Language Matters

Barack Obama was my sisters 2010 University of Michigan commencement speaker. He was incredible, but he said one thing that I immediately had a negative reaction to. He said, "Through periods of great social and economic unrest, from civil rights to women’s rights, it has allowed us slowly, sometimes painfully, to move towards a more perfect union." I turned to my sister and said "Excuse me...Women's Rights ARE Civil Rights."

It was something that seemed so ridiculously obvious too me, but clearly Obama, and his speech writers, did not catch it. Why should Women's Rights be considered as any different than Civil Rights as a whole? CIVIL rights should encompass all rights because they are HUMAN rights and we are all human. Yet, when referring to the these achievements of equality, it is almost always civil rights (referring to african americans) and women's rights (just to women). This is completely socially acceptable, and I doubt few people other than maybe other feminists at the graduation noticed this blatant ignorant statement.

When thinking about this, there are a ton of different phrases and terms that SHOULD be dissolved from the English language, but are still here and kickin.

Two of the more socially acceptable, yet idiotic, terms are "Pro-Life" and "Pro-Abortion." Let me just say this: is anyone PRO abortion? Who seriously sits around and is like, "You know what’s awesome...ABORTION! I think EVERYONE should get one!" The answer is no one...that's just not what the debate is about. Similarly, I doubt that anyone involved in the abortion debate is Anti-Life. The debate is about CHOICE. So if all people were knowledgeable, terms like Pro-Life and Pro-Abortion wouldn't be thrown around in intellectual conversation. Instead, the terms "pro-choice" and "anti-choice" would be the more appropriate ones, because they are the ones that truly describe the two sides of the debate.

Another one of these terms/phrases is "That's so gay." I always yell at people when they say this term, because it implies that being gay has a negative connotation. In fact, a couple of years ago I got into a fight with a gay person I know, who claimed that because he was gay, it was okay for him to say "that's so gay."

"Actually," I corrected him, "Doesn't that make people think that it's okay to use it in a negative way?" To which he replied, "It doesn't matter if I say 'gay' negatively or not- people are still going to look at me negatively.” So I then asked how using his own sexuality as a negative adjective was going to make a difference in trying to teach these ignorant classmates of his or attempt to curb their homophobic thoughts. To which he replied “Well I'll probably stop when I come out, but for now I'm going to keep it as a coping mechanism and to deter people from thinking I'm gay. At this point, it’s better than having people think I am gay.”

I told him, “That may be true for now—that referring to something stupid as gay will deter people from thinking you are gay…but to end homophobia, do you really think we should continue to use the term in a demoting way? What will help people overcome their ignorance towards the subject is realizing that someone they know and love is gay, or that someone they know and love thinks that saying “gay” means "stupid" is a negative thing. He then acknowledged my point and said he would make a sincere effort to stop using the term negatively.

Overall, these phrases are interesting to think about. Taking a step back from the things you hear on TV or things you hear your friends say, and actually THINKING about what is being said can prove to be eye-opening. I know this article may do little in the grand scheme of things, but for someone who uses the phrase "That's so gay" or even someone that refers to Anti-Choice people as Pro-Life, I hope this finds you thinking more carefully about what you say, and the impact it has on the world around you.

More articles by Category: Feminism, LGBTQIA, Misogyny, Politics
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Abortion, Civil rights, Elections, Reproductive rights, Discrimination



Haley S
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