Always remember: the words we use shape our world

2011-11-05 09:09

Discussions around sexual propriety always make me cringe, and thanks to our dear sports minister and his recent sex scandal, I’ve been cringing quite a lot lately.

The problem is not with people voicing opposing views, not at all: the issue is far more fundamental.

Listen to enough of these discussions and you could easily walk away with a rather warped sense of the world where women who enjoy sex and unashamedly lay claim to their own sexuality are sluts, while men who do the same are studs.

A world where a woman in a revealing outfit is an attention-seeking easy floozy while men in tight-fitting sleeveless vests are hunks simply showing off how hours in the gym eventually pay off.

When English writer and novelist Angela Carter said, “language is power, life and the instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation” she clearly knew the power a little four-letter word like “slut” carried.

A word so easily thrown around with very little recognition of how it, and many others – like fast woman, floozy, minx, jezebel – (the list is endless), are heavily laden with all the unspoken rules about how women (and never really men) should conduct themselves between the sheets.

On Twitter, the model who claims to be pregnant with the minister’s child has been called a slut, a gold-digger and an extortionist while many said the minister was simply doing what most men do and having recently come down from his snip on the mountain, it really was not surprising and certainly not worthy of the front page.

Now if these were just words, meaningless labels we use to pass the time, I wouldn’t have an issue. But they are not.

The terms “Casanova”, “Don Juan” and “ladies man” don’t come with the same scorn as “bitch”, “skank”, “ho” and “tramp”, even though they describe the same behaviour.

These words are just another way of policing women, a weapon wielded against those who dare to have sex and not make love and against women whose sexual engagement and prowess is as open and as uninhibited as men’s.

I don’t think a world where sex is cheapened and openly experienced by all without discretion is what we should be striving for at all.

But I do think we need to reconsider the words we use, their gendered nature and how they shape our worlds and help us navigate these difficult moral questions.

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