The Power of Language

Language matters. Since our work depends upon persuasion, language is central to our strategy to preserve the sex-based rights of women and girls.

Our language needs to show that we are strong, not weak. It needs to legitimize our message, not render it suspect. It needs to promote understanding, not sew confusion. And it needs to show that we are compassionate, not paint us as villains. We need to harness our language to sway our audience–the public–and not to simply to provide us with private catharsis.

Toward these aims, it is our position that we need to reject four categories of language:

  • Our opponents’ in-group words (cis, misgendering, trans woman, TERF). When we use language coined by our oppressors, we concede the validity of their language and thus their concepts. Further, in-group language relegates conversation to those “in the know.” Preaching to the choir is not activism and it distracts us from meaningful action. To avoid preaching to the choir we need to keep our language accessible to the general public.
  • Our own in-group words (TRA, TIM, transwoman). We’ve been relegated to the kid’s table in our own movement, dubbed “radical” and characterized as some fringe faction of feminism. We should fight this misrepresentation. Instead, we have been using language that reinforces it. Further, our use of in-group language is a form of preaching to the choir, it confuses our audience and it convolutes our message.
  • Unclear words (gender, AGP).  Gender supporters rely on circular reasoning, threats and jargon. Our strength lies in honesty and clarity, delivered via plain language. Fighting for our causes means gaining traction with the general public instead of just “preaching to the choir.” It means gaining empathy from groups outside ourselves and that means making our positions clear.
  • Uncharitable words (cult, ladydick, troon, trans trender). There’s a concept in philosophy called the “principle of charity.” It calls for assuming your opponent argues in good faith. Maybe he does and maybe he doesn’t. But your argument will be stronger if it’s a refutation of his stated opinion rather than an attack on his character.  Two of the “Four Agreements” are relevant here, too: “Don’t take anything personally” and “Don’t make assumptions.” If your opponent is wrong, he’s wrong, irrespective of his motives.

For more on each of these categories, and why our choice of language is important, see Who Owns the Playing Field?

For a (continuously updated) list of words we should reject, click here.