Words Matter

By Maxine Todd, NOW PAC Intern

Even with a strong feminist history, it is still hard to fully deconstruct implicit biases we’ve all been socialized to have. Since elementary school girls who talk too much are looked down upon as social butterflies or chatty cathys who gossip too much, while boys can talk just as much and no one says a thing. Little girls who try to take leadership roles are seen as “bossy,” a stigma that is often carried into adulthood. Throughout human history words and phrases have developed connotations far beyond their actual meanings. That said, just because a meaning isn’t listed under the word in question in the dictionary, doesn’t mean that connotation doesn’t shape the effect the word has.

Accusing women of shouting has long been used effectively to silence women in the workplace and in the public sphere. This is especially prominent with the societal trope of the “angry black woman.” This trope has been used over and over to tell the majorities that it’s okay not to listen to the valid complaints and outcries of black women over issues such as systemic racism and sexism if the listener deems woman’s “tone” or “volume” unacceptable or impolite. I was in the crowd during the Hillary Rally in Alexandria, VA, the day after the Benghazi hearing, when she said “[b]ut sometimes when women speak, people think we’re shouting.” This resonated with me, not because of a connection to Bernie Sanders’ comment during the debate about “all the shouting in the world” but because her statement describes real, lived experiences for me.

I have had fellow student leaders tell me to “stop shouting” when I was simply speaking about subjects I am passionate about. I have heard teachers chastise fellow female students in classes for “being too loud.” And I have seen headlines like this one from the Daily Mail based on research from Yale confirming that societal stereotype that when women are assertive they’re seen as aggressive. When women take charge they’re seen as bossy.

Even if Bernie Sanders wasn’t intentionally being sexist during the debate, he was utilizing a tactic that has long been used to silence women. Senator Sanders responded to Hillary’s calmly made points against him on gun rights by saying, “[a]s a senator from a rural state, what I can tell Secretary Clinton, that all the shouting in the world is not going to do what I would hope all of us want…” That response implicitly links Hillary Clinton’s previous statement with “all the shouting in the world” even though she wasn’t shouting, and that link implies that it’s okay to ignore her remarks on his voting record because they were meaningless shouts.

Image Via: Flickr


His response to Governor O’Malley, “[h]ere is the point, governor. We can raise our voices. But I come from a rural state, and the views on gun control in rural states are different than in urban states, whether we like it or not. Our job is to bring people together around strong, common-sense gun legislation” would have worked equally well in response to Clinton. So why didn’t he say this instead? Possibly because portions of our society still believe that men like Sanders and O’Malley can, in fact, “raise [their] voices” and still be taken seriously. Madeleine Kunin, the first female Governor of Vermont points out, “[m]en can shout and Bernie is a very good shouter. But we’re women. Women raise their voices and it’s considered unseemly. We’re still subconsciously seeing women as different — Bernie should just be careful. To accuse a woman of shouting makes her unattractive.”

I would echo her statement. Bernie, please be careful with the language you use and the subtle biases they can reinforce.

11 Responses to “Words Matter”

  1. Peggy Dobbins

    I read several paragraphs til I realized it was written to undermine my strong preference for Bernie (and Elizabeth Warren btw) over the female candidate whose ambitions have compromised her in my eyes ever since learning she was on the board of Walmart solidified my preference for Jerry Brown over her husband in 1988. Shame on NOW

    Reply
  2. Liz Stott

    This article is silly. Living in Vermont, I took “all the shouting in the world” as referring to the never-ending, very loud discussion of gun rights, especially in a rural state. If you don’t live in the country, you don’t know how much grief people get if they believe in gun control. If someone hunts on my land illegally, and I take him to court, I would be the one seen as unreasonable. The discussion becomes pointless after a while.
    Sanders hasn’t taken a cheap shot at Hillary yet, why are you trying to manufacture one? It doesn’t serve anyone, much less Hillary. I doubt that she needs your protection, or your insistence that Bernie change his language when he obviously wasn’t talking about her. If he ever does want to talk negatively about her, I doubt that he’ll veil his comments.

    Reply
  3. Ed Shull

    I’m really disappointed in this article. I would like to believe that NOW would be the first to slap ones hands when they try to inappropriately play the gender card.

    I get that NOW is inherently going to lean towards a female candidate. And I look forward to the day we have a woman President. But does that mean you have to write this kind of nonsense. How many times did Clinton mention she would be the first female President in that debate? Why doesn’t NOW speak up about expecting votes based on gender?

    Reply
    • Dawn Conti- Jordan

      This is not nonsense.
      MEN do NOT experience a life being raised as female , in our male dominated society.
      Patriarchy is the “”Default”
      So no one EXCEPT WOMEN even realizes that it is there.
      I just finnished a “‘Gender Psych””Class at college. for social work. it was run be a male professor, AND female professor. to give balanced viewpoints.
      It was an eye opener.

      Reply
  4. Jeanne Doyle

    Hillary called my mom a,deadbeat because she was on welfare called aid to dependent children a program for women and children. Hillary doesn’t respect poor women .

    Reply
  5. Lori Gardner

    Well said! There is a great deal of sexism in this race. Much of it is subtle and the culture engrained methods that men use to keep women in “their place”. Often we don’t even notice it. The real offense is not in the initial gaffe as much as in the unwillingness to actually examine their actions when called out on a sexist act or statement.

    Reply
  6. Samanthemofthesun

    I agree, but frankly, Bernie has been talking about shouting for a long time… and his use of that term with Hillary is only another in a long line. He is looking for discussion, not shouting, from ALL.

    Reply
  7. Anthony Haynes

    I’m raising a daughter that displays traits that I am so glad that she posses. Self confidence, assertiveness, passion, intelligence (both emotional and factual), and leadership are just a few of her many traits. I’m going to foster these traits and teach her to ignore the sexist tropes around her. I want her to go after what she wants and not worry that some individuals may be bothered by her “aggressiveness. All that matters is that she is ethical in her pursuits and compassionate in her endeavors. There are always going to be critics; don’t let them stop you from achieving your ambitions. I’m biased, but I truly am grateful that I had a daughter, she is the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me. My wife’s obstetrician happened to be a progressive, she said, “Real men have daughters.” I’ve never been happier to be a “real man”.

    Reply
  8. Maryam Chambler DelosSantos

    I agree that when women want to make a point in a firm direct manner most women and men still see her as shouting or yelling . I have heard and also been told many times to stop shouting, or you do not have to yell, I hear you , no need to yell . It never fails to amaze me . Because I by nature have a very soft voice . with all that shared, I strongly believe women and girls need to speak their minds, give their concerns and reservations on any issue put on the table . And disregard the accusation of being ” A loud woman. “

    Reply
  9. Jan Schmidt

    The debate points Clinton made about Sanders’ history on guns was full of lies and half truths. I think the Senator showed remarkable restraint for not attacking her in return.

    Shame on the author of this post for making it all about treating women badly, when it was just the opposite – a woman wanting to be treated with respect when she tossed it way with her words.

    Reply

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