Words are just noises we use to communicate with each other. To the extent that we agree on the meanings of the words we use, we are able to communicate well.
Words have denotative and connotative meanings. Denotative meanings are the ones found in dictionaries. Connotative meanings are all the other baggage a word carries, and are often not in the dictionary.
As we have all experienced to some extent, words can bring joy or sorrow, help or hurt, uplift or oppress. And some of the worst oppression, we bring upon ourselves with the words we use.
One of the most common ways we oppress ourselves is by using diminishing words to describe ourselves. The most common example I know of is the use of the word “girl” in referring to adult females. Women are adults. Girls are children. Yet we commonly hear “The girls at the office.” “We girls.” “What’s a girl to do?”
Isn’t it interesting that when we refer to men as children, it is when they are doing trivial or irresponsible stuff? “The boys went bowling.” “The boys got drunk.” “Boys will be boys.”
“The boys” don’t hold board meetings or make war decisions or even simply do day-to-day work. “Men” do all that. Or, if we want to be informal, perhaps “The guys.”
But “The girls” do the office work. “The girls” raise the children. “The girls” run the household. Is it any wonder that work, any work, done by women is undervalued?
Perhaps if we recognized that adults are doing the work, the adults would be appreciated, and respected, and paid, as adults. Yet, even when women cheer on excellence or assertiveness in other women, a phrase commonly heard is, “You go, girl!”
The most effective oppression is done by those oppressed. And women lead the way in referring to themselves as “the girls”. Isn’t it time we ALL stopped doing this?
After all, we learned to stop using the “n” word.
What do you think?