The message is clear: We need more than “A Day Without Women” and handwritten signs to win the rights that women deserve. It’s empowering to see footage of men, women, boys and girls around the world standing up for what is right. The protests from Chicago and Paris and Sydney have sent messages to leaders near and far that women deserve the same treatment and privileges as men. These protests are powerful and the message is strong, but we need to change the way we talk about women’s rights.
If we are to live in a world where women and men are treated as equals, we must first assume equality, and we can start with our words. Equality is not an argument, it is a fact, and the mere act of tacking “women’s” onto “rights” implies that those blessed with double-X chromosomes are different from the XY-ers and therefore have distinctive rights. As a writer, I focus harder on semantics than many, but words really do matter. For the vast majority of us, the people who don’t write legislation or get to directly influence administration, words are all we have.
The fight for equal rights is exactly what we need right now, but I am calling on everyone who gives a damn to pay close attention to the way we speak, write and chant about rights. One place to start is in the hands of writers. Let’s stop writing articles titled “25 Female CEOs to watch in 2017” and “Women in Tech Who Are Changing the Face of Silicon Valley.” You know the stories — the ones designed to celebrate women but undermine the power of the sex by adding “women” to the title. What if instead we wrote an article titled 25 CEOs to watch in 2017, then listed 25 badass females? Or shared a piece about the people changing the face of technology that is full of pictures of smart women, but doesn’t actually say “women” in it? This is the kind of parlance that needs to become normalized if we are ever going to have true equality, and it will take more than one writer with an opinion to make it happen.
The same can be said for women-owned businesses. A female-powered operation is great and deserves all of the accolades, but why do we have to say “women-owned?” Have you ever heard of a male-owned business? A male leader? A male engineer or carpenter? No, because that’s what has historically been viewed as normal, and by simply using “female” or “women” to modify these titles we are admitting that a woman in this position is different from a man in the same one. These are no longer just words; they make up an attitude that we have become accustomed to, and it is time to change that.
I’m not suggesting that we stop fighting for women’s rights. I support the marches and protests as much as the next feminist who needs to speak louder and stand taller in order to be taken seriously, who makes less than her male counterparts and who doesn’t have enough fingers or toes to count the number of times she has been sexually harassed on the streets. I am behind this movement wholeheartedly, but I don’t think the protests are enough. I propose we introduce a language that reinforces something we all know: Women are equal to men, bottom line, end of argument. Let’s put red markers to our signs and take the word “women” out of women’s rights, because these are human rights we’re fighting for.
Kolina Cicero is a writer in Minneapolis. On Twitter: @KolinaCicero.