Refraining from using sexist language is more than just politically correct

Refraining from using language that is sexist, derogatory and violent towards women is not just about being politically correct, like some political figures (Donald Trump) try to convince us. Refraining from misogynist and sexist language is about refraining from continually degrading a specific group of people. Words have a powerful impact. And when those words are being used to belittle the biggest group of marginalized people in the world, (women make up almost half of the world and encompass all walks of life) then that has a powerfully negative impact on the individual woman and society as a whole. How can you go out into the world and do amazing things when you are constantly coming up against language and actions that treat you like you don’t matter? Being a woman, or other group of people, who others are constantly putting down through language, and eventually, in actions, gets into individuals’ and societal’s psyches. And yet, this is something Trump, and others like him, refuse to see.

Since being called out on his comment about Megyn Kelly (which, he says. wasn’t referring to menstruation) Trump has written, “So many ‘politically correct’ fools in our country. We have to all get back to work and stop wasting time and energy on nonsense!” Sure. Why not avoid being derogatory, while also “getting back to work”? I don’t see how watching one’s mouth conflicts with getting things done. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

The other day, this man came to the grocery store where I sometimes cashier, and berated me about “political correctness” and attacked my character when I kindly asked him not to call me “cutie pie”. It’s like calling a full-grown man something like “little champ.” I feel as though I’m being knocked down a peg, reduced to a child when someone calls me names. So it’s just a respect-thing to me. But this guy couldn’t see it that way and instead loudly accosted me at my place of work, calling me “ugly,” and then saying, “You just wanna be called Julia, with a capital J.” In hindsight that’s a hilarious statement, because, yeah: That’s my name, and all name’s are capitalized. So yes. The next person who came through my line was a frequent customer and a nice guy, so I told him about the encounter when he genuinely asked how I was. But he just mansplained the whole thing away.

History is written in words, which are written by the winners. And perceptions of the world around us are dictated by the diction available to us. Words may not physically break bones, but let’s face it; Everything we think or say, boils down to the language we have available. Words are the building blocks for intellect and interaction. So what happens when people degrade women through language? Let’s take a look at English curse words, for example. (Caution: Curse words ahead.)

Have you ever thought about just how many offensive-towards-women-words there are? B*tch, slut, c*nt, ball buster and whore, are just a few examples, with cringe worthy feelings associated with each of them. Nearly all the curse words available do not have male counterparts. Have you ever thought about why?

I happen to appreciate the occasional, well placed curse word. I think it adds flair and spice to conversation. The F-bomb is a lovely descriptor, in my opinion. But I wish there was more of a rainbow of curse words available, instead of the sh*t sandwich of degrading-to-women curse words we have today. The variety of derogatory-women-words makes it all the more easy to verbally degrade women more so than men.

If the majority of curse words are referring to women, how does that make us view women? It can get into the human psyche. “Oh son of a b*tch.” So the root of what is wrong in this situation is a son who came from a “bad” woman … hmm. Lets try another. “You p*ssy!” So the person in question is not being strong and is therefore equated with a slang word for a female body part. Even negative words meant to describe men are rooted back to females or female actions. “What a douche bag.” A douche bag is something women sometimes use.(Hopefully sparingly, or not at all though, since it can be harmful.) So, doing a female-related action in this scenario is equivalent to something negative?  Say you’re expressing discontent with someone and trying to diminish him or her verbally: “Yeah yeah, suck my dick.” To perform oral sex on a man is often an action hetero-women do. So yet again, we’ve come back around to whatever women do or are associated with, is linked with a bad word. Often times, this is not at the forefront of the speaker, but it is always there within the word.

But even in other languages, such as Spanish, we come up against the problem of curse words disproportionately disfavoring women. In Spanish, the term “hijo de perra/puta” translates to “son of a bitch/slut. When I lived in Chile, one of the most common cursing-phrases people would say was, “Concha de tu madre” which roughly translates to  “your mothers p*ssy”. But the worst one, in my opinion is valio madre, which means “it was worth mother” meaning, “something is fucked” and not worth anything. Wow.

Recently, a term has emerged that, for a change, doesn’t degrade women, and actually describes a male. F*ckboy has become a term to describe a guy who is sexist, arrogant and plays girls. On Urban Dictionary you can find definitions such as: “F*ckboys are mostly heterosexual young men who use sexist language, throw around homophobic slurs, think all girls are either sluts or objects, thinks rape jokes are funny, believes the friend zone is real, usually are quite misogynistic and embody ignorance on every level.”  and another definition, stating, one  “…who is into strictly sexual relationships; he will lead a girl on and let her down, then apologize only to ask for “pics” once the girl has welcomed him back into her trust. Boys like this will pretend to genuinely care about the girl but always fail to prove the supposed affection. ” Granted, some of the definitions on Urban Dictionary for f*ckboy use the problematic term p*ssy, which merely makes my point again. Some may view the appreciation of the term hypocritical, yet the reason I view the term f*ckboy as progress, is because terms like this are helpful in making women more able to express their concerns, for a change, about what happens in their lives. And this word knocks bigotry, another plus. Without the language to express emotions, it is challenging to legitimize ones experience, especially when the majority of curse words are stacked against you, describing women.

The first Urban Dictionary definition brings up another point: The use of the word rape, colloquially. I cringe to my core every time I hear someone casually throw the word around. “Oh dude I just totally raped you in video games!” This is a statement I actually heard in real life one day. My response was “Hey, do you think you could use a different word next time?” But how do people think it is ok to throw a word around like that? It diminishes one of the most heinous crimes that, affects hundreds of thousands of people for the rest of their lives.

The hardest part about getting people to realize how screwed up it is to use the word rape casually, is that there is no comparison. You can’t say, “Look, using the word rape, is like X.” It’s hard for some people to really get it. Rape is a unique and horrific crime that affects both women and men, but women disproportionately. Women live in fear of rape. So tossing the word around like it’s no big deal, personally, really gets to me. Because it normalizes the most horrific of crimes.

Ultimately, we need better terms in order for female actions to become normalized and women’s experiences and actions to be less marginalized. Refraining from using sexist language is an important piece to empowering women. How can women become fully equal and empowered, when use of language does the opposite? Women need to be a part of the words that we all form our worldly and societal perceptions around, and not just in curse words and the absence of sexism. We need to make our own widely used words, positive and negative. As a start for the positive side, whose with me on bringing the word bitchin’ back into style and calling each other queens? (Broad City anyone?) Words are not only at the forefront of interaction and thought, they are also the building blocks of subconscious levels of thought, which can, and do, become reality.

Have you ever walked into a grocery store and come out with a song stuck in your head that you hadn’t realized was playing in the store? That’s what I think about, when I think of the impact of language. You don’t always notice it, but it is there, getting stuck in your head. That vocabulary, which is so stuck in all of our heads, defines how we think and interact with the world. Words matter. So lets get rid of the sexism and get some better lady-terms up in here. Word up. 

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

Julia is traveler and a truth seeker. She is an avid writer and researcher, works for the university where she also studies, and has spent years examining society. She is pursuing a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction with a Women's and Gender Studies certificate, and immensely enjoys being outdoors, hiking, playing soccer, blogging and playing music with her rad girl-band.

Julia is an avid writer and researcher, works for the university where she also studies, and is a musician for a rad girl-band.

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