Language can bring down women

Language, in its purest form, is the foundation of how we communicate our reality with each other. The expressions and terms we use describe not just what we think, but how things are and how things will continue to be. Unfortunately, the way we speak evolves more from convention and habit. Each time we use prejudicial terms, we give life to sexist ways of categorizing our world. Even around progressive educational institutions, sexist language circulates, reinforcing a cycle many have been trying to break for decades.

It was as though feminism never happened. While studying in London last spring I ran across a story that commented on an article addressing new terms for sex. Apparently, nobody "bonks" anymore; the new phrase is "porking" or "having a pork." I was appalled to learn that younger girls who put it out are called "piglets." It is no wonder why women often protest that the English language is loaded against us and that most words for women are often insulting.

Names of animals are common terms we use to refer to women, and I hear many of these words thrown causally around Southern Oregon University's campus each day: "chick," "fox," "bunny," "bird," "bitch" and "piglet" for example. Some of these words are even used disgustingly as terms of endearment. Other terms such as "broad," "doll," "tart" and "slut" prove that women are never simply "women" but always defined according to their sexual availability and outward appearance.

"The majority of the time we use terms to define 'women' by reference to their sexual behavior and presenting sex a sort of urgent male need, a bit like going to the toilet," says Ros Coward, author of "Language and Materialism."

The terms we've adopted to supposedly refer to the whole of humanity &

"man" or "mankind" &

are awfully limited. While most accept these terms as being politically correct, use of the term "womankind" is somehow a definite political statement.

We often see the term "man" applied to categories of work: spokesman, foreman, fireman, policeman, garbageman, chairman, mailman and businessman, for example. While these terms are supposed to imply both sexes, it becomes natural for men to fill these positions because the language itself assumes them to do so. Because it's assumed that men will fill these jobs, it becomes extraordinary for women to, so we adopt the belief that it is difficult or unsuitable for us to become these things.

While the majority of terms used to refer to women are derogatory, even the female versions of most titles are often misconstrued. "Host" and "master," for example, are descriptive titles for positions often associated with power ("the master of the house"). The female versions, "hostess" or "mistress," imply certain kinds of sexual behavior.

The use of "man" as a term to refer to everyone makes women's history disappear. Because of women taking a man's last name in marriage, tracing the female branches of the family become far more difficult.

Wars are won with "manpower." Synthetic materials are "man-made" &

giving no recognition to women. Supposedly, our nation was built by our "founding fathers" and dedicated "countrymen." We learn "history" while "herstory" gets lost. We must remember that it is always the winner's version of battle that gets told.

Somehow, when I become passionate about these things, I am labeled as "hysterical." Historically, the word "hysterical" comes from the Latin word hystera, meaning womb, from the Greek notion that hysteria was peculiar to women and caused by disturbances of the uterus. How appropriate.

We must be aware of the way we are communicating with each other. Each time someone casually refers to a "chick" or a "slut," the task of achieving equality is much harder. Be conscious of your use of language. Change is required at this fundamental level for us to finally be granted this long-awaited reprieve.

is a student at Southern Oregon University studying communication, video production and writing. You can learn more about her at .

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