So we all know women used to be seen as second class citizens, as did anyone who wasn’t a white male in a society predominately run by white males. We weren’t seen as mentally able to vote, have a proper job, make important decisions, take out a loan by ourselves, stay single, stay childless, or probably go to the potty without getting our arses wiped for us by a responsible man. Those were the days, ey?
Well, we still speak that same language, which hasn’t really changed that much in the past two hundred or so years. Sure, there are lots of new vocabulary, such as ‘crunk’, ‘turnt’, and ‘rachet-ass hoe’, but the majority of modern day lexis was still in existence a century ago. Language always reflects the time in which it was created, so for example the new words of this decade, such as ‘hackable’, ‘lock screen’, and ‘high definition’, reflect the surge of improvement technology has made in recent years. Therefore, there are going to be words from long ago that really belong in another era.
Consider words like ‘promiscuous’. This can easily be applied to a man, but do you picture a man? Is it a positive word? What about ‘breadwinner’. Still picturing a chap? What about ‘police officer’, ‘fire fighter’, ‘doctor’? ‘Teacher’, ‘nurse’, ‘stay-at-home parent’? If you search the word ‘promiscuous’ into a thesaurus, words come up such as ‘wanton’, ‘oversexed’, ‘unchaste’, ‘immoral’ and ‘easy of virtue’. First of all, I think this thesaurus was assembled during the coronation of King George. Second of all, none of these words are exactly screaming ‘John from accounting’. Basically, a lot of words make guys out to be gods and girls out to be either fragile flowers or whores. Many words still carry the connotations they had back when such words were seen as negative or different. Yet we still use them, thus preserving the attitudes that so many people are trying to get rid of.
Now here’s a riddle for you:
‘Acting on an anonymous phone call, the police raid a house to arrest a suspected murderer. They don’t know what he looks like but they know his name is John and that he is inside the house. The police bust in on a carpenter, a lorry driver, a mechanic and a fireman all playing poker. Without hesitation or communication of any kind, they immediately arrest the fireman. How do they know they’ve got their man?’
The answer? John was the only man. This is a modern puzzle and yet very few people get it straight away. We’ve supposedly taken a step back from occupational stereotypes, yet I believe a women who decides to be an electrician is going to face some ridicule, and a man who decides to be a nursery nurse will face the same close-minded treatment.
But the fact is that ‘bold’, ‘brave’ and ‘strong’ should be attributed to all humans who deserve to be called so, as should ‘weak’, ‘frail’ and ‘naive’. No man is inherently tough and no women is inherently submissive, which everyone already knows, yet we still attach the suggestion to the words.
So call your husband passionate or your wife determined, your son creative or your daughter scientific, your father loving or your mother strong-willed, if that’s what they are. Words are simply sounds we make, letters we’ve invented and put in a certain order. We choose what they mean, what they suggest and who they describe.