Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Power of Words

I have been slowly developing a unit to teach my students with this title, intending to educate them on just how powerful and strong the words they use in every day language really are. I have been struggling with it though because the ideas I have are somewhat abstract in the sense that I cannot show them the direct impact a word has. I began preparing this one day after I realized how terrible the word "bitch" is. Now I will be the first to admit that I have used this word on many different occasions. I have used it to describe a woman who was rude and frustrating ("That girl is a fucking bitch!"), I have used it when speaking with male friends about their behavior ("Stop being such a little bitch and do it."), and I have used it when talking about how much something sucks("Ain't that a bitch."). Upon further reflection one day, it dawned on me that each use of this word, while used differently, all add to the misogynistic attitude our culture perpetuates towards females. As an educator, part of my job is to ensure that our children grow up understanding the world around them and not just the books they have to read. If I am to pass them on into the higher levels, I am saying that they are maturing and gaining a deeper understanding of what is happening around them. When I think about how often I hear this word being thrown around by boys and girls alike, in and out of the classroom, I fear that I may not be doing my job as I had originally intended. Of course it is foolish for me to think that I can begin to erase this common word from our vocabularies one class at a time, however it bothers me that it is wholly accepted that we use this word without considering the ramifications it holds for the future.

The first question that comes to mind for me is, "What is the male equivalent of a bitch?" Do you have an answer? Because I most certainly do not. I have tried to think of something but really there is nothing you can call a man that would be on the same level as when a woman is called a bitch. Or, for that matter, when you call a man a bitch, it is considered a double insult because not only are you referring to him as a woman, but you are referring to him as the woman whom everybody shares a distaste for.

When a woman is called a bitch by another woman, I feel that there has been some form of female code that has been broken. Maybe some words were said that shouldn't have been, maybe some actions took place that shouldn't have, you get the picture. But when a man calls a woman a bitch, there is so much wrong with it because essentially he is asserting his dominance by using a word that has no male equivalent. In a society where we preach how everyone is equal, using these words make it quite obvious that there is still an inequality, and it is unfortunately one that does not even get recognized due to its abundant usage in every day culture.

Take the music industry for example. When you look at the use of the word bitch in music, usually rap is drawn into the picture. I love rap. I've listened to rap since I can remember. But I also have made a conscious effort to exclude rap that is derogatory towards women, which is no easy task. If you listen to the radio, you'll undoubtedly hear the shitty, commercialized, popular music that throws bitch around with reckless abandon. Women are bitches, objects, to be treated with disrespect. Look at who is buying up all of this music: the children. Starting in middle school now you can hear 12-13 year old boys talking about how many bitches are at a school dance (that starts at 5:00 pm). It is absolutely disgusting. These kids are learning this word and it is becoming ingrained in their minds that is totally acceptable to refer to women in this way. Such is the same with the girls, which is even worse, because they are getting the message at an early age that they ARE objects that CAN be treated with disrespect. And how are they supposed to handle this treatment? Well, if they talk back and tell people to stop they are in turn called a bitch or some other derogatory name. And if they don't, if they sit back and let the words flow through them, they begin to believe that this is the reality and the entire cycle is perpetuated.

Do I have any solutions? Of course I can say stop using the word, but I feel as if it is too far gone at this point to eliminate such a powerful word from our language. What I will do is address this word when it comes up and offer dialog with my students. Maybe it will work, maybe it won't. But I feel we, as a society, as a culture, as a people, need to be aware of the impact our language has on us and those coming after us. If we truly want equality, we have to look at the way we speak with each other and what we deem as acceptable speech. We need self awareness. I always refer to the golden rule which I post in my classroom because I truly believe in it. If we treat others with respect, we in turn shall receive it. However direct or indirect it may be, we must be aware of the power within our words.

1 comment:

What doesn't kill me said...

Brilliant!!! I cannot agree with you more. I feel the same way about nigger with and a without an a friendly, deragatory, to me it's all the same; totally offensive. When you come up with that lesson pass it on because my students need that lesson as well.