Why words matter

Image taken from Toni Girl’s photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

Image taken from Toni Girl’s photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

Recently there was a mild furore in the blogosphere about a post on kidspot 4 ways to fold a fitted sheet (including the RIGHT one). Normally I wouldn’t have clicked anywhere near such a post but I’ll admit the fitted sheets in our house get scrunched up and thrown into our linen closet with absolutely no attempt at folding. Laundry is not my or my husband’s forte. In our household laundry and associated tasks are deliberately minimised. Ironing is reserved for attendance at weddings, funerals or job interviews. Wrinkle minimisation is practiced – hanging shirts up straight away when they come off the clothes line – so whilst we may not be as crisply dressed as some we pass. So with wrinkle minimisation and more cupboard space in mind I was curious. I’d previously looked at YouTube clips on how to fold t-shirts to try and get our t shirts less wrinkly so I was up for an instructional video session.

The post included 4 short video clips demonstrating different ways to fold fitted sheets. The first three videos (one featuring Sydney Blogger Beth Macdonald, one featuring Martha Stewart and one featuring an anonymous woman who’d posted her instructions to YouTube) were critiqued before the last video was presented as the solution to all our fitted sheet folding dilemmas.

So what was the issue with the fitted sheet demonstrations?

The problem was the seemingly “bitchy” way the other videos were critiqued. It seems the post was initially an attempt at a light hearted, tongue-in-cheek response – a bit of satire that unfortunately got its tone oh-so-wrong. The post has now been “tweaked” to “make the tone more true to our intentions” but you can still get a sense of why it drew the wrath of those reading it. Beth Macdonald’s method is scorned because she lays her sheets on the floor to help fold them and apparently the ideal in sheet domesticity is to have only the pure sanitising rays of the sun touch one’s sheets. Martha Stewart’s method is ribbed for requiring those following it to be “blessed with three arms and four hands” and the anonymous woman gets “points for enthusiasm”. The final video (Jen Cheung’s method) is then described as the “one method that works…No strange origami moves, no sleight of hand and definitely no touching the floor.”

The comments about the post speak for themselves: Penny writes “Wow. That’s a lot of effort to go to to bag other people out. What a ridiculous way to present a how to post.” Tina Gray writes “Another proud moment for Aussie Mum Bloggers.” Sarah sums up the discomfort people felt reading the post with “That awkward moment kidspot won’t stop being a bitch.” This is a post that clearly didn’t hit the mark. Farmer’s wifey writes “The person who approved this article needs to be sheet slapped! I thought kidspot/village voices were supporting bloggers not tearing them down! And Beth you can come to my house and fold my fitted sheets anytime because you are awesome my dear!”

When we live in an era when it is oh-so-common to read comment scuffles that can be outright offensive and bullying in nature in a way it was refreshing to see so many people calling this post for what it was. As disappointed female wrote “Stop bitching about other women who are out there giving it a go. Your attempt to ridicule and belittle for the chance of fame is certainly to backfire. Women who support other women is the way forward.”

Yet for me there was an even bigger issue to this piece that wasn’t picked up by the vast majority of comments. The bitchy tone was offensive but for me the piece drew my ire even more for the other specific words the writer chose to use. In summing up how to achieve the “one right way” of sheet folding we’re told “So, women of Australia, I present to you … (the)… definitive how-to video guide…Ladies  this is how to create linen closet nirvana. ” The video demonstration closes with “Women of Australia… you’re welcome.”

Words matter. It may seem innocent enough but when we say a dad has to “baby sit” his kids we reinforce inequalities surrounding caring. When we ask for “mums” to volunteer at schools we’re losing an opportunity to expand peoples’ perceptions of how volunteer work should be divided. We’re also potentially making dads who do volunteer at schools feel awkward and out of place. When we close a blog post (bitchy or not) about sheet folding in this way we slam a door in the face of equality. A door I’d very much like to see wedged open. We’ve probably all been guilty of choosing the wrong words at times, but with blog posts like the one from kidspot I’m realising how important it is to be more conscious of choosing the words we use carefully.

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonigirl/8420611068/sizes/o/in/photostream/ with thanks to Toni Girl

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About greenleftyidealist

Green, left and idealistic. A mum, a runner, a rogainer, a public servant and wanna be writer. My dog is golden.
This entry was posted in equity, feminism, parenting, society, women and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Why words matter

  1. John says:

    Big cheer for you for this post! As a stay at home Dad you hit the nail on the head with your last paragraph. So many times school notices tack on the “Dad’s welcome too” bit after telling all the mum’s about volunteers needed. We (stay at home Dad’s) need to learn how to fold those darn fitted sheets too!!!

  2. Pingback: Eureka! I’ve done it! Or, how to fold a fitted sheet. | emma wolf

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