Wednesday Word: What We Mean When We Speak About Women.

May I have a Wednesday Word with you?

Weeks later, and I am still thinking of Michelle Obama’s brilliant, master class of a speech in the wake of Donald Trump’s gross and vile statements recorded while he was working (and not palling around in a locker room). That’s a testament to how powerful her speech was. I also am thinking of the near-universal outrage expressed after the release of the recording.

But all outrage is not equal. And it was a reminder for us all to take greater care when we write and speak about each other as human beings. Take a look at the following quotes.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “As the father of three daughters, I strongly believe that Trump needs to apologize directly to women and girls everywhere, and take full responsibility for the utter lack of respect for women shown in his comments on that tape.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified. I hope Mr. Trump treats this situation with the seriousness it deserves and works to demonstrate to the country that he has greater respect for women than this clip suggests.”

how-not-to-sound-sexist

Illustration by Leah Goren for TIME Magazine

I appreciate their outrage, but look deeper at their statements. “As the father of three girls” and “championed and revered” lessen the impact of what otherwise would have been strong statements.

Why? Two reasons. The first statement makes it seem as if women only can be spoken about in relation to other men, as if it takes a man to validate us human beings. The “championed and revered” phrase in the second statement otherizes and patronizes women, as if we are some sort of odd creatures instead of–wait for it–human beings.

 

Emily L. Hauser perfectly captures this sense:

Women don’t deserve to be treated with the respect due any human being because we’re someone’s daughter — we deserve to be treated with the respect due any human being because we’re human beings. And if you insist on championing and revering us, what happens when you decide we’re no longer worthy of your efforts?

As does Frank Bruni:

I object to it as the citizen of a civilized society. I object to it because it threatens the people I don’t know as well as the people I do. I object to it because it’s wrong.

Think of how much more powerful Sen. McConnell’s statement would have been had he said, Trump needs to apologize directly to women and girls everywhere.

That statement would have been succinct, powerful and in a neat twist–would not have diminished half the population.

human-rights-now

Courtesy NOW

How we write and speak reflects what we value. Or not.

In our writing and speaking, make sure women are described as people. Full people. Not in relation to men or as super shiny creatures, but as fully formed human beings.
It’s the accurate–and right–thing to do.
And that’s your Wednesday Word.
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