I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much words matter. If any of you know JSC, this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise as this has become a major point of interest for him, particularly throughout his theological studies. And, as with most close relationships, JSC’s thinking has rubbed off on me in more ways than one. Anyway, that was an absolutely thrill-less introduction to what I’m hoping will become a lively discussion.
When I was in high school and came to the realization that all of my female relationships were built on the sandy foundation of competition and snark, I felt like I had been tricked into acting thus. I wanted more from these friendships and I wasn’t entirely sure yet how I had pinned myself against those that I needed most. In a knee jerk effort to loosen the suffocating grip of this mindset, I vowed then and there never to call a woman a “bitch” (and never to call a man a “dick,” just for good measure). This is a strange conglomeration of positions that doesn’t make a ton of sense given what I was trying to accomplish, but it nevertheless felt very empowering as a sixteen year old.
But this was just one of the many low-grade, words-based feminist life shifts that I underwent over years to come. I also decided to be outspoken when friends would degrade their bodies together as a sort of bonding ritual (“my thighs are so huge” “OMG me too!” “no way, you look so good” “this is really fake and weird“). In an attempt to build a universal woman support group, I vowed to wildly and freely compliment both friends and strangers alike. I tried to imbibe as much knowledge as possible about various women’s health issues and contraceptive options so as to be a resource for friends. With time, a lot of strange little things like these have developed.
Admittedly all equally silly-sounding in retrospect (and great insights as to my privilege, given these are some of the biggest obstacles life has asked of me), they were still my little missions and I handled them with great thought. And I truly think I am a better woman for them because they have forced me to think carefully and creatively about how I use words. I think back to my conscious decision not to write women off as “crazy bitches” that I felt threatened by or disagreed with (that is, felt threatened by) and how, consequently, words transformed my thinking in a very private yet powerful way. That this decision forced me to explore the motives at play behind my conversations with others shows just how profoundly transformed I am, and we all are, by words.
Of course, at this point in my life I can’t help but allow these experiences to shape me as a parent. Because one’s perception of the world is inexplicably linked with language, it is my job to usher Finnegan into the sort of reality that feels best by teaching him how to talk, to comprehend. This is a huge, heavy task. I minimize the use of words that do violence to my son’s outlook on the world. I congratulate him on his poopy diapers and the wonder and shameless miracle that is a healthy body. In the moments of quiet at the end of the day, I think of the ways I talked to Justin, the way I reacted to Finnegan’s curiosity and determination. All this worry and he’s yet to really say his first word! I pray that as the church conforms my words to her’s, Finnegan conforms the best of mine to his.