Sunday, March 23, 2014

Fear of Talking

I am not the most social person. I have a tendency to sneak out of parties when no one is looking. I struggle with what to say particularly if I am sober and surrounded by people I don't know. Nowadays, it is worse than ever.  There are so many words I can't say anymore. I have to scan the room to figure out which ones are off limits. My vocabulary depends largely on the race, age and gender of the crowd. The C word is out, N word is out, F word is out. Not that I want to use these words, but hey, I'd like the option of choosing my own words. I've been doing so since I was a child and I am good at it. And if I wanted to talk about these words, perhaps about their histories or if I quoted someone that actually used these words ... no, not even that is allowed. I used to enjoy my freedom of speech.

I can't use the R word, especially if there are any mentally challenge people around. Context doesn't matter. If I were to say to someone that "the growth of the economy has been retarded by foreign imports" ... I am fairly certain I would get dirty looks. I said the R word and that's all that matters. I must be the scum of the Earth.

I have a friend that hates the word "sucks" which really sucks for me because I love this word. Before I talk, I have to make sure she is not around, because I don't want to deal with that. Believe me, I am so afraid to say the wrong word, I feel like I need to bring a checklist with me when I leave the house. I'd call "sucks" the S word, but I hear that there already is an S word and that it is really stupid.

Now I just learned that I cannot say the word "bossy."  It is banned. Specifically, you can't call little girls the B word. Not that B word! Okay, I guess we can't say either of them to little girls. What if I want to read Bossy Pants to a little girl? Okay, not a good idea either. I don't think I have ever called a little girl bossy, but I hear it is common in school. Girls get called "bossy" when they are being assertive. Boys get called "aggressive" or "bullies," apparently that is okay. No need to ban those.

The fear is that we are squashing assertiveness in girls, while boys have a lot of other venues to promote assertiveness. Our double standards hold girls down. Promoting assertiveness in girls is a good goal. I have no issues with that. I am not sure banning the word "bossy" will do much for this. The attitude needs to change, not our vocabularies. People will just use another word. If banning the word changes the attitude that girls shouldn't be assertive, I'm all for it but I seriously doubt if it will do that. All banning words does is shut down discourse. It is better to say nothing at all for fear of social isolation. A person can't be shunned for saying nothing, right?

For one, the behavior that produces the "bossy" comments is not assertiveness. The best bosses I have had (both male and female) were not bossy but were assertive. They were diplomatic. Bossiness is not good behavior. Assertiveness yes, bossiness no. So if people are using the word "bossy" when a girl is being assertive that is bad. So don't ban the word, just use a more positive word to promote assertiveness. But if a little girl is being bossy, (aka a jerk, aggressive or a bully) but all means use it.  Use these other words as well. If you ban "bossy" what are you going to say to her instead? Just let her be bossy. If a boy does this behavior, we have a ton of words to stop him. Apparently, we have one for girls. Shouldn't we be more concerned that people aren't treating them the same. Instead of banning a word, shouldn't we be promoting equal treatment. Shouldn't we be calling boys "bossy" when they are being bossy and call girls "aggressive" when they are being aggressive?

Another approach would be to turn it around to something positive. When I was a kid being called a "nerd" or "geek" wasn't a compliment. You were considered a weirdo that couldn't get dates and probably read a lot of science fiction. You were on A.V. Club, the Chess club and played Dungeons and Dragons. After years of seeing "nerds" and "geeks" taking over the world ... suddenly, it is not so bad to be called these words. It has become a badge of honor. Instead of preventing people from using a word ... take it back.  "You are bossy, girl!"

The one good thing that Ban Bossy movement has done is that it has gotten people to talk about the double standards on how we treat boys and girls. Their web site has a lot of good suggestions on promoting assertiveness for girls that have nothing to do with this word. Also, the Girl Scouts have been doing this sort of stuff for years. A lot of them are really awesome. Not sure why banning another word has become a thing. But hey, if it is easier for you take away another word from my vocabulary, I guess I will have to deal with it. Pile it on. I will walk around in a state of complete anxiety fearing the use of the wrong word.  It will be another reason not to reach out to people for random conversations. The more you attempt to homogenize a diverse world, the less we will mix.

I am slowly becoming less upset with other people choosing my words for me. I am starting to feel liberated. With other people choosing my words, I have no responsibility for what I say anymore. That means eventually I will be able to say anything and I am not to blame, the crowd is.

1 comment:

Olga Hebert said...

In the special education world, there was a mission to stamp out "retard", "Tard". "retarded" in school. It worked. Those words were replaced with "SPED" as is that is so sped or you're a sped (Special education). I do think it is not the words themselves but the attitude, and the unthinking, unexamined attitudes behind them that have the power to wound. I agree with you that banning words is ineffective. But the discussion that you bring up IS important. Too bad more people don't join in. Thinking about what comes out of our mouths is not a bad thing.