In case you were under a rock, the World Surf League announced equal pay for men and women this week. That in itself is definitely applause-worthy, but the WSL deserves credit for something much more subtle. Over the past few years of watching the broadcasts, I’ve listened to the language used during the announcing. There has been a noticeable shift from calling the female surfers girls to calling them women, ladies, surfers, or athletes. This change also deserves recognition—moving away from the word girl marks a change in culture.
It may not seem like a big deal to call a surfer a “girl.” Consider, however, the mental image people come up with when you ask them to describe a girl versus when you ask them to describe a woman. Those pictures are likely very different. Lera Boroditsky, a cognitive scientist, explained in her TED talk that language shapes the way we think and the way we see the world.
“The beauty of linguistic diversity is that it reveals to us just how ingenious and how flexible the human mind is,” Boroditsky says. “Human minds have invented not one cognitive universe, but 7,000.”
A simple shift to using the word woman helps create new neural pathways. When this happens, it affects our subconscious thinking and ultimately our worldview. The cognitive effects of language are powerful, but this is also a respect issue. The women who compete on the Tour are professionals and that in itself deserves equal respect.
“The prize money is fantastic, but the message means even more. From the moment current ownership became involved, the situation for the women surfers has been transformed for the better in every way,” said Steph Gilmore. “We have been so appreciative, but this takes it to another level. I hope this serves as a model for other sports, global organization, and society as a whole.
Thank you to the WSL for being a leader for equality both in and out of the water. This is definitely paddling in the right direction.