Using “girly” as a derogatory term

9 Jan

Many people were in an uproar over Ann Coulter’s use of the word “retard” during the Presidential debates. I grew up using this word as slang to call someone stupid or uncool. In high school, as many kids began using “gay” as a derogatory term to mean similar things. As I was heavily involved with gay acceptance at my high school, I frequently admonished people who called things “gay”. It was then that I realized calling something “retarded” to say it was uncool was also uncool

It’s true that the word “retard” means something non-disparaging – to delay the development of, or a slowing down – and it makes sense why this word was once used to describe people with physical and mental challenges. Once it started being hurled as an epithet, it’s appropriate for us to take it out of common usage. It’s debasing to people who have a disability by implying that someone with a physical or mental disability is somehow worth less than those who do not.

This is the issue that I have with men using phrases like “don’t be such a girl” or “like a girl”. Many modern men don’t feel females are less than males in value. My husband says he certainly doesn’t – but I’ve heard him use “like a girl” in a derogatory way. Use of the word “girl” or “girly” in this way says that being a girl is inferior to being a boy. This perpetuates the inequality of women in society.

There’s a Madonna lyric that perfectly illustrates my point:

But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading
Cause you think being a girl is degrading”

Substitute “look” for any verb – act, play, hit, sound, etc.

We don’t need to disparage women in order to encourage men to behave in a different way. Besides, is it really valuable to our boys to say “you <blank> like a girl”? Maybe we shouldn’t be disparaging our boys either. How about offering constructive criticism instead?

I know many people, my husband included, would argue that it’s just casual speech and doesn’t mean anything. I argue that the language we use is important. I believe it conveys how we really think and feel. This is why I have consciously stopped using the word “gay” or “retarded” when I really mean “undesirable”. In my heart, I believe homosexuals and physically/mentally challenged people are just part of the rich fabric of society and are not inferior to others in any way. Why would I want to imply that  when I communicate? Words MEAN something, and we should take care to ensure the words we speak mean what we intend.

So, look deep in your heart. Is being female inferior to being a boy? If you truly believe in gender equality, encourage your loved ones to stop using “girl” or “girly” in a derogatory way.

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