Antithesis-based terms easily shield hate

Propane tank with "PANE" crossed out and "LIFE" graffiti over it.

“Pro-life” should be replaced with “anti-choice” to eliminate misperception about the movement. (VElShamy Photography via flickr)

Many movements and political stances use language as a powerful tool to both legitimize their cause and counter any opposition. Although it may seem unimportant what type of language certain groups use, in actuality, language use is very tactical.

One of the most notable examples of this is the pro-life movement. The phrase “pro-life” is very purposeful in that it villainizes the pro-choice movement by implying that pro-choice means “anti-life.” Although this is not the case, this language use is made to depict the pro-choice movement in a negative light to those who may not know what the idea of choice means in its totality. 

By using this language, the pro-life movement — to the bare eye — would seem to be the group who has the moral high ground, when in reality, most (not all) people who are pro-life do not take steps to protect lives past those of unborn babies. In reality, this idea of being in favor of “life” does not accurately represent what this movement is but is instead a tactical move to use particular language to change the perception of these contrasting movements. 

In order to delegitimize the perception of the pro-life movement as being the morally correct option and the pro-choice movement being the villain against life, there needs to be a shift in language use regarding this movement. The phrase “pro-life” does not encompass what this group stands for, thus using antithesis-based language to describe the movement. Using language like “anti-choice” is a valid step toward delegitimizing and unravelling the perception this group created when using tactical, life-affirming language. 

This is not the only case in which language use drastically generalizes and harms specific groups. Oftentimes, hate targeted toward the LBGTQ+ community is generalized to be homophobic which erases the harm targeted toward non-gay, but still queer community members. On top of this, the idea of having a “phobia” and using that language to describe anti-LBGTQ+ hate is harmful within itself. 

Similar to the villainization of the pro-choice movement by using the language pro-life, decribing anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric as homophobic creates a perception that being against the LGBTQ+ community is a “phobia” or fear. This legitimizes anti-LBGTQ+ rhetoric as a “valid fear” and helps hide hate. The only way to expose the hate which is being sheltered by language like “homophobic” is to similarly antithesize the movement using language like anti-LBGTQ+ which not only encompasses hate targeted toward queer idenities, but also counters the idea that being against gay people is a fear as implied by the suffix “phobia.” 

In both instances, the language chosen to encompass a movement or idea is used to hide hate and create an inaccurate perception of certain social movements. In order to combat these perceptions and create a universal, accurate understanding of what each group is in favor of or against, there needs to be a shift in how these movements are described. Using antithesis-based language to decribe hateful movements, like using anti-choice instead of pro-life and anti-LGBTQ+ instead of homophobic, is not only more accurate, but unveils the hate and inaccuracies that are hidden within the original language used.