Friday, February 22, 2013

The Stupidest Metaphor of All Time

I've found it! I've uncovered the stupidest metaphor of all time. It had some stiff competition, but it has won! It's the lock/key metaphor to justify the sexual double standard. Exhibit A:

[Picture description, sic on all of this: Facebook status from Miriam Perez reads, "is is odd how society see things. lets say if a guy sleeps with all these girls, "hes a the man!" or a stud. but if a girl does, she's a total slut or whore? is society sexist?" Comment from Mathew James reads "well think about it this way. if a key can open a bunch of locks, its viewed as a master key, and is awesome to have. but if a lock is opened by a lot of different keys, well thats a pretty shitty lock if you ask me."]

As long as I've been doing my Facebook Sexism blog on Tumblr, people have been submitting variations on this theme. Dudes sling this metaphor around like it actually makes sense. And trust me, people are having to actively speak out against it on a regular basis.

So when someone asked me yesterday if I could help him take down this horrific analogy, I was more than happy to pitch in. Here's my response:

Well, let’s back up a second. Even if the lock/key metaphor wasn’t sexist, which it is, it’s also just totally illogical. WHY in the world should we extrapolate a fact that is true about an OBJECT to be true about our genitals? Seriously…how does that comparison make ANY sense? Last I checked my vagina and a lock have very little in common.
Also—have you seen the pencil sharpener metaphor reaction? (A pencil that gets sharpened too much is eventually reduced to nothing. A pencil sharpener can sharpen tons of pencils and be just fine.) It’s a pretty good way to point out (to sexists who need it pointed out) how this whole “it must be true for an inanimate object, so it must be true for genitals!” thing is INCREDIBLY foolish and makes 0 sense.
Now, why it’s sexist—the very fact that someone needed this metaphor to try to justify male sexuality and shame female sexuality, is sexist! It’s an incredibly tired old trope, with absolutely no rational basis (that men are “naturally” more sex driven and women should remain pure, virginal, etc.) It’s all a part of the patriarchy designed to keep women subordinate and to socially control what we do with our bodies. It’s slut shaming at its finest, and it’s just using a ridiculous metaphor to justify a deeply bigoted view. (For detailed reading on this topic, I suggest Jessica Valenti’s Purity Myth.)
And while we’re at it, WHY does your friend need this to not be sexist? Why would he defend it? Is it because he is deeply invested in a world where he is free to express his sexuality but women aren’t? Perhaps ask him that… I hope this is helpful!
I really, really hate that fucking metaphor.
The next time that someone tries to tell me that feminism is irrelevant, once I recover from uncontrollable fits of laughter, I'll mention this. I will remind them that just because our culture looks different than it did 25, 50, or 100 years ago, it doesn't mean sexism is dead. Young women are still very much fighting a battle against the same old shit--misogyny, double standards, entitlement to their bodies, etc.--it's just packaged in new language like this metaphor or the "friend zone," or insulting a man by saying he has a vagina. (And that one has some bonus cissexism!)

The day that women got the right to vote or when birth control became available or when women started working outside the home didn't suddenly erase all the misogyny that was in everyone's heads. So yes, the way that society oppresses women might look different with each generation, but the fact remains that oppression is a constant.

All right, y'all. I'm declaring the lock/key metaphor to be the stupidest metaphor or all time! You on board? Now let us go forth and verbally destroy anyone who tries to use it.


  1. I wish I'd read this a few weeks ago when a FB "friend" posted the lock/key metaphor. Next time I see it, I'm responding with the pencil sharpener metaphor!

  2. You are right, that IS an awful metaphor!

    I'm old for the Internet --- too old to have had to go through abstinence-only sex education --- and not on Facebook, so I managed not to encounter this gross metaphor until today.

  3. Years back, I was watching a panel discussion on same-sex marriage, aired on the local university's cable station. Someone from the anti side actually, seriously made the argument that, because lamps plug into walls, same-sex marriage is wrong. You know, because you can't connect two plugs together, or two outlets together.

    My jaw was agape, but this guy was being utterly sincere, and seemed to think he had a winning analogy. I wanted to jump through the television screen and yell, "HUMANS ARE NOT LAMPS!"

  4. P.S. These are some of the most difficult Captchas I've come across. Took me three attempts to post.

  5. Hi! I noticed you linked back to my question on Tumblr. I love that you answered my question, but you've misgendered me :') I'm genderfluid, preferring they/them or he/his.

    On the upside, I won the argument.

    1. Hello--so sorry.

      Which link is it? This one?

    2. Oh wait! I see now...fixed. My apologies once more.

    3. It's fine, thank you for changing it :)

  6. There's also some begging the question going on. (In the old-school "assuming the answer to the question" sense.) The reason they chose that metaphor instead of the pencil sharpener one is because it justified their views. Why is it that Man Sleeps Around: Good, Woman Sleeps Around: Bad? Because men are like keys and women are like locks! Why are men like keys and women like locks? Because Man Sleeps Around: Good, Woman Sleeps Around: Bad!

  7. Forgive me if I sound crass, but I'm feeling rather philosophical at the moment and must chime in. I'm not a hardcore feminist that advocates for some kind of matriarchy, I advocate for a counterbalance to our highly patriarchal societies.
    Nerdy Feminist is claiming that Mathew is commiting a fallacy of weak analogy, and retorts with her own fallacies in the forms of strawman and red herring. The strawman arises from the fact that Mathew is merely explaining the way things ARE, and not advocating for the way things SHOULD be.
    I will attempt to reinforce Mathew's arguement, so it can no longer be considered a weak analogy. A lock represents something of worth intended to be kept secure, while the key represents the ability to realize that worth (birth) . A lock and key is used to secure the worth of something, humans evolved to reproduce sexually so that this worth is used more efficiently once realized (evolution simplified). Thus, society as a whole should aim to balance the cost incurred from childbirth against the value than can be extracted from childbirth.
    Now, the cost of birth is a greater burden to the female than the male (with the cost to the male sometimes being non-existent). Assuming a non-pregnant female is nearly as fit at surviving as a male, a pregnant female must find a way to acquire additional resources to insure her survival, and the most natural source for this is through the charity of the male counterpart.
    I'm running out of intellectual fuel at the moment, but I will try to highlight a few concerns when this reality is challenged. What happens when a male decides that he wishes to reproduce at zero cost to himself (i.e. not supporting his offspring)? In this case, the cost is essentially picked up by other males in society, since they are the ones with a greater propensity for survival, both in group and individual scenarios. A female with weak sexual selection mechanisms would facilitate this. Secondly, imagine what happens when there are excessive social pressures for reproduction in both sexes. Why would such pressures exist? One possibility is a coalition of interests; those with wealth that are above the competiton understand that they can make themselves even more competitive by encouraging the less competitve to differ their resources in a way that can be benefited by the wealthy (new babies are born essentially indebted to the wealthy). CONTINUED IN SECOND POST


    Okay, okay, of course, I understand that we have birth control and wellfare and all that jazz these days, and the situation in not quiet as dire as my rhetoric would have you believe. But, one thing should jump out at you, if you are familiar with and interested in the concept: Feminism is inherently a form of TRANSHUMANISM. Let's face it; if we didn't have the technology we have today, we wouldn't have the resources to afford birth control, and we also wouldn't have any concepts regarding egalitarianism unless it was specific to our culture. My point here being, tread carefully. Most of the world is still living in a manor-dwelling system, which is undoubtedly the epitome of patriarchy historically speaking. How might family life change if we embrace feminism, when our entire infrastructure has been invested into this male-dominant system for millenia?
    Until there are adequate pressures for humans to rethink our social (e.g. mating) patterns, we will probably be stuck in the patriarchy. I'm all for allowing people to sharpen their pencils, as long as they do so responsibly. I personally find promiscuity disgusting in both males and females, so there's my contribution to the genome; I never bought into cultural biases regarding this issue of male's sexual supremacy (outside the use of violence). I instinctively choose to propogate the species through seeking quality out of my mate (before any ladies ask; no, I don't wanna have kids), instead of through the quantity of offspring. This makes me conservative, in that respect (it should be noted I am a green freak, odd how my sexual preferences are even ecologically friendly).
    Sorry if I made a few mistakes or sounded dumb and confusing, I'm dealing with a bout of insomnia at the moment. Take is easy on me folks, I'm probably biting off more than I can chew here. Feel free to dispute, hopefully I will remember to check back.

    1. You said a whole lot and still I don't see any reason why we should equate our genitals to inanimate objects.

    2. I will try to clarify a bit. Don't think of the genitals as just any random, mundane, or useless inanimate object. They are like a tool, sometimes even a weapon. For this reason, I think it is fair to compare them to keys and pencils, which are both tools. I believe it is inherently counter-productive to attach sexuality to feminism, because it discredits the movement to certain individuals who might have been on board, particularly those who view sex as dangerous (like a weapon). A person's experiences in the bedroom are private matters for a reason; a violation of this privacy could become scandalous.
      I personally don't know many people who truly advocate the double-standard sentiments being presented , outside of poor attempts at wit. I posit that sexual double-standards arise largely in part by societie's percieved hopelessness of women.
      The primary issues, in my opinion, are ones regarding the establishment, and women's participation therein. If you can convince a rich businessman that women are equal to men in the workplace, he will have economic incentive to remain tolerant of women regarding their interpersonal relationships. Some people will find ANY reason to be bigotted, and gender just happens to be one of them, so let's work on eliminating sources of bigotry to kill two birds with one stone.
      Sexually empowering women does not necessarily lead to an egalatarian society, and I actually argue that it would take away from egalitarianism in the current power structure, as evidenced by pornography and prostitution.
      No, we must fundamentally change the structures in place, so that humans are not encouraged to dominate and compete recklessly. Oppression of women is not a mere isolated or encapsulated phenomenon in our world, it is a disturbing pattern of interrelated atrocities regarding the human condition. Sexual enslavement is entirely predicated on the fact of economic enslavement (does not have to be enslavement from a human authority), I strongly believe there is no way around this. A truly egalatarian society would have NO business dictating non-violent, inter-personal relationships; it would simply be unprecedented and contradictory. Mutual enslavement via oneanother's impulsive desires becomes a possibility.
      I apologize if this all sounds a bit radical to all of you, or if you believe I am hijacking the blog to push an unrelated agenda, but I take a very holistic approach to matters such as these. I consider this to be a healthier approach to this issue, as it helps prevent radicalization and ostracization.

    3. ^ to summarize: promiscuity is equally bad in men and women, but our patriarchal system which evolved from women having to be more selective in who they mated with forces this double standard on us today. Sexually empowering women won't make us more equal. (That was a really short summary) My response: I agree with most of your arguments but not your thesis. The point of sexually empowering women is to let us have the choice instead of society telling us what to do while men are allowed to do what they want with no consequences. Besides that, our difference in views lays in a philosophical opinion on whether promiscuity is bad or not which can not be changed either way through debate. I like what you said about bigotry, definitely true and I think most of our problems stem from our human need to feel like we're better than at least one other group of people. I also disagreed with some other things you said but the only one I feel strongly enough about righting is this: "I'm not a hardcore feminist that advocates for some kind of matriarchy, I advocate for a counterbalance to our highly patriarchal societies"
      Me too! Theoretically, that is what feminism is. The name is a little misleading and it trumps misogynists and feminists alike. Good feminism is striving for equality while bad feminism is striving for a matriarchy.

  9. Its actually a perfect metaphor.

    Ask yourself why do gay men have such sexual freedom, and are so promiscuous vs any other orientation. Its nothing to do with patriarchy or any other nonsense because even lesbians are no where near the promiscuity seen in the gay population. When you have two men, the likelihood of sex is just far more, its two people not playing hard to get, its two people saying yes.

    A classic study in university where (Russell D. Clark III and Elaine Hatfield Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?) they had students of each sex proposition strangers kind of revealed the obvious difference, men were vastly more likely to say yes to such an offer. And its no surprise. The problem with feminism in many cases has been that it argues against common sense and reality. Ask yourself a simple question, why isn't it impressive if the head cheerleader sleeps her way through the football team? Why is it impressive if the quarter back does the reverse? One is FAR harder to do than the other. Its also the reason why women can sell sex, and men generally can't give it away. Its also evident when you look at homosexual men vs the rest of the population, when two men get together, its double yes, and so promiscuity is at a rate that just dwarfs that seen in any other orientation. Are lesbians promiscuous? Not really, in fact theres a condition jokingly named lesbian bed death for a reason. Have you heard of the mobile app grindr? Its a hookup application that lets you know when people near you are "up for it", its popular for gay men, and no one else at all. I'm sure many straight men would love to use such a thing but it can't happen because women just aren't into it.

    So whether it fits the theories you've been taught or whatever, the metaphor works for the reality we live in. Its based on the fact that we are animals created by evolution, not by a god. Mother nature isn't into fairness and doesn't work based on your social theory ideals, evolution works on its own principles and is amoral, and its shaped us for millions of years whether we like it or not, and it accounts for the differences we see in reality.

    Anyways as Marilyn once said, a man being rich is like a girl being pretty. Its got nothing to do with issues of enslavement or whatever Richard was talking about above, its just about competition, and the mating game is based on that. People try to get the best mate they can, its not about fairness in that aspect. And its why you see male policitians, ugly toads even go through several wives, yet powerful women don't gain additional sexual advantage based on such things. Obama if he wanted could sleep with interns like Clinton, women would throw themselves at him if allowed. You can't say the same about Hilary. Maybe its not fair but that's how it is, on the other hand if Obama were a high school janitor those same women would not give him the time of day. That's life.

    1. Your rambling, nonsensical, ignorant tirade is so boring it took me a few days to finally read it all and bother to publish it. Your total lack of inability to understand how socialization plays a role in all the "natural" phenomena you use to justify your misogyny is astonishing. Your thesis is basically, "things are this way, so that's how they are!"

      Please don't bother replying. It won't see the light of day.

  10. Wow, there's a lot of mansplaining in these comments. (And yes, I did break my own "Don't read the comments" rule, ugh.)

  11. Thank you thank you! I needed a response to the lock/key metaphor and this was perfect!

  12. I was researching what this phrase really is about because some shit in Tumblr posted that:

    ****If feminism means equality, then why does it have the root word “fem”, which is for women?

    Also, addressing rape:

    If a key opens many locks, then it’s a master key.

    If a lock is opened by many keys, then it’s a shitty lock.***

    He dared to use the phrase to say this to rape. The nerve of the fucker.

    Thank you for this post..

  13. The lock and key metaphor has some roots in biology. The differences in sexual behavior for male and females can be explained by their roles and responsibilities in reproduction. Because the female has to give up a lot in reproduction; time, the ability to mate, mobility, energy, etc.; they must be more selective in mating. The male, who gives up much much less,seeks mating opportunities wherever they present themselves. So, the male key will attempt to unlock every lock he can, whereas the female lock will attempt to guard something precious, until the right person with the right key is found. In terms of procreation, it has some basis.

    But in general these types of equality arguments are...silly at best, detrimental at the worst. One, it's an attempt to reach equality by emulating behavior that is not worth condoning. For example, a person with a master key breaking into a bunch of locks would be considered a thief. What self-respecting person would want to imitate a thief? Second, the argument implies that the subordination of one sex to the other exists. Subordination can only exist if one consents to it, and to imply that it exists gives it power, even rationalizes it. When you stop waiting for permission to live your life in the way you know is right, and start doing so, then you take it out of the realm of the unfathomable, and you take it out of the power of those who only talk about what they may or may not know. And when those so called oppressors come to oppress you, they'll be faced with two options: change themselves or die for what they believe in. If what you believe in is just, then you'll be willing to lay down your life for it. And no, that doesn't mean you have to outright die for it, but it does help to not hold social esteem and acceptance above what you believe is right.

    1. Please stop misusing biological and scientific facts... True, Human Females are more energetically invested in pregnancy however social monogamy is common in human cultures both (contemporary and historic)where a human pair is monogamous for at least the period of raising a human infant (one of the least mature at birth and longest to mature of primates) to ensure that the genes of BOTH the female and the male are successfully passed down. To postulate that because male humans cannot get pregnant means that they do not have considerable investment in ensuring the survival of the offspring. Males invest time in ensuring that genes are passed on-- through supporting pregnant females and infants.

  14. Oh my lord!! I wish I came across this some time ago. I'm so sick of this metaphor. It's disgusting and frankly quite ridiculous for my vagina to be compared to a lock. Like wtf? You made so much sense!


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