What is a ‘shithole’ anyway? It depends on your gender

Protesters in Miami, January 2018. Image: Getty

In a meeting with lawmakers in January, Donald Trump reportedly complained that the US received too many immigrants from “shithole countries” such as “Africa”. His remarks were condemned as racist and offensive by the United Nations, the African Union, the Vatican and world leaders past and present.

For the past two years, we have been studying what the term “shithole” means in a British context, where it’s a common way to denigrate places. Books such as Crap Towns have made saying mean things about places seem like sport. Online forums provide a space for users engage in what we term “the discourse of denigration” – academic speak for slagging somewhere off.

Our research was sparked by the simple fact that one sees and hears the term “shithole” on a regular basis in the UK: on the train, in the pub, in the streets or online. But now, in light of Trump’s remarks, the word has taken on a whole new significance – and so have our findings.

What makes a ‘shithole’?

We set out to discover what people actually mean when they call a place a “shithole”. In particular, we wanted to know what kind of places they are talking about and who goes around saying this kind of thing. To this end, we collected 2,076 tweets over a 155-day period, which used the term “shithole” or #shithole (yes, there is a hashtag), along with a geotagged location, so that we could mark the places being labelled as “shitholes”, as well as the places where people were tweeting from.

According to our research, which is currently under review at the Transactions of the Institute of British Geography, there does not appear to be a distinct geography to “shithole” talk. The meanings behind the term are exceptionally varied – a “shithole” could be boring, dirty, populated by people of different races or faiths, poor, or simply the home of a football team you don’t like.

But our study did reveal one remarkable finding: there is a clear gendered difference in how people use the term “shithole” when it comes to places. Men were far more likely to direct their derision at other places, which they were not from – and which they may or may not have visited. A full 83.3 per cent of tweets about other such places came from men. Women, on the other hand, were more likely to direct the term at somewhere they were familiar with: their home town, their house, the bedroom, their street.

This finding makes sense, given what we know about the way men and women use language. When writing online, men tend to use authoritative, assertive and challenging language, whereas women are more reflective, defensive and supportive. And while women tend to write about their own lives, men typically talk about other things.

Our research fits with these trends: in our study, where women directed their attention at areas with which they were familiar and had intimate knowledge, men often directly dismissed entire towns and cities as “shitholes”, while rarely commenting on their own surroundings.

Toxic masculinity

Trump uses assertive, challenging language to pit poor, coloured nations against wealthy, white nations (which he clearly sees as superior). Although Trump denies it, there can be little doubt about the racist intent of his message.

Yet Trump’s comments can also be viewed as part of the growing problem of “toxic masculinity” - defined by psychologists as “the need to aggressively compete with and dominate others”. Our research indicates that his use of the word “shithole” is typical of the way that some men tend to denigrate other places on Twitter. And using this kind of language to assert dominance over other places can have serious consequences.

There is a growing body of scholarship, which demonstrates the negative impacts of stigmatising places – especially when it’s done by people in power. Residents of those places face greater prejudice and fewer opportunities in life. And it can prompt interventions which aren’t always good for the people who live there. For example, denigrating housing estates can be a way of justifying regeneration schemes which can lead to residents being displaced, or worse.

The ConversationIt is comforting to imagine a world where the term “shithole” wasn’t so common as to warrant a hashtag. But in the meantime, we can think twice before referring to a place as a “shithole”, by recognising the impact of this simple word, and the role it plays in larger debates. Since Trump made his comments, there has been an encouraging display of “shithole solidarity”: artists, activists and irate citizens in the United States seem to be looking in the mirror and asking where the real shithole is.

Alice Butler, PhD student, University of Leeds and Alex Schafran, Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Leeds.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.


Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.