Growing up, I had the blessing of a big, close family. In that big family, I have 3 uncles and 7 aunts. All of the women in my family are highly respected amongst the others that know us; my grandmother is seen as a high elder, the one who can get away with scolding your children because she’s practically raised everyone. All of this to say I’ve been surrounded in both male and female energy, but more heavily female. I’ve been blessed to grow up with strong women who know themselves and who own it with grace.
My sister, youngest aunt, cousin and I are all coming into our own, just differently from my older aunt’s and mom’s generation. But nonetheless we’ve been given the tools, advice, and feminine support needed to raise little Black girls into secure young Black women. In all of our differing personalities the commonality is that, and what a gift it is.
I’ve also had the pleasure to meet other like-minded young women. College was great in that we were all at different stages in our lives, but that commonality still persisted: young women who were opinionated, intelligent, unwavered by patriarchy. It was great to see them growing, great to have them in my circles.
I’m writing about this because, once again, language is daunting. I saw a tweet the other day, a general one that isn’t exactly worth linking, about women understanding their self-worth. The gist of the message was that a woman who understands her self-worth is “dangerous.” I usually see this brand of tweet from women, usually along the same general message with different words, but the one that always repeats is “dangerous.” At the end of the day, it is empowering for women to say to their sisters “I see you.” I don’t argue that. I’m arguing against the word “dangerous.”
Self-worth is something that is not often taught to little girls, teenagers, even young women at times. Women do not receive the same kind of praise that growing boys receive. Even to this day, women aren’t told they can do anything, be anything, without consequence for their actions. More often than not, their growth in their confidence and self-worth is stifled or lacking because of certain societal pressures to create a certain kind of woman. And this is certainly at the fault of patriarchy; in its eyes, society does not need a strong woman so much as they need strong men. At the expense of creating strong men, women are left out of a crucial equation.
While the system of patriarchy benefits men, it isn’t on their side. The strength of a man is not measured by his emotional and mental maturity, but rather his career success and sexual prowess, to name a few. Men are taught to act first, think second. Men are given the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. A strong man doesn’t feel, a strong man doesn’t cry, and thus masculinity is positioned in a space that demonizes a man’s emotional development. Unlike women, men are not given the space to explore and grow this crucial side.
So what does all of that have to do with calling women “dangerous?”
I’m not convinced that the description is free from patriarchy. Sure, at the most cynical nothing is, but in calling a woman “dangerous” it provides reason to continue to undermine her. Certainly this is where connotations come into play. The connotation of “dangerous” when specifically used to talk about confident women, to me, comes off as a lot of circumlocution. What does “dangerous” imply that “confident” does not? Is “dangerous woman” stronger than “confident woman?” When we call a man “dangerous” there is an understood direct meaning/connotation of violence, lack of safety. Does the connotation of “dangerous” when used for women mean “confident, strong?” Why not just use those adjectives then?
Saying “dangerous woman” strips away power, because there is no arguing that “dangerous” has this violent implication. Well-read women, confident women, women who aren’t perturbed by misogyny–they are the other. They are undermining the systems at work and throwing society out of whack. They are the reason to be afraid. Much like the argument I made in discussing the n-word, I am all for women reclaiming their narratives, their adjectives, to take away the control of their image from the oppressor. Unlike the n-word, however, I think that can still be done by normalizing the use of “confident, brave, intelligent,” words typically reserved for men, when referring to women.
Last month I purchased a new denim jacket and a new pin to match. It reads “a well-read woman is a dangerous creature.” While I certainly do like the sentiment, I’m constantly thinking about the bigger picture. Language is as strong as its user, and language has been manipulated throughout the centuries. Marginalized communities are well aware of how language has been the silent killer.
I’m not convinced that “dangerous” is doing the work that we think it is. I’m not convinced that “dangerous” is going to help us remove and restructure patriarchy as it exists today. Patriarchy will have us believe that “dangerous” is the social equivalent of “strong, confident,” but I know better.
I’m going to keep the pin, and I’m going to “yasss honey” every woman that describes herself and her sisters as “dangerous,” because while this is my opinion every woman is navigating this area at their own pace. I’m going to make it a mission of mine to use more positive, “male” adjectives when talking about women because, to me, that is how we get on the same playing field. That is how we start to finally fight against the imbalance, the double standards. In classic style, I encourage you to do the same.