Hey all, Hannah here again.
So at the time of writing this, I am in the middle of getting ready to move across to Glasgow to start university, so things are pretty busy at the moment! In just a couple of weeks, I’ll be meeting a tonne of new people, studying a subject of great interest to me (psychology, if anyone was wondering) and I'll finally be living close enough to the rest of the FYFTeam to allow me to do more work with them, so as you can imagine I'm pretty excited! However, it also means I'll be pretty busy for a wee while once I've settled in, so I wanted to write one last blog before I dive into student life (there will be more soon enough though!) So for this blog, I wanted to write about something that I've been observing for a while which, for many people, isn't even recognised as an issue; our society's use of language and in particular, slurs. Slurs have become part of many of our everyday vocabularies, and whilst many people may not see the problem in this, it can actually have a bigger impact than you might think.
Language has power. You only have to look at how our language has evolved over a mere a number of decades to see how it affects our day-to-day lives. This power that language holds means that words and their meanings become ingrained in our subconscious thought - rarely do we put much thought into the words we are using when conversing with others. This lack of conscious thought can lead to some people using slurs (words that refer to an individual or a group of people in a disrespectful, pejorative or insulting manner) in place of other, more appropriate words (“ugh, that’s so gay!”). This is part of a cycle of cause and effect; by using slurs in our everyday vocabulary, we are reinforcing in our own minds and the minds of others that these words are negative ones, but also that they're okay to use, furthering the problem of intolerance for the groups of people these slurs are used against.
“But I’m not actually racist/sexist/homophobic! I was only saying it for a joke, I didn't mean it in the offensive way!” This is often seen as justification for using slurs, however this attitude only adds to the problem. By using slurs and offensive language, not only are you subconsciously reinforcing the idea that to belong to a certain group of people is a negative thing, but you are ignoring the fact that the majority of people belonging to that group will find it offensive. For example, when I hear someone throwing the word “slut” around, either as an insult or as a joke, as a woman I find that offensive. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s a guy or a girl using it (in fact, it worries me more when I hear a girl use it, because it makes me think “what kind of society do we live in where girls will openly shame and disrespect other girls like that?”) or whether it is meant to offend or not, because at the end of the day, the person using it is making a number of statements to me: 1) I determine a woman’s worth by what she chooses to do with her body, 2) To be a “slut” is a bad thing and deserving of public shaming and ridicule, and 3) I don’t respect women enough to not pass judgement on what she does with her body, or to make an effort to use language that doesn’t demean women. Discrimination is not confined to actively hating a group of people or consciously doing something to offend them; we are all guilty of sometimes saying or doing things that can be considered offensive. The important thing though, is to recognise this, consider how our words and actions may be taken by others, and then change them accordingly.
Throughout history, slurs have been used to dehumanize and insult a number of different people. It is important that we respect that and take a couple of seconds to think of another word to use in place of the slur - it’s such a small action, but if everyone took this small step to challenge offensive language, the impact could change the way we as a society think about the groups of people in question, which would help massively in the fight against intolerance and prejudice.
So next time you hear from me, I will officially be a Psychology Undergraduate (!!!) but until then, peace out.