Feminist Call to Action #7: Mind Your Language

October 15th, 2019

Language is our most ubiquitous tool— we use it every day, spoken, written, gesticulated to communicate our thoughts and ideas. And though, unlike many of the romance languages, English is, theoretically, “gender neutral,” we’ve developed some very damaging sexist trends in our everyday parlance that normalizes negative stereotypes. It’s time we change that—in movies and in life.

For example, “Bitch” is used almost exclusively to describe an uptight and/or mean, even “nasty” female. It can suggest she is demanding, unreasonable and/or possibly sexually “frigid.” When employed to describe a male it becomes an even greater insult, thereby also attacking his masculinity. Originally intended to signify a female dog, the word is now more often employed as a sexist put-down. I label it sexist, because there is no equivalent word for males. One might argue “dick” or “asshole” are the male equivalents, but they’re not even close (and in some cases asshole men are admired for their perceived power). Bitch, however, has a distinct meaning that implies traits women are discouraged to display in a patriarchal society—expressing strong opinions, pursuing lofty ambitions, not submitting to men—i.e. failing to be a doormat. Calling a woman a bitch was likely among the very first forms of negging. Many women make compromises against their best interests for fear of otherwise being perceived as this word.

And yet many women use this word to describe one other all the time—as an insult, in jest, even as a term of affection. I think we should stop. In fact, at the risk of sounding Orwellian, I believe it’s in our best interest to remove a number of words from our daily vocabulary in efforts to demand more respect via our most powerful tool—language.

Here are a few  examples you might want to think about discontinuing (please pardon the profanity):

Cunt, Dick, Pussy, Prick and any other word depicting genitalia as an insult. Why draw  negative attention towards sexual organs that have been wrongly maligned as the root of our gender relation issues? Sex is biological. Gender is cultural. Let’s leave our genitalia out of this already.

Bitch, Shrew, Old Maid, Crone, Slut, Whore, Frigid, Prude, Tease: Like “bitch these words (and many more) are used almost exclusively to describe women, playing off societal pressures to conform to certain practices and behavior, often times against a woman’s lifestyle preferences.

Actor/Actress, Waiter/Waitress, Masseur/Masseuse, Stewardess/Steward, etc, In recent years many females who act in film or theater have come to call themselves “actors” in the name of equality. But taking on the male title for her occupation does not strike me as especially feminist. Why not simply label all who act “thespians?” True, some juvenile morons will snicker, equating “thespian” with “Lesbian” – but snickering at homosexuality is likewise problematic, so let’s simply call them out on such inappropriate behavior. English abounds with gender-neutral alternatives, so why not use them to normalize equal worth? A waiter/waitress is a server, a masseur/masseuse is a massage therapist. A stewardess/steward is a Flight Attendant. And so on.

All obvious racial/gender/religious, etc. slurs — and lesser known ones, too (i.e. to gyp somebody, Dutch Treat, Indian Summer )—be careful when using terms for which you don’t know the exact meaning or origins. For instance, the verb “to gyp” comes from “gypsy,” suggesting gypsies are all con artists. “Dutch Treat” suggests Netherlanders are stingy.

Granted, minding your language takes work. It’s been harder than I care to admit trying to extract “bitch” from my vocabulary—a rude awakening indeed. But if we each do our part to embrace better language use practices, and demand our movies do, too, we’ll pave the way for more social justice in the future.




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