Feminism is in its third wave and has come a long way from the path the previous waves built. There are, however, still many ways in which sexism exists in our everyday lives. The language we use has many roots in sexism and sometimes we don’t realize it when we say certain terms and phrases.
Blaming Something on a Woman’s Emotions
The “women are emotional” troupe has been around for far too long. It’s not just the word “emotional” that is offensive, either. Words like “hysterical,” “sensitive,” “shrill” or “crazy” are descriptors that are typically only used toward females. The term “hysterical” was actually used to describe a mental disorder until 1980. The “disorder” dates back thousands of years, and the diagnosis has only been used on women. In the Victorian era, women could have been diagnosed with hysteria for simply disobeying their husbands. Examples like this show how emotions have been used against women in order to hold power over them. Emotions were and are not only seen as weakness, but for too many years, they were used to misdiagnose women.
Using “Bossy” to Describe an Assertive Woman
Like descriptors that are linked to emotions, “bossy” is one of those words that is mainly associated with women and young girls. The term is so troublesome to many that a campaign called “Ban Bossy“ was created in 2014. The goal is to encourage girls to become leaders, stating: “When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a ‘leader.’ Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded ‘bossy.’ Words like bossy send a message: don’t raise your hand or speak up.” Being called “bossy” is not positive, so females who get branded so are given the message that they are doing something wrong by simply being a leader.
Using Female/Woman as a Modifier on Someone’s Title
In May 2014, Playboy published this tweet:
Case, a singer/songwriter who is part of The New Pornographers and also has a solo career, didn’t take lightly to the post. She responded, telling the mag she is not a “woman” in music. She is a “musician” in music.
Case brings up a solid point. Men are allowed to be musicians, writers, artists, CEOs. When women take on titles like these, they are given the modifier “woman ___.” They can’t simply be one of these titles. By putting “woman” in front of a person’s title, it keeps them apart from that core group, making them a sub-sector instead of a legitimate part of the group.
Bringing Up Children or Family
We live in a society where there are single mothers and fathers, stay-at-home mothers and fathers and working mothers and fathers. Unfortunately, it seems that only the women are asked about their work/family balance. How come men don’t get asked questions like “How does he do it all?” or “Can he have it all?” like women do? Are they not part of their families?
Calling Someone a Slut
This word is one of the many ways we try to judge women on what they do with their bodies. It’s the whole women-are-sluts-men-are-players double standard that has been going on for too long. If you try to think of an equal term for men, it’s difficult. Man-whore is one that comes to mind, but even with that term, the root — whore — is a word used toward women.
Phrases Like “Grow a Pair” and “Pussy”
Why is it that male genitalia is used to sound tough but female genitalia is generally used to sound weak? By saying these words and phrases, it’s saying that women are the weaker and lesser sex, that you want to be associated with being male and not female. That’s a problem.
James Achanyi-Fontem, is a Senior Health Journalist and Communication Consultant. He worked as a health journalist and broadcaster for 30 years with Radio Cameroon and later Cameroon Radio Television, CRTV before retiring in 2005 to engage fully with Cameroon Link (Human Assistance Programme). Cameroon Link is a registered charity, not-for-profit organisation involved in the promotion of community health, humanitarian assistance, promotion of women and child rights through involvement of communities in Cameroon for mother and child health care. Cameroon Link is a partner to Commonwealth of Learning (COL), Farm Radio International (FRI), International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN Africa), World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). As the intermediary of Commonwealth of Learning (COL), Cameroon Link is engaged to implement a Cameroon Rural Radio story design Programming through an investigative research, which aims to discover through interviewing beneficiaries of health programmes on their interests, documenting and disseminating new ideas about how radio stations produce and air Healthy Communities Radio Programs in Cameroon.