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Aug 12, 2012

language has been a lot on my mind lately - it's always been a passion - but recently, sadly, sexist language has been creeping into my workplace and making 55-60% of the workforce invisible...

apparently the womyn are no longer going to be expected to work on desk anymore - we’re now going to ‘man’ the new work stations (known as the pods) - and during some 'it' maintenance we were encouraged to use the fax or means other than email ‘to communicate with your brethren’… i’m not man, nor am i brother (or member of a male religious sect) – so when the fuck did we, the womyn, cease to be noticed, cease to be equal members of the workforce? having offered the option of ‘staffing the pods’ weeks before when we had an 'it' meeting, i was pleased to see an email to all staff with the subject line of ‘how we staff the pods at…’ – pleased that is until i read the body of the message where ‘manned’ was the only term used… so disappointing, frustrating, and downright depressing (of course my first reaction was to be really pissed off!)… as to the ‘communicate with your brethren’ email that came out on my day off, i was happy to see a (male) colleague had emailed back with a very simple, but, to me, powerful rebuke in 3 words - ‘and the sisteren’ – yay, there was someone else who understood the inherent exclusion in this sexist language, an actual thinker… i emailed all staff the next day with a link to unesco’s 1999 guidelines on gender neutral language – perhaps a seed of enlightenment has been sewn… i received an email apology after that - 'apologies fellow earthling' - i'm proud to be called earthling - but fellow? according to the online etymology dictionary fellow has been "used familiarly since mid-15c. for "man, male person" - guess he just didn't quite get the point ...

sherryl kleinman, who teaches a sociology course on gender inequality in America, wrote  an article - Why Sexist Language Matters - and states...

“…both women and men in my classes have the most trouble understanding - or, as I see it, share a strong unwillingness to understand - sexist language.

I'm not referring to such words as "bitch," "whore" and "slut." What I focus on instead are words that students consider just fine: male (so-called) generics. Some of these words refer to persons occupying a position: postman, chairman, freshman, congressman, fireman. Other words refer to the entire universe of human beings: "mankind" or "he." Then we've got manpower, manmade lakes and "Oh, man, where did I leave my keys?" There's "manning" the tables in a country where children learn that "all men are created equal"…

… male-based generics are another indicator -- and more importantly, a reinforcer -- of a system in which "man" in the abstract and men in the flesh are privileged over women… It's no accident that "man" is the anchor in our language and "woman" is not.”  read more here

 intimate art of christina camphausen

alas, another sexist comment from another forum – a comment on an article about animal brutality, along the lines of "who are the cunts committing these atrocities" - wasn’t something I was expecting either… i’m never impressed when my female anatomy is attacked, i don’t appreciate cunt being used as a derogatory term - see my previous post 'what's in a word' – it’s a beautiful word, and i, along with many womyn, reclaimed it back in the 70s - we embraced our womanhood, viewed our genitalia as beautiful, not something to be used as an abusive, derogatory term to describe those seen as despicable – this abuse of our bodies only helps maintain fear and hatred of them, while reinforcing poor body image and lack of self esteem in many womyn and girls… after explaining my position, i did get an apology for the context in which this person used cunt – perhaps they are open to questioning the status quo…

it’s no surprise then that our language is also speciesist…

“Speciesism and sexism clearly often operate together and in tandem, with women and nonhuman animals depicted as objects to be controlled, manipulated, and exploited. Thus, when men describe women as “cows, “ “bitches, “ “(dumb) bunnies,” “birds,” “chicks,” “foxes,” and “fresh meat” and their genitalia as other species, they use derogatory language, essentially to relegate both women and animals to the inferior statuses of “less than male” and, even, “less than human.” from ‘on human-nonhuman relations, a sociological exploration of speciesism’…

according to joan dunayer, author of ‘animal equality: language and liberation’ (among other titles) in her article ‘on speciesist language' - "A noun is a person, place, or thing," we obediently recite as children. What, then, are nonhuman animals? They aren't people or places, so - convention tells us - they must be things. Current English usage is speciesist. It glorifies the human species and belittles all others. Just as sexist language demeans women and excludes them from full consideration, speciesist language demeans and excludes nonhuman animals. When we consign other animals to the category thing, we obscure their sentience, individuality and right to autonomy…

… Every sentient being is a someone, not a something. By concealing this truth, speciesist language sanctions cruelty. Soon, I hope, children will learn, "A noun is an animal, place, or thing." With non-speciesist language, we can teach respect for all creatures. Just, compassionate words can help free our wordless kin.”

one of the most articulate, expressive, inspiring, political articles i have read lately is ‘liberate your language’ by vegina, on her blog vegina: musings from a feminist vegan rabble-rouser…

“Through slang terms, idioms, insults, and standardized grammatical constructs, language reflects current social inequalities. It is packed with the vestiges of a culture’s history of domination, exploitation, and discrimination. In this way, language not only reflects inequality but also has the potential to oppress. In using problematic language, we reinscribe abuses and inequalities. However, by simply not using such language, we can free our own words of exploitation, forcing others to confront these issues when they hear us speak.

In this post I will focus on how language oppresses (and how we can liberate that language) as it applies to nonhuman animals and speciesist ideology. Importantly though, as I will describe below, it is impossible to discuss speciesist language without also discussing racist and sexist language, as they are all interlinked by a prevailing structure of inequality that operates within most institutions, belief systems, governments, and cultures globally.

Language oppresses in various ways. In relation to animals, the most notable ways that language reinforces and solidifies inequality is through pronouns, the use of “mass terms,” inaccurate language, derogatory terms/insults, and culturally specific idioms and adages...” i urge everyone to read vegina's wonderful article...

another incredible author on this topic that should be read is carol j adams, author of ''the sexual politics of meat" and "the pornography of meat"... as an article written by her is referred to in vegina's post i will simply acknowledge her - there's probably enough here to absorb already... 

language – 
it's powerful, it's political – 
go on, liberate yours!

Imported from external blog

Visibility: Everyone
Posted: Sunday August 12, 2012, 10:18 am
Tags: politics ponderings passions. [add/edit tags]

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Sharon T.
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