Feminism & Language

By Rosemary Barber

As a college freshman I was really excited about broadening my perspective and meeting individuals who could help expand my current view on the world. I grew up in a household that was run by my beautiful, challenging, supportive, and strong mother. The ideas of feminism were already engrained into my thoughts, but I just didn’t have the words to articulate them yet. I took my first Women, Gender, & Sexuality class freshman year called Women: Images and Realities. Throughout the class I learned so much about the struggles of others and the language to describe the problematic intricacies of their oppression. I was thrilled about all this knowledge and I hoped it would help me educate and influence others.


It didn’t take me long to realize my new knowledge of language was a privilege. Not everyone has the resources or abilities to attend a class similar to the one I did freshman year. As I took more classes I began to see how much academic language stifled those who wanted to learn. I saw white men use academic language to talk over people who were in the bodies of those experiences. I also saw eyes glaze over once people felt they could no longer contribute to a conversation that they couldn’t understand. I faced an internal conflict as an English major my sophomore year: should I continue to use this language that excludes others, or should I start using language in a way that is constructive and understandable?

But alas, I immersed myself in the deep beautiful world of Tumblr. Most of what I observed on my dash was memes and funny text posts, but I began to pay attention to the use of language. Folks from all over the world were shifting words, using run on sentences, using uppercase and lowercase letters in one word, adding more syllables, all in order to convey different tones. Many professors I’ve known would condemn this, and affirm that it’s not the proper way to communicate. But what is the proper way to communicate? If people are relaying ideas to one another and helping each other learn and grow (even if it’s not in academic language) aren’t they still communicating effectively?

I hope to see people understand the privilege behind academic language. I also hope  the world can begin to question why there is even so much importance placed in academic language. Language, like many other aspects of our world, is fluid. It changes and evolves and never stays the same. When we question the most effective forms of communication we should realize that all forms of communication are effective, even if they don’t fit into the perfect box of academia. Welcoming all forms of language and communication will only help the world to continue to grow, learn, and evolve.

By Rosemary Barber

English Major and Political Science Minor at SUNY New Paltz / Spring Intern at Feminist Majority Foundation / Lover of all things pink and glittery

1 comment

  1. In my classes, I ask that my students write papers that they could take home to their parents, grandparents, friends, etc and that those people would understand what is being said. I don’t want to teach a women’s studies class where the message cannot be shared with a very large chunk of the population. You cannot create large scale change when your language creates barriers.

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