Words are weapons of mass destruction.
I am going to pile a bunch of words together to make two obvious hastily generalising remarks. They may appear disjointed at first, but I will work my way to conjoining them in a stream-of-consciousness-type narrative eventually.
Women are complacent in perpetuating a patriarchal world.
Patriarchy sucks hard for men too but they’re too [a]shamed to admit it.
But back to words.
Gossip is a low denomination, high impact form of words as weapons. A targeted warfare against an idea, event or person.
Propaganda is a raised octave of the same variety.
In yonder years (like a two decades ago): gossip was THE mechanism for curating the behaviour of ‘the softer sex’ and weaving the intricate paths of differenciating between social norms and deviances.
At a time when there was no easier, quicker way of launching a war of words because text messages cost a bunch of money, the web needed things like a ‘modem’; social media was chat rooms that teenagers populated in the evenings to hear their more confident, less pimply alter ego voices emerge; and news papers went to ‘print’ in the late hours of the night while teens typed out their awkward lustful banter. what gossip didn’t achieve in swaying hearts and minds, propaganda did via media outlets of news and entertainment.
Cut to present day, where the war of ideas, values and beliefs has been submerged with platforms of communication and content; where gossip and propaganda morph together and subversively inform and entertain us rapidly, instantly and constantly on our various screens. From a WhatApp group to a Facebook page, via an Instagram account or a website, in magazines, adverts, music videos, films and TV shows; while for many of us the alternate narrative of women being ‘strong’ or ‘stronger’ sex has emerged triumphant, the truth is that it is very much a closed circuit of like-mindedness and algorithm matching rather than a reflection of the stark reality that sexism exists.
Patriarchy is very much still at large. And what’s worse, is that it has used the advancement of technology to cloak its ugly face and propel our feelings, opinions and actions subliminally and effectively.
So much so that it has women who are intelligent, thoughtful, deliberate choice makers and conscious consumers sprinting, hand-stand-walking and ‘soul’-cycling their lives into a frenzy of leaning-in and fist fighting toxicity from their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Toxicity control of what enters our orifices (sorry) and those of our loved ones is hard work. Training our actions, thoughts and feelings to be more gender neutral is very hard work. Adding a filter from sexist messaging for our daughters is consuming. And at times, adding a filter from sexist messaging for our sons is doubly so.
But destructive words can go undetected. And these words can be effective weapons of fueling gender stereotypes, sexist mindsets and nurturing the patriarchal machine of daily life.
But let’s focus in on the simplicity and striking nature of words.
‘They told me I can’t play because girls are not as good at football.’
‘If he hits me, I wont be able to do anything because boys are stronger than girls.’
‘I don’t want to wear my favourite shorts anymore because someone told me blue is for boys.’
‘They laughed and said unicorns are for babies and girls.’
‘Is it ok that its sticking out, because I thought tummies should be flat or curved inwards.’
‘Really? getting holes in my ears may hurt a little? So maybe its alright if it hurts to look nice?’
These are statements that my girls have regurgitated to me over the last year. I recoiled in horror then and my ears still burn even now. And before the judges judge and the haters hate; let me precede you to say that, yes, these statements are symptomatic of what they are privy to in their circles of influence. That in fact is the very point.
We are very much a household that bends most gender stereotypes and from who wears blue, who does what chores and both my girls have witnessed me exert the physical strength of a bull when needed. Both of them were signed up to football, neither have had their ears pierced and my tummy is far from being flat let alone curved inwards. We don’t leave vanity magazines laying around nor do we have the TV on for fear that adverts trickle their messages through. And yet, despite all that, here I am mitigating while being careful not to pronounce the damage that these seemingly innocent phrases can perpetuate.
To me it’s heart wrenching to imagine that my daughters would think that any pain is well worth the vanity, that women’s physique ‘should be’ any one way, or that something imaginary like a unicorn is so preposterous to believe in that only babies or girls can believe they exist. Let alone that they would double-take before fighting their corner because they have to take into account that the person infringing on them is a boy (scientifically girls’ and boys’ lungs, bone and muscle density, hand-eye coordination grow differently at different times and so at any given time one gender has the potential to be physically more capable than the other depending also on external variables of stimulus and training). I find it particularly enraging to fathom that my daughters may feel inclined to resist, doubt, fight or dumb down any instinct or response they may have on that account that it is ‘girlie’.
But then, its as troubling for me to also imagine what these messages might do to my son. I want my son to exert any and all interests in colours and imaginary creators of his choosing, to relish in the knowledge that people come in all shapes and sizes. I want him to be exposed to environments of education and athleticism that help him experience the variety and complexitiy of mental and physical skill and stamina that gender neutrality in the classroom and the playground perpetuate. And I absolutely want him to understand that if he is about throw a punch at someone, that there is a solid 50/50 chance he will get his butt kicked whether the contender is male or female. But more so, that there are more important ways he can get his butt kicked and that is in the intellectual and emotional proverbial sense of the phrase; and that training for that kind of battle is as valuable if not more so even if some deem it less ‘manly’.
Both genders have a lot to gain from ‘girlie’ things. If we understand how the female mind and body actually work, we will understand that there are a myriad of processes and behaviours often typecast as ‘feminine’ that should be championed and taught. Gender binarism of ultimate masculinity and femininity is blind siding and limiting for a complex species living in a very complex world, where boys are humiliated from crying and girls are ostracied for being assertive.
Think of all the derivative outcome in adulthood that boys concealing their emotions has on both men and women in navigating their relationships. Think of all the residual confusion of a female expressing angst being dismissed as a ‘drama queen’ and a male’s assertiveness being re-labelled as ‘strength’ and what problems this creates in the future homes and in the workplaces of this world. You don’t even need to look deep into the future, actually, just looking within ourselves and at the life we lead, we are more influenced by sexism and patriarchy, and restrained in our notions of self, of identity, of morality, in our behaviour even as consumers and in our lifestyle choices than we can detect or care to admit.
If my children are not getting these gender cues from me but are still toying with these formulations of gender dynamics; and, similarly, if some people don’t even think their children are developing gender cues to some extent or in some variation because they’ve never verbalised them – then this only goes to demonstrate how hard hitting and how silent the war of words is.
This losing battle is a direct correlation between how complacent we as women can be in letting nuanced, daily sexism just rush over us because we may not want to be mistaken for ‘drama queens’ or worse ‘feminists’! And how shamed or ashamed men are for admitting that the patriarchal world is a heavy load to bear and an exhausting way to exist because its unmanly to show weakness or fear.
Words are powerful. They can be tools of empowerment and positive change. We don’t need to look beyond our Twitter feeds and Netflix suggested viewings to know that. But those very trends and the changes in the world that they’re underpinning only mean that patriarchy is learning to co-exist by fading between the lines, and letting the noise of the world busy us from comprehending that the status quo is largely being maintained; if not in the minuscule circles we think we occupy, then in the larger bubbles that we will inevitably collide with.
Words are particularly powerful when they are used to inquire, explore and understand. When they are followed by question marks rather than exclamation points or full-stops. That is where positive change can be ignited.
“Do you have fun when you play football?’
“Do you remember when so and so happened and you stood up for your friend and didn’t run away or hide behind anyone? Do you think you were strong then?”
“Aren’t you a girl who likes blue?”
“Look around us, can you see how many different women and body shapes we see around us? Can you think of all the wonderful things our bodies can do? What are some awesome things your body can do?”
“Why do you want to have earrings?’
Words. My absolute favourite ones often come out of my children’s mouths. A real encapsulation of the potential of winning the war of words came in the form of a throwaway comment my daughter said following the comment on unicorns being for babies and girls. “I hope my brother grows up to love unicorns and he can stand up to the boy in my class and prove to him that everyone is different.”
That is a conversation starter if I have ever heard one…don’t you think?