LANGUAGE MATTERS: The ‘Gamer Babe’ Problem
Language matters. Words have meaning, often more than one. Sometimes the speaker means one thing but the listener hears another because words have histories and people have histories and those histories aren’t always the same. You speak and read, so you know this.
And you doubtless know, too, that sometimes a word that’s a term of endearment when shared among friends and family is something entirely different when used by strangers. For many women, words that evoke familiarity and closeness and intimacy feel threatening when spoken by men we don’t know. My husband calls me “sweetie” and “honey” and “babe” and I love it. For us, those words are short hand for “I love you, my best friend and life partner, and I still find you attractive and sexy.” But from a guy in a bar when I’m out with my women friends? Not so much. He doesn’t get to talk to me like that, because he doesn’t know me like that.
This is doubly true in a professional setting,. When I practiced law, I rarely - if ever - did hear them this way. Maybe I was lucky; law firms are not in any way immune to charges of sexism. Which, in a basic sense, is what this is: calling a woman you don’t know “babe” is demeaning and belittling and conveys the message that you have power over her and she is beholden to you. If that isn’t a definition of sexism - not the only one, surely, but real on the ground - I don’t know what is.
This isn’t a novel point of view, even if it’s not universally shared. There are men and women who find no fault with using - or being the subject of - such intimate names, although that doesn’t make it any less demoralizing to other women, and men. British reporter Laura Bates wrote about the language of sexism in 2012. The response was so overwhelming that she created a website - everydaysexism.com - to give voice to women who confront unequal treatment on an every day basis. The response to that website was so overwhelming that there’s now a book by the same name. It’s 2014, and we still have not figured any of this out. You know that, too.
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