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On Calling Your Male Friends ‘Pussy Whipped’

Recently, a male colleague here at MEL mentioned a friend of his had gotten into a new relationship with a woman and effectively disappeared from his friend group—he was no longer free to hang out or grab a beer. “He’s completely whipped,” my colleague said with disdain.

“Whipped”? Come again? I hadn’t heard the term whipped in its abbreviated usage, or called by its full name — pussy-whipped — since high school, when my jock boyfriend and his jock friends used it to describe any dude who was more interested in hanging out with his girlfriend than his male friends.

Are we still calling men whipped for choosing a relationship over a friend group? Why? And what does being whipped really mean, anyway?

Just last month, Men’s Fitness published a guide directed at men listing 10 signs you’re whipped, ostensibly to help men who don’t realize they’ve been suckered into emasculating obedience. In it, Brittany Smith says the crime is simple: “All a (domineering) woman needs to do is plant her roots and the freedom days are over,” she writes.

Urban Dictionary claims anyone can be whipped, but the definition makes clear it’s mostly a guy thing. When men prefer female company to male in a domesticated way (not in a playboy, tail-chasing way, which is okay and can even be a male group sport), it’s considered a transgression against some male code, a violation of the bros-before-hos edict all men are allegedly supposed to live by. Men are natural leaders and should be in charge in relationships, never the other way around.

Clear signs of whippage, according to Smith, include her picking out your outfits, doing a couples’ costume ever, you never picking the movie or making any real decisions, holding her purse while she shops, never letting you see your friends, she puts your dog in a costume. The article ends there — it contains no advice on what to do if, after reading this list, you deduce you are in fact whipped. Unhelpful!

The trouble is, most of the things on this list aren’t gendered and don’t amount to being whipped. Couples’ costumes are cheesy, yes, but it’s not a sign of mind control. Holding a woman’s purse while she shops? Please. This tired sitcom trope of sadsackery is helpful, not pathetic. (It’s not her fault women’s clothes never have real pockets.) And calm down, everyone: Men are just as stupidly obsessed with their dogs as women.

If anything on this list is truly problematic, it’s not being allowed to see your friends and not having any say in a relationship. While we all know people who submit to truly controlling relationships, I think we overestimate the degree to which men willingly ditch their friendships for their girlfriends.

Men, for instance, are notoriously bad at maintaining adult male friendships as they get older, in part because they replace male friends with a girlfriend or wife as their only close relationship. Women typically don’t, instead juggling multiple relationships of varying degrees of intimacy throughout their lives.

And men perpetuate the image of women as their domestic guardians. In a piece at Psych Central, couples’ therapist Deryl Goldenberg writes that even though relationships are more egalitarian than ever, men still hold onto this sitcom trope about girlfriends or wives being “the old ball and chain”; say, “Happy wife, happy life”; or refer to being “on the leash.” There are entire clothing lines ordered around the idea that a man’s only boss is his wife.

Yet men insist on calling other men pussy-whipped regardless of whether they willingly put the women in their lives first. Even super-heroes can be pussy-whipped:

Note that Superman in this take is not just pussy-whipped because his love for his girl is too much and too clear a weakness for his enemies to exploit, but by caring enough about her to risk his own safety he is now also a bitch. You dig? Being whipped by the pussy turns you INTO a pussy.

What’s really going on here? One possibility is that men who see their friends start getting heavily laid with a girlfriend are just jealous, so they reframe it as pathetic subservience. The sex is so good they must’ve forgotten how fun it was to sit around smelling their friend’s farts every weekend at paintball. A staggering loss.

Calling men pussy-whipped is also about men genuinely lamenting not getting to hang out with their friends anymore—so they reframe the loss as pathetic subservience. Used to play pickup basketball every Saturday morning with your college buddies? Now you’re shopping at IKEA, sucker. Used to grab a beer on Friday night after work with your bros? Now you’re at her place watching 13 Going on 30 like a little bitch.

Of course no one likes people who always disappear into relationships and refuse to ever meet up again until the new relationship crashes and burns. Only then are they suddenly back on the scene desperate for hang time. But we typically don’t call women who do this whipped (dick- or pussy-whipped).

This is clear: Women are all but expected to be searching since birth for a future husband. Of course she wants nothing more but to hole up and start breeding. Men? You’re supposed to resist getting locked down as long as humanly possible.

So I put the question to my male Facebook acquaintances, asking whether anyone still calls their male friends whipped, and if so why. “It bothers insecure ‘players’ when their stable friends get into a healthy long-term relationship,” one guy responded. “Because it forces the ‘player’ to look into the mirror and realize he’s never grown up and doesn’t know what true connections are.”

Another said he couldn’t remember the last time heard the term. Another said “a great percentage of the people I know now are married, so it doesn’t really come up.”

These are telling responses: Once everyone is marrying age, no one thinks it’s that pathetic to find someone; it’s suddenly the goal. “Haven’t heard this word since my early 20s,” another guy told me. “I imagine it’s still in fairly common usage in groups of young bros. And it’s typically used to protest diminished bro time.”

Taken together, it seems calling a fellow male friend whipped is really just an immature, under-30 person’s way of dealing with the panic of losing male friendships and being jealous of men who get regular sex. That fear isn’t always misplaced: Back at Psych Central, Goldenberg says he sees numerous unhappily married men in his couples’ therapy practice who discover they have, in fact, actually willingly given up control in relationships with their wives based on the assumption that they were supposed to. Now they realize they are unhappy, that they have no real hand in the shape of their everyday lives, and they don’t know how to reverse course.

I’m sure not all men end up miserable after submitting to the inevitable, though. Surely some of them happily give up control to their girlfriends and wives and go onto have fulfilling, nurturing relationships with women who call all the shots. You know the type: totally pussy-whipped.