After two years of college, I did not think I still would be hearing phrases such as, “That’s so gay,” or, “This is so retarded,” on campus. I almost feel like I am back in high school, where I heard these sayings all the time.
I attended a program last week put on by People Respecting the Individuality of Students at MSU, or PRISM, South Complex’s LGBTA caucus, and the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions, or OCAT, aides in Holden Hall. It was called “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better,” and it made me realize the frequency at which I hear words that have become synonyms for other words, and how it buys into stereotypes.
After getting into groups, we had to draw pictures of what we thought was a stereotypical man and woman. Each group shared what they drew, and the woman had material things like purses and jewelry while the man had physical characteristics like big muscles and facial hair. We discussed why we drew these things, and came to the conclusion that this is what society portrayed as a man or woman, and we were quick to buy into what society tells us. Almost every group had a dress on the woman they had drawn, yet none of the women in the room were wearing one. Why hasn’t reality caught up with stereotypes yet?
The next thing we talked about was how a man or woman should act, according to societal norms. Men are seen as the providers, while women are the household caretakers. Men can’t cry, and women have to have emotion. Women have to keep their legs crossed, and men are athletic.
Of course these are just stereotypes, but what if you don’t dress or act the way that is expected of your gender, or if you don’t identify with one gender or the other? If that is the case, then there are even more words that you can be called. Women then can be butch, or an emotionless ice queen. Men can be called sissy or gay. My first question was how did these stereotypes come to be and what about the communities these words would affect?
My friend who identifies with the LBGT community said that their using a word like “queer” to describe themselves has changed the word into a more positive one. The more her community embraces it, the more it shows everyone else that the word no longer should be used negatively. I see the logic behind this, but there still are going to be people who are ignorant and continue to abuse these words. It is also hard to find that fine line between when it is OK and when it is not alright.
What if someone from outside the community uses the word? Another topic that was discussed was the word “bitch.” More and more girls and women have been using it almost as a term of endearment to refer to their friends. I agree it has become a more positive word than what it was years ago, but does it make it alright for guys to call women that now?
When a straight man is told he is acting “gay,” it just reinforces the negative associations that come with the word. It plays into the stereotype that men need to act “manly,” and it might make it harder for others to be comfortable with who they are. It also deals with respecting others.
You never know who you might offend when you uphold these stereotypes. It is also bad because some of these words have strayed from their original definition and have been more frequently used as a replacement for something that is “stupid.”
What if someone is trying to come out, but hears people on their floor throwing around the word “gay” to describe the class they just had; does that make for a comfortable environment for that person? The same goes for the word “retarded.” Unless you know someone well, you aren’t aware of someone’s background. Who knows who you could be offending.
One mentor at the event tells the guys on his floor every year to not abuse these words, and stresses that everyone should be comfortable on their floor. He also felt that he might have had more authority because of his role as a mentor, and said it probably would be harder to talk to your friends about this.
The next time you hear a friend or someone you know use words like “gay” or “retarded” out of context, please remind them to be conscious of what they are saying. As a society, especially those of us here on campus, we should be more accepting and conscious of differences among everyone. Please be aware of what you are saying, because our campus is full of people from all different kinds of backgrounds, races, sexual orientations, incomes, religions and experiences.
Like I said, I thought we were all out of high school, so let’s put this behind us and show the world that we are a generation that accepts all people.
Lauren Wood is a State News guest columnist and journalism junior. Reach her at email@example.com.
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