Our culture uses language to subjugate women and girls into a position of lesser. Common terms of endearment, such as baby are defined by Merriam Webster’s dictionary as “something that is one’s responsibility, achievement, or interest”. The commonly used term for a classy female is lady, which Merriam Webster defines as “a woman receiving the homage or devotion of a knight or lover”. Men are defining their female love interests as responsibilities, achievements, or merely an interest and societies highest class of women are merely being known by the male they are connected to. These words are further establishing the male dominance in a heteronormative culture which, according to Catherine MacKinnon, “defines women as heterosexual, or needing men… and therefore dependent on men”. Terminology like “lady” and “baby” are prime examples of the way the language we use defines women as precisely what MacKinnon claims our society tells women to be.
There are many things that people find concerning and alarming about the novel Fifty Shades of Grey, what I found most concerning about the book was the language used between the two characters during their more romantic interactions was what alarmed me the most. Quite frequently Christian uses the salutation “Laters, baby” right before he leaves Ana. At first this appears to be a way for Christian to mock his brother’s use of the word, it quickly becomes the main way he ends a conversation with Ana. Within this book there are so many controversies, that little pieces such as “laters, baby” often gets ignored as an inconsequential part of this book. This phrasing is anything but inconsequential, as it is one of the most realistic parts of the book for the average American. When I searched the phrase hundreds of images appeared on google; t-shirts, bracelets, sweatpants, and plain-old graphics. This is clearly a phrase that resonates with the American public, and it is a phrase that in its very essence demeans Ana’s status and demeans the status of any women talked to as such.
Calling a female baby, lady, or other similar terminology is very common in our society. Women are often told to behave like a lady, especially if they want to attract a man. Most romantic comedies will involve the female lead being called baby at some point. People know and understand what the words truly mean, and hearing this phrasing continuously has an effect on the way females view themselves and males learn to believe females should be treated. It is portrayed everyday in societal scripts such as the man always paying for the woman on dates, because of course she is a “responsibility” or paying is a way of showing “devotion”. This of course all goes back to reinforce the fact that a woman needs a man to pay for her meal, and therefore must be heterosexual in order to have needs fulfilled, which therefore reinforces heteronormativity and compulsive heterosexuality in society today.
So, have you heard this kind of rhetoric or told this to other people? Does this terminology bother you or has its use in the vernacular language of our times caused terms like “lady” and “baby” to lose its meaning?