[I wrote this “op-ed piece” as a final for my English Language: Development and Issues class last semester, and I really wanted to post it publicly. Give me feedback, let me know how you feel about it, and pass it along if you agree!]
A few months ago I was deeply disturbed by a photoshoot which had surfaced on the internet: the infamous Nick Jonas crotch grabbing photos done for Flaunt Magazine. No, it was not the photos themselves which disturbed me; I am in no means of a conservative mindset when it comes to racy photoshoots. What disturbed me were the headlines which were coming along with the photos: “Nick Jonas Grabs His Crotch, Shows Off Abs in Sexy Shoot,” “Nick Jonas Drops Pants, Grabs Crotch, Breaks Hearts,” “Nick Jonas Drops His Pants And Grabs His Crotch to Show He’s All Grown Up” and, my personal favorite, “Nick Jonas Didn’t Just Grab His Crotch in That Sexy Spread- His Abs and Butt Got Some Lovin’, Too!”
Why was I disturbed by the headlines? Well, maybe because I have been reading for years now headlines about other ex-Disney Channel stars, these stars all female, and they had never been called sexy; they were never called “heartbreakers;” their pictures were never justified by saying they were “all grown up.” Instead, their photoshoots had been called racy or inappropriate, or they were told that they needed to be better role models. People would comment on them and call them sluts or whores; meanwhile, people were praising this Nick Jonas shoot up and down because he had “grown up so nicely.” Don’t you just love sexist language?
Sexism in the media is very prevalent. Language is the most basic way in which we construct meanings in our lives, and people learn sexism through language everyday just by the words that are used to describe males and females in different scenarios. Semantic derogation is the way in which words that refer to women have acquired belittling or sexual connotations. For example, a single male is a bachelor which has a positive connotation, but a single female is a spinster which has a negative connotation. The same thing happens with males who date a lot versus females who date a lot. A female who has had a large number of sexual partners, or even just who people believe has had a large number of sexual partners, is most often called a slut, a whore, a man-eater, or a serial-dater. On the other hand, a male who has had a large number of sexual partners is often called a player, a lady’s man, or a stud.
Taylor Swift has been one of the most well-known stars who has been slut-shamed, and she finally commented on it recently, stating, “You’re going to have people who are going to say, ‘Oh, you know, like, she just writes songs about her ex-boyfriends.’ And I think frankly that’s a very sexist angle to take. No one says that about Ed Sheeran. No one says that about Bruno Mars. They’re all writing songs about their exes, their current girlfriends, their love life, and no one raises the red flag there.” Right on, Taylor Swift.
Enough about semantic derogation, though. There are a ton of others ways in which the English language has sexist tendencies. Another of the most common ways is through insults. So many insults which people commonly throw around are anti-feminine. “You run like a girl” or “Don’t be such a girl” being the most obvious examples. Why does it have to be bad to run like a girl? These phrases have become so common place that even girls will use them without thinking about it. That is how far sexism has become ingrained in our language.
The big problem is that at its core, English really was built as a sexist language. It’s asymmetric, meaning that “man" can be used to mean the human species in general. It’s also androcentric meaning that female terms must be marked. If a lion is female, it’s a lioness. If an actor is female, she’s an actress. We also don’t have any singular pronoun to use which refers to a person without specifying his or her sex. Why do we always have to clarify what sex the person is who we are talking about? We shouldn’t have to, but we feel like we do, and the English language has actually forced us to.
Another huge way in which our society has been structured as sexist without us even realizing it is through titles. In most heterosexual marriages, the woman is known to take the man’s last name as her own. This is often been seen as a symbol of unity and of their two lives becoming one. However, there is a reason why it is always the woman who takes the man’s name, rather than the other way around; this is because of the patriarchy ingrained in most societies. In the past, women were seen as property of men. They were first the property of their fathers, and they were then passed on to their husbands, thus the reason why a father “gives away” the bride at her wedding.
Nowadays, women are not generally considered property, but this tradition of taking the man’s last name still stands strong. It’s tradition, so people tend to not question the patriarchal and sexist undertones of it. If a woman chooses not to take her husband’s last name, she is going against the norm, and many people will question why she made that decision. The fact that this is a practice which still exists shows how sexism can be so easily overlooked. Furthermore, a woman is then expected to change her title from Miss to Mrs., so that everyone can be aware of her relationship status. Does a man have to make people aware of his? Not at all.
All of these ways in which language is used in our society support the Dominance explanation for the relationship of gender and language which claims that spoken language reflects and allows for social gender inequality. Many times this takes place without anyone really realizing it. This is mostly the case when it comes to a woman taking a man’s last name, a person telling someone not to run like a girl, or the media calling Selena Gomez’s photoshoot racy while Nick Jonas gets to be sexy.
The media has so much power in shaping the way that people view gender stereotypes, and the people in charge of media should be forced to start taking responsibility for what they’re teaching, especially when there are so many young children reading these celebrity news stories. These kids learn from a young age that when Nick Jonas acts this way, he’s praised, but when Miley Cyrus or Selena Gomez act this way, they are questioned or shamed. Even more concerning is the fact that when girls are young they are straight up told not to do certain things because “that’s not ladylike.” On the flip side, a young boy’s questionable behavior is often explained away by saying, “Oh..Boys will be boys.” Well, how about we start saying “Girls will be girls?”
I’d like to start a twitter trend where people tweet something girls “shouldn’t do” with #girlswillbegirls. Would anyone be behind this?? Let’s get it going!
My twitter: shannnnnnnon14 (that’s seven n’s!)
Citing My Source For the Smart Stuff Pichler, P., & Preece, S. (2011). Language and gender. In Language, society and power: an introduction (3rd ed.). New York: Routledge
honestly fuck the idea that being a true feminist means that you don’t flaunt it. flaunt feminism until it makes bratboys and anti-feminist people cry. lead by example, yeah, but don’t shy away from talking either