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Grrrl Talk: How to Avoid Offensive Language

A big part of my journey as a feminist is learning and helping others learn how to be respectful of other people through the way we talk with one another. Most people typically don’t want to offend other people, but, because of the cultural stigma attached to certain words, we can often unintentionally come off as insensitive and perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Nobody wants to do that, do they? I am not going to list slurs you shouldn’t use because No. 1, it ain’t my job and No. 2, hey, you’ve got the Internet! But, I have compiled a list of ways how you, too, can begin decolonizing your mind:

ListenIf somebody feels uncomfortable with the language you’re using, listen to them. Nobody is trying to vilify you if you were unaware of an offensive term. Just try to be sympathetic and mindful of the harmful impacts it may have on others. It may not seem harmful to you, but you may be coming from a position of privilege, so try to understand where they are coming from.

Avoid using appropriated words I feel like this shouldn’t have to be explained, but it really does. If you’re not part of the group the word is used to oppress, you probably shouldn't be using it. The reason people of an oppressed group use certain terms is because they have re-appropriated them, meaning they have reclaimed and redefined something that previously was harmful and contributed to their systemic oppression. Just because they say something may not mean it’s okay for you to say it.

 Come up with alternative vocabulary We get it: Sometimes it’s hard to break a habit. But as soon as you realize that a term you’ve been using is somewhat derogatory or offensive, try to replace it with other fabulous words in your expansive vocabulary. For instance, when referring to a group of people, instead of saying “you guys,” which can come off as having sexist undertones to some, use more inclusive language like “y’all.” After all, we do live in the South.

A lot of times, we simply don’t realize we’re using harmful language because these harmful stereotypes have been ingrained in us. Before speaking, simply try asking yourself, “Can I think of anyone who would potentially be offended by this?” Generally, you can probably answer that question yourself; offensive language tends to be insensitive towards stigmatized issues such as race, gender, ability, and sexuality. My solution: If you’re going to insult anybody, just use “butthead,” otherwise, be nice, socially conscious, and watch more Portlandia.

Hello! My name is Sarah and I am currently a sophomore studying Public Relations at the beautiful University of Florida. I am a feminist, a lover of cupcakes, an admirer of the arts, and a life-long student. My goal in life is to always learn and love and to help others, as well as myself, surround themselves with good vibes.
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