The use of the word “grooming” has been on the rise on Twitter in the past couple of weeks.
While words have strict dictionary definitions, they often take on additional symbolic meanings in everyday use, specific to certain contexts or cultures. When one of these symbolically-charged words becomes central to political discourse, the conversation becomes ripe for “talking past” each other.
Understanding why the other side interprets a word so differently is critical if we want to understand their perspective. That’s not to say it’s easy — to truly understand someone else’s point of view, we need to constantly remind ourselves what they mean when they use the word, and temporarily set aside our own interpretation while we listen. It also means remembering what the word means to them, and taking this into consideration when expressing our own point of view.
It takes effort, but it can be done. To help, here’s a breakdown of why each side is using the word “grooming” so differently.
Keep in mind that the two views presented below are examples, not the only two ways to see the topic.
It’s rare for people to define words as they use them, so we’re often left guessing or relying on our own definitions to infer meaning. So to demonstrate how a specific word can be used and interpreted in different ways, here are a few working definitions of the term “grooming” (in no particular order).
These distinct definitions (of which there are many more) illustrate how the word “grooming” is used in many different ways, often metaphorically. Its meaning is heavily dependent on the context and intention of the user.
In other words, there’s not much use in “fact-checking” any definition of the word grooming if you want to better understand someone’s position — it’s more useful to try to understand what people mean when they use it.
At the end of March, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law which bans discussions of “sexual orientation and gender identity” in grades K-3 in Florida public schools.
To those who do not believe there is grooming in schools, the right is claiming that the left is “grooming” children in schools, when in reality teachers are just teaching children how to be good, tolerant citizens.
We don’t want teachers “grooming” children, we want children to feel free to express their identity as they see fit while rejecting hatred and bigotry.
Do you remember the days before same sex marriage when it was a common argument that gay and bi people would render the word ‘marriage’ meaningless, that people would marry their dogs, that incest was next, that we’d groom our victims into marriage to protect underage sodomy? 1/
— Sacha Coward (@sacha_coward) March 20, 2022
To others who are concerned about grooming in schools, the left is attempting to usurp parents’ rights and teach children topics that are too complicated for their age.
In doing so, they are influencing and changing how children see themselves, often creating more problems than they solve. They are hurting children’s development, sense of identity, and mental health.
If you have sexual conversations with kids and hide those conversations from their parents, you are a groomer. This isn’t complicated.
— Michael Knowles (@michaeljknowles) April 6, 2022
If you’re struggling to understand how people see the Florida bill differently, check out our breakdown.
When the left hears “grooming,” they assume it’s referring to the idea of manipulating children into participating in explicit sexual activity of any sort.
So, when they hear the right calling them groomers for…
They are thinking of that narrow definition of grooming, and take offense.
When the right says “grooming,” they are referring to both…
So when they refer to the left as groomers, many are using the term to emphasize the fact that…
The connotation or feelings we associate with a word are often just as important for understanding meaning as the word’s dictionary definition.
Critical race theory is a perfect example of another term that invokes distinct reactions and interpretations from people with different worldviews. Similarly, the conflict around what counts as racist — and anti-racist — is rooted in conflict around what these words “really” mean. Shifts in the cultural definition of specific words are often a way to reframe an issue and bring more serious attention to it — very few people are happy being called racist, and very few people are happy being called a groomer.
Given that the same words can invoke different feelings in different people, arguing over the strict definition of a word is often unhelpful. After all, cultural or working definitions of words are more often the reference point we use in our minds. If you’re genuinely interested in understanding another person, it’s critical to understand what connotation the word has to them and try to understand their argument from that perspective.
We create these analyses by looking at the most retweeted tweets mentioning the topic. Here are the tweets we referenced in putting this analysis together:
Recently, I have received what feels like endless threats, homophobia, and people calling me a groomer/pedophile. i’m 17 and seeing what people say about me is scary. This is a direct result of Desantis homophobic rhetoric. They are attacking minors. Protect kids.— Will Larkins (@ProudTwinkie) April 2, 2022
Do you remember the days before same sex marriage when it was a common argument that gay and bi people would render the word ‘marriage’ meaningless, that people would marry their dogs, that incest was next, that we’d groom our victims into marriage to protect underage sodomy? 1/— Sacha Coward (@sacha_coward) March 20, 2022
Something that’s definitely good for abused children is turning phrases like “groomer” and “pedophile” into meaningless culture war slurs— Jacob Shamsian (@JayShams) April 5, 2022
Why are Tennessee Republicans advancing a groomer bill to legalize marrying children?— No Lie with Brian Tyler Cohen (@NoLieWithBTC) April 6, 2022
Dennis Hastert was Speaker of the House from 1999 to 2007 and within 2 heartbeats of the presidency. He was indicted on federal charges of molesting 4 young boys and sentenced to 15 months in prison. Republicans wouldn’t know a groomer if he was their ranking member in Congress. pic.twitter.com/hIkdB7EMXo— Fifty Shades of Whey (@davenewworld_2) April 7, 2022
Since conservatives are simultaneously screaming “grooming in schools” while passing legislation in TN to legalize child marriage, I thought it might be a good time to remind you that Purity Balls are a thing: pic.twitter.com/YfZxHJHfQW— Matt the 💪Buff Joker Dude💪 (@RetvrnOfTheMatt) April 5, 2022
Why is the GOP sexualizing and grooming children? pic.twitter.com/SrYlbM2ozI— MeidasTouch.com (@MeidasTouch) April 2, 2022
If you have sexual conversations with kids and hide those conversations from their parents, you are a groomer. This isn't complicated.— Michael Knowles (@michaeljknowles) April 6, 2022
We are legitimately facing a pandemic of pedophilia in this country.— Candace Owens (@RealCandaceO) April 5, 2022
The courts are too soft, the institutions entrusted with our children are engaged in active grooming and many parents are too distracted to see what is plainly unfolding in our overtly, hypersexualized culture.
I don’t remember another time in my life when I’ve seen the American communist whine so much about a label put on them by the Right.— Jesse Kelly (@JesseKellyDC) April 6, 2022
The “groomer” thing really bothers them. A lot. It hurts them.
So keep doing it.
It’s not enough to be not a groomer. One must be actively anti-grooming. Those who defend themselves against accusations of grooming are simply expressing Groomer Fragility. They harbor secret groomer traits & must be shown the ways they’ve benefited from a systemic grooming.— Allie Beth Stuckey (@conservmillen) April 6, 2022
Seems there’s a reason Disney, CNN, etc… were fighting the Florida anti-grooming bill so aggressively. https://t.co/gOUzxto3Eh— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) March 18, 2022
What kind of people would oppose grooming laws— Jack Posobiec 🇺🇸 (@JackPosobiec) April 6, 2022
Since ok groomer is trending pic.twitter.com/egzACyod8l— James Lindsay, based (@ConceptualJames) March 29, 2022
Why is the Left so nuclear triggered and sensitive over the word – groomer?— Catturd ™ (@catturd2) April 6, 2022
Them: “We’re not trying to groom kids.”— Jesse Kelly (@JesseKellyDC) April 2, 2022
Florida: “It’s officially against the law to groom kids.”
Them: “Fine. I quit.” https://t.co/d796zcjqpu