Language is an extremely powerful tool, because it can bring objects of our imagination into our reality. In fact, language is the vehicle through which we describe and understand reality. There is even a language between you and your dog. If your dog is hungry and he stands on his head, you wouldn’t know what to make of it. But he has figured out that in order to make you understand that he is hungry, he has to carry his food bowl and put it at your feet. Thus the idea is successfully transferred and he gets fed, because the syntax matches and you “get it.” This is nothing more than language.
However, language is also a potentially dangerous thing.
A lot of us don’t know it, but our culture is infused with several biases that manifest themselves in our language. For example, subject-object dualism. I’m not getting into that now, my only point is to tell you to be very careful of language.
As a far simpler example, take a look at how English is a very chauvinistic language. It is very harsh on the female members of our species. And as we use certain phrases or words, even if we personally have no ill intention and are using them only as the standard colloquialism, these phrases and words unconsciously spread this mindset that women are somehow inferior. It is our responsibility to recognize this and seek then to change or remove these harmful phrases from our daily lexicon.
Take this very simple example: “Be a man.” When uttered, it is a challenge to which most guys cannot fall back from. Their very status as a man has been questioned.
Well, this phrase is somehow taken to mean that it is virtuous to be a man, and that somehow the opposite, or being a woman, is to be frowned upon. And even if you don’t mean this, it brings into reality from the imagination the notion that women are somehow inferior.
So let’s examine this: If to “be a man” is virtuous, what does it mean to be a woman? It is taken to mean being weak, indecisive, and pretty much useless. However, your mother is a woman, and she brought you into the world. It would seem to me that to tell someone to “be a woman” is to tell them to be nurturing, caring, and loving. I submit, then, that to “be a woman” in that sense should come as a compliment. But say this to one of your macho male friends on his next alcohol-infused patriarchal bender, and see how he takes it.
So let’s look at the phrase “Be a man” and try and figure out what it means. It can be used in almost any situation such as, “Dude, we all jumped off your roof into the pool, now be a man and do it,” or “Bro, you know she digs you, now be a man and ask her out.”
Well, what it seems to me is that it is saying “be decisive.” To be more exact, it says “You know what the right decision is, now stop dilly-dallying around and do it.” Interesting. Why, then, should this phrase be limited to one gender?
It seems that what is being asked of “the man” is to be a strong, decisive human being. So can we then replace “Be a man” with simply, “Be strong”? As in, “stop fucking around and do what you know is right.”
Now you’ll tell me that that’s no fun. Russell Peters would have missed out on an entire bit of his act if not for this phrase. And besides, YOU respect women, YOU know it’s all in good humor, so why not use it? Well, not everyone is intelligent as you, and this is a fact that you will have to get used to. These harmless little phrases or things we do become part of the culture and effect the way people view the world, and the way they view reality. It becomes integrated into our way of life.
And it’s hard on men, too. If a little boy grows up hearing “Be a man” as an exhortation to “be better” in some way, he will automatically assume that to be a man is to be superior somehow. Also, this notion that men always have to be decisive alpha-males takes its toll as well. How many guys have done something stupid, like the roof-jumping example above, just to prove to his friends that “he is a man”? And if that phrase rings true, then it means that to be a man means to always cater to the whims of your peers, no matter how moronic or potentially dangerous those whims are. In other words, it means “to be a sheep.”
None of these gender specific words should be used in a pejorative sense for the same reason. There is no reason you should call anyone a “dick” or a “cunt.” Rather, why not just stick to calling them an “asshole?” It is gender neutral, everyone has one, and moreover it relays the sentiment perfectly.
So the lesson here is to BE CAREFUL WITH LANGUAGE. Language carries the biases of the culture, and if we are going to cure the world from the sick culture we have inherited, we have to approach it from all sides.
And if you have 8 minutes, listen to (who else) Terence McKenna talk about how language is magic, and reality is made of language. Yes, there’s a nice video and trippy music.