Our language reinforces identity

Blame Rapists for Rape NOT Women

IMG_5947 by openDemocracy on Flickr used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.(CC BY-SA 2.0)

Norms. Stereotypes. “-isms”. So many within the context of mental health, racism, gender identity, sexism, ethnicity. I find personally I’ve been fighting against ageism of late. Language is prevalent in reinforcing stereotypes, even when we say we do not have any. Let’s start with simply what is male, female? I don’t mean in the binary sense, but in traits, so sexism really. What defines male? What defines female?” Gone are the stereotypes of boys represented by blue, girls represented by pink. Yet is this true? Even now our language reinforces identities we do not own ourselves.

Two examples of recent date happened to myself in regard to sexism. One was at work when I expressed my frustration to a male coworker over being admonished by another female coworker. The individual I was telling my story to said, “She needs to be put in her place!” This surprised me as the message was two-fold. One “I am superior and she is inferior” and “Men are still wanting to put women in their places.” Both these messages are a reflection of a patriarchal society. Neither message was specifically said out loud, but they were the undertones of his comment. Another message I “heard” was today. I was wore out and tired at work, and very rattled, so needed a place to calm down. I chose a secluded spot on campus to play a few rounds of Mahjong on my phone and calm down a bit. A gentleman on campus passed by and asked what I was doing, and as explained, he said, “Good girl!” I found that patronizing and disrespectful.  Even if not intentional, this male coworker was showing his superiority.  Despite the effort to change to non-gendered terminology, sexism still is portrayed liberally in our language  and terms such as “girl[s]” are belittling (Douglas, & Sutton, 2014) and reinforce sexism not only in a patriarchal sense, but also within victimizing the survivor.

I discovered an excellent example of victimizing the survivor while researching blogs to write in an excellent blog called “Reclaiming the Latino Tag”. The author wrote her own list for the hashtag #SiMeMatan (If I’m murdered). I will conclude with her list. It is a strong statement on how our language in our culture, actions, words, and law reinforce stereotypes. In this particular example, the ‘why’ is it was the female victim’s fault she was murdered. I would encourage you to read the blog for context.

“If I’m murdered:

It would be because I lived by myself in my apartment.
It would be because I confront people that catcall me on the street.
It would be because I like wearing knee high boots and stockings.
It would be because I dyed my hair a lot in whacky colors.
It would be because I hang out more with men than women.
It would be because I go out alone at night without the company of a man.
It would be because I drink when I go out.
It would be because I was flirty and friendly to everyone.
It would be because choose to have sex without being married.”

by nightyignite


Douglas, K. M., & Sutton, R. M. (2014). “A Giant Leap for Mankind” But What About Women? The Role of System-Justifying Ideologies in Predicting Attitudes Toward Sexist Language. Journal Of Language & Social Psychology, 33(6), 667-680. doi:10.1177/0261927X14538638

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4 thoughts on “Our language reinforces identity

  1. That’s great that you found that site to incorporate into your first post, but please do more than this in your posts and cite some more relevant blogs or resources. For instance, you point out an incident of sexism in the workplace but I could respond in a troll-like comment that this was just an isolated incident so get over it (not what I really feel!). If you can cite statistics on sexism in the workplace for instance it would make your post much stronger.

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  2. I totally get where you are coming from here with the idea of being belittled in the workplace. I am a server and am constantly being hit on and sexualized by other men and the one day I had enough of it and gave it right back to a regular who had made inappropriate comments one to many times. My owner then turned around and pulled me into the office to “talk” but essentially tell me how inappropriate it was for me to talk to a costumer that way. I remember being so infuriated because this guy had been making comments to me for almost a full week. I can understand and sympathize with your blog post really questioning how far have we really come in regards to both males and females being equal.

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  3. Hi Stephanie. Wow! I understand your frustration! The story you told is such a good example of how the victim (yourself) is the one who has to come up with a solution but also be faulted as the one creating the problem when one stands up for themselves. This reinforces a helplessness of ever being able to prevent being sexualized as “OK” and encourages perpetrators (and those around them) that their behaviour is acceptable. Thank you for sharing your story. D.

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  4. Hi Donna,

    I really enjoyed this post of yours because personally I had never really thought about the way our actions, more specifically our language is prevalent in reinforcing stereotypes. I always knew there was some relation, but really you showed me that the language we use every day is contributing to the gaps we see in our society.

    The experiences you had yourself of individuals unintentionally implying gender stereotypes through their comments to you really got to me. As bad as it sounds I really had never thought deeply about the potential undertones individuals could carry in their everyday language. I can guarantee you that this will not be the case for me any more, because it gave me frustration for you having to read what you experienced. Having never really thought about this myself really goes to show that all individuals need to pay more attention to how they talk to others on a daily basis. The reality is it could be affecting the individual more than you think. Great post! Overall I really do agree with the points that you brought up through this post and found it to be very eye opening.

    Briar Schultz

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