Have you ever heard the word rape being used in any context other than the act of rape itself? Haven’t you ever found yourself listening to people saying “I raped that paper,” or “He raped him in the finals”? Have you ever found yourself laughing at a rape joke? We’ve all done it. We all use words with a remarkable casualness without truly thinking about the impact that it could have.
While it may seem harmless and even far-fetched at times, it isn’t. There is a principle known as linguistic relativity which states that the way we use words changes our perceptions of the world. Many philosophers and psychologists have shown the way that we use language has affected our perceptions of the word itself. For example, the word gay, at one point, meant happy or joyful, but now is mainly related to homosexuality. Or the word pussy, once simply referred to a cat, but now is used to talk about vaginas or scared, weak people (the correlation of vaginas being linked to weakness comes from the cultural misconception that women are the weaker sex.) Rape, is a terrible crime but the more we use it casually, the more casual we’re making the act itself. In the long run, that isn’t healthy for society.
There are plenty of strong terms such as feminazi (which is equating the fight for gender equality to the worst case of genocide in the world) and retarded (which creates a negative impact towards the mentally and physically chanllenged) the small words you use also have a large impact on our perceptions. Watch Mayim Bialik talk about the impact of referring to a woman as a girl:
As I said earlier, this entire concept might seem far-fetched but we’re not always privy to what happens to us subconsciously. We may not mean the harm we cause, but we cause it anyway. Making a rape joke immediately minimises the pain that a rape victim has gone through. Equating vaginas to weakness immediately makes women weaker. Calling someone with a mental illness crazy makes it more difficult for the a person suffering from mental illness to get help. We may not realise that we’re doing it, but we are. Taking a step back and understanding what we’re saying can go a long way.
“If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better,” said George Orwell. It’s true. We often use words completely out of context which eventually change the way we perceive the word completely. So the next time you hear someone making a rape joke, calling someone a feminazi, or saying the word retard out of context, stop them, and be a buzzkill. It’s for a better future.