People often talk about actions, but tend to overlook words. The words we use significantly shape the way we think and see the world. Womens History Month is a perfect time to stop and think about this. Lets contemplate our daily vocabulary and its effect on our perception of women in society.
Fascinating panel coordinated by MassChallenge (Female Entrepreneurs Night)
Last week I attended several events held to celebrate International Women's Day, including a fascinating panel coordinated by MassChallenge, with Michal Michaeli, Liat Mordechay, Inbal Shenfeld and Keren Elazari. I greatly enjoyed the various panel members, as well as the fantastic attendees. Each panelist presented a fascinating personal story of success, while raising (both in the conversation, and in my mind) some interesting examples of how words shape our reality.
In response to a question from the audience, Inbal referred to the common expression "...my spouse is helping out around the house" (with its different variations - "helping with the children", etc ...). Helping? Really? The man lives at home just as the woman does, and the children are their shared responsibility. It shouldn't be called helping, but partnering. The use of the word helps perpetuates the status of women as having the main responsibility for housework and childcare, while the man just has to "help" or babysit.
"Geek" is a term that would offend most children, but as adults, many successful people attribute their geekiness (in retrospect) as a major driving reason for their success. Similarly the term "tomboy" would insult the majority of girls, but many successful women, see the fact that they were "tomboys" as a prediction of their current success. These women are trying to promote a very important message - that a woman who aspires to be successful should not limit herself to cultural conventions of what is "ladylike" and what is not. Ironically, the fact that they use the word "tomboy" might convey a different message - that women who aspire to be successful should act like a man (boy), and thus may perpetuate the distinction between "feminine behavior" and masculine behavior". As an alternative, I would suggest to say When I was a child, I didnt limit myself to the social conventions of 'ladylike' or manly behaviour.
Wearing a pink dress Rina Takeda smashes stereotypes (and 15 stone roof tiles with a single hit) in a Japanese credit card commercial, for their Use your head campaign.
"Running like a girl", Throwing like a girl, Crying like a little girl all seem like harmless forms of teasing, however they are part of a bigger picture. How many of us have used the phrase Man up! or Dont be a pussy? This kind of language is so deeply ingrained in our culture that a lot of us men and women use it all the time without giving it further thought.
Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we all adopt gender stereotypes as the norm to follow and begin to judge the world based on these biases. Without further elaboration, I urge you to watch this inspirational video.
Every second of this video is worth a thousand words!
Please share with us in the comments more examples of how language affects the way we think.