When you say "I didn’t mean it like that," you do. And here’s why.
Words are the most important tool humankind has to work with. Words have the power to build up entire groups of people, rise them into consciousness, and help them feel confident enough to express their truth. Words create tolerance, reverence, and peace. Words are, without a doubt, the most powerful tool men and women are given, but with this power comes the potential for immense harm and damage. The slang of modern society learned while growing up in a patriarchal society is, of course, inherently misogynistic. Words like “bitch”, “slut”, “whore”, “pussy”, among many others, are words used daily in even the most innocent of conversations. The seemingly harmless use of these words because someone “didn’t mean it that way” is not a valid excuse anymore. It is no longer valid because these words and the way in which they are used is rooted in misogyny and patriarchal influence. The discourse that society is accustomed to is perpetuating rape culture within every generation, especially in today’s youth, by attempting to make inferiority funny or cool by weakening the female identity and using gender to establish dominance and power. The vulgar language that is used to belittle others; male, female, transgender, or non-binary identifying, is almost always a word that connects directly to a woman. Whether the word is in connection to a woman’s use of her intelligence in a powerful and honest way, a woman’s anatomy for simply belonging to a woman, or the use of a woman’s anatomy in a sexual way, the word is a threat and a denouncement to all women and those who identify as such.
Oppressive language is the most harmful tool used in the early stages of our society’s perpetuation of rape culture. This language teaches young women and men that words referring to the female anatomy and identity means that a person is weak, inferior, emasculated, and powerless. These words teach young women to avoid being strong, superior, un-feminine, or too powerful for fear of their peers and friends using those same words against them. The use of this slang among young men is especially problematic as it promotes this idea that those who identify as male or those who possess masculine qualities are also provided with a sense of power and dominance over those who identify as female or those who possess feminine qualities. This notion feeds into rape culture by teaching men and women from adolescence and onward that to be a “pussy”, or a “bitch”, or any of the many other derogatory terms referring to women is to be “less than”, therefore submissive to the aggressor that is using these words as weapons. This is a problem all female identifying people face on a much too frequent basis. At any given time females, males, transgender folk, non-binary identifying individuals, and sexual assault survivors can face a sometimes triggering and offensive remark made by a peer or aggressor. This language creates a difficult space for young people to grow up with a sense of respect for women or a view that men and women are of equal worth because young men and women are given a sense of power or dominance by degrading each other, male or female, with derogatory terms connected to the female identity. Even if in certain circumstances one “didn’t mean it that way”, the words cannot be stripped of their roots and what they are actually belittling: the female anatomy and identity.
The oppressive discourse used has allowed modern society to deem the female weak and inferior therefore easy to take advantage of and have control over. This control has too often been exhibited through acts of sexual assault and violence. Sexual violence knows no age group, but today it is expected that one in four women will experience sexual assault at some point in her college career. The young women suffering from these crimes are left voiceless more often than not, because the people in authority do not want to believe her truth, do not want to damage the aggressor’s future, or they choose to dismiss her as overreacting, being too drunk, or wearing an inappropriate outfit at the time of the assault. It is bad enough that 98% of perpetrators will not be convicted, but the violence against women does not end there. Violence against women includes, but is not limited to, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, street harassment, and stalking. The discourse has taught young men and women that women are subject to dominance at any time, place, or event. Stemming from these violent acts, the words “slut” and “whore” have led to another problem known as victim blaming/shaming. This particular problem is perpetuated most noticeably through media’s biased coverage of rape cases, the aggressors who have committed the assault, and sadly among young women themselves. Girl on girl hate creeps its way into conversation constantly. So much so it seems that the way women are conditioned to speak negatively about each other is an epidemic in itself. Girl on girl hate leads a woman to believe that her use of derogatory language to put down another woman gives her superiority when it is actually only perpetuating rape culture and violence against women. This can no longer take place. Women must recognize that this fight is for our safety, our equity, and our rights as people. It cannot be expected of men to stand up on our behalf if we cannot stand up for.
A change must be made to the oppressive language that is used today. Misogyny is alive and living within almost every conversation, so why not challenge the conversations that you choose to take part in to be constructive and progressive conversations? Our discourse is a result of the systemic oppression that women face globally and when our dialogue is built in such a derogatory manner, it is women who lose, who face threats to their identities, and who are made unsafe. It is now the responsibility of both men and women to challenge themselves and others to speak with intelligence and equity in their roots. It is important to know that even though someone “didn’t mean it like that”, they did. There really is no other way to mean it. To change the misogynistic discourse that is seen as normal, it must be transformed. This language has created and then silenced victims of sexual assault for far too long. Our discourse has to be renewed. I beg you to always challenge yourself and to challenge others to rise up, speak the truth, stop misogyny’s life within our language, and create a better society so that everyone can live peacefully, consciously, constructively, and equitably.