Mmegi Blogs :: The power of words
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Last Updated
Friday 16 November 2018, 13:42 pm.
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The power of words

Sometimes I think we forget the power of the words we use. A single word can change how we react and respond to a person.
By Lauri Kubuitsile Fri 23 Mar 2018, 22:53 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: The power of words








A phrase can define a large narrative reaching into many aspects of our lives. These words and phrases can impact on major decisions and actions, improving or destroying lives in the process.

This is why it is important to pick apart repeated words and phrases and be sure that you are using words and phrases that you understand and support. The wrong word can have wide reaching impact.

If a white adult man referred to a black adult man as ‘boy’, immediately an entire narrative pops up from both the speaker’s side and the listener’s side. The speaker is likely racist. He undermines this man. He is trying to enforce his power, to reduce the black man.

How the listener responds will continue this story. The words the listener uses to answer back will tell us a lot about that person too.

If the two people continue to discuss this adult black man as a ‘boy’, they will be reinforcing their own positions, giving the story that they’ve told themselves more power, and in the end, reaffirming their views.

If instead another listener comes along and says, “He is not a boy, he’s a man”, the word stands out suddenly for what it is. The narrative is interrupted. Everyone must rethink their positions. A single word can change everything.

Often I hear both adult men and adult women referring to another adult woman as ‘girl’. Again this word choice matters.

This takes an adult woman and forces her into a position of being a child and forces the entire package that comes with being a child onto this adult woman. This again can have a major impact on that woman’s life.

A man who speaks of a woman as a ‘girl’ will have a tendency to view her as a child, a child with no right to her own property, her own opinions; a child that has no agency over her own life.

There are some words and phrases that lead to narratives that are even more dangerous. One commonly used in Botswana is ‘passion killing’.

The phrase

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has such a strong and addictive narrative that recently a man was given the death sentence for killing a child.

He also killed the child’s mother but because we have an entire false narrative around this faulty phrase ‘passion killing’ he, in the end, was not punished for murdering the woman at all since he can only be killed once and that once was for murdering the child not the woman.

The term ‘passion killing’ evokes an aspect of chaos and uncontrolled emotions because of romantic love. In this situation both parties are upping the ante by their actions. The agreement to get into a relationship already seems to make the victim partly to blame for her own death.

People who study such things are aware that the killing of women by their sexual partners is part of the continuum of violence against women, starting with catcalls and sexual harassment, continuing on to rape and battery, and ending with the woman’s murder.

The point of this unrelenting guerrilla warfare against women is to keep women “in their place” so that patriarchy can continue unabated.

When we call these so-called ‘passion killings’ by their real name: female genocide, then the narrative immediately changes.

That man who killed his wife because she would not have sex with him was sending a warning on behalf of the patriarchy to all wives, to all women: do what we tell you or this is what you will get.

He might not have known explicitly what he was doing, but socialisation ensured that he was a compliant soldier in patriarchy’s army.

The continued use of ‘boy’ to refer to an adult black male so as to humiliate him in the name of power, or ‘passion killing’ to refer to the systemic murder of women in our country to maintain patriarchy, is faulty and dangerous.

We need to use the correct terms so as not to continue the wrongs that plague us and to see things as they truly are.

Words matter, don’t think for a single moment that they do not.

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