X is for Xanthippe (!)

What’s an xanthippe?
I didn’t know either but I found this fabulous word when searching for words starting with X* and I came across Phrontistery.

Apparently, an xanthippe is an ill-tempered woman.

My youngest son was recently protesting that he was being forced to smile during his school concert. I told him to bare his teeth and no one would know the difference. ;)

My youngest son was recently protesting that he was being forced to smile during his school concert. I told him to bare his teeth and no one would know the difference. 😉

That definition immediately intrigued and annoyed me. On the one hand, I love that the English language has such bizarrely specific words and I love that it is so cool-looking. I will be using it in the future, for sure – to refer to myself. (But I’ll be using it in a celebratory fashion because I kind of like to OWN things that are supposed to be insults. Sidenote: Now, I kind of want to rename my blog.)

On the other hand, how annoying is it that there is a specific word for an ill-tempered woman? The word ill-tempered is not sufficient? Or does that only cover men? Or is it that men’s ill-temperedness makes sense but we need a specific word to describe how ridiculous an ill-tempered woman is?

And once you have a word for that specific case, it becomes a bit of a label doesn’t it? It’s not that she is ill-tempered for a reason, it’s that she is an xanthippe! It’s all on her. That way, you don’t have to worry about anything you did, you don’t need to concern yourself with being reasonable or acting like an adult, she’s the problem.

This opens a big can of worms in my brain. We have this cultural stereotype that women are more emotional than men, and while that is true on the surface, there’s more to it than that. It comes down to the emotional range that various genders are allowed and the emotional skills that we are taught, and the tools we are given for navigating social situations. If women are put in charge of keeping social situations running smoothly (and we often are) then we need a full emotional range to handle that task.

Of course, then some people will turn around and blame women for being ‘too emotional’ as if that is all on the women themselves, as if that happens outside of a social context. We all have times when our emotions don’t match the situation we are in, but that’s not a X-linked characteristic** it happens to everyone. Men are limited in the emotions that that are socially acceptable for them to express but they can still be inappropriate for the situation(anger is usually okay though, that’s ‘manly’)***

Now, I’m not saying that there is no such thing as an ill-tempered woman, there obviously is. I’m ill-tempered myself sometimes, occasionally for no real reason. What I’m interested in, though, is unpacking words that we throw at each other. What’s the context? Are there any mitigating factors? Are we reacting to the individual or some stereotype about them?

I think it is way too easy to decide someone is an xanthippe (or that they are unreasonable, or angry or whatever) and put the blame solely on them. When we scope back a bit and get the bigger picture (the situation at hand, their background, or if we consider a cultural context), we get the kind of information that helps us treat a cause instead of a symptom.

Of course, sometimes when we get all that information, we discover that the person is just a xanthippe. So keep that word in your back pocket and use it wisely.

*Spoiler, a lot of longer words that start with X seem to have to do with either the colour yellow or with strangers. Makes for interesting reading.
**Interesting, the X-link is another connection to the letter X.
***Doesn’t that make you think that men are missing out? How terrible is that our society has developed in a way to deny huge chunks of the range of human existence to each gender.

2 thoughts on “X is for Xanthippe (!)

  1. I love that website too … its a mine of wonderful words. I’d not heard of Xanthippe but feel somehow that my crossness at the perceived need for separate word to describe ill-tempered when a woman, would make me indulge my xanthippeness. But I’m unreasonable like that …

  2. I’m still catching up on my reading for the A to Z! And it’s funny, I went to Elementary school with a girl named Xanthippe, and I thought it was the most beautiful name. We called her Xan. What were her parents thinking? Thanks for the link to the Phrontistery website. I’m marking in my favorites.

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