‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’. The phrase was a mantra often chanted in my house when we were growing up. We were taught to turn the other cheek when people spoke rudely and to not respond in kind.
It’s something I still live by but, when I really think about it, language matters. Words matter, especially when they come loaded with a predetermined meaning often around race, size, age and sexual orientation. Nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes to the media’s representation of women.
Slowly but surely though, the language used to talk about women is being reshaped. The narrative around women is shifting, empowering honest conversation and dismantling historical tropes. We’ve seen this in Nike’s latest campaign that takes the word crazy, frequently used insult women, and turns it on its head. As the New York Times writes, ‘crazy women’ is nothing new: “Women being labelled hysterical or crazy as a way to degrade them dates back centuries. ‘Hysteria’ – which comes from the Greek word for womb, hystera – was one of the first mental health conditions attributed to only women.”
From Nike’s ‘Dream Crazier’ to Mothercare’s ‘Body Proud Mums’, we are seeing brands using language, paired up with imagery, to enable inclusivity and empowerment. This powerful visual and linguistic shift is starting to address, and dismantle, previous assumptions made about women.
The responsibility for this lies with brands and their agency partners to replace lazy, broad-brush stereotypes with our reality. The ads we are starting to see, particularly released around this year’s International Women’s Day, are beginning to reflect what we actually see when we look in the mirror.