Fowl-mouthed: I'm not cute, helpless and stupid, and neither are any female professionals I know

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The other day someone referred to me as a “chick” on Twitter.

He was doing it to try to get my attention and it worked, both of which annoyed me.

Obviously, I believe there’s power in language. I work as a writer. But I also believe that there are some things you’ve just got to let roll off your back. Despite what you might think about feminists as a group, people don’t generally describe me as hypersensitive. The second you start publishing stories, you have to realize people are going to comment on them, contact you to share their opinion, yell at you, call you names, or just generally complain about what you’ve written at some point, and likely at multiple points. You get used to it.

In fact, I feel like if I don’t occasionally get an angry response to a story, I’m probably not covering the right things.

All that aside, I don’t generally expect to be degraded by other “professionals” aiming to get my attention online. And I don’t like being called a chick. I don’t know any women who do, come to think of it (maybe an angry reader will email to tell me she loves being called a chick – if you’re that reader, let me know).

But what I think this really points to is a slow-to-die tradition of subtly degrading women through language that hints at weakness, softness, cuteness and other nesses that were once the common perception of women.

A chick is a baby chicken. It’s cute, helpless and stupid.

A lady is refined, well-spoken and polite, which sounds pretty good until you consider it’s sometimes used as an insult. Dictionary.com uses a fitting example: A lady reporter. As in, a reporter who is too refined, too polite, to ask the tough questions.

Even “girl” is occasionally used as an insult: You throw like a girl. You punch like a girl.

This week, a large group of women took to the street in New York for the SlutWalk to raise awareness for sexual violence against women regardless of what they’re wearing (just because you’re wearing a short skirt doesn’t mean you’ll be raped, and just because you’re wearing overalls doesn’t mean you won’t be, and it’s not your fault either way).

But they’re also trying to take back the word “slut” from the insult dictionary (although even the organizers have qualms about using that word).

I get it. Take the power away and they won’t be able to use it to hurt others.

But if they can still use words like girl, lady and chick to degrade women, we have bigger problems. Degradation is like a fart in a crowded elevator – no less nasty if it’s done subtly.

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