We’ve all heard it said before: “man up,” “that’s so gay,” “don’t be such a girl….” And for the most part, it just seems like pieces of our language, phrases that mean no harm. You pick these words up in middle-school, and they become a part of your vocabulary in the same way that SAT prep words and the lines to your favorite songs do.
You’ve seen me say before that “no matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” Not to get too communication major on you, but language is the entire basis of our culture. It’s how we communicate, how we get a handle on the things we want and need. It’s how we provide social contact for ourselves, and help for others. Without language, our society would be an incredibly lonely one: we wouldn’t be able to know or be close to anybody.
So it only makes sense that of course these phrases mean something, however insubstantial and meaningless they may seem. They all came from somewhere, from a more sexist, racist, hateful world than the one we currently live in. They’re reminders of a time when Mad Men were real, and somehow managed to trickle down into our everyday language all these years later.
Without our ever meaning for them to, phrases like “man up,” have an impact on our culture, and the way we view our roles in society. We say “man up,” because at one time, women couldn’t be expected to handle anything beyond the house-duties. We say “that’s so gay” because being gay was (and in some parts of society, still is) considered to be an awful thing, something to be ashamed of.
Changing our language seems small, especially when there are bigger problems like marriage and pay equality to be concerned with, but language is our basis. It’s where we start from each day, and unless it matches our beliefs, we can’t be expected to move forward.