Language is powerful. The use of language can: slant an individual’s viewpoint, mold a belief, alter how a person sees a group or even themselves. There’s a reason people rail when a news piece stating “Loving Father Kills Family” depicts a caring white father who, for some mythical reason, snaps while alternately painting a black man as an “angry man”; a man whose violence hides, seething, beneath the surface.
It’s not just race where language performs in this capacity, but gender-biased or sexist language, especially against women, is just as widespread. Language is unable to be taken on its own because it effects behaviors, both on an individual and societal/governmental level.
While not a complete list of words, here is a collection of words broken down into some categories. Some may fit into more than one, but will only be found in one category. This may be updated in future but here’s an overview of the words and categories.
Typical Positive (Supposedly)
In this category we have words like: nurturing, warm, girly, feminine just to name a few. These are believed to be words we, as women, always long to hear. They are the epitome of womanhood and we are meant to strive our entire lives to be considered worthy of it and to maintain it.
While, at face value, some may not see the problem, simply put: women are not a monolith. There is no uniformity to women. We are each uniquely flawed, gifted and distinct. We don’t need pedestals, we need to be seen as a person; not an object meant to save, tame, support or heal men.
These words leave females susceptible to attacks. An example would be all the hate Ariana Grande received when Mac Miller overdosed. The blame went to her because why didn’t she, like a nurturing caring woman, stay with him and help him through his addiction.
Typical Negative (Misleading)
Here we have the “negative” common behavioral traits women are said to possess such as: manipulative, controlling, sensitive, emotional, hormonal, neurotic, frigid, frisky, frumpy, hysterical.
These are for the “bad common female”. They are misleading because these words almost solely exist in the domain of women. However, men exhibit these traits just as often as a female can and here’s some examples.
Manipulative — Men: “If you loved me you would ______.”
Controlling/Bossy — Men: “It’s too revealing. Go change.”
Sensitive — Men: “Why didn’t you call me back right away?”
Now any female, given little time to ponder, can come up with any number of examples where men behave in a way that fits these categories, but often it’s only women that receive these labels. These aren’t only meant to attack the woman, but it’s meant to undermine.
With regard to the latter words, it’s designed to make a female question her reality and the validity of her argument. The common, “You’re being sensitive” or “blowing things out of proportion” or “are you on your period?” are all used to make the female think she is crazy. It renders both her and her argument trivial and worthless. . . and it’s meant to. Discredit the person arguing; discredit the argument.
Particular (One and Only)
These are the insults and labels that men and even women give females that put them into one category. That’s it. These are the: airhead, bimbo, slut, tramp, whore, gold-digger, drama queen, bitch. They’re meant to downgrade you from a woman — who is never seen as equal to a man — to a caricature of a woman. You are one-dimensional.
While all these words are destructive because they strip the complexities and depth away from a woman, these words are especially hurtful because you’ll commonly see even the most open woman use the words or laugh when this word is used regarding a female they dislike. We are all guilty of it at some point — labelling a woman.
Aberration (You’re Not Normal)
Females in the workplace usually receives these labels. These are words such as: opinionated, ambitious (negative connotation only for a woman), career woman, working mother, tomboy, selfish, abrasive, pushy, ball-buster.
This category of words, as given in the name, describe a female who is viewed as an aberration. She is an anomaly and uncommon, despite numbers showing that woman make up more than half of the workforce and 36% of women will have a Bachelor’s Degree by the age of 29 while only 26% of men will. However the working woman, especially one who has goals to advance in their field, is still seen as an abnormality.
When a woman is called “opinionated” it implies she is the antithesis of what a woman is, meek, demure, dainty and always acquiescing to the men in her life.
It’s meant to remind women of where society thinks they belong and don’t belong.
Effects On Woman
While not altogether the fault of language — which is just a cog in the wheel that is male dominance in a patriarchal (and white supremacy) society— language, combined with media, visuals help to weave a view that leaves men feeling entitled or owed something, and females vulnerable.
Despite an almost 50/50 ratio of women to men, 1 in 5 women are the victim of some form of sexual violence. Out of victims of rape, around 50% were raped by their partner and 40% by someone they knew.
Thanks to our language, the way our society was built and maintained and all of us assisting it, men feel entitled to a woman’s time, attention and body whenever they want it.
It’s the guy who tries to catcall at you and as you ignore them and walk by they shout “Bitch!”. Their mindset is, “How dare you ignore me when I want you?” It’s the same toxic entitlement we see in white supremacy — a rendition of “How dare this black person question me?”
It’s the guy you just met, who decides to “trace a tattoo” on your body without asking if it’s okay because you’re a female and why else would you have the tattoo there unless you wanted men to touch you?
It’s Democratic State Senator Nikema Williams, a black female, being arrested and strip-searched for protesting even though other representatives who protested were not arrested and certainly not stripped. It was not about breaking the law, but about putting Williams “in her place”.
What Can I Do?
Do not use words that demean, dehumanize or attack women. Avoid using them on social media, avoid using them in dialogue, etc.
Language constantly changes. Words that were once used are removed once people stop using them, so just refrain from using them. If you want to take it a step further on social media, mute or block any user or outlet that uses those words. Or explain to them why this is destructive to females before muting and blocking.
We have more power than we think, especially en masse. If we all blocked a particular news outlet, or avoided a site or channel and they saw their numbers dip drastically, they would stop using words that aid in females being mistreated and abased.
Don’t even go to their sites or articles to read and rail against them. Even if it’s just clickbait, it shows they feel the provocativeness of their title will draw readers and they’re right. But we do have the power to change that.
Like any new habit, particularly positive, it’s a challenge. However, we as women; we as a nation; and we as a world, filled with individuals of spectacular range, are worth the effort.