By Vincenza M. Carter
Featured Rightgrrl, February 1998
"Subhuman"; "illogical"; "incapable of reason and logic"; "As far from man as man is from the ape".
These are terms used in the past to describe both women and African Americans. They can be found, in some cases, in the earliest writings of humanity, and are still heard around the globe. They can be seen, in sentiment, in the pages of Playboy and Penthouse; heard at the favorite bars and hang-outs of racists and bigots. These terms are used to defend the actions of wife beaters in our courtrooms, and they were heard in this century to defend the segregation of the schools of the south. Women and African Americans, considered somehow less than human, little more than animals, incapable of any type of real quality of life, from a male standpoint. These terms were used to deny women the vote, and used by the Supreme Court itself to justify the legality of slavery.
Sickening isn't it, when you consider that victims of these stereotypical remarks usually have more common sense and higher IQs than those who spread these ignorant remarks. But even more sickening is that these same victims, those who should know better, and probably do, these who should know what victimization and oppression feel like, are the same people defending the slaughter of thousands of unborn humans, using the same terms used against them. How many times have we heard the unborn described as 'not human', 'potentially human', incapable of any kind of quality of life'. Look back at history, the women yelling for the right to abort their children were described in this same exact manner, not even one hundred years ago.
Words! How funny they are, how easily we fall into their trap. With words we can control minds and hearts. We can form thoughts and opinions, as most of the media knows full well these days. Words used to justify the slaughter of Native Americans. Words used to promote the slaughter of Jews in Nazi Germany and Ukrainians in Stalinist Russia. Words used to justify the enslavement of an entire race of people who have a more noble and ancient history than those who enslaved them. Words used to keep women from realizing their true potential. And finally, words used to justify the wholesale slaughter for profit of the unborn, to justify the starvation and withholding of treatment of handicapped infants, the elderly, and the terminally ill.
Words! If you are keeping the child growing within you then he or she is a baby, a child, the loved one, the expected blessing. If you are poor, or unable to care for a child at this time in your life, than the same doctor will use words like, Fetus, It, Product of Conception, Non-human.
Imagine one doctor, an OB/GYN going from one treatment room to another, how does he keep all the words, all the contradictions straight in his own mind? How does the baby in treatment room one, become the fetus in room two? How does the boy in delivery room one, change to the product of conception in the delivery room next door? No wonder students don't want to learn abortion in our medical schools anymore, the semantics alone can drive them crazy!
Words! They go round and round. First used by one group to describe this group. Then used again by the victimized to describe someone else, some other group. Is this irony, hypocrisy, or just the way of the world? Who knows anymore?
Dr William Brennan, in his 1995 book: "Dehumanizing the Vulnerable. When Word Games Take Lives", (1995 Loyola University press), writes about the power of words, how they have been used to justify and influence, the actions of one group of society against the other. Dr Brennan, who holds a Doctorate in Sociology, uses the examples of Nazis against Jews, communists against the Gulags, Whites against Native Americans, and Men against Women. He goes on to show how these same word games are being used in this day and age against the unborn, the handicapped, the elderly, and the terminally ill. He speaks about semantics gymnastics, those contortions that allow our Ob/Gyn from above to change his words and language from one treatment room to another, and allow himself to face his mirror each morning. This is a book I recommend for the strong stomached, but I recommend it just the same, because the only way we will win the war of words, is to recapture and control the meanings of these words.
Words! It's time for us to reclaim the language and gain control, or as the victimized become the victimizers, who knows who will be in danger next.
This article is copyright © 1998 Vincenza Carter. All rights reserved. It may not be reproduced with out specific consent of the author.