'Hey, Girl, We Both Know I'm Only Joking'; but the Slang That Some Young Women Use as a Form of Endearment Might Have an Effect on Their Self-Esteem

Article excerpt

Byline: SARA CONRAD

The following story contains language that some readers might find offensive.

If you've set foot on a middle school campus in the last few years, you might have heard girls as young as 11 years old casually shouting out words like "bitch," "slut" or even "whore" to get the attention of another girl. Take a peek into their social media, and you can find more of the same in texts, tweets and Facebook and Myspace comments.

Girls have always used harsh language to insult each other, but the real surprise for many adults is that these preteen or teen girls are not necessarily offended if they receive a "Hey, slut!" in a text from a girlfriend; rather they see it as a word of endearment, akin to how one might have used the phrase "Hey, girl!" 10 years ago.

But teachers, mentors and parents do not find it endearing. They're wondering how damaging these words are going to be to girls' self-esteem in the long run, a concern not shared by the girls themselves.

Erica McBride, an 18 year-old graduate of Mandarin High School, said she isn't offended when her friends use this kind of derogatory language toward her and each other because she knows they are joking.

"I think it's funny ... It's all in the context of how they say it; like I can say 'this is my bitch,' like my best friend. We're playing around," she said.

McBride said boys at school will even call each other "bitch" because they think it is funny.

But if a boy at school used any of those words toward her, it would be different. She said when girls use those words, they are usually joking; when guys use those words toward girls, it's because they mean it, even if they say it like they are joking.

LANGUAGE'S IMPACT

Most teen girls know that "bitch" and "slut" are words that connote female aggression or promiscuity, so they understand the words are judgmental. But they seem to differentiate by the context in which the words are used.

McBride, who first heard these words tossed around in high school, said she can tell when her friends are trying to insult a girls and when they are just joking around.

But even if these words are used in jest, they could still be damaging, said Judy Schoenberg, the Director of Research and Outreach at the Girl Scout Research Institute, who wrote an article on instilling self- confidence in girls said.

"If you grow up and someone keeps calling you a 'bitch' and a 'slut,' you start growing up thinking that's what you are. You internalize it, and that's very dangerous," Schoenberg said, adding that for girls, self-image and identity depend more on what others think of them than they do for boys. …