Words Matter: Debate Like Our Kids Are Listening

Yes, words matter. And so do actions. Including yours.
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“She gained a massive amount of weight… and is disgusting.” “Fat pig. Loser. Dog.” “Grab them by the p**sy.”

Enough. We cannot stand by a single moment longer and accept a toxic environment that dismisses hateful language as “politics as usual” or “locker room talk.”

Why? Well, because basic human decency. And because our kids are listening.

A recent study showed that only half of girls see themselves as leaders. The greatest barrier to them stepping up is their self-confidence. Anyone who writes off the damage this language has on girls’ confidence to lead is either willfully burying their head in the sand or is an accomplice in perpetuating a system where women are not allowed to live up to their full potential.

It’s unclear which is worse.

Not only does shrugging this language off set up our girls to question their worth and our boys to question what’s acceptable, but it also has a devastating effect on the future pipeline of women and girls who become leaders in public service.

With only a fraction of the over 500,000 elected offices in the United States represented by women, we’re missing out on the talent of half our population to solve the increasingly complicated issues we face as a nation. I can show you half a dozen studies like this, this and this that demonstrate how teams and businesses come up with better, more creative, more efficient solutions when men and women have a seat at the table, but I can’t find a single one that makes a business case for homogeneity.

We cannot afford to sit idly by and allow this systemic erosion of girls’ self-esteem or accept an atmosphere that’s discouraging women from owning their place in public service.

We know from research She Should Run co-produced with Women’s Media Center that sexism, even “mild” sexist language, has a negative impact on voters’ likelihood to vote for a woman candidate and on how favorably they feel toward a woman seeking office. It also affects perceptions of a woman’s trustworthiness and effectiveness and it deters women from running in the first place.

So, yes, words matter. And so do actions. Including yours.

Calling out misogynistic language as unacceptable matters because it disrupts the culture that allows for that language to thrive in the first place.

The words used by adults in positions of power and influence matter because they shape the way our girls see themselves in the world and how they view their leadership potential.

As parents, siblings, friends, teachers, mentors, bosses, coaches, it is on us to encourage girls to surround themselves with positive people and positive messages. Tell them they can and will rise above it; that their voices will make a difference to their community, to their country, and to their world.

And to the adults who have the microphone: Do better.

On the eve of the final presidential debate of this election, let’s get ready to listen to important policy proposals and other critical issues but it is equally important that we be ready to call out hurtful words, demeaning tones, and disrespectful body language for what they are – unacceptable and disgraceful.

We are better than this, America. Our future depends on it. Because our kids are listening.