Oppression and power show up in many different ways within our culture. Attitudes, behaviors, and norms play a role in upholding power imbalances, contributing to sexual violence and rape culture. In the “What do you mean?” series we explore the use and power of language and offers suggestions on how to communicate mindfully.  The first blog in this series discussed the ways language can contribute to and uphold oppression, power imbalances, and rape culture.

Language reflects oppression and inequality because oppression and inequality are part of our culture.  We may not recognize these forces, such as racism, sexism, or ableism, because they feel like an inevitable part of life, or “that’s just the way things are.” Because of this, we may be less likely to identify something as harmful and we are bound to unintentionally hurt others or continue to support these norms.

This is okay.

All we can do is try our best and keep moving toward a more respectful culture.

Being mindful of the words we use requires practice. Even the most seasoned folks will still make mistakes.

So what happens when someone expresses discomfort with something we said? What can we do?

  1. Stop and pay attention. Our gut reaction may be to get defensive. “Lighten up!” “Stop picking apart words!” Instead, try tapping into your empathy. Someone has just expressed hurt from something said—how would we feel in this situation? It is brave to speak up when anyone says something hurtful and we can acknowledge that. Also, just because you said a hurtful thing does not make you a bad person. We may have unintentionally hurt someone, but our reaction afterwards is within our control and can make a big difference.
  2. Apologize. Once we have listened and processed our mistake, we can own up to it and acknowledge that we said something harmful. “You’re right, I’m sorry I said that. It was not okay.” Again, this does not make you a bad person. We can own up to our mistakes and then move forward.
  3. Practice. We unintentionally said something harmful—let’s be intentional and avoid repeating that in the future. Getting rid of oppressive language in our vocabulary is no easy feat, but practicing will bring us closer to our goal of creating safer spaces.