Have you come across “neckbeard” as an insult?
It’s popular in some corners of the internet – think of the common stereotype of a “fat loser living in his mom’s basement” for an idea of what this insult is meant to convey.
And although “neckbeard” is often used by feminists in response to misogyny, this cartoon makes a good point about why it’s is a misguided way to go about criticizing sexist men.
With this break-down of what’s behind this insult, you’ll understand why we can’t keep using gendered insults based on appearance. The “neckbeard” stereotype has no part in the world we’re working to build as feminists.
The Editors at Everyday Feminism
Click for the Transcript
(At the top of the cartoon, large cartoon-style letters spell out “NECKBEARD.” Each letter is growing stubble hairs out of its lowest third.)
(Behind all the panels is a large drawing of a fat person, mostly in darkness. The person has an exaggerated neck, and has stubble covering their lip, chin, and neck.)
(BARRY – a fat white man with glasses, pulled-back hair in a ponytail, and a t-shirt with an exclamation point on it, is speaking directly to the reader. Barry’s face has a lot of stubble.)
CAPTION: What’s a “Neckbeard?”
BARRY: Maybe you’ve never heard the word “neckbeard.”
But in some corners of the internet, it’s a common insult.
(A close-up on Barry’s neck shows a lot of stubble growing there.)
BARRY: Taken literally, neckbeard just means someone with beard hairs growing on his neck.
(The word “loser” appears floating in the air around Barry’s head, with Barry’s head taking the place of the “O.”)
BARRY: But what’s inplied is that he’s a fat loser, lives in a basement, never had a girlfriend, and so on.
(A full-color drawing, drawn in a different style than the rest of the comic, is shown in this panel. The drawing depicts a fat, unshaven, shirtless man sitting in a windowless room that feels like a basement, laughing as he types on his computer. A poster in the background says “Internet Arguments Won” and has fifty handdrawn checkmarks; other decorations include a picture of Richard Dawkins, a fedora lying on the desk, a My Little Pony figurine, and a few atheist logos.)
BARRY (off-panel): Here’s a popular drawing – I don’t know who the artist is, sorry – of a “neckbeard.” You get the idea.
(Barry stands between a bald man with a van dyke beard and a young woman with fashionable hair; they appear to be yelling at each other.)
BARRY: I find it fascinating that both lefties and right-wingers use “neckbeard” to insult the other.
It’s like the only thing that unites us is our shared contempt for fat, unkempt guys.
(Barry, now alone, addresses the reader directly, with an “asking a question” expression.)
BARRY: When feminists call someone a “neckbeard,” it’s usually a guy who just said something misogynistic.
I’m all for criticizing misogynists, but I have to ask – why use that word?
(Barry is holding up a suitcase. The suitcase is labeled “neckbeard.”)
BARRY: Let’s unpack neckbeard and see what’s inside!
Insults like “neckbeard” work by associating the target of the insult with something understood to be repulsive.
(A close-up of the “neckbeard” suitcase shows it standing open. Four blobs, labeled “fat,” “loser,” “ugly,” and “dork” are emerging from the suitcase.)
BARRY (off-panel): It’s not satisfying to call people “anti-feminists,” because some people like anti-feminism. Instead, we use words that suggest things almost no one likes: “loser,” “fat,” “ugly.”
(A close-up of Barry, drawn to exaggerate his unshaven neck.)
BARRY: In short, “neckbeard.”
(Barry spreads his arms wide to make a big point.)
BARRY: But in a better society – a society most feminists want – none of the things neckbeard implies would be insults.
(Barry speaks to the viewer, but his neck – and only his neck – is now covered by a thick beard.)
BARRY: We shouldn’t insult people for being fat, or for not being able to afford their own place, or for being single.
Or for not conforming to society’s arbitrary grooming standards, for that matter.
(Once again we see the popular drawing of a “neckbeard” that appeared in panel 4. But this time he’s been drawn in a style that matches the comic strip. Three arrow captions point to him.)
BARRY (off-panel): There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of that. Good people can be all those things.
ARROW CAPTION 1: Donates to feminist causes.
ARROW CAPTION 2: Always kind.
ARROW CAPTION 3: Loves kittens.
(Barry leans over to look into the inside of the “neckbeard” suitcase.)
BARRY: If we keep unpacking “neckbeard,” we’ll find three more things in here…
First, the “neckbeard” stereotypes are also stereotypes used against autistic people.
(A shot of two jigsaw puzzle pieces, which fit together perfectly. The pieces are labeled “autistic” and “neckbeard.”)
BARRY (off-panel): In fact, when I was researching this cartoon, some autistic people told me they’ve observed “autistic” and “neckbeard” used together as insults.
(Barry addresses the reader directly, his hands in front of him in an “explaining” gesture.)
BARRY: Some (not all) autistic people have difficulty with things like earning a living, dating, and navigating arbitrary grooming rules. “Neckbeard” targets exactly those traits.
(A person with dark, springy hair jumps back from a sign which says “keep out!” in big letters.)
BARRY (off-panel): When we use “neckbeard,” it sends a message to autistic people that they’re unwelcome. It’s ableist as hell!
(A grinning white dude is wearing a “poor person” costume, which consists of a sleeveless white shirt with a pillow shoved under it to make him appear fat. He has makeup on his face and neck to simulate heavy stubble, and is holding out a cup with “give” written on it.)
BARRY (off-panel): Second, insults about grooming are clearly linked to ugly stereotypes about class.
GRINNING DUDE: For Halloween, I’m dressed as a poor person!
(A smiling, confident-looking woman with a full beard and her hair in a bun puts her hand on her chest in a “I am awesome” gesture.)
BARRY(off-panel): Third, even though some women do grow face and neck hair…
WOMAN: And look awesome with it!
(Barry is drawn to be a circle-and-arrow “male” symbol.)
BARRY: “Neckbeard” is still intended as a gendered insult, and that’s a problem.
Because people’s sex or gender shouldn’t be insults at all.
BARRY: Do I think “neckbeard” is as bad as gendered insults that “punch down,” like b**** and c***? Definitely not.
But consider this: Men who like conventional gender roles aren’t usually bothered by gendered insults.
(Barry now has a huge arrow symbol piercing his chest. The arrow is labeled “neckbeard.”)
BARRY: Guys who are hurt by anti-male insults are often guys who are already wounded by toxic masculinity.
Why add to that?
(An unshaven fat man with a dorky grin, wearing a fedora hat and a sleeveless white shirt, points to himself with his thumb.)
BARRY: (Off-panel) One final point: When we stereotype misogynists by saying they look like this….
(A conventionally handsome man, with “good” scruffy stubble and a neck tattoo, smiles out at the viewer.)
BARRY: That implicitly lets misogynists who look like this off the hook.
(For the final three panels, Barry speaks directly at the viewer. In this panel, he looks a bit angry)
BARRY: Maybe it would be better if no one resorted to insults… But let’s get real. Everyone loses their temper sometimes. That’s life.
(Barry, no longer looking angry, shrugs.)
BARRY: But let’s at least avoid insults that devalue people for their appearance… and that can make fat people and autistic people feel unwelcome.
(Barry, smiling, lifts his left hand to feel his cheek.)
BARRY: Thanks for listening!
(Hmmm… Do I need a shave?)
To learn more about this topic, check out:
Barry Deutsch is a Contributing Comic Artist for Everyday Feminism living in Portland. You can read more of his political cartoons on his Patreon. He also creates Hereville, a comic about an 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl who wants to fight monsters, and (with Becky Hawkins) SuperButch, a comic about a lesbian superhero in the 1940s. Check out his blog and follow him on Twitter and on Tumblr.