The F Word: The Power of Language

The Power of Language

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.

On Catcalling and Why It’s Not a Compliment (no matter how much you say it is)

So I’m super excited to be writing to you today from the second ever F-Word Link-up with Kelly and I!  Last month went really well and we LOVED reading through all of your amazing posts, so we’re hoping that this month will be even better!  If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, go check out the first link-up where I talk about still needing feminism in 2014.  And when you’re done, head back here to catch up on this month’s posts.

This month’s topic is sexism that you’ve experienced in your everyday life, whether it be catcalling, unequal pay, how people view single mothers, or anything else you can think of.

catcalling
Unsplash

I guess my confusion stems from my definition of a compliment – “a polite expression of praise or admiration” – because to me, yelling at a woman from a moving vehicle doesn’t feel as polite as I guess it was intended.  Because the way I was taught, polite would be allowing me the chance to respond which, since you’re driving at 50 MPH straight past me, doesn’t really seem like an option. Although I suppose it is always an option for me to write down your license plate number and track you down through the DMV or local police station.  Or maybe I could just run after your car until you stop, and we’re finally united in true love.

We’ve all heard this argument before: the fight over whether or not yelling “hey baby!” at a random woman on the street is okay.  Even Playboy and Fox News have weighed in on the subject of catcalling as a compliment (and I bet you can’t guess who took what side of that argument).  I’ve commented on the subject before, whether it was on this blog, on Facebook, or in person.  And yet I’m still always shocked and confused when a person says “I don’t know what you’re so mad about! They’re just trying to COMPLIMENT you for God’s sake!”

But all of that aside, I was always of the opinion that a compliment is intended to make the recipient feel good, not the complimenter.  And if that were the case, there wouldn’t be women confronting you about it or men going on the defensive when they do.  So defensive in fact, that I once had a man spend two days fighting with me that catcalling is a man’s way of “calling me sexy for Christ’s sake,” and my not being interested is me being shallow because he had a “friend” who had done it before and a girl had responded.

Here’s my bottom line though: maybe there are a few women out there who secretly love when the construction workers on Broad Street tell them how much they’d love to bend them over, but it’s pretty obvious that the majority of women are not amused.  And we would hardly consider subjecting men everywhere to something they’re made uncomfortable by simply because “we want to make them smile.”

catcalling

Start a Revolution

 
 
 
 

I can remember the first time I realized how self-deprecating I was capable of being.  I was 14-years-old, sitting in my parents’ basement on the computer IMing my then-boyfriend and my cousin.  My boyfriend had told me I was beautiful, and my immediate reaction was to say “OMG im ttly NOT hahahahahaha” (because yes, I absolutely talked like that on the Internet).

It was a completely ridiculous reaction, and my cousin wasted no time in telling me that according to Cosmo, I’d have been better of thanking him because if you contradict a person often enough, they’ll start to feel bad about themselves and you.  
 
Well Cosmo, I gotta hand it to you – you got one thing right after all these years of reading your magazines.  Somehow though, despite a licensed sex doctor’s thoughts on the matter, it’s become an ingrained part of female culture to put ourselves down, as though accepting a compliment or not responding to our friends’ self-deprecation with some of our own is a cardinal sin we’re too terrified to commit.  They weren’t kidding when they told us that we’re our own worst enemies, because I can’t imagine ever taking that kind of shit from the bitchiest girls I’ve ever known, let alone from a person who’s supposed to be my best friend.
 
Saying “I hate” rather than “I love” is a pretty negative statement if ever I heard one.  Somehow though, it’s become a part of our cultural rules of etiquette that you don’t respond to a person’s self-hate with “Sarah, you’re gorgeous!” rather than “oh my God NO WAY, have you even seen my hips?”  As though loving yourself and your body is rude, and self-hate is not only the polite thing to do, but also the expected thing.
 
Here’s the thing though – as many things about myself as I may hate about myself (and trust me, my closest friends can point out that I regularly tell them I’ve got Saturn wrapped around my waist), what you say about yourself has got to make a difference.
 
So this week, I’m challenging myself – and you, if you’ll accept it – to stop the self-hate.  Next time you look in the mirror and want to think “ughh those bags under my eyes are HUGE,” think “wow, my hair looks pretty great today.”  

On Still Needing Feminism in 2014

feminism in 2014

In the couple of years since I’ve become more outspoken about feminism and equality, I’ve dealt with a lot of negative comments; a lot of insults, suggestions that I need a boyfriend, and just plain ridiculous arguments.

There’s one comment that seems to come up more than others though, and to me it’s the most worrisome because it’s not a hurled insult or an illogical argument.  It’s a quiet statement; something that the person actually believes.  And the fact that so many people do feel this way is both sad and terrifying – “Why do we even need this anymore! We’re all equal already!”

This is something that the person truly believes when they say it – stated bluntly and as fact, as though I’ve suggested that women still aren’t allowed to vote and how could I truly believe such a thing.  As though voting was the only inequality women have had to overcome, and now that this particular wrong has been righted, there’s no longer anything to worry about.

It worries me because this delusion – this belief that things are equal when in fact they aren’t, or at least that the way things are is the right way, is why inequality exists.  This inaction because of the belief that nothing needs to be acted upon is why women still make $.77 for every $1.00 a man makes.  Why after ten sexual assaults on my college campus in one semester, the overwhelming response was still a warning directed solely at women: “please be careful about how much you drink and make sure you don’t walk home alone at night.” It’s the reason why, in four years of college, I was given three tubes of pepper spray and a taser, and my self-defense class junior year did not have a single male student.  It’s the cause of cases like Steubenville, which I can promise you was not an isolated incident.

This bizarre ignorance about the inequality in America is why, at nearly 23 years old, I am still told that “one day you’ll change your mind” every time I say I don’t want children.  Because despite being a fully-functioning adult, my “feminine obligation” to have children and dedicate my life to them still trumps my actual plans and desires.  In 2014, nearly every romantic comedy or “female” oriented television show, book, or movie deals with the question of whether or not women can have it all, because for men, it is expected that they will have it “all”.

Saying feminism isn’t necessary is like suggesting that despite the flickering lamp in your bedroom, you don’t need a new lightbulb.  It’s suggesting that over half the human population isn’t important enough to need or want equal rights and fair treatment, because this false sense of equality has been built into our media, our news, our religions to the point that it becomes difficult to separate reality from fiction anymore.

So why do you think Feminism is still important?  Or if you don’t think we need it anymore, why?

A Few Thoughts

One of the hardest things in blogging, at least for me, isn’t coming up with post ideas; I’ve got hundreds of those, actually.  For me, the trouble comes in putting those thoughts into words cohesive enough to be understood.  Most days, I’m able to make it work – in the few short hours before I have to put on a blazer and make my way into the office, procrastination pays off and I find myself writing something I’m proud of.  Today though that doesn’t seem to be happening, so instead I’ve got some disjointed and incomplete thoughts I’ve been wanting to share.

// I’ve seen a few articles floating around the Internet about this Facebook group.  When I first read some of the posts on this page, I thought it was a parody – “I don’t need feminism because the men in my life respect me.”  Like alright…I’m not sure I understand what point you’re trying to make.

I realized though that these women just don’t know what feminists actually stand for and are trying to accomplish.  Somehow, they got caught up in the idea of “man-hating, bra-burning” feminists, and never took the time to figure out what the movement was really about.  They found the Tea Party, but not the Republicans.

I don’t think I could put it better than my roommate, who said “I just don’t understand how you get a whole group together to fight against something, without any of you ever thinking to look into what that thing actually is.”

And if you ask me, a lot of them seem as though they have some pretty feminist beliefs, if they only knew what it was.

// While we’re on the subject, Kelly and I are planning a feminist-themed link-up that we’re super excited about! The F-Word Link-Up is going to be a monthly feminist link-up for all those bloggers out there searching for other feminist writers. On the first Thursday of each month, we’ll be sharing our posts along with an optional prompt, starting on August 7th with the prompt “when did you realize you were a feminist.”

// I’ve been posing a lot of blogging-themed questions on Twitter lately, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

- What made you start blogging, and is that the same reason you still do?
– What are your opinions on making money from your blog
– How do you come up with blog post ideas?
– How many hours a week would you say you spend on blogging and related activities?

// Even now that I’ve graduated, I’m always getting the question “you know there’s not really any money in that, right?” when people learn that I majored in Communications and Journalism. As though somehow I spent four years learning about the publishing and newspaper industries without ever hearing that they’re not doing too great right now.
I’d like to write a more in-depth post about this when I have the time/energy, but suffice to say: I don’t want to wake up in 50 years and wonder what I spent all this time doing with my life. Let’s all just admit now that we’re going to be working well into our 80s, and I don’t want to spend 60 plus years of my life doing something I hate.  I want to come home from work feeling like what I do matters, and not dreading that I have to get up at 7am to go back again tomorrow.  If that means making $40,000 instead of $100,000 a year, then I guess I’ll take it because to me, happiness is worth more.  And math, medicine, or computer technology (among other things) never would have done that for me.  Not for all the money in the world.
// Have you heard of reader’s ADD? Because I think I have it. I’m halfway through about six different books right now, and I can’t seem to settle on one long enough to finish reading it. Is this something anyone else deals with?

On Defining Feminism

I can’t remember the first time I heard the word “feminist,” whether it was in a history textbook chapter about women fighting for the right to vote, or whether it was an insult shouted on a playground.  I do know I’ve heard it in both contexts, and in a thousand others as well.  From my mother, telling me about how she marched in Washington for equal rights.  From books I’ve read over the years, loving every page.  From television shows, and blog articles, and friends and classmates.

But even though I’ve grown up with the word being a part of my vocabulary, I don’t know if I could easily define it.  If you were to Google “feminism,” I’m sure you’d find a hundred different definitions – plenty of them not so positive.  Urban Dictionary would probably have more, and I’m sure that if you asked 50 different people to tell you, you’d get 50 different definitions because the word means something different to everyone, and the only definitions I’m willing to reject are the cruel ones.  The kind that say feminists are man-hating bra-burning psychos.  That is a definition I can quickly and easily disregard.

But the rest?  For me, there’s so much that goes into feminism.  It’s the whole-hearted belief that we all deserve equal rights – not just women and men, as two separate categories.  But the LGBTQA community as well.  Every race, every color, every country.  It’s why the idea of the men’s rights movement makes me laugh because, well, isn’t that repetitive?  Because isn’t feminism the idea that everyone deserves equal rights, and simply pointing out that some groups already have those rights while others don’t?

For me, feminism is an ongoing process.  A verb, not a noun.  It is the act of continually fighting so that this world is good and fair and safe for everyone, not just a select few.  It is the whole-hearted and never-ending belief that – God or no God – we were all created equal.  Or that if we weren’t, we became equal in the thousands of years since we first stepped foot on this planet, and that it is our one absolute duty in life to ensure that we treat one another as such.

Feminism is a belief system, one that I choose over Catholicism or Buddhism or Judaism or anything else.  It is the faith that humanity is good, and completely worth fighting for.  That starting a fight is not a bad thing if you’re arguing for a good reason.  That there are good fights out there, and feminism is one of them.  And it needs to be fought in every corner of the world, because as much as we’ve worked, there’s still more work to be done.

So what is feminism to you?  I want to know.  I want to have a conversation, and hear how you define a word that we’ve all heard a thousand explanations for.

On Rape Culture and What You Can Do About It

Last week, I linked to a post I really loved from [Witty Title Here], and I promised I’d have more to say on that later. The thing is, I really do love that post. I love the conversation it starts, and (almost) everything she has to say about feminism. The problem is, I’ve been struggling to write this post for a while now. I don’t know how to say what I need to without the anger I feel about it shining through.

rape culture

This conversation is one that’s been had before. I’ve been a part of it more times than I can count, having been raised by a mother and father who constantly reminded me how important my rights are and how important I am.

When I started preparing to take the SATs four years ago, I looked at more colleges than I can count. I probably couldn’t even tell you all of the ones I applied to because since my parents had never gone to college themselves, they insisted I apply everywhere. We drove all over Pennsylvania looking at potential schools before eventually deciding on one that had never been on my radar (that’s not to say I’m not happy here. I absolutely love this school, and in fact plan on staying in this town after I graduate this weekend. It just wasn’t my plan).

One of the biggest factors in my choosing this school over one my mom really wanted me to go to was safety. That other school just did not feel safe, even with a hundred cops all over the place (or maybe because of that). This one though? This one felt perfect. And for three years, I was never scared here. I would walk home from work at 2AM alone if none of the bouncers were able to leave for 20 minutes; and maybe that was naive, but it’s a testament to how safe I felt here – not just on campus, but in this town. On nights I couldn’t sleep or when a big test had me stressed, I would head down to a playground right off campus and sit on the swings.

This year though, that changed. This year, if you know my school, you know there have been problems. I can’t even count how many assaults I’ve received e-mails and texts about, and it got so bad my little town made it onto the 6o’clock news one night. My campus is covered in “TIMELY WARNING”s, and frankly, I’m sick of seeing them. I’m sick of reading about how not safe the women on this campus are (because while I realize sexual assault is a gender neutral issue, the ones being reported on a weekly basis at my campus are strictly female victims). I’m sick of hearing that the men they knew and trusted did this to them.

I lose my ability to communicate effectively when I hear someone say that she had any part in what happened. I can’t think straight enough to formulate a response when someone says “well, she was drinking. And girls these days…their skirts are just a bit shorter than I should think is appropriate.” You know what? That has nothing to do with it. And that simple fact seems like basic common sense to me, because if you can acknowledge that the men and women who do these things are mentally ill, then you surely can’t believe that the outfit she was wearing had anything to do with it.

It frankly doesn’t matter if she was topless because we are not animals incapable of thought. We do not have a rape instinct that kicks in at the mere sight of skin. We are human beings who need to be taught “don’t rape” rather than “don’t get raped.”

The only thing that makes her skirt or her blood alcohol content relevant is us. We make these things important because by pointing them out, we tell the predators exactly who they should go after. We tell them that if they pick a woman who’s had a few drinks, or who is wearing a lot of make-up, or who is walking home alone it might be only sort of their fault. We tell them that these are the victims they should choose, because a jury might say she was asking for it; might suggest she said yes and regretted it in the morning.

As a society we need to stop excusing this behavior. Even if you don’t think you are, even “well I’m just pointing out that certain behaviors can attract unwanted attention,” you are still perpetuating rape culture. Because in the end, you’re absolutely right: a short skirt does attract unwanted attention.  But not because they wouldn’t do the same thing to a woman in baggy jeans and an old t-shirt. They wouldThey picked that woman, because we told them they should, and we need to stop telling criminals which victims are the most vulnerable.