Womankind Worldwide Book Group discussion

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Gender and Language

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message 1: by Lit Bug (new)

Lit Bug | 94 comments Language, as much as it is a means of free expression, has also been a tool for repression. The structuring of language in a particular way is symptomatic of the power relations within any society - and it has repercussions way beyond the era. Language is also a tool for manipulation, systematic brainwashing and a means of gaining control over those who have been silenced.

I'm looking forward to discussing how language affects our perception of reality, morality and ethics - how it can be simultaneously a liberating force and a repressive, regressive force. From a feminist point of view, I seek to understand the intersections of biology, gender, language and power.

I happen to entertain no specific initiating point - we'll find a good one along the way.


message 2: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca (rgbrizi) I agree that language can easily be used as a tool of repression. One approach which confounds me however is the focus on removing the gender neutral "he" as a generic appellation. TO me that is just grammar, not sexism; I am much more concerned with choices of verbs or adjectives in given contexts which are deliberately used to belittle a gender or group of people.


message 3: by Lit Bug (new)

Lit Bug | 94 comments I wouldn't consider 'he' as gender-neutral. It is sexist because it has been handed down to us over the span of generations so smartly that we fail to recognise that women are excluded from it. I understand that every person doesn't mean it - neither did I for a very long time. But these little things are symptoms or indicators of how deeply patriarchal our roots are.

Removing the 'he' and replacing it with a gender-neutral pronouns is an act of recognition of sexist roots of a norm and challenging it. When we start noticing things like these, we also start noticing little practical acts surrounding us which we never suspected as being sexist, but which are.

Doing this is making people aware of how deeply patriarchal our roots are and how easily we have accepted them.


message 4: by Kathy (new)

Kathy | 1 comments At least in the French language there is "on" which is gender neutral!


message 5: by Lit Bug (new)

Lit Bug | 94 comments Oui! C'est tres bien :) Some languages have that - and it makes easier for one to be politically correct then!


message 6: by Dasha (new)

Dasha (abditumsapientia) | 4 comments Well, we have a great example in history that I think has the biggest relevance in our lives: God.
God is ALWAYS represented as a male in the Bible.
I apologize to everyone who loves God and the sacred book, but this is the truth: God is always a male and he rules our world in the Bible. I think that is the most female-repressive thing that humans created, ever.


message 7: by Margaret (new)

Margaret Lukas | 9 comments Lit Bug wrote: "I wouldn't consider 'he' as gender-neutral. It is sexist because it has been handed down to us over the span of generations so smartly that we fail to recognise that women are excluded from it. I u..."

I agree with you. "He," is sexist and so overlooked women hardly recognize they've been excluded. (except on a deep level, they know it.) If it makes no difference, let's change the automatic gender reference to female.


message 8: by Margaret (new)

Margaret Lukas | 9 comments Dasha wrote: "Well, we have a great example in history that I think has the biggest relevance in our lives: God.
God is ALWAYS represented as a male in the Bible.
I apologize to everyone who loves God and the s..."


And, of course, it wasn't always this way. Before Patriarchy changed all the terms in the Old Testament, the Three Graces, which they changed to the trinity, were female.


message 9: by Lit Bug (new)

Lit Bug | 94 comments Exactly - if 'he' isn't sexist, why not change to 'she'? What's the issue then?

Even in religions where there are goddesses along with gods, they are wrapped in mythological stories that limit their role and can be used as role-models for women to learn from. Simply having a goddess doesn't change things if there are gods around to mess up their identities.

I'm sometimes inclined to think it won't go away so easily because of many factors, apart from male behavior. Keeping women ignorant of the struggles of their ancestors to gain whatever freedom we have now is one of the ways of preventing them from affiliating and working together. Erase their history, erase their awareness.


message 10: by Dasha (new)

Dasha (abditumsapientia) | 4 comments Margie wrote: "And, of course, it wasn't always this way. Before Patriarchy changed all the terms in the Old Testament, the Three Graces, which they changed to the trinity, were female. "
Exactly, the Church, ruled also by a male, the Pope, changed the interpretations, not letting people choose by themselves how to understand the Bible. It's literature, so it is something that is personal to the writer and differently personal to the reader, in her/his own way.
Religion would be a lot better if men didn't start to think they were the ones to rule it. MAYBE, but very probably, if there were women who could be popes or something, there wouldn't have been so many wars, in God's name! I mean really, why have the holly wars to say "Oh, my God is better then yours, accept it or die!", why not let people choose their own religion and let it all be equal to everyone, including women?


message 11: by Lit Bug (new)

Lit Bug | 94 comments I am not so sure that getting more women in powerful positions would necessarily lead to peace - women are no more peaceful than men - aggression is valued in men as a virtue and repressed in women as a mark of insolence, hence, social conditioning has led women to abandon aggression - but once these social/psychological conditioning that define gender roles are broken down, so will the myths of peacefulness and docility of women's essential nature, too. Docility in women is nurture, not nature.

Once women are free from gender roles, gradually they too will begin to display these attributes that come naturally in positions of power where the pressure is immense. Don't suppose that any authority in the hands of women will lead to peace - Imagine a world ruled by women - there will be still the same problems before Africa or Asia or America hounding the country/continent - and disputes *will* lead to wars in many cases, once women are not forced to be docile and paragons of peace and virtue.

We, as women, have been conditioned to think of ourselves as non-aggressive, peace-loving and docile - it has been one of the weapons with which men have controlled women's actions - by terming aggressiveness, violence as *unfeminine*, therefore, inappropriate.

As women, our first task is to disrespect these patriarchal values that force us to be timid, loving sisters, daughters and wives. Aggression is not unnatural to one sex and natural to other. It is a survival technique, used by both sexes when they sense danger, and women leaders too will fight, even perhaps pettily, when they rule, and it is time to accept that.


message 12: by Dasha (new)

Dasha (abditumsapientia) | 4 comments How can we know? There are many women who were born and grep up alone, far from society and didn't become violent. There's also the fact that nobody can ignore that our physique was not made to have a lot of strength.
Woman are also more emotional by nature than men, so I believe that if they were ruling, they would pay more attention to the world's greatest problems. I mean, a man is not so touched by a child in Africa who's suffering, because we're naturally predicted to be mothers, so we will take care of the child.
I've always accepted the tiger (not the cat) within women, I myself went against everything society told me to be since I was a little kid. I played with little soldiers instead of barbies, I love black and dark green, not pink, I wanted to be a policewoman and a soldier who protects the people. I grew up and still have the same beliefs.
There's always violence in our world. Women are violent, specially when their lives or their children's lives are in peril. But men are more violent because only now they have been given the opportunity to be real fathers, not sperm-givers. The Alfa male leads the pack, gets the female he prefers. So, men are supposed to be more violent to show strength that grants them the opportunity to choose the female and take better care for the family.


message 13: by Lit Bug (last edited Jun 08, 2013 11:08PM) (new)

Lit Bug | 94 comments Am not saying women are necessarily violent or aggressive - just that they are not as peaceful necessarily as usually considered. Am not saying the world will be chaos if women rule, but it is too optimistic to say that there will bliss either.

I won't say that women are violent but tamed by society - just saying that these stereotypes are wrong - they are just one part of the picture. There have been peaceful men, else the human race would not have survived - there are countless men striving for peace and making our lives more bearable, and there are women too who can lead nations to chaos.

Sex and/or gender are but one aspect of personality. Which is why I defer making assumptions that all these strife are caused by men and that women will bring peace. There are notable examples of exceptions in every nation, in every generation and every class of humans.

India's lone woman Prime Minister in the 1970s brought about havoc when she ruled - but that doesn't mean every woman will do so. And countless men have plunged their nations in despair, but there have been men like Nelson Mandela as well. Point is, you can never tell.


message 14: by Dasha (new)

Dasha (abditumsapientia) | 4 comments Oh, then I'm sorry I misinterpreted, in that case I agree with you.
Yes, stereotypes are like pre-made roads that society pushes us to follow, making us forget we can make our own path and women are the biggest victims of that, because it happens in many countries, everywhere at the same time through the whole world.
It is true, I wasn't saying either that we have no peaceful men, we have so many examples through history, and there are many examples of women that committed violence in some ways worse than men.
What society could do is stop pushing people to the despair and pressure they already have to deal with in their own worlds.
Being human is what we need to be. Not the race, but the values, the inner strength, the intelligence. Societies oppressed womankind to forget they were human to give them a passive role in the outside world. Now it is time to get back and remember our power. It's not going to be an easy journey, but I believe we can make the world become a better place, each and every one of us, male or female.


message 15: by Lit Bug (new)

Lit Bug | 94 comments Can someone suggest a good guide to Jacques Lacan and Julia Kristeva? I'm currently reading A History of Literary Criticism: From Plato to the Present and having a tough time understanding the two.

Posting it here since these authors' works have much to do with both gender and language.

Thanks.


message 16: by Linda (new)

Linda (bdoingaolcom) | 9 comments Lit Bug wrote: "Can someone suggest a good guide to Jacques Lacan and Julia Kristeva? I'm currently reading A History of Literary Criticism: From Plato to the Present and having a tough time understanding the two...."

"Toril Moi has a section on Lacan in her SEXUAL/TEXTUAL POLITICS (1985). She traces feminist theory (with one of her emphases being on language) from Simone de Beauvoir to Lacan in one chapter. There's a chapter called "Patriarchal Reflections" where she treats Irigaray's works. Although Moi isn't exactly an easy read, she provides a helpfully focused treatment of (especially) French feminist theory that (though now dated) I found immensely helpful when I was first encountering these theorists. Good luck with the PLATO TO PRESENT survey!


message 17: by Lit Bug (new)

Lit Bug | 94 comments Thanks! Both Lacan and Kristeva are terribly obscure and difficult to read. So I'll check out Moi and see if it helps. Thank you very much :)


message 18: by Lit Bug (new)

Lit Bug | 94 comments What is the difference between pyschoanalytic feminism and feminist psychoanalysis? Can anybody explain please, if possible, with examples?


message 19: by Lit Bug (new)

Lit Bug | 94 comments Actually, it doesn't matter if we use manager for both sexes - it matters only when people have a mental picture of a man every time someone says 'manager'. Language is only a signifier - it is our perception that needs a makeover.


message 20: by Lit Bug (new)

Lit Bug | 94 comments Yup, and I love novels too when they do that!


message 21: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Lilly | 20 comments Julie, I'm embarrassed to admit it, but now and then I'm surprised when someone talks about a doctor, then says "she." This is particularly disturbing because my primary care doctor is a woman, my eye doctor is a woman, and when I had surgery last summer, the surgeon was a woman. It just shows how ingrained these mental pictures and messages from childhood are. Since I'm a lawyer, I don't picture "lawyer" as either male or female, but it's distressing that the male doctor still lurks in my psyche as the norm. Aargh.


message 22: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Lilly | 20 comments I think there's something to the idea that the need to change certain job titles in French (or any language with gendered nouns, I suppose) may affect women's career paths. I read a book years back where the author, a linguist, argued that English words like heroine, authoress, and actress are negative for women because those words imply that the norm is male. Unlike words like fireman or policeman, which are gender-specific, hero, author, and actor are not. So changing them to reflect that a woman is being referred to suggests the male is the norm. That made a big impression on me. (So I was a little disturbed this week when a another author I presented a panel discussion with on women & horror changed "hero" to "heroine" in one of my power point slides.)


message 23: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Lilly | 20 comments Lit Bug and Dasha,

I just heard this story on the radio about a study showing people's brains change when they feel powerful, as opposed to powerless, in such a way that it's harder for them to feel empathy. The story also said powerful people can train themselves to feel more empathy. This might speak to why, if it's true, women right now who become more involved in governing are less likely to go to war, be violent, etc., as they may still feel relatively powerless and have more empathy. It also suggests that if the power balance became equal, there might not be a difference in how women and men govern. (Though obviously lots of other factors would be at play.)

http://www.npr.org/2013/08/10/2106862...


message 24: by Lit Bug (last edited Aug 10, 2013 09:11AM) (new)

Lit Bug | 94 comments The chemical-neurological proof is news to me, but I often thought that women-as-peaceful and men-as-war-mongering are, stereotypes apart, a result of gendered upbringing and ideologies. There have been instances where men have been peaceful and women violent.

I especially second your last statement...

What would you say to this? - http://www.goodreads.com/story/show/3...
(Read "My Observations on the Issue of Patriarchy")


message 25: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Lilly | 20 comments Lit Bug, your post made me think a lot about my mom. She was born in the 1920s. She was very outspoken and driven, and very proud of being one of the only girls or boys in her neighborhood to finish high school. But she never got to go to college because she said women didn't go to college in her time, and she stopped working as soon as she got married. She pushed me to go to college (which I did), saying I could do anything I wanted. But then later she said she really wanted me to be educated so I'd be a better wife and mother, not to have a career. I always felt I disappointed her by not being very traditional, and by becoming a lawyer and not having children. Then at her funeral my godmother told me stories about how my mom was always doing things women weren't supposed to do at that time -- traveling alone, buying her own car, marrying late, handling the money for the family when she did get married. I remember my mom saying how the Bible was right about most things, but laughing at the idea that the husband was the head of the household and the wife should defer to him. At the same time, she always claimed the world was "better" when women didn't work and all stayed home with their kids. I often think the mixed messages I received from her were due to the conflict between what she felt she was supposed to do with her life and what she might have done if born later. I'll stop rambling now. Obviously, the post really resonated with me.


message 26: by Lit Bug (new)

Lit Bug | 94 comments Lisa wrote: "Lit Bug, your post made me think a lot about my mom. She was born in the 1920s. She was very outspoken and driven, and very proud of being one of the only girls or boys in her neighborhood to fin..."

I enjoyed reading about your mother - it sounds so funny that it is exactly happening with us women in this country. We're being educated mostly to become good wives/mothers, rather to be our own selves at the cost of social conformity. It's silly that we are stereotyped into performing noble chores of running a family and I find it very hurtful.


message 27: by Bliss (new)

Bliss | 2 comments Lisa wrote: Unlike words like fireman or policeman, which are gender-specific, hero, author, and actor are not.

It interests me that often the official titles for some professions are gender neutral: fire fighter, police officer, letter carrier, etc. In the US 'Representative' is the appropriate term for the vernacular 'Congress(wo)man.' The titles have been around for a long time so they're not a response to current language changes.


message 28: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Lilly | 20 comments Lit Bug wrote: I enjoyed reading about your mother - it sounds so funny that it is exactly happening with us women in this country. We're being educated mostly to become good wives/mothers, rather to be our own selves at the cost of social conformity.

When my mom first said that, I thought it was this crazy thing she'd thought up in her own mind. Years later, when I read more about the 50s, 60s and 70s, I realized that actually was what a lot of people thought. So I guess it shows things changed quite a bit in the U.S. though still a ways to go. It's awful that women and girls still must struggle to become educated in so many countries.


message 29: by Lit Bug (new)

Lit Bug | 94 comments Education is only one of the more obvious struggles - but there are far worse invisible struggles that we are going through - the right to be ourselves at the risk of being misunderstood and misjudged - it makes life extremely difficult for us to be educated but not having gender equality - the knowledge that no matter how well we work and earn and how smart we are, our "noble chores" are our destiny - we are to be wives, mothers and daughters first, paragons of virtue first, and there's no place for anything else that contradicts these roles. Our future is decided the moment we are born - these decisions are already made for us. And as we go deeper into the orthodox families, the atmosphere for girls only worsens. Try as we might, we'll never be considered as smart as men, and I don't see a psychological change in favor of gender equality in this country anywhere in near-future.

Many of our languages compare women to cows - they are to be mute, docile and conforming to the wishes of their owners. No wonder, a language's idioms say a lot about its culture.


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