This headline made its way onto NPR’s website this morning. In the headline, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, who just won her party’s nomination in the primary election to fill South Carolina’s 1st congressional district seat, is referred to as “Stephen Colbert’s Sister”.
NPR, you know language is powerful. We have to be careful how we use it. The words we choose can acknowledge, affirm, and honor our existence, or they can write us out of our own story. When we identify women by their relationship to their male relative, whether that relative is a celebrity or not, language becomes a tool for denying women’s autonomous, embodied existence.
Elizabeth Colbert Busch deserves to be named in the headline for a news story in which she is a main character. Stephen Colbert is a household name, and therefore grabs attention in a headline, but this story has nothing to do with him. Using his name in place of Colbert Busch’s undermines her accomplishments and relegates her “celebrity’s sister”.
NPR, I love you dearly, and I know you’re better than this.