What do Babies, Dogs, and Chicks Have in Common?
Updated: Dec 9, 2021
My debut novel, Weight of A Woman, was initially titled Feminist Guru, but then a friend in publishing said to me, “really? The F word? Well, that’s going to turn people off right away.”
Words are more powerful than we think. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me is a big lie. Sticks and stones may very well break your bones, but bones heal, while the names they call you will fester in your mind until they cement themselves in every cell of your body, leading to ill (mental and physical) health.
In his article, “Pricks” and “Chicks”: A Plea for Persons, the philosopher Robert Baker tells us just how much words matter in shaping our lives and affecting our very health. Chick, Dog, Baby, among so many other colloquial terms used to describe women (as sexual objects), have connotations, right? A chick is a tiny, helpless bird, while a dog is a domesticated animal trained to be obedient, and a baby a dependent, tender, fragile being. Since the way we talk about things affects the way we think about and, ultimately, act towards those things, words matter; a lot. While Baker’s article focuses on the long-term effects of these words on women, we could (and should) extend this to people of color, LBGTQ+, immigrants, and other marginalized communities.
Marginalized groups’ lives are more heavily shaped (and controlled) by words than they are for White people, straight people, or men. For example, the word “cracker” (used to describe White people) is meant to be derogatory, but in a world where White people, straight people, male people are more likely to be in positions of power (and control), those words just don’t carry the same weight, or have the same impact as they do on marginalized communities. Social Media, for all the damage it has wrought (much of it on White teenage girls), has served as a salve for the marginalized, providing a forum to come together and/or voice (experiences) when there is no other outlet. #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, #ICantBreathe #Queer, #MuslimGirl #ICantKeepQuiet #QueerBook.
When my friend the publisher said to me, “If you want people to read your story, give it a name that won’t connote a loathsome image,” I got the point. I know that during the great plague of Covid, a blog on the power of the word might seem a tad trivial. Words. Who cares? Well, we should care, because if we forget that words matter while we’re busy trying to survive Covid, then we might save lives at the expense of our humanity. We can save both. Step out in kindness, friends.