How much thought do you give to the words you use, your own actions and even the images or statuses you share on your social networks?
For a long time, I’ve been saying to myself and my family “Words have power” – meaning that the words we use when speaking to each other and our own self talk have the power to shape how we perceive ourselves and others.
However I hadn’t, until recently, thought about how these words and actions can support and reinforce sexism and inadvertently support bullying and other undesirable behaviours.
The Words We Use and Sexism
In a facebook discussion recently, it was pointed out that the much of our language subconsciously supports sexism. Let me explain:
There are times that I find myself saying “oh, don’t be such a girl” when someone complains about pain… which is just madness!
There are times, I hear boys (and men) told to ‘harden up’ because admitting you need help is something only a woman would do – and it’s unacceptable for a male to ask for help…
Let’s not forget the references to the female menstrual cycle – when a male complains or has an “off day” sometimes a derogatory comment about it “being that time of the month” is made…
Or how about the saying “Don’t be a big girl blouse…”?
Each of these statements imply that the female sex is inherently weaker or lesser; or that displaying feminine traits is unwanted because it means that you are displaying weakness.
Is it appropriate to taint our young men and women (boys and girls) with the feeling that this behaviour is somehow undesirable? I really don’t think it is – and it’s something we have to be really conscious of when speaking to our children (and others).
I can’t explain how stunned I was when I realised just how damaging some of our statements can be – and how I have, unwittingly, supported this with my own language over the years.
Yes, I’m aware of it now and I am changing it. I’m also making sure that I “call the behaviour” when I see my hubbie, young ones and their friends exhibiting the behaviour. Of course – they are encouraged to call my behaviour and they do!
Our Actions Have Power
Whilst you might think that this section has something to do with our actions in the real world, I’m actually going to discuss our actions on Social Media networks and how these actions can unconsciously support bullying and other inappropriate behaviours.
Let me explain. On the Destroy The Joint facebook page, they shared the following on Friday:
Kelly Martin Broderick, a student in Maryland, US, took part in a campaign by her university’s feminist group to post a picture online with a sign saying “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like.”
Unfortunately, somebody stole the pic and turned it into a meme on a pretty hateful Facebook page (that we have decided not to link to, because why give them any more traffic?), along with the words “That’s pretty much what I expected.”
To respond, Kelly has taken matters into her own hands. She’s written a great article for xoJane: http://www.xojane.com/issues/my-picture-was-stolen-and-turned-into-a-fat-shaming-anti-feminist-meme
And she’s started a Tumblr to which you can submit a picture showing the world the diversity of what a feminist can look like. You can see the Tumblr athttp://wearewhatfeministslooklike.tumblr.com/
Kelly says: “There is not one type of feminist. Feminists are not a monolith. We are diverse and unique. We don’t fit into every stereotype. We are all different. “
How despicable – stealing someone elses image to make fun of them. Classic bullying behaviour and it most certainly should not be tolerated. Every like that image (or post) got from that page was essentially a vote for this hateful behaviour and opinion.
However, how many of us see something that we think is funny and ‘share it’ without thought to whether or not we’re unconsciously supporting similar behaviour? I saw someone share something that made me cringe – I don’t think they thought about what they were sharing in terms of the wider consequences of the statement they were making – I believe it was done thinking that ‘generically’ it was funny.
Let me explain what I mean… There are a heap of images shared that disparage or make fun of weight, height, shape or dress style. Often these images are shared in the shape of Memes or simply have text overlaid in an attempt to use humour. This humour is often a personal attack against the subject of the photo themselves. If this was of your friends – would you share it with the comment LOL, ROFL or even simply LIKE the post? Any one of these actions put the post into your feed and by implication can be seen as support. Is this what you want? Or would you be up in arms about it?
Before speaking or saying something; before sharing something – be mindful of the potential statement you are making.
It’s time to think about how our words and actions have the power to perpetuate stereotypes, sexism, hate speech, bigotry, misogyny or similar? If so, how can you reframe your statement to be more positive or more supportive?
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t share something for fear of how it will be received by others – I’m saying you should be mindful of how your actions and words can unwittingly provide support for something you find distasteful.
You can become part of the solution….