Ever noticed how swear words are mostly designed to imply harm done to women? The most potent, nasty curse-words have nothing to do with the person in question, but a female relative of theirs who (in all likelihood) has nothing to do with the quarrel. Cursing is also seen as the exclusive province of men, interestingly enough—decent women, Proper Ladies, don’t swear. There are no swearwords that threaten the honour or physical well-being of someone’s father or brother either unless one is inventive. Often jirgas use violence inflicted upon women as punishment for the behaviour of their men. What does all of this mean?

The first instance of violence in the world, according to religious legend, is the murder of Abel by his brother Cain, in a burst of jealous rage—no women involved for miles. Cain was punished by God by being set to wander forever (never finding a home is also a pretty common penance across texts), but no woman was harmed. Jonah, Yunus, was swallowed by a whale. Odysseus, who angered Neptune? Also set to wander for ten years in search of a home, but no terrible revenge was visited upon his wife, Penelope, other than the fact of her having to fend off suitors for a decade. Sisyphus, same—had to roll a rock up a hill for eternity. The legends all have men taking responsibility for the wrong they do. Maybe there’s a reason they are legends after all.

It’s a mad, bad and sad state of affairs, as a culture, when all roads of anger lead to women. Two men fight; a woman gets dragged into it by way of the most obvious ways to insult a man. A man runs away with a woman, his sister and mother are held answerable for something they had no part in. The very fact that the most effective way to enrage a man is by insulting the women in his family speaks volumes. It isn’t half as potent to insult his intelligence, his wit, his face, his morality, none of those—they all seem to be variable, or perhaps not as valuable, as a woman’s honour.

To my mind, this is probably the most dangerous concept of them all. In Egypt, it is a mortal insult to refer to someone’s mother by her name, so most women don’t ever use their real names—just Umm-e-Whatever, mother of X or Y child. Imagine. Just saying someone’s mother’s name is enough to have to challenge them to pistols at dawn. Not saying that someone is a liar, is a blackguard, has no morals, decency or integrity; just his mother’s name. The same way in this part of the world, only the suggestion of violence towards and the indecency of a woman is enough to incite fisticuffs. It’s so absurd: to incite anger by directing violence not towards the person you are fighting, but an absent third person who may or may not even exist. How convenient that that person also be a woman.

There would be some strange satisfaction, perhaps, if there were equivalent swearwords for women to use about men. A balance of insult-power. But therein lies the rub—polite women, which is to say ideally all women, are not meant to be furious harridans who actually use serious swearwords with the intention to invite assault.

A cute little catfight, some girly hair-pulling and nail-scratching is one thing; calling someone a witch or a dog also fairly usual, but women have no real business in the incitement, development and deliverance of violence, and most certainly not the kind that implies a desire to harm a man in a meaningful way. Real aggression is supposed to be directed at women, not originate from them. Women’s anger is carefully controlled, whittled down to certain acceptable forms that are easily dismissible as “hormones”, “hysteria” and “general female irrationality”. When you can brush away women’s anger, take away their swearwords and generally frown upon emotionality, you can also ignore the origin of their rage. Women’s anger is so terrifying and problematic because acknowledging it means things would have to change, and no properly self-serving patriarchy could possibly allow that. Women are silenced when their anger is silenced, and that is a pernicious kind of cruelty.