Thoughts on the Language of Women

Truly, this isn’t what you think it is.  (Ok, maybe it is a little.  But I’m going to try avoiding touching politics as much as I can.  That stink doesn’t wash off with soap once you touch it.)

Look, I’m an English teacher.  One of the things I teach in my class is the difference between connotation and denotation.  (If you need a refresher, denotation is the dictionary definition of the word while connotation is basically the emotional ties we put to a word.)  For example, the word “nice” typically means something is acceptable, pretty, or it’s another word for kind.  To me, it has negative connotations.  Think about it.  When you hear someone say, “Oh, that’s nice,” or “Isn’t she nice?” it usually comes out sounding either like a filler word because someone isn’t actually paying attention or it sounds sarcastic.  Maybe it just happened that as a kid, people called me nice a lot or just said “That’s nice” a lot and I got sick of it.  Who knows?

I explain that to get to my real point: language has meaning.  We’re (of course) hearing about all this stuff now with Donald Trump’s utterly disgusting comments about women.

Unfortunately, getting rid of talk like that is not the only issue we have when it comes to language targeted at women.  It drives me crazy how society talks to women/girls.  And I’m about to give you a few examples.

Mommy porn.”  Seriously, what is that supposed to imply?  When it’s applied to books such as Fifty Shades of Grey, sure, I can see where maybe that applies (even if I still abhor the phrase).  I just saw an article online about how books about mothers leaving their families is the new “mommy porn.”  This phrase, to me, is so many shades of wrong.  The connotation of “porn” is not a positive one; you can be arrested for downloading or creating your own.  It’s considered dirty and something to not be shared with others in polite society.  So why is that applied to books that women enjoy?  Why aren’t superhero movies or James Bond movies referred to as “Daddy porn?”  (Think about that one for a moment.)

I just don’t understand why things that women enjoy are given such awful nicknames.  Chick flick.  Chick lit.  Mommy porn.  Why aren’t women allowed to enjoy these things without the stigma that accompanies them from language like this?  The older I get, the less I find myself caring.  I admit to reading historical romances at least once a month.  I admit to loving romantic comedies as my favorite genre.  People who use these terms frustrate me to no end.

I can feel myself getting fired up, so I’m going to limit myself to one more example.

Well, aren’t you pretty!”  Girls, how many times growing up did we hear about how pretty we looked?  (Picture holidays where you were reunited with family you hadn’t seen in months.)  Now boys, how many times did you hear growing up how handsome you were?  I’m going to guess it’s a far smaller number than it is for girls.

I feel that to some extent, I was able to miss out on a lot of that.  I grew up as a tomboy.  I wore t-shirts from the boys’ section and kept my hair in a ponytail as much as possible.  I wasn’t your stereotypical little girl frolicking in a pretty dress with her hair in ringlets.  (I wouldn’t even let my mom get close to me with a dress, let alone a curling iron.)  Still, that doesn’t mean I didn’t (and still do) hear it.  I actually probably hear it more at 25 from guys flirting with me than I did at 10 from relatives.  And it feels 20 times creepier now that it did coming from my relatives.

Pro-tip: that’s actually how I weed out guys to date.  If they seem focused on my looks rather than my intelligence or my interests, he’s out the door.  Some appreciation is great, but a continual focus on it is not.

Anyway, I said all that to say this.  When I was in college, I had a professor who happened to noticed that when she spent time with her niece and nephew, she asked her nephew questions about what he liked and just told her niece how nice she looked.  She knew all about her nephew’s interest in firetrucks and sports, but didn’t know as much about what her niece liked.  (These kids were between about 5-7.)  So as an experiment, she flip flopped those one day.  And the results were awesome.  She asked her niece about sports and her interests and the little girl opened right up, talking about how t-ball was going.  With her nephew, she told him how handsome he looked in his outfit and the boy got really quiet and confused.  There was nothing for him to respond to and anyway, he didn’t know what to say.

We talk to women/girls differently that we do to men/boys.  And for all of you who don’t think it matters, it does.  Because if we were to ever start referring to action movies as “Daddy porn” or “dude flicks”, you can bet the backlash would be swift.  If we only talked to men about how handsome they were, backlash would ensue.  But for some reason, it’s ok to talk to/about women this way.

And I’m fed up with it.


4 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Language of Women

  1. Having grown up in the 80s, I think sexism is getting worse as time goes by. I was told by my teachers that a girl shouldn’t study science and that a girl definitely shouldn’t be at the top of a computer programming class so that is saying something! The media, and especially social media, really jam expectations down our throats. When my daughter was in prep, the other kids all thought she was a boy because she had a pixie hair cut. She was continually told by other 5 year olds that girls should have long hair. She was often mistaken for a boy by adults too because she was not quiet and demure as girls are expected to be. Sorry for the essay – this topic presses my buttons!

    • As it rightly should! I mean, I’m so fed up with some of this that I’ve already decided when I have children of my own, I’m not telling anyone the gender to avoid the stereotyped gifts. I hate that girls are expected to sit in pink and lace–if I ever have a girl, you can bet she’ll get to decide if that’s what she wants to do!

      • I agree. That being said, my daughter has always love pink and lace, but she would then go and play in the mud or climb a tree while wearing it 😊. We were actually discussing this last night – she’s now 14, and wore one of her favourite dresses yesterday although she was sick in bed. If I ever wear any ‘girly’ clothes it’s entirely for someone else – a work event or some such thing. She wears them because she wants to and there’s no consideration for a third party in her decision.

      • Oh, absolutely! I went through the fad of glitter and sparkly clothes (hello, show choir!), but it’s just not me anymore. And I feel that dating sometimes brings this pressure that I need to dress a certain way to impress guys. Well, actually, all of society feels that way. It’s frustrating, but I have nothing against pink and lace. 🙂 It’s just not me.

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