Next time someone accuses you of having no sense of humor or taking things too seriously, tell them to read this piece at Fem2.0. Or if you’re confused why people like me take your sexist (racist, etc.) “jokes” so seriously, read the article. Or if you just want to learn more about how we construct our understanding of reality, read the article. Okay, so just read the article. It re-affirmed, for me, that advertising like the “Fox Sports Girls” really is a big deal, even if it might not seem like it and/or none of my friends think it is. (Check out my earlier post if you don’t know about the “Fox Sports Girls.”)
The article mentions social learning theory which got me thinking about other psychological concepts that apply (I happen to be in graduate school for psychology.) The idea of social constructionism immediately jumped out at me. This basically states that people construct their reality based on language used in social interactions. In other words, our language becomes our reality. For example, when we talk about “manning up” and not being a “pussy” we construct versions of reality in which being male is fundamentally connected with being strong and desirable, and being female is connected with being weak and shameful. When we tell someone who is acting immature and melodramatic to stop “acting like a girl,” we construct a reality in which this behavior, no matter how many times it is exhibited by men, will always be fundamentally connected to being female. When we make sexist, racist, or other -ist “jokes” we are affirming a reality in which these things are acceptable on some level. And we do this without even thinking about the implications of the words we are using, because so often we’re told, or we think, it’s just not that big a deal. But, it really is.
The exciting thing about the concept of social constructionism is how empowering it is. We can’t all change policy, or media, or what other people think. We may not be able to affect change in the masses. But we all have the power to change our language. If language becomes our reality, it would follow that when we change our language, we change our reality. So we can change the language we use in front of our children, younger siblings, students, friends and with ourselves. We can encourage our friends to use different language. And the amazing thing is, if we successfully encourage other people to think about why they’re using the language they are and how they might change it, their perception of reality will likely begin to change as well, just naturally. And all we did was ask them to think about saying “grow a vagina” instead of “grow a pair.”