Do you pay attention to the words you use? Are you aware of their meaning, their origin, or their impact? The language we use says a lot about our culture and society, and plays a huge role in how we communicate and what messages we receive.
Years ago, in my counsellors’ office, I saw a poster about violence against women on the back of her door. It was very enlightening, and not only did it make me think, it made me change the language I use.
How often have you called a man’s tank top a “wife-beater”? Or told a guy he “throws like a girl”? How often do you say someone “screams like a girl”? How many times have we heard coaches or leaders call a group of men “ladies” as though it were an insult?
It may not seem important or significant, but the language we use sends a message. What message do you think young girls get when regular everyday language insists on devaluing them? What message do we send when we insult guys, by saying they are like girls? Not only do we teach girls that it is bad or wrong to be “like girls”, but we teach boys that girls are not as good, or valued or skilled as they are. The very language we use insults females; it “playfully jokes” that we are inferior. Why is being “like a girl” an insult?
The term “wife-beater” has bothered me for some time now as well. Is beating a spouse so acceptable, so common-place, that we can crack jokes about it? Is beating a spouse so normal that we casually use the term to describe clothing? Wife-Beater. “Wife-Beater” is not a tank top; a “wife-beater” is a man who uses violence to control and demean his wife. “Wife-beater” is a man who slaps, punches, kicks his wife…a man who pulls her hair, throws things at her, rapes her. The actions of a “wife-beater” are horrific…and very real. “Wife-beater” is not an article of clothing. Before you use that term again, think of where it came from, what it means and implies.
Now, I am often accused of being overly sensitive or militant…but I just dismiss those accusations. What if I am not being “overly sensitive”, but I am just more aware and conscious of what I say and what I mean? What if I want my words to represent myself and what I believe in? I believe that words hold power, and I believe those words should not be used to take another persons’ power. I believe there is always meaning behind words, and I think it is important to say what we mean, and mean what we say.