The Power of Words

By Sherri Rose
June 13, 2014

2014 CTF Women’s Issues Symposium in Whitehorse

As chair of the Equity Issues Committee, I had the privilege of representing the Association at the 2014 Women’s Issues Symposium in Whitehorse, Yukon on February 19 and 20. This symposium is a Canadian Teachers’ Federation initiative that was hosted by the Yukon Teachers’ Association this year. The topic of the symposium was Engaging Men and Boys. Although I could discuss many topics that were presented, including the realities of human trafficking in Canada, gender stereotypes, sexual health/relationship education and trends of violent masculinity, I will address one theme that emerged and really captured my attention.

Though seemingly simplistic, the theme is words.

We have all heard the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”, but how many of us have really thought about what it means? I, myself, remember hearing and saying this as a child, but its message is misleading and incorrect. In fact, I believe the opposite is true. Broken bones and physical wounds will heal. However, what we say and how we use language and words leave wounds that never heal. They leave behind invisible scars.

Ketsia Houde
Ketsia Houde
Yukon Women's Transition Home

This message echoed loud and clear throughout the symposium and really piqued my interest. Words are just as violent as punches and kicks. One of the presenters, Ketsia Houde of the Yukon Women’s Transition Home spoke of the power of word choice. We often hear people talk about domestic disputes, but what is really occurring and what Ketsia pointed out is that it is actually domestic partner violence. Changing the word “dispute” to “violence” paints a much different picture. She also spoke about abusive relationships and said that what is actually happening is intimate terrorism. Let me say that again – intimate terrorism. When I heard her use this term, it was very powerful. I had never thought of it that way, but she is right. A person in a relationship that is being abused over and over again is being terrorized. Words really do have a lot of power and strength.

Word choice is important. On the Equity Issues Committee, we have done a lot of work with language and policy around LGBTQ, and it is extremely important to use language that does not segregate or offend anyone and that is inclusive of all people. This symposium served to further motivate me to always be cognisant of others and to try to be as inclusive as possible. Everyone has a right to feel accepted and respected.

Overall, it was a fantastic learning experience for me. It was an excellent professional development opportunity and I look forward to discussing the symposium further with colleagues and friends. To conclude, sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will haunt me forever. Perhaps this is more accurate.

Flickr Photo Gallery of 2014 CTF Women's Issues Symposium

Sherri Rose is a teacher at Xavier Junior High in Deer Lake and a member of the NLTA Provincial Executive.

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