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The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

Addy’s Advice: Women’s History Month


Warning: This article contains mentions of rape, sexual assault, violence towards women and swear words.

Dear Reader,

Language is hard. Words have complicated meanings, connotations and can even have horrible histories of oppression. On top of that, the meanings of words are always changing. A word that used to be widely accepted may seem derogatory now, and a word that used to be considered derogatory may now be widely accepted.

As someone who is a member of many different marginalized groups, I have often felt targeted by someone else’s language. However, I have also had moments when I didn’t know the right word. I’d find myself second-guessing the word I wanted to use, mentally crossing it out and choosing another word, only to decide that one was bad too. Then I’d just stay silent. I’d decide that no words were better than potentially hurtful ones, and then spend hours combing the internet for different opinions on what to say. All this to say, I don’t judge people who don’t know the right words all the time, as long as they’re willing to learn. So, if you’re interested in learning about some vocabulary related to Women’s History Month, keep reading!

What is feminism?

Feminism is the belief that women deserve equal rights politically, economically and socially. This does not mean that feminists want more rights than men or that feminist women hate more traditionally feminine roles. Rather, feminism means uplifting everyone! It’s also important to remember that feminism simply means that a woman should not be forced into a role she doesn’t want to have. A CEO can be a feminist and so can a housewife.

What is the patriarchy? Where is it present?

The patriarchy is a societal system designed to advantage men. This includes the glass ceiling, which is a barrier within professional environments that prevents marginalized groups from advancing, especially minorities and women. This does not mean that women are less competent, rather, it means that women are more likely to face challenges such as having to take days off if their kids are sick, which makes them seem less reliable, and therefore they will get passed over for promotions.

The patriarchy also supports in rape culture, which is an environment in which rape and sexual violence are both normalized and rationalized. Phrases like “she asked for it” or “what was she wearing?” are a part of rape culture. Teaching women how to ‘avoid’ getting raped, assuming that only weak men get raped, refusing to acknowledge rape accusations or assuming that men “cannot help themselves” around women are also all examples of how this rape culture manifests itself in our society.

Toxic masculinity is another part of the patriarchy. It is a set of norms that requires men to suppress emotions, which causes them to respond to emotional distress with violence and use aggression to display control. This negatively impacts men because suppressing emotions is incredibly unhealthy, and it negatively affects women because it can create dangerous environments.

The patriarchy also leads to the excusal of men’s behavior and pushes the burden onto women. For example, in elementary school, oftentimes young boys will bully girls in their classes. If the girls complain about it, they will be told that “boys will be boys” or “that means he likes you.” This not only teaches the boys that cruelty and violence towards women are acceptable and will go unpunished, but it also teaches girls that bullying and mean behavior are healthy ways to show affection.

Are words like b*tch offensive?

The word b*tch is used to refer to a “malicious, spiteful or overbearing woman” per the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Although many people, including women, use the word b*tch conversationally, it still holds negative implications. I personally don’t like when men use the word b*tch, especially when referring to a woman, but since the word has become so normalized, I don’t think that we’re at a point where that would be a realistic suggestion. Rather, everyone needs to be mindful of the context in which they are using it. Try not to use it in ways that reinforce sexist values like comparing “weak” men to b*tches or calling powerful women b*tches. Most importantly, do not use the word b*tch to refer to someone unless you know that they are comfortable with it. A lot of women have had very negative experiences with the word b*tch including being catcalled or harassed.

Who is impacted by feminism?

Feminism and women’s rights impact everyone. Of course, when talking about women’s history we also have to acknowledge intersectionality, which is how different parts of someone’s identity might interact. Feminism applies to all women, which means that ensuring that trans women and women of color are included in the conversation is incredibly important. When the conversation centers only around white cisgender women it ignores transgender women and women of color, who face increased risks. Supporting women means supporting all women.

That’s all my advice for now!

Your favorite logophile (lover of words),

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