The Feminist Gadfly

Discussing the problems of feminist identification in the context of gender egalitarianism

Category: Language

A Rant

by aronjerrison

Every time that I try to write a post, I get stuck with the same problem. Of all the things that are making me angry right now, what ought I write about?

Well, today at least, I’m going to be writing about something with which Eddy will disagree, strenuously.

With the recent Chick-fil-A controversy and the resurgence of BSA problems, queer rights have been at the forefront of my mind lately. In particular, a piece of rhetoric that nearly all of us use when trying to convince homophobes to be tolerant. I am speaking, of course, about being “born this way.”

I am not attempting to present an argument about the origins of homosexuality. I just think that queer folk, myself included, have a hard enough time. Why would we want to de-legitimise our own sexualities?

Every time that someone says “Don’t hate gay people, they can’t control to whom they are attracted.”, they are implying that, were sexuality a choice, homosexuality would be the wrong one.

How can we stand for this?!*

Eddy has claimed, and most likely will claim again, that rhetoric like this is important because it can help sway people who can’t accept the validity of homosexuality.

My response is always the same. “Fuck those people!”

I want the right to marry whomsoever I chose. I want the right to adopt without facing discrimination. I don’t want to have to worry about my sexuality being a barrier to employment.

I also don’t want to degrade myself by dismissing my sexuality as an unfortunate circumstance of birth. There is absolutely nothing wrong with me, nor, indeed, with anyone else who doesn’t conform the heteronormative paradigm. If someone finds his/her/hirself to be unable to accept that, I will not condescend to meet them half way.

Homophobes are beneath my contempt.

-AJ

*It’s at times like this that I wish I had an interrobang on my keyboard.

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“As a Feminist”

by aronjerrison

Although I would like to keep my record pristinely clear of on-topic posts, I have mentioned today’s post multiple times in the past two weeks to both Naomi and Eddy, and I thought that I really ought to write it up to share with you.

As I go about my life, both on the internet and out in the big bad world, I am confronted with far too much anti-feminist rhetoric. I have found that the image of the “humourless feminist” is still a popular one, much to my chagrin. As much as I would love to point the people who accept this stereotype to a link to Jo Brand, in the real world, due to the socio-economic (primarily economic) barriers keeping me from smartphone ownership,  I do not always have that option.

The result of this is me finding myself attempting to break that stereotype by describing myself as having both a sense of humour and feminist convictions often uttering that unfortunate phrase: “well, as a feminist, I…”

My problem with the phrase is not the unhesitating allegiance to feminism to which it seems to pledge me. I have no problem with that. Instead, I fear that I am committing some grievous breach of etiquette for a male feminist (more on the syntax of “male feminist” in a later post). Having seen so many straw-feminists formed out of a misunderstanding and generalising of one feminist’s comments, I do not want to allow my elucidation of my own feminist ideology to reflect in a potentially negative manner on such an important movement.

This may seem presumptuous to even say, but I would hate to see my thoughts pasted around the internet as an example of why feminists are evil and wrong.

What I need to do is find a more convenient shorthand for “this is what I, being informed by my feminist convictions, think about the topic under discussion. Please do not take this as the view any feminists other than those who state it.” Until I find that shorthand, I would like to, as a feminist, say good bye.

-AJ

Pedantic Feminist cont’d

by aronjerrison

For those of you who have seen the comments on my last post, a regular topic of disagreement with Eddy once again reared its head. Although I will be responding to his latest comment eventually, I thought that I ought to finish this post first.

When we last left our blogger, he was discussing how we need to reclaim ‘man’ as gender neutral. What he had yet to truly discuss, was why.

I have, in my short time on this planet studied a great number of languages. Despite never achieving more than a very very basic grounding in most of them, there was a trend that I noticed. A large percentage of languages, when addressed a mixed gendered group, will prefer masculine forms. This goes so far that even if there is only one male in a large group, one would use masculine collective nouns.

For the first fifteen years of my life, I attended a small private school on the east coast. There were no more than 150 students enrolled in the school at any time and that included four kindergartens and first through eighth grade. (an astute observer will notice that I seem to have finished middle school at the comparatively advanced age of fifteen. This is something which I may discuss at a later date.) In the grade above mine, there was a class composed of ten students, of whom only one was male. Despite this gender ratio, the Hebrew teacher referred to the students as talmidim, the Spanish teacher as los estudiantes, and the German teacher as die studenten (seemingly in contrast to the others, but one must remember that all German plurals use the feminine article).

When we learned this standard of pluralisation, I remember being surprised, and a bit shocked. Why were women being subordinated to men in language? I didn’t see them being subordinated in reality.

Why would men be “more important” in religious texts when the only Rabbi of whom I could think was female?

It was years before I realised what this implied. At the time, I thought that it was just a linguistic quirk. Now, having studied the history of western civilizations spanning millennia, I notice the pattern of dismissal of women, and the undercurrent of fear.

The current debate over reproductive rights is another in a long line of manifestations of wermen’s fear of wifmen’s reproductive abilities. There is no more sense in trying to mitigate an individual’s control of their generative abilities than there was in Zeus swallowing Metis for fear of her offspring.

Really, that’s why I call myself a feminist. Sure, there is a great deal more to it than that, but that is the Aristotelian first cause. In the nearly three thousand years since Hesiod wrote of Uranus stopping up Gaia’s womb so that she could bear no more children, we have stopped using amputation and blood-letting as panaceas, we have stopped leaving sickly children out to die of exposure, and we have stopped killing people to propitiate a plethora of gods, why then, do we continue to treat women with less care and respect than men?

Why do we still marginalise them in our language?

-AJ

Digression

by aronjerrison

I know that I had said that I would be finishing up my post on pedantic feminism, but I feel the need to make a minor digression in response to an image that my room mate showed me.

The image about which I shall be talking in this post can be found here.

He was browsing one of the multitude of “funny” image websites when he came across the photo, and, because it said feminist on it, he thought that I might be interested. He was right.

I am not going to discuss the elevator incident, because many people have already discussed it in great detail, and I feel that I could add nothing to the conversation. If you would like to know about it, I highly recommend Manboobz’ post on the topic.

What I want to discuss is what this indicates about the cultural associations that we seem to have with the word ‘feminist’. (Please note that I am well aware that this image came from a comedic site, I just happen to believe that our taste in comedy indicates something about our inner views).

Feminist bloggers the internet over have discussed time and time again how feminism is not an homogeneous thing. People with vastly differing views can still call themselves feminists and be entirely justified in that appellation. Pointing to these two very differing people and trying to draw the distinction between “women’s rights activist” and “feminist” is doomed to failure. Why? Because feminism is a word that refers to a loose set of affiliated political and social beliefs with the primary focus on improving the lot of the 51% of the population who are systematically oppressed and discriminated against on account of their gender.

The thing about this which strikes me as the most humorous is the description of Ayaan Hirsi Ali on her wikipedia page, in which she is described as “a Somali-Dutch feminist and atheist activist, writer and politician [emphasis mine]”.

I do not wish to belabour the point, because I know that my tendency towards pedantry might run away with me. I just wanted to point out that the two are not only mutually compatible, but feminism is a sine qua non for women’s rights activism.

-AJ

Pedantic Feminism?

by aronjerrison

Sitting down to read several hundred lines of Ancient Greek poetry, I realise that I ought to introduce myself in a way closer to that of my fellow Gadflies Naomi and Eddy. It may be the procrastination talking, but I think that knowing more about me might enable you, the reader to understand more about my perspective on the topics about which I hope to write.

I am a third year classics major here at unnamed small liberal arts college, which has unfortunately manifested in a great deal of pedantry in my everyday interactions with the world. Please, allow me to elaborate.

There has, on our campus, been a sign reading “Men Working” placed over the cover of a manhole. The sign is double-sided, and on each of the sides, the word ‘man’ has been altered. On one, it has been crossed out entirely and replaced with the word ‘people’, and on the other the prefix ‘wo’ has been added. I find these “corrections” to be indicative of a larger problem in our society.

Let me be clear, I have no problem with political correctness. In fact, I am a huge fan. It frustrates me when I hear the more “traditionally” gendered terminology used at dances or dance classes, when referring to people as ‘leads’ and ‘follows’ would be less ambiguous and more politically correct. The problem that I have is with a misunderstanding of etymology.

In Old English, the word ‘man’ was gender neutral. The feminine form was ‘wifman’ and the masculine, ‘werman’. Over time, the labiodental dropped out, and wifman became the modern ‘woman’, while man started to be used as masculine while werman fell out of use.

I agree with the principle that the gender norms implied by the “men working” sign are a problem. I do not, however, think that the solution is to change the sign. I think that in order to deal with this problem, we need to bring back werman. I do not want to hear the phrase ‘humankind’ used when mankind would be preferable, I want man to be gender neutral again.

When I have discussed this with Eddy, he has expressed some reservations about the potentiality of this sort of endeavour. He does not think that we can expect to effect a change in our language when we could just go along with what is currently in use. My problem with that approach, is that it leaves us with changing ‘manholes’ into ‘maintenance holes’ and ignoring the rich history of the language which we hold so dear. It leaves us with poets talking about the Herstory of Womankind and ignoring the potential of embracing what was once a fully gendered language.

-AJ

(this post will be continued with an examination of how this applies to my feminist identification)