Mind your Language – The Power of Words
This post contains language that some may find offensive. If you have a delicate constitution, stop reading. Don’t keep reading and then complain about my use of swear words. You have been warned.
In December a prominent male politician may, or may not, have called a prominent female politician a ‘stupid woman’. It struck me as one of those off the cuff, muttered-under-the-breath sort of insults that no one was really supposed to hear. Probably not a wise thing to do on live television.
The media whipped up a storm, accusing the male politician of misogyny. On Twitter, lip reading experts disagreed over his exact words. Did he say woman or people? (My favourite by far is the suggestion of gibbon, perfectly alluding to the behaviour of many politicians in Westminster.)
While everyone focused on the potential for sexism, a small choir of voices suggested that the most offensive word was actually the one being ignored. Calling someone stupid, rather than picking apart their argument – is this not obviously unacceptable? Surprisingly, the media didn’t seem to think so.
I experienced severe bullying as a teenager. The attacks were rarely physical, my bullies preferred the power of verbal assault. From slut-shaming to hurtful comments on my physical appearance and, of course, my intelligence. It hurts like hell and can cause very real damage to self-esteem.
Despite this, many children are told to toughen up, walk away, ignore the insults. Adult victims of bullying get even less sympathy.
After all, sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.
To swear, or not to swear?
I’m a Yorkshire lass. I love a good swear. There are times when no other word will do. Swear words can be used in so many ways – as an exclamation of surprise, in frustration or anger, to dismiss – or to simply say that a dreadful situation is truly, truly shit.
I find myself following a long line of women who, like Helen Mirren and Miriam Margolyes, care less and less about this fake outrage at sweary women.
Who decides that one word is permissible, and another is not?
Why do belittling words like stupid, thick and dumb rarely lift an eyebrow, yet a slang word for sexual intercourse causes such consternation?
Once a perfectly acceptable name for the lovely lady parts, the C-word developed the shock factor somewhere in the 1800s. It is, in fact, the only word which literally describes the entire female genitalia. Attempts are being made to reclaim its proper use, which I support wholeheartedly, but sadly it still makes me cringe. In my experience, it’s a venomous word spat out at women in anger. Usually by men. For me, these previous encounters lend a deeper, hateful meaning that makes it difficult to hear.
Sometimes, a word is more than just a word. It might be hurtful because of individual experience. On other occasions, there are centuries of oppression, discrimination and hatred to consider. So please don’t tell me that it’s okay to use derogatory words for intelligence, disability or a person of colour, and then get offended when I tell you to fuck off.
Words can, and do, kill. So please, choose carefully, and consider why you have taken offence in future. You might have your priorities the wrong way round.