By consistently referring to the war on Iraq as the ”war on terror”, Bush justified a bloody conflict that we have still not seen the end of today. Language is powerful. Another example: media framing of the Affordable Care Act, By reffering to it as Obamacare, turned a question of societal interest into a personal battle, with Obama as bad guy and by the way he wants to steal all of your money and give it to people who don’t deserve it. Language has the power to reinforce or break down institutions, justify war and make unreasonable opinions sound more pleasant than they actually are. But have you ever paused for a second to question which structures your own language might uphold?
I grew up in Stockholm, Sweden. You could also refer to this city halfway up the North pole as Trump’s absolute nightmare, since being politically correct is not something you use as an insult, but something you take pride in being. When moving to Amsterdam in August, I did not expect any great cultural chocks. Stockholm and Amsterdam are both relatively large, urban cities, we value freedom of choice and lifestyle and respect and appreciate diversity. Yet, I was surprised when I heard people talking. Let me take you on a semantical journey.
I don’t think that I have ever, EVER, used the word “gay” as a negative adjective. I never call a woman that wears a short skirt or dates a lot of guys a “slut” or a “whore”. I still internally cringe every time I hear a white person call someone equally white “my nigga’”. Even typing it out makes my eyes hurt, since in Stockholm, we always refer to it as “the n-word”. I know a lot of you think I’m overthinking this, but hear me out. Why are you using “gay” or “faggot” as something degrading, something you do not want to be? What image of women are we upholding if a girl can never embrace her sexuality without being trashed about it? And when it comes to the n-word, this is a word that was used as a deeply offensive slur in America, when people of African descent were kept as slaves.
What image of women are we upholding if a girl can never embrace her sexuality without being trashed about it?
I’m not calling you a homophobe, sexist or racist. The use of these words is something that is deeply internalised and most of you probably don’t mean to offend anyone. But, words are terrifyingly powerful things. If we keep on using these words as negative slurs, we might never break the structures that cause so much pain and violence throughout the world. One out of four LGBTQ people in the US have experienced hate crimes. This summer, in Sweden, approximately 40 girls were raped during concerts. Groups of young men simply surrounded girls, and forced themselves on them. Very few of these offenses lead to convictions. Not to mention the extreme racial issues in the US, where police officers get away with violence and even murders on people of colour.
Simply changing the way we talk to each other is of course not the single solution to these problems. But, if we stop calling women “sluts” we might slowly change the mentality that “no” means “yes she wants me, she’s just playing hard to get”. If we stop calling each other “faggots” we might relieve some of the tension put on the LGBTQ community. And being white, I of course can not speak for people of colour (that would be as outrageous as a guy trying to tell me what it is like being a young woman, HEY THAT HAS NEVER HAPPENED TO ME), but if you’re white, come on, just don’t use the n-word.
Stop talking, start reclaiming!
Changing the way we talk to each other is hard. We’ve grown up like this, and by now, our use of language is deeply internalised. Remember when you were kid and were told not to throw like a girl? Or when you were called or called someone a sissy for the first time? That being a slut is something negative you learn very fast as a young girl, but it has always fascinated me. What do you call a guy that sleeps around? Well nothing in particular maybe, but you might give him a highfive and a “nice bro’”. In Sweden, some are actually trying to reclaim the words, turning them into something positive. Being a “slut” then just means that you are an independent woman, embracing your sexuality. Highfive girl. But, to be able to reclaim the words, we first have to stop using them in a negative way. And to be honest, there are so many inventive ways to be rude to someone. Next time, instead of saying someone or something is “gay”, say he’s a fuck trumpet or that something felt like stepping on a piece of lego. Call him that white stringy disgusting thing on a banana or Trump’s toupee. The sky is your limit. Have a rude, politically correct 2017 everyone.
Cover: Ben White