A few weeks ago I came across an interesting article about how Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively talk to their daughters. In the September 2017 issue of Glamour, Lively said; “[In the past], we’ve joked that my daughter is bossy, but my husband said, ‘I don’t ever want to use that word again. You’ve never heard a man called bossy.’””
This made me think not only about how language can be gendered, but also the connotations of certain words and phrases. As someone with naturally curly hair, I often flit between leaving it curly or straightening it for various reasons such as ease of styling, time restraints etc.
Whilst in bed with my boyfriend recently he referred to my hair in its natural state as ‘fun’. This made me feel odd. My hair isn’t fun. It’s just my hair. This brought back memories of being teased and bullied at school for being different and having different hair (I went to a predominately White school). When I would have my hair in two braids or plaits, my fellow students would pull on them. When I had it curly, they would pull the curls and make sound effects such as boing. My hair was a source of amusement to them. But this was not fun for me. And it still isn’t.
There are several stories out there about how we, as people of colour, don’t appreciate having our hair touched. It’s weird. And intrusive. And somewhat childish and demeaning. It feels belittling to the person who’s hair you are touching because you are making a point that their hair is different. At least that’s how I feel. My boyfriend isn’t the only person to refer to my hair incorrectly though. Another friend of mine calls it an ‘afro’, despite it quite clearly not being that.
This isn’t just about hair though. Let’s get back to gendered language. When was the last time you saw someone refer to a man as ‘strong and independent’? What does this even mean? Why do we use certain expressions to describe women? Ballbuster. Moody. Bitch. Whilst some may argue we have reclaimed the latter by adding the word ‘bad’ in front of it – a point I’m afraid I disagree with – these words are still essentially incredibly derogatory.
The problem is, using certain language can reinforce particular ideas and misconceptions. It can reinforce stereotypes, and ultimately do more harm than good.
I’ll leave you with this final example of how important it is to be aware of the language you are using. I was recently in a room in which two White men mansplained the term ‘people of colour’ to me…a person of colour.
Actually, I’m not even really sure that relates to what I’ve been saying in this blog but I felt it needed to be included nonetheless.