Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt me.
My, ahem, generation grew up singing that song at school. Our mothers told us to ignore the mean kids who made fun of our prosciutto panini. Little did we know the contents of our lunchbox would be deli de rigueur twenty years down the track.
We know how powerful words can be. Carefully chosen or spat out in the heat of the moment, words can inspire, excite, console. They can also critique, hurt and condemn.
In the aftermath of International Women’s Day earlier this month, it’s timely to reassess the vernacular we use about women and the workplace.
We know how far we’ve come in terms of gender equality. It is frustrating, however, that the generation who grew up thinking we could have it all, are still telling our daughters they can smash that glass ceiling but they will still earn less, be less represented in senior roles and the major child rearing decisions rest with them, not their brothers. So how do we change this? Changing how we speak about women and work is a start.
Why do we need to distinguish along gender lines with words like “working mother”? Using “working parent” would remove the gender distinction and perhaps go some way to changing our concept of work and having children. Equally, talking to our sons about how having a family will affect their working life, shares the responsibility a little more equitably between both parents. It does take two to make a baby, after all.
Those sticks and stones do break bones. Let them break those invisible forces that perpetuate the discrimination of women, the ones that come out of our mouths.