Maybe it’s because I have always been a writer, but *language* is hugely important to me, and tied very closely to what I listen for when hearing people’s stories, exploring their narratives. How people use certain words can indicate something with significant value to them, while to others the same word might not mean anything remotely so weighty. More and more, I am becoming aware of the language implanted in our communications that indicates not just our personal values, but the implicit nuances of our cultural values as well.
For example, if you want a very simply-illustratable lesson on how deeply embedded sexism is in our culture, try listening for and, if you use such terms yourself, eradicating slang and insulting language based on any of the following: male genitalia, female genitalia, hygiene products for either, sexual acts (queer, het, other; especially terms meant to convey degrees of implied shaming). The not so subtle dismissal of another human being as something reduced to constituent parts, implicitly ridiculed or associated with heavily-judged-as-shameful acts, is a cultural practice that keeps us from seeing each other as whole selves.
When someone utters a statement like, “Bob’s such a dick,” what is the speaker saying about Bob? What is the implication of the speaker’s value for male genitalia in general, if they are being compared unfavourably with a certain person’s behaviours? Does the speaker feel that way about male genitalia they may know, or even possess? One of the harshest words I know to describe a human being has always been to call another a “cunt”—which raises the question, when did female genitalia become such a deliberately harsh label? We all come out of one, probably half the population harbours urge or desire to get back into one… yet it is such a derogatory term that many people, women especially, cringe on hearing it? And into the 21st century, why do such terms still persist?
We don’t all have to march in large crowds to make a difference; sometimes the most profound changes start with the unconscious language that comes out of our brains and mouths. If we consciously refrain from using such language, we don’t implicitly condone it in others. If we actively challenge its usage in others, we are committing a political act: drawing a line, defining a boundary. “This is not acceptable.” Clean our own houses first, perhaps, before (or even while) we agitate for others to clean theirs.