Charlotte Grainger
November 08, 2014 6:30 am

Language is one of the most powerful tools to promote and encourage feminism, equality, and political correctness, yet many of us (accidentally) abuse this tool. While we always strive to communicate positivity and fairness, the language we use every day can instead send out an entirely different message. I consider myself a feminist, yet there have been many times when I’ve been guilty of using phrases that demean and undermine women’s roles in society. These phrases are as common as they are misogynistic. When you say them aloud, you may not even realize the impact they have, but once uttered, they speak volumes to our subconscious and reaffirm the idea of male dominance. This isn’t okay, and we need to more aware of the problematic connotations and implications everyday sayings have.

Like I said, I’m totally guilty of doing this. Last week, I was at a bar with a few friends, most of them male. We were playing darts, because once I’ve had a few glasses of wine I mistakenly believe I am a world class darts player. In reality, I’m kind of awful, but whatever. One of the guys was performing particularly badly, so I started jeering him. “Come on, you girl!” It wasn’t until the words already escaped my mouth did I realize how negative and sexist that sounded. Because it was negative, and it was sexist. Most of us have heard “like a girl” being used as a playful insult so many times, that we have become desensitized to what the phrase is really saying.

Using “girl” as a derogatory word is obviously problematic, but so many of us have probably done it without even noticing. It is inherently sexist, but it’s childish, too. So childish, in fact, that it is likely to be forgiven by anyone who catches us saying it. And it shouldn’t be forgiven so easily. There are many other phrases that are common in the modern English language that seek to disempower women, though. And many are worse.

Take the simple phrase, “man up.” Or the more explicit “grow some balls.” Both of these phrases refer to toughening up and rising to the occasion, yet both assume that only men can do so. Both men and women use these phrases every day. The issue is what the phrases reinforce when we use them. Words have greater repercussions than merely their surface meaning. If we keep repeating the same phrases and words over and over again, we start to believe their underlying message.

The point is that we need to stop using language to demean groups of people, be it women or men. How can we move forward as a society and socially progress when the language we use insists that one sex is better or more superior than the other? We can’t. I write this knowing full well how difficult it is to adjust your speech. When you’re mid-flow in conversation, it is unlikely that you’ll spare a thought for your choice of words or phrases. Language is not a calculated thing. It is natural. We hear, we imitate, we speak. But that makes changing language extremely difficult. If you do happen to catch yourself, though, correct yourself. We can only change language a little bit at a time, but it will take all of us to try. I know we can do it!

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