Inclusive Language In Activism
One of the founding pillars of the campaign is inclusivity and intersectionality and although sometimes our efforts are constraint by lack of data we aim as best as possible to highlight how marginalised identities have a bearing on ones experience of sexual violence.
Whilst at university I studied a joint honours degree in business management and economics. Through the business side of my degree, I had a particular interest in organisational culture and influential factors of it. This is a topic I explored in depth through my degree and in my final year was able to undertake a module on Language and Organisation. This module was one in which I was encouraged to examine how language and communication had tangible cultural effects, for my final assessment I wrote on the cultural text that was #MeToo and the disrupting discourse that took place as a result of the campaign.
Tonight, I would like to briefly speak on wider applications of language as it pertains to campaigning and how the language we use as activists is salient to the efficacy of our work as how it impacts those who engage with it. This is a topic not just informed by my studies but also my lived experience as a woman of colour who has sometimes been disempowered by language which is well intentioned but acts to be alienating. Conversely, I would like to recognise the importance of language which is accessible and resonates with parties you may wish to engage with through your campaign as well as how language is bound to context and also very fluid as we have seen with recent discourse over the use of the term “womxn” in recent months. This is something which was really thought provoking for me in terms of thinking about how we can utilise language and how sometimes good intentions can cause harm.
To further explore this example I would like to discuss the term which was first found in writings in the 1970s. Alongside the term womyn, both seek to avoid perceived sexism in the standard spelling.
For myself when I see the term womxn spelt with the X I initially thought it was about decentring men but also the x in the spelling for many was interpreted as being inclusive of all women – such as trans women and women of colour - recently some trans women have spoken out and said that the spelling of the word women does not need to be adapted to “include” them because they are women the same as any other, as a woc although I recognise my struggles can have a racialised dimension to them I feel that when talking about all women I don’t need to be distinguished and this attempt at so called inclusivity raises some questions – after all if your feminism isn’t intersectional it isn’t feminist so such a marked attempt to “include” us makes me think of why I am not implicitly assumed as part of this group anyway. I do however recognise it is not this simple and there are many contexts that affect how women of colour and white women have to navigate spaces.
The term "womxn" began gaining more attention and use in the 2010s thi intersectional feminists promoted it as explicitly inclusive. For the most part of my understanding and seeing the use of the term it was for inclusivity and intersectionality. But again, it was not always interpreted as the case.
What further complicates this is other deviations of the spelling of “woman” such as some which arose during the second wave feminism such as the spelling of woman with a y.
Though the two terms are similar in their aims of removing the word man, subsequently decentring men from discourse on women’s identities they are different in other aims of why they were coined. The latter phrase one devised with an aim of exclusion as opposed to inclusion as it was used by TERFs to distinguish those who were assigned female at birth from those who were not, something which is at odds which fundamentals of intersectional feminism and generally a harmful practice. All of this is referring to the contemporary usage of the term as opposed to historical dialects.
Another term we can scrutinise is the term BAME one I personally cringe when reading and also know has been under media scrutiny and even a Civil Service blog post critiques it. My personal gripe with it is how it is often used in a way which is almost dehumanising. The term doesn’t give much information and really just says anyone who isn’t white. What stands out to me about its use is how it is often a comment on what poc don’t have, or lack as opposed to focusing and placing responsibility on those who cause the issue for marginalised communities. A term I prefer is racially minoritized. As it is a comment on my current status or that of those who share a ethnicity or heritage but I also want there to be less shying away from calling me what I am – black or African or if we are specific Nigerian. When someone calls me a BAME individual it feels eradicating, it overly simplifies one aspect about me and doesn’t offer much help in the next step of spotlighting an issue which affects my community – what we can do about it. Within BAME there are countless identities and issues that affect each of us and women of colour are not one unilateral group.
Not to get me started on the term minority – minority group is palatable enough – but when I as an individual am called a minority it literally makes me feel small and when this happens within certain situations I am definitely more reluctant to raise my voice on an issue. For me there is a strong negative correlation there and that may not be the case for all people of colour but it is something which acts as a reminder for me to stop and think about the emotion I evoke with how I talk about others and those belonging to different groups.
Nothing About Us Without Us James Charlton uses for his book title and attributed his introduction to the phrase to Michael Masutha a South African activist. About policy which is “used to communicate the idea that no policy should be decided by any representative without the full and direct participation of members of the group(s) affected by that policy”
If those the policy is supposedly for - then individuals belonging to a group should be involved in the development of it and that should be reflected in language.