It’s only words

I’m not going to provide links and examples because I don’t want to add fuel to the fire or clicks to the clickbait, but there have been many examples in the right wing press of promoting hatefulness under the banner of family values. I thought I’d write about my family values because every time I see an article promoting prejudice and indifference to injustice under such a banner, it infuriates me and I think, that’s not my family.

My family is small; my Mum and Dad are and were both only children and I am one of three daughters. Growing up, I didn’t really know that there was such a thing as not being allowed to do something because “girls don’t do that”; both my parents were nurses so I never really grasped the idea that nursing might be a job for a woman, or that similarly there might be such a thing as a career that was meant for men. I remember once in infant school, we had to write about what our parents did and I wrote something along the lines of “My Mum is a nurse and my Dad is a nurse.” The teacher corrected me and said, “No, Zoe. Your Mum is a nurse and your Dad is a doctor.” At the time, I was upset because as a nerd from a very young age, I hated to be told I had got something wrong but also I burned at the unfairness of it because I knew my Dad was a nurse, I knew I was right. At the time, of course, I didn’t register the sexism implicit in that correction but I did know deep in my bones that it was wrong. My Dad was a nurse, he worked on a psychiatric ward with patients that most people were afraid of, people who didn’t have a voice or often anyone to care for them, and he worked hard to make their lives better. Sexism and restricted gender roles? Not my family.

I don’t want to present our family as some kind of hippie utopia; we were as normal as the next family in many ways. My sisters and I bickered sometimes, got along other times. One thread that runs through my childhood is the notion that we had to share – attention, time, gifts. For example, in the days before on-demand Netflix, we had to take our turn in choosing a Saturday night movie to rent. I don’t think I suffered for that, on the contrary I saw a lot of films I would never have chosen by myself. When I was a teenager, it was hard to get to the cinema without a car and I had a deal with my Mum that she would take me to anything I wanted to see as long as I went with her to anything she wanted to see; we both shared our interests and often enjoyed the films we would never have chosen. The idea that the country is “full” and we have nothing to share? Not my family.

I’m the only redhead in my family; I know all the ginger jokes having heard every one on the playground (and they’ve never evolved from that level), but one thing I do recall is that my sisters never ever made those jokes. Again, I want to be clear, we weren’t sitting in a circle singing Kumbaya, we did all the usual “Mum, she took my…” “Mum, she won’t let me…” but never once did either of my sisters laugh at me or point out my (admittedly minor) difference, despite the fact that they had been on the same playgrounds, they would have heard the same insults and it would have been an easy shot. Attacking someone just because they look different to you? Not my family.

A week after my 18th birthday, my Dad had a heart attack and by Christmas Day he was still in hospital, having just been moved out of the intensive care ward. It was a tough Christmas; I remember the tension every time the phone rang in case it was a call none of us wanted. On Christmas Day, we went to visit Dad with our presents so that we could all open them together. We’d also brought with us some mince pies and a box of crackers and we went round that ward, offering other people who didn’t have visitors a cracker and some home-baked care and attention. We also bought a large box of chocolates for the doctors and nurses taking care of my Dad; no one knew better than my parents that they would rather be at home with their families on Christmas Day and yet there they were, doing their jobs. We were suffering ourselves, but did that mean we couldn’t extend some love and care to others who may also be suffering in different ways? Not my family.

The reason this is important for writers is because words are being corrupted; the right wing press are promoting hateful, cruel ideologies under the banner of family values and the meaning of those words has been hijacked; these are not the values of my family. Of course, there are bigger challenges ahead and this may seem minor, but the language we use helps us to understand the world we live in and that world is being corrupted by a poisonous, insidious creep in meaning. Every time we write, we consider the language we use and the effect it has, it’s how we allow readers to understand the worlds we create. So, to quote the Bee Gees, it’s only words, but words are all I have.