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How Language Matters

It started with this:



A male friend posted it on Facebook. Another woman and I simultaneously started pointing out a few things that are wrong with it. The a couple of men seem to think we're overreacting.

But lists like this are part of the problem of what I call male toxicity "lite." It seems innocent enough -- a list of basic respectful rules for life. But it doesn't take much reading to lift the veil on this being a list of rules for manly men.

First off, why not a list for all children? Why gender it at all? If your son is gay or has a female boss, I feel like this list might not prepare him well for life. And why for fathers to teach? Why not anyone who spends time with children? As fathers, your sons are looking to you for model behavior. If you call women, "girls," then they will, too, and there goes the respect for women starting to roll away.

Some specifics:

1. What about shaking a woman's hand?
2. If manners are so important, as stated in rule 25, and your only other option to enter the pool is an obnoxious cannonball that splashes everyone, use the goddamn stairs.
3. What if a woman is at the grill?
4. If the other negotiator is also a man, then an offer will never be made...? Do I have that right?
12. I don't care if you listen to music at the beach but maybe use earbuds because not everyone wants to hear it.
13. The handkerchief in your breast pocket is for anyone who needs it. (And it's more likely that a woman will have a tissue in her purse that you can have if you need one.)
14. You marry a woman, not a girl.
17. Teenagers ask out girls and boys. Adults ask out men and women. Have the courage to ask out someone smarter than you, or anyone who looks like they have a good story to tell. Don't value someone based on good looks.
21. Thank a veteran. Then make it up to him or her.
27. Why is "Bullies" capitalized but "veteran," "mom," etc. aren't?

Can you see how subtle wording can make a difference? It's a fact that some veterans are women yet many, many writers still only refer to them as men. It's a fact that some men and some women are single parents yet this list assumes a narrow-minded definition of family, with one male parent and one female parent.

Where's the harm in being more inclusive? Where's the harm in at least admitting that lists like this can be made more inclusive? Why is it up to me to be offended and point this stuff out? I feel like anyone who doesn't make an effort to be inclusive at this point is intentionally being exclusive. It enforces the patriarchal society of pretty young women who need saving and men who grill and get jobs. The men who are offended by my offense are the weak ones with fragile egos, not me.

And I noticed one glaring omission to the rules: If you do ask out the prettiest girl in the room, or any girl in the room, and she says, "No," accept her answer gracefully and respectfully. You are not entitled to her time if she does not wish to spend it with you.

Not enough fathers are teaching their sons this one, and if you're going to insist on the fathers-and-sons framework, then this is definitely on the dads. If you're intent on being manly, own up to this and fix it.

For the men who agree with me and who say they are feminists and for anyone who uses #notallmen, don't defend yourself on Twitter to strangers. It won't change anything. Talk to your friends, the people you actually know. When a friend of yours posts something like this on Facebook, call them out on it. Have real conversations about why it's damaging. Women are getting tired and have been asking for help for years. 

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