Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Say What?

 "'Boldly go where no MAN has gone before.' I don't like that. It doesn't make sense. They should say, 'girl.' Or 'human.' 'Boldly go where no human has gone before' is better because human can mean man or woman."

Language IS powerful.  Just ask anyone who was ever called “poop head” or “idiot” how they felt.  The fact that we have censors who monitor which words are used on tv just reinforces the argument that words do matter.  The notion that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” is romantic, but about as true as “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”   Our verbiage affects the people around us, especially when we are the people in power – we are the parents.

Our words define our reality.  Just ask this lady.  As parents – the primary teachers for our children, the authorities, the experts – our words also define their realities.  So we must ask ourselves, “What kind of world do I want for my children?  How do I want them to define their role in the world?  How do I want them to define the roles of the people around them?” 

I have daughters, and am Catholic.  This makes things tricky for me as a person who values the power of language.  I do not want my daughter to see herself as someone outside the group, someone of less importance.  She herself is already aware of how uncomfortable sexist language makes her.  She knows she’s a girl, and she knows she isn’t a man.  When people refer to all humans as “man” she either cringes or assumes they aren’t talking about her.  This is not good.  Luckily we have a large supportive community around us who – like the Star Trek producers who changed the wording to be “where no ONE has gone before” – realize that using only masculine terminology isn’t healthy and is really outdated.  My daughter will, hopefully, grow up recognizing sexist language as erroneous and define herself outside of it.

But what about violent language?  Derogatory language?  My husband and I are careful with our words.  Although I used to swear like a sailor, I realized around the time my older daughter was born that ugly language just made the world ugly.  We certainly do not call things “gay” or “retarded” as a put down.  If we did use language like that, that would be the norm for our girls, and, in their reality, “gay” and “retarded” would equal less than them.  That is destructive for not only our children, but for society as well.  The same goes for racial slurs.

As parents, we can’t shield our children from all destructive, hate-filled language.  We can, however, try to set a level of normal for them which does not include it.  We can teach them through the words we choose that all people are created equal.  We can define a reality for them in which both men and women have value.  One group is not superior to others because of intellect, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religion.   Hopefully, when they hear slurs, swears, or hurtful words my daughters will be shocked and dismiss that kind of language as not rooted in reality.

(pssst…..be sure to swing by Happy Walrus on Etsy, too…..)

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