Self-Respect and Equality Start With Language

On co-opting misogynistic language for profit

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Who’s a fuckable chick who likes to get laid?

How does the above sentence make you feel?

Degrading wording isn’t just harmful to all those of us who identify as women but also to feminism, to equality, and to society. Thankfully, this kind of linguistically loose content isn’t widespread practice among professionals who generally abide by strict editorial standards.

While it does sometimes crop up, it’s the preserve of outlets who’ve made clickbait their modus operandi. And of internet typists desperate for clicks and bucks with no concept of ethics whatsoever and zero respect for our shared humanness.

And yet, shocking and titillating readers to trigger engagement has become normalized; the most discerning balk and walk while the rest lap it up and ask for seconds.

In some cases, loaded language is part of a direct quotation and easily identifiable as such with the presence of appropriate punctuation. To include it in a headline is always a risky editorial choice and one few editors would make lest it should alienate their readership.

Service is the cornerstone of good writing. Insulting readers may prove lucrative in the short term but if credibility is what you’re after, this isn’t the way to go.

Instead, this approach detracts from a message that may have been valid had the “writer” put it in the effort of adopting a more appropriate register.

If social media has undoubtedly changed the way we communicate, an essay isn’t a facebook post or a WhatsApp message nor should it sound like one. Abbreviations like DTF and gratuitously graphic ways of referring to sexuality do not belong in print.

Good writing is accessible, and no reader should have to discover that DTF isn’t an airport code.

Alas, I did and it left me feeling icky.

Taking the so-called patriarchy to task about the male gaze and describing women as fuckable goes way beyond a poor choice of words.

It is deliberately demeaning.

Why co-opt misogynistic language if your goal is to advance the feminist cause and achieve equal status with men? This is myopic, reductive, and irresponsible, not to mention a letdown for the rest of us who are trying to, well, keep it classy.

The thing with the language you use to describe yourself is that it sends a strong signal about how it’s OK to describe you. For my part, I’m not a chick but a human first and a woman second; I don’t fuck or get laid, I make love or have intercourse.

When self-respect isn’t optional but at the heart of what makes you you, linguistic accuracy is everything.

While I’m not a linguistic prude on a personal level, words that belittle anyone preclude effective communication. We don’t build bridges with pointed fingers; without mutual respect, there’s no conversation, just people talking over one another.

Confrontation is easy and the favored communication method of those who dwell in echo chambers. Mediation, meanwhile, takes work and effort as it involves putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

That’s empathy.

Since someone has to lead by example it might as well be you, provided you’re able to set your ego aside for a moment. You always have a choice: You can sink to the level of those who are being abusive toward you or you can rise above and try to find some common ground.

As a case in point, the internet has gifted me connections with folks on the opposite side of the political spectrum. I treasure every single one of our exchanges because they help me understand the current political climate on a domestic and international level in a more granular way. We connected after butting heads but we swiftly moved past that because curiosity got the better of us.

It’s amazing what you can do when you treat fellow humans as, well, humans; you invariably realize we’re all more alike than different.

Swearwords do have their uses though.

When preceding an adjective for example, ‘fucking’ can help emphasize a point and convey anger, and in that sense it is both versatile and precious.

In the context of human sexuality and gender interactions however, the topic is so stigmatized that the words we use matter. When we’re sloppy or lazy, there’s always the risk we might help perpetuate the very clichés and prejudices we decry.

This is the key difference between responsible writing and clickbait; clickbait is careless as long as it pays and there’s no willingness to hold oneself accountable.

While online civility remains a chimera, we owe it to ourselves and our audience to treat everyone fairly if we take social progress to heart.

If not to make an impact that might move things forward for all by making at least the one person think, what are we even writing for?

With visibility, no matter how modest, comes responsibility.

Writing about ourselves and the gender we identify with in derogatory terms is impossible to take seriously; no one likes to be debased.

Respect for others starts with self-respect.

I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

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