Feminism Friday: Words matter

I’ve been brewing this post for a while and getting stuck because it’s just too much to write about. I’m finding this more and more with these Feminism Friday posts – I want to write about something, but it leads to something else to something else to… can open, worms everywhere! And so I just leave it in drafts and post something easier. But I’ve decided I shouldn’t not post about something because I can’t do it justice, I’ll just post about where I’m up to with something and leave it there. So.

Earlier this week, Boris Johnson called David Cameron a “girly swot” for getting a First in his degree. There’s an excellent post about it on London Feminist (found via @genderdiary)

A month ago, Bradley Wiggins said he’d been cycling “like a girl.” Adding “Not to disrespect girls, I have one at home.” Oh well that’s ok then. I’m sure your daughter was flattered.

I’ve always had a problem with “don’t be such a girl” and “crying/screaming like a girl” for the reasons Caro wrote about so brilliantly on Bea, but language privileges men in ways I hadn’t even noticed.

In his brilliant TED Talk Violence & Silence, Jackson Katz, Ph.D talks about how the way we describe domestic violence switches the blame  from the perpetrator to the victim.

This brilliant Shakesville post about the coverage of the Oscar Pistorius case really made me think about how the press reduced Reeva Steenkamp to Pistorius’s “girlfriend” – i.e. defining her in relation to him. (I had, of course, already noticed how long it took some news outlets to mention Steenkamp by name – hence the ‘Her name was Reeva Steenkamp’ hashtag on Twitter – and how some people wrote about the case without using her name at all: “His model girlfriend – a sign of status among jock sportsmen…”)

I also hadn’t noticed, before reading it on Shakesville, how so often women’s rights are discussed in relation to how they affect “our” wives, mothers, daughters. I’ve done it myself. A while ago when I heard a man respond to a young homeless girl’s “Excuse me, could you spare some change?” with “Excuse me, could you suck my dick?” I wanted to ask him if he’d be ok with someone speaking to his mother or sister like that, when of course I should have asked what the fuck made him think it was ok to speak to anyone like that. (I didn’t say anything at all. He was with a mate and I was scared. But so so angry and sad.)

Melissa at Shakesville was writing about it in relation to President Obama, but of course he’s not the only person who does it. Melissa writes:

Defining women by their relationships to other people is reductive, misogynist, and alienating to women who do not define ourselves exclusively by our relationships to others. Further, by referring to “our” wives et al, the President appears to be talking to The Men of America about Their Women, rather than talking to men AND women.

Now that it’s been pointed out to me, I hear it all the time.

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5 thoughts on “Feminism Friday: Words matter

  1. It drives me mad. And then I start analysing my own speech and language. And then I end up sitting silently trying to work out what I can say. Such a minefield.

  2. I will notice this from now on and mindfulness is the first small step in the slow path to any big change. This stuff, you lot, Twitter, is changing my life.

    1. Absolutely, Alison. And, yes, mine too. I think Twitter in particular (social media in general) is making such a difference. It’s exciting.

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