I write about women. I write strong women, seductive women, and sexually naive women. I write about women in trouble, women who save themselves, and women who sometimes need a little help. I’ve written about women who were raped, men who were, and people who have absolutely no sexual trauma. I use words to make my point, to instill emotions, and to wring a response from the reader.
And then, the political season happened. Words are my life. They are my way of reaching out to others, of being understood, and of entertaining. They matter. The right words make all the difference. The wrong ones can be terrifying.
But over and over, I keep hearing the same thing. When someone complains, it’s ignored as “using the wrong words”. Well, you know what happens when I use the wrong words? I don’t get paid. I make my living with words. When I write offensive material, I get a reputation. It can make or break my career. That truth should hold true for anyone.
Sure, we’ve all ranted. We’ve all had a moment where we scream we want someone to “die” or that we’ll “kill them” if given half a chance. This is called hyperbole. It’s typically used in a specific tone, wrapped up with words that make it clear it’s hyperbolic, and the point is gleaned through the over the top aspect of the language.
The same is not true for rape culture. Asking what a victim wore, how much she had to drink, or if she was flirting is NOT hyperbolic. It’s victim blaming. Laughing about male privilege is not hyperbolic. It’s sexism. Joking about how money gives someone privilege to another’s body, whether they like it or not, is not hyperbolic. It’s misogyny.
This is because words matter! They convey ideas that are trapped in the recesses of our brains. They give insight to our opinions, upbringing, and moral compass.
All authors know that if we’re not feeling it, that boredom will come across loud and clear in our writing. We know that a character’s style of dialogue changes depending on their emotions. We choose adjectives and adverbs to paint a picture with language. There’s a difference between a deadly still evening and a quietly serene one. Whether you are reading it or writing it, we all can tell when we see it.
How many times have you, my readers, chatted with someone via text or instant messenger, and known they were upset, angry, lonely, or giddy? They don’t even need to say it. You can tell by the style of their language, the words they choose and the order they’re put in. It isn’t necessarily what they say. Sometimes, we know these things by exactly what they don’t say. It’s the pacing, the pattern, and the nuances that go along with it.
Because while we all know the basic rules of language (or you wouldn’t be reading this) we instinctually understand the emotional responses tied to the phraseology. We get it, and we use words to find all the hints we need. Maybe we can’t put our fingers on why we think a person is feeling something, but we know it, deep in our guts, just because of a few simple words. We know the difference between a joke and a threat. We don’t need to be told we’re stupid. We’re all using the same means of communication.
And yes, politics has a lovely way of ranting about this, of making it the reader’s (or listener’s) fault, but it’s not. It’s always the author, orator, or speech writer. Sometimes we get it wrong. Very wrong. For most of us, it’s a crippling thing. Doesn’t matter if it’s an email to your boss, a phone call with a client, or a book that plummets right to the bottom of the rankings. Failure has a penalty.
At least it should.