ in a public context, under the potential surveillance of teachers. Such jokes are seen as taboo and ‘dirty’ even as they can have a positive function. I am curious how the awareness of adult policing of sexuality at this age may contribute to shame surrounding sexuality for both boys and girls equally.

A photo of hourglass-shaped high-trasmission towers carrying electrical wires across a landscape.

“The Betties” — Transmission Towers


“Betty” or “The Betties” (plural) as a slang term to refer to high-power transmission towers (450 to 735 kV).


JH is a 53 year-old woman from Erie, Pennsylvania. She grew up on the rural edges of an industrial city. The high-tension wires from the towers went over the property of her childhood home, and there was a power station nearby.

“The Betties were along the highway, not far from where we lived,” JH said. “They were the shape of a woman. They were wider at the top, like an hourglass. My dad called them Betties.”

JH said she always understood, even as a child, that they were called Betties because of their shape. “We would drive down the road, and I would think that [the towers] looked like my dolls, like a dolls’ dress,” she said. “I learned later that Betty is slang for a hot woman.”

“That’s Californian surfer talk,” her husband, KH, interjects. “My understanding is that the origin was from the Flintstones. Betty Rubble was the attractive wife.”


This single slang word for an inanimate object communicates a lot about the construction of gendered aesthetics and the social ideal of a woman’s body type. The expectation that women have an hourglass-shaped body — along with the assumption that such a shape is natural — has contributed to body dysmorphia and the proliferation of voluntary or involuntary body modifications for women, from corsets to BBLs. These constrictions support patriarchal oppression of women by constricting their movement. Additionally, body dysmorphia is linked to increased instances of mental illness. 

I also find it interesting that this term was taught to JH by her father. The role that girls’ own fathers play in their gender construction is significant and markedly different from their mothers’. JH’s experience implies that fathers may be complicit in the objectification of their own daughters through the seemingly unrelated objectification of an inanimate object.

Again, the fact that so much can be contained in a single word referring to an inanimate object speaks to the pervasiveness of gender constructs. The objectification that this enacts uniquely upon women is proved by the lack of a male nickname for transmission towers of lower voltage, which take on a capital t shape. A connection could be made to men’s broad shoulders (again, a cultural construct and not an innate physical quality) but no such slang term appears. If such a term does exist, further study could examine the ‘equal’ objectification of male and female body types.

White Formals During Graduation

Background: The informant is a 75 year old female. She grew up in Illinois, attending both high school and college in the state. She graduated from high school in 1962.

Context: When driving in the car, the talk of college graduation arose. Eventually, the conversation shifted to the informant talking about her own graduation a long time ago.


MC: When I graduated high school, in 1962, girls were supposed to wear white formals and the boys wore a dress suit.

Me: Did you carry anything?

MC: Yes, we carried a large bouquet of a dozen red roses. I really wish I still had pictures from back then. I hope I didn’t throw out the wrong album by accident, as that sometimes happens.

Me: So, just to clarify, they were formal dresses?

MC: Yes, I had to wear gloves. Now, these were floor-length formals. They were very beautiful, and my school did this every single year. I am not sure if they still follow the tradition, though. It has been a while since I have looked them up.


Informant: The informant looked back on the tradition fondly, exemplified by how she wished she could look back at it. It was an extremely proud moment for her and the unique dress code made it stand out in her memory.

Mine: White graduation dresses have been a tradition in America for a long time, since about the 1800s. Both high school aged and college aged students might wear white for their graduation. A different spin on it is the need to wear formals and to carry a bouquet of red roses. The vibe of graduation seems more similar to a prom than a graduation. Roses typically symbolize love, and perhaps by carrying them, it showcases the love the girls have for their school. White, meanwhile, is a color of purity. The need for girls to wear white and carry roses encapsulates the era of the 1950’s and 60’s, and now that the roses and the formals have been discarded, it shows a more modern woman who is going to wear a variety of different dresses and not stay confined to a single space.