She said what?

She said what?

Bella Kephart

When did society begin to accept rude, homophobic, racist, sexist jerks? Did I miss the memo? 

   Masking an insult with a “just kidding” or a “I was just being sarcastic” is easy. But it shouldn’t be.

   People need to think very carefully about the labels they use to describe others. Meaning what you say isn’t hard. We are living in the most socially-conscious society in history… right?

   To some, a phrase might seem mostly harmless, but to others, that may not be the case. As a result, drawing a definitive line between what is socially acceptable and what is not can be hard. There is no excuse, however, to be ignorant to phrases that can seriously harm others, some of which are completely useless phrases altogether.

LEVEL ONE INSULTS

   “Hey, speed up! You’re running like a girl.” “You can do girl push-ups if you can’t do real ones.” Every student has heard these phrases come from a gym teacher (or three) in various gym classes. Sadly, children knew at an early age that running “like a girl” meant running slow. “Girl push-ups” were cheater push-ups, where one put their knees on the ground instead of straight out behind you. 

   Women do tend to run slower than men. Women also tend to be less muscular, but that doesn’t justify those phrases. They’re still sexist, even if the stereotype is well-founded. 

   Now, before you call me a “feminazi,” let’s unpack how insensitive THAT phrase is. While there is such thing as an extreme feminist, there is no excuse to label them after a group of men who slaughtered innocent Jewish people by the millions. 

   I wish this was as bad as it gets, but it’s not.

 

LEVEL TWO INSULTS

 

   “She is so bipolar.” “Oh my gosh, I am so OCD.” “What a retard.” Why does society continue to normalize these phrases in a country where one in five American adults struggle with mental illness, and countless more struggle with a mental disability? 

   Conveying someone’s mood swings or attention to detail without bashing the mentally ill is simple. You don’t need to mock the mentally disabled in order to call your friend an idiot for forgetting how to spell a word.

   Phrases that carry more emphasis can be tempting. Resist the temptation; millions of Americans are silently suffering from bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and countless other mental illnesses. 

   Some phrases are less obvious than the ones aforementioned. For example, blacklisting. The Google definition of the word is “a list of people or things that are regarded as unacceptable or untrustworthy and should be excluded or avoided.” 

   Unfortunately, the phrase has a racist origin. Blacklists– as in, lists of black slaves who misbehaved and didn’t know their place. Imagine my shock when I found out the true meaning of the phrase after using it in casual conversation countless times.

   One could make the argument that the modern connotation of the word has pure intentions, that the origin is long buried in the archives of history. This argument is baseless because racism is still alive and well in the United States. There is no reason to add to the conflict by using racist language, especially inadvertently.

 

LEVEL THREE INSULTS

 

   “That is so gay.” The fact that people still say this in casual conversation is abominable. I hear my male theater friends described this way frequently. 

   What exactly is “gay” about guys participating in theater? How is acting somehow associated with homosexuals? There are members of the LGBTQ+ community who participate in all activities, from chess club to choir to football. 

   “Gay” is not an adjective one uses to insult someone. Neither is “lesbian”. So don’t use it that way.

   The same goes for any slurs to describe the LGBTQ+ community. I don’t need to list them. Just because someone is different does not mean they should be insulted as cast out. We’re all outcasts in some way. 

   Slurs aimed at any demographic are unacceptable, from the n-word for African-Americans or the r-word for those with special needs or a learning disability. The mentally ill should also be included. 

   The ubiquity of the phrase “I’m gonna kill myself” is appalling. The suicide rate in America continues to skyrocket, and yet the phrase continues to pervade everyday conversation. 

   I’ve had some close encounters with suicide.  I don’t find suicide funny.

   There’s also no reason why we can’t call “suicide” sprints something else– how about “down-and-backs”?

   The same goes for white ribbed tank tops, which are so fondly referred to as “wifebeaters.” Why does this name continue to be accepted when domestic violence is such a pressing issue in our country? They aren’t referred to as “wifebeaters” when women wear them.

   There is almost always a better substitute for a slur or insult. If there isn’t, stay silent. Remember what you learned in elementary school? The saying still applies.

   Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” We need a lot of change in our world right now, and we can start by changing the way we speak to one another.