As a profession, I study social justice issues. That means I analyze power dynamics – specifically, the way language and images contribute to historical and ongoing inequities in the U.S., including inequities between the sexes.
Language matters a great deal. Words have histories, and it’s the force of that history that gives words their power. The words we use to refer to people lets everyone know what we think about certain people and their abilities. Language is part of how we construct identities, both our own and others’ identities. Words also affect our experiences in certain situations, including the workplace and politics.
When using outdated gendered language, pairing words of equal weight matters. For example, the word “girls” is paired with the word “boys” because they represent the same age and social group; guys is paired with gals; women is paired with men, that’s parity. The word “women” is the equivalent of the word “men.” “Girls,” however, is not the same as the word “men.” The authority it carries is not the same, nor does it demand respect the way an adult-identified word does, such as women.
Language is context-specific. For example, I might swear around my friends, but that same language, what we call “mommy words” in my house, isn’t appropriate when I’m leading a college discussion. Likewise, what I might call my spouse at home is not what I would call him at a work function. Regardless of how he and I feel about the word, it isn’t appropriate in some contexts.
So, it’s the same word, but vastly different implications depending on who says the word, the context in which it’s used, and who the word refers to.
Language is one of the ingredients in the soup of misogyny. Councilman Rich Olver has repeatedly referred to the women in his district and on City Council as “girls.” When asked to apologize, he responds by calling us “girls” and insisting that we shouldn’t feel offended.
This is a public request to Councilman Olver to apologize and do better.
Magan Brody, Lakewood