Chick. Gal. Dame. Babe. Diva. Girly. Lass. Mama. Ma’am. Lady. Woman. Female.
You’ve probably heard one or many of these words in your lifetime. And upon hearing one of these words and without being told, I’m guessing you immediately thought of a specific gender.
It’s incredible to think about the linguistic cultural norms of different societies and how deeply entrenched they can be. Now, some of these words could be considered offensive and derogatory, and some are respectful and maybe even endearing, depending on the context.
What I haven’t listed, are all the extremely offensive words that have been created in American slang to call a woman. But I can think of something much worse than any of these unlisted words.
Can you imagine living in a society where the predominant language doesn’t even include a word for ‘woman’?
“The Three Deadliest Words in the World”
I recently attended a film screening for It’s a Girl – The Three Deadliest Words in the World. This documentary, directed by Evan Grae Davis, educates viewers about female gendercide, a word that refers to the systematic killing of members of a specific sex. In the film, Evan travels to India and China to reveal this age-old war against females.
Watching the film was heartbreaking and eye-opening at the same time. The particular screening I attended in Phoenix, Ariz., was hosted by Disciple Nations Alliance (DNA). Darrow Miller, co-founder of DNA and long-time Food for the Hungry staff person, spoke to the audience after the screening.
This is where I learned something about linguistics and the power of words.
Darrow spoke about his experiences traveling around the world and hearing a consistent theme of the mistreatment and devaluation of women. For instance, in two countries he asked community leaders what the word for woman was in their respective languages. The male leaders in both communities looked confused and said, ‘We don’t have a word for woman in our language.’ In one community, women were merely called ‘tools.’ In another, the word ascribed to a female was slave. Whether the devaluation of women is expressed in language or other ways, it is a pervasive issue ALL around the world.
My mouth nearly dropped open upon hearing these stories.
Normally, when I think about violence against women, whether it be sexual abuse, physical abuse, infanticide, female trafficking, rape, dowry-related violence, and more, I don’t think about linguistics. It’s no wonder that such violence occurs when women are only seen as tools or slaves. What’s worse is that women are raised to believe these cultural norms, therefore accepting the violence (and even death) that ensues.
Words are extremely powerful. Even Scripture points out the power of words many times.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. (Proverbs 18:21)
After learning more about the widespread and ongoing violence against women worldwide, this Scripture has taken on a new and literal meaning for me. I hope it does for you too.
It’s actually quite coincidental that I was able to watch It’s a Girl so recently, because on November 25, people around the world will recognize International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
This day, designated by United Nations in 1999, invites governments, international organizations and NGOs to raise awareness of the issue.