Although I hate to admit it I have not been a feminist my whole life, preferring an imagined life as a radical flower child. Not for any particular reason other than I was uneducated about the movement and did not take my first class until I was in college. *Quick side-note: this has made me passionate about bringing women’s issues education to K-12 institutions.* Before that life-changing course, feminism was something I knew about and although I always "wanted women’s rights," I never identified as a feminist. Needless to say, that has all changed.
When I think back on my non-feminist life, I see sexist instances that I ignored, or places I could have spoken out that will be forever out of my grasp to change – after all, they are in the past. Then I get e-mails like the one I received today from my college service fraternity and I am reminded that there are things I can fight to change now:
“This e-newsletter is in addition to the communications you are already receiving from the Fraternity -- not a replacement. The brothers who receive this e-newsletter have an updated e-mail address on file with the National Office.” (emphasis mine)
Brother? Fraternity? How can I identify with something that completely ignores that my gender exists within the framework of the organization? I am not the only female within this organization; this e-mail comes from a community service group made up of both men and women. Attendance for women at universities is on the rise, and mine in particular had more women than men, but still we are labeled as FreshMEN during our first year.
Once you start looking into it these examples are all over the place: congressman, policeman, fireman, history, etc. A favorite of mine is the “you guys” statement that I have been known to get into arguments about, especially when it is said to a group of all women.
I understand why people tell me these are “just things we say,” but I truly believe that it is harmful to women’s issues to use sexist language. By using exclusionary language we undermine women’s power and significance in our daily lives and I would rather be seen as a complainer than stand by and let it happen.
*For more reading, please read the sexist language paper my Sociology Professor gave us on the first day: Why Sexist Language Matters