The shirt made me do it

The words we use every day become lost in the shuffle. Simple phrases become commonplace that once were used to subjugate entire cultures.

Words are powerful. Ignoring such power can only lead to shame.

IMG_2147The conversation is making its rounds all over the place. I for one welcome the talk about abusive language because it shows the progress humanity is making towards deeper understanding of the other. The conversation is good but we certainly have a long journey ahead.

There appear to be a few ways to go about it. There are those that attack abuse with abuse. There are those that attack abuse with anger. There are those that attack abuse with desperation.

And clothing…

Clothing is one of those noun categories that manages to illicit a broad range of names for a single item. Take, for example, the simple thing you wear on your head during cold winter months.

What do you call it?

A winter hat? Chook? Toboggan? Knit hat? _______________?

Item names are as diverse as the people wearing them. I believe it is a wonderful thing because it illustrates creativity and cultural ownership. But language can turn abusive quickly.

Take the innocent ribbed, white shirt without arms that men generally wear underneath shirts.

What do you call it?

Undershirt? A-line tee? Ribbed tank? Tank top?


Somehow, popular culture has managed to define an innocent article of clothing as a cultural icon of abuse. I don’t know where it began but it has become ubiquitous. On one level it appears innocent enough. After all, wearing the article does not make you abusive towards women, nor does calling it a wife-beater.

It doesn’t.
It does.

IMG_4841Making light-hearted jokes about difficult things can act as an important access point into the conversation but that is all it is, access. In order to explore deeper the wife-beaters are going to need to come off and people need to don fresh language (and a new undershirt) that squashes the stereotype depicted by that colloquialism.

Continuing to call it a wife-beater only perpetuates the abuse inherent in the phrase, conjuring images of excuses that the shirt made me do it. It must stop.

Clothing is an important aspect of life. It can tell a lot about the image we want to portray. It’s serious. But clothing can also be fun. Experimenting with different styles can be exciting but some place far too much emphasis on the culturally perceived stereotype a certain style communicates. Clothes are a style choice. Not a personality type. Assuming that we can know a person and what they want based on their style is arrogant and plain ignorant.

IMG_2417Eliminating simple and apparently innocent yet abusive language from our lives is a positive lifestyle choice to help tackle the numerous prejudices that muddle daily existence. Holding onto archaic, abusive language perpetuates the stale perception of a world clinging to better-than or less-than worldviews.

I don’t want the future filled with that language. I also don’t want a world afraid of speaking up, or having to walk on tiptoes over glass around people for fear of backlash about our language.

I think we must respect each other. If somebody takes offense to something it is real. They are not being over-sensitive. Apologize. Think. Change.

Be authentic and honest. No person is the center of the world.


About Matthew J. Durocher

Matthew Durocher is a graduate of Michigan Tech University. He acquired his BA in English along with a minor in Music Composition and a certificate in Writing in Spring 2012. His style is one of passion and musicality. One foot is firmly rooted in tradition while the other slides dangerously close to the clouds.
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