One of the things about having been alive for a number of decades is that you get to watch the evolution of language. Verbs such as snuck, which were purely slang forty years ago, are now grammatically acceptable. Some words come and go. Some are regionalisms. Political words, such as “feminist,” are co-opted and muddied. Other words are completely transformed. Many words and phrases are born fresh from old stereotypes, oppressions, and the deep roots of patriarchy. For example, “that’s so gay” was born in the mid-1990s, around the time I first heard it uttered by an intern at a feminist organization.
However, widespread co-options and transformations in political and social language aren’t merely simple shifts in language. Widespread changes in the usage of words reflect widespread cultural beliefs. Patriarchy is amazingly efficient. When any radical social change group begins to push back against patriarchy’s self-declared authority, patriarchy implements numerous counter strategies. One is the manipulation of language.
Over the past decade, the language of prostitution and pornography has gone mainstream. It has also taken on an unassuming benignity. Pimp, for example, has morphed from meaning to prostitute women and girls to now meaning to decorate or make something fancy. You can pimp a car, a room, your wedding. Pimping is a lovely thing. Hardcore used to refer to extreme forms of pornography. Now hardcore is synonymous with “awesome.” On Urban Dictionary, a contributor offers this definition for hardcore: “Really tough and awesome. Socially accepted and worshiped.”
When the language of prostitution and pornography is co-mingling in people’s minds with idea of awesome worship—or bizarrely of awesome home decorating—it creates a surreal space into which radical activists and writers must continually fight to insert the fundamental language, the fundamental truths, surrounding men’s violence against women and girls.