You’re probably familiar with the term bimbo, a pejorative term for a stupid, vacuous (but attractive) woman. It’s one that seems to be used much more in writing, particularly tabloid journalism, than speaking, but one most people well-acquainted with English will probably know.
And recently, bimbo has been joined by himbo, a vacuous, stupid (but attractive) man. Only fair, of course, that there’s a word for the gander as well as the goose. Though the fact there was no male version of bimbo until it was coined recently is also quite revealing of the structural patriarchialism underlying a lot of languages. Or you could also look at it as being male stupidity being taken for granted so much that there was no need to create a specific term for stupid men. Whatever way you see it though, it’s quite curious that bimbo wasn’t actually always so gender specific.
This is something I began to wonder about when I started learning Italian, and noticed that the worb bimbo means baby. It can be used to refer a non-gender-specific baby, but if the gender is known, bimbo is used for a boy, and bimba for a girl, so it is a masculine term.
And it remained so when it originally entered English via Italian immigrants in the United States in the early 20th century. It referred to a big, stupid, aggressive type of man, possibly because of how thick and pudgy babies are.
However, in 1920, a song called “My Little Bimbo Down on the Bamboo Isle” became popular. The bimbo in the song was a beautiful woman, and the word quickly became exclusively feminine.
Once people began to think it was only fair to have a term for a male airhead, the masculine origins of bimbo had been long forgotten, and himbo had to be created. Given how we’re so much more conscious of gender equality in our language nowadays though, time might soon be up for both himbo and bimbo!