Your Dingy Old Words

My morning went like this: I put on my black and white striped shirt. To be honest, it’s dingy as all hell, and the armpits have major sweat stains in it, but I keep it around solely to wear under my jean jackets. I think we all have one of these items, or if you’re like me you have half a closet full of them— things you only wear with some other specific item. I wear the duo with my black jeans *always*. The best part is I found out that my sister that lives in another state is wearing the exact same thing today— right down to the two-day unwashed hair.

I made coffee and checked my Twitter, mostly just to check up on Donald Trump. I tweeted back a few things.

In retrospect the coffee was a bad idea for me since my stomach had been weird for the last few days. I mean like, in-the-bathroom-for-half-an-hour-at-a-time-weird. It was definitely the tacos I ate for like five meals straight over the weekend, which actually caused me to have to ask my manager for the night off of work Sunday night. It was really hard to articulate to him that I had bad diarrhea that was making my stomach gurgle, but I strategically told him I was having some “bathroom issues” and I think he got the hint.

That brings me to the topic of language. It’s truly a hard thing to master— and not many have. I, myself, am not even “perfect” at language, even though I’m going into a profession that nearly requires me to be.

Language is often just looked at by the system of communication set in place by a specific region, i.e. English, Spanish, Italian, Russian, etc. It’s not nearly as thought of as the way you say things, or the type of words you choose.

Take for instance this conversation I had with my boyfriend. We were talking about an article he read by a woman blogger— it was about treading lightly when asking expecting parents what the “gender” of their baby is (problematic because gender and sex are different things, creating a language conflict)— but that’s not where the argument sparked. In general we both agreed on the content that the blogger provided. It was his statement that the article was hard to take seriously because the woman that wrote it sounded “bitchy.” He used that word, bitch, multiple times. Each time I became a little bit more agitated with it, before I finally said to him, “Can you stop referring to this woman writer as ‘bitchy,’ please.”

He was taken aback, for sure, and was ultimately confused by my request. I’ll save you every detail of our back-and-forth, very civil and loving argument, and just give you the main gist of why I had to say something.

The word “bitch,” as much as you’d like to think otherwise, is primarily a female word. I don’t mean that only women get to use it or anything like that, but actually it is truly only used towards women or something they think are qualities of women. When I was growing up the boys in my class would call their friends the word when they were trying to back out of something they deemed as manly: pitting “man” and “bitch” against each other as opposites, where the word “woman” used to sit. “Don’t be a little bitch, David,” loosely translates to, “I think it’s really weak of you not to do this thing that I would do, and it makes you less of a man.”

You see it take on other forms that history likes to play off as a woman’s quality. “You’re my bitch,” is often used colloquially to show that someone has to do whatever you want them too. You’re a subordinate, which is something women have been pegged as for literally centuries. Still are.

It’s a word that quite frankly is very sharp. When you’re a woman and you’re called a “bitch,” it’s something that takes you back a few steps and thinks, they actually just stooped to that level.

In the 2016 Presidential Election we saw the term show it’s true colors. Anti-Hilary folks referred to her as a bitch at national levels, shouting at campaign rallies, and posting on their social media accounts, texting friends, etc. It was a unique situation where she was the only candidate being called that word so consistently and publicly. And it was because of something as simple as the pronouns she chooses to lead her life with.

It’s a word that society has set aside to be used directly when talking about women.

Jeremy, my boyfriend, fought back saying, “Maybe I just can’t understand it because I’m not a woman,” which is all fair and good, but it’s also pretty problematic. People are really afraid of what they don’t understand, and actually usually use it to their advantage to gain leverage because they know it’s there for you to use in such an instance.

The language used around women in general gets really messy. Slut-shaming is an issue and is only used against women— it’s perfectly fine for a man to be sexual, but not for a woman. Calling women “psycho” or “crazy” when the same drive seen in a man would be seen as “passionate” or “hardheaded.”

The language issue doesn’t just stop with women and society’s words for them. It bleeds through every time someone says, “That’s so gay,” or, “How retarded.” We use language like this because it seems harmless.

In the very article Jeremy and I talked about it was saying how the root of mending the stereotype around transgender people starts with language. How you need to understand that sex and gender are not interchangeable, and the sooner you learn and actively use them as different words, the sooner it will be a better place for transgender people.

Using language like this is really hard to stop doing, especially because the influential world around us isn’t halting the usage at all—it’s actually speeding it up.

Trump’s “Nasty Woman” comment will go down infamously for it’s usage, and it plugged millions of people around the globe to use it, too. Most in a not-so empowering way like some people embraced it.

When Trump tweeted about news reporters Joe Scarborough and more directly and offensively, Mika Brzezinski. Lashing out at their “low-rating” morning news show, he uses insults at the co-anchors, specifically and openly saying that Mika had undergone plastic surgery, had a low I.Q., and that she was crazy. Many people were stunned by the tweet, really soaking in that the President of the United States just said cyber bullied adultsAnd he said these things because the show was, “talking bad about him.”

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Or when Trump mocked a disabled news reporter on camera during his campaign.

Like I said, language is difficult.

In that last instance of his mocking towards the reporter, one of Clinton’s representatives said something that I think speaks volumes. “That’s a throwback to half a century ago,” they said.

Yes! It’s about growth. Just because it’s what has been done (said), doesn’t mean it’s what we should continue doing (saying). It doesn’t mean it’s right.

I think about this on a personal level with language. Growing up I was so guilty of using language like this, tossing around retarded, gay, fag, queer, slut, bitch, etc. without any sense of accountability because my friends were. I think a lot of us were. But as I got older I started to understand these words that were so closely related to other people. I started to understand the people, too (even myself!). And, in turn, I actively started to change the way I speak to and about people.

Just because it’s what you grew up speaking doesn’t mean it’s the right way to speak.

Just because your friends are saying it doesn’t mean you should (Mom was right!).

Just because you just didn’t think about it before you said it doesn’t mean it’s right.

Just because you don’t understand why it’s wrong doesn’t mean it’s right.

Just because the President thinks he can speak to and about people like this does not mean you can or should.

Language. It’s kind of like that dingy old shirt you wear with something specific all the time– it’s hard to get rid of, it’s what you’re comfortable with, and sometimes it’s the first thing that comes to mind. It doesn’t mean you should be keeping it around. Be bold and change the world.

 

 

xoxo, O.Herken

 

**The last hyperlink is a compiled list by The New York Times of everyone Donald Trump has insulted through Twitter, and what insults he used. It’s updated every day, alphabetical, and show which insults were said before and after his inauguration.

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