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Gimp, Slut and Other Terms of Empowerment

Let’s face it: We’ve all been called ugly names. For instance, I’ve been called a gimp and a slut. These words can be excruciating to hear because they are powerful pejoratives, but what if I told you that these names can be used as terms of empowerment? What if these labels could somehow lose their pejorative status and become reevaluated as positive names? This phenomenon is known as language or linguistic reappropriation and several social psychology studies have found that this type of reappropriation is not only possible, but can also increase feelings of self-esteem and empowerment. In this article, I will meditate on how reappropriation affects one’s identity.

Recall from my last article how I said that our social identities impact our personal identities and vice versa (https://www.psych2go.net/individuating-self-identity-formation-mental-illness/). Per Adam D. Galinsky, Kurt Hugenberg etc., there are about four ways a person can try to avoid social stigma. Yet, all these methods ignore the value of social change and thus ultimately remain stigmas. To successfully change the meaning of negative words, Galinsky, Hugenberg, etc. suggest langague reappropriation.

Successful language reappropriation occurs in three steps (Adam D. Galinsky, Kurt Hugenberg etc. 2003). The first step is self-labeling. This is where the person refers to themselves as the slur. For instance, I may refer to myself as a gimp. If I were to refer to myself as a gimp, then the opportunity for others to label me as such is taken away, the power to harm will be taken away, and my self-esteem will increase (Adam D. Galinsky, Kurt Hugenberg etc. 2003). Of course, this step is dependent on the fact that none of the above options of avoiding stigma are possible and that I have sufficient self-esteem. The second step is when the stigmatized group decides to self-label (Adam D. Galinsky, Kurt Hugenberg etc. 2003). For example, if all persons with mobility issues started calling themselves “gimp.” The last and final step is when the term is revalued by society (Adam D. Galinsky, Kurt Hugenberg etc. 2003). For example, consider the word “queer.” Most of us wouldn’t think of this name as a slur, but rather as a whole valid identity. Queer is thus positively regarded as opposed to its previous pejorative state.

As you can see, the effects of reappropriation are positive in theory. What’s missing is the hard evidence of research. Well, Danielle Gaucher, Brianna Hunt, and Lisa Sinclar did an experiment on the slur “slut.” These ladies found that in context specific situations “slut” can produce feelings of empowerment and do good for social change overall. Therefore, keeping in mind that both society and our individual reflections affect our identity, “slut” is on its way to increasing the self-esteem and feelings of empowerment for many.

Reappropriation is the only successful way to eliminate all slurs. This phenomena will increase feelings of empowerment and positive self-esteem for who the term applies to. We’ve all been called ugly names, but that doesn’t mean we should take the hurt.


Works Cited

Galinsky, A. D., Hugenberg, K., Groom, C., & Bodenhausen, G. (2003). The Reappropriation of  Stigmatizing Labels: Implications for Social Identities. Researching on Managing Groups    and Teams, (5), 221-256. Retrieved March 25, 2017, from            http://faculty.wcas.northwestern.edu/bodenhausen/reapp.pdf

Gaucher, D., Hunt, B., & Sinclair, L. (2015). Can pejorative terms ever lead to positive social  consequences? The Case of SlutWalk . Language Sciences, (52), 121-130. Retrieved March  27, 2017.

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Written by Lady.Raye

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I have a bachelor's degree in Literature, Language and Writing with a minor in English Linguistics. I've always had an interest in psychology. I took an intro course freshman year and tutored in intro to psych my sophomore year. I look forward to engaging in discussions in psychology and language with you all. Feel free to follow me @ladyrayedio.tumblr.

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  1. I love this article! Reappropriation seems like the best way to integrate certain taboo words back into the language but in a much less harmful way. Great job Lady.Ray!!

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Gimp, Slut and Other Terms of Empowerment