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Feminist or Feminazi: What’s In a Name?

Yumna Urfi, Contributing Writer

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Retard. Faggot. Nigger. These terms are universally classified as derogatory and deemed unwelcome in polite social conversation. But have you considered words like hysterical, ball-buster or loony? Unfortunately, such objectionable terms exemplifying implicit sexism, go unnoticed on a daily basis. Whilst strengthening the roots of gender discrimination, these words highlight the fault in our language as the root cause of objectification, abuse and disrespect.

Language does more than merely condition our thinking – its words, history and culture embody a view of the world and foist it upon us. Every word individually leaves an impact upon the speaker’s and listener’s mind, framing their thinking and perspective on things. English language by its nature is painted with extreme shades of gender discrimination, sowing the seeds of the biased mentality in the minds of the young and the old. Our language discriminates against women by defining, dismissing and ignoring them.

While he is a man – individual and independent, she is defined only with reference to him, as a wo‘man’, therefore, illustrating the first form of linguistic discrimination as the defining of roles. In a male centric society where men have been the doers and actors of every prestigious thing, our language associates all higher degree, confident, and authoritative words to the male sex. This automatically defines the woman’s standing as secondary and uses semantic space to limit the perception of her roles.

As men are defined through occupational terms, women are linked with relational terms like wife or mother leading to a loss of their individual identity. At first, it might not be demeaning for either of the sexes to be viewed in light of the other but gradually these expressions begin to restrain the identity of a woman. While men are still able to hold their individuality regardless of being someone’s ‘husband’, the women are never viewed outside the label of a ‘wife’ or ‘mother’ which implicitly yet constantly reinforces the limitation of their domain.

Even in the professional field we observe that occupations take a male dominated form when a female prefix is added to them. For instance, a pilot is assumed to be a man which stirs the need for us to add the prefix ‘lady’ to identify a female pilot. Doctor, lawyer, judge, driver are other examples that typify the same issue. A famous joke accurately narrates this problem – “A father and son have a car accident and are both badly hurt. When the boy is taken in for an operation, the surgeon says I can not do the surgery because this is my son.” How is this possible? The surgeon was the boy’s mother. The reason why some had to think about that exemplifies how gender neutral professions are classified as masculine.

On the contrary, professions naturally associated with women are either subordinate or sexually related, like secretary, nurse and prostitute.  The skill set of a secretary is less demanding, eodem tempore a nurse always works according to the doctor’s orders – thus the natural association of these professions with women conveys that they either lack intellectual intelligence or leadership abilities. Moving on to the listing of the sexes, we identify a similar pattern when the males always come first – for example, men and women, males and females, his and hers, mr. and mrs., he and she and many others. This usage of language reflects a very narrow and biased way in which women are represented.

Women who try to break the stereotypical notions are often referred to with words that abase their confidence, opinions and courage. According to a research by Sacraparental, bossy, abrasive, head-strong, aggressive are all examples of negatively connotated adjectives used to describe strong willed women. Words like ‘mannish’ and ‘tomboy’ used for outspoken, confident females imply that a woman’s original form lies in being docile, soft spoken and submissive.

Moreover, all negative feelings like jealousy, envy, anxiety and pity have a female ending and are associated with women. This leads us onto identifying the second fault committed by the language of dismissing women as pawns of their hormones and physicality. Hysterical is a word that originates from the illness hysteria – as per The Guardian “a condition thought to be exclusive to women, sending them uncontrollably and neurotically insane owing to a dysfunction of the uterus”. This word with a female baiting history has led to the feminisation of madness in our language, allowing people to associate instability and imbalance to the personality of a woman.

‘Loony’ or ‘la lunatique' in French, is another example that leaves a similar impact on the listener’s mind. Arising from the root word lunatic or lunacy meaning a periodic insanity due to the monthly cycle of the moon, instantly causes people to assume ‘loony’ as a feminine quality. The usage of ‘la’ which defines the feminine gender in French reiterates this belief and instils a biased thinking. While male based terms like fraternalism, mastermind etc. signify importance, female terms convey feelings of fluidity, soft emotions and unimportance. By relating slangs and colloquials to sexual activities through words like, ball-buster, dame and mistress, one promotes the objectification of women. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, coined by two great psychologists of the 19th century Edward Sapir and Benjamin lee Whorf,  states that “all human thoughts and actions are bound by the restraints of language” – Ask A Linguist – proves that every word of our’s has a long lasting impact.

For instance, Gary Nunn, who writes the ‘Mind Your Language’ section for The Guardian says, “women aren't trusted with serious positions as much as men are; it's well documented that they're disproportionately represented everywhere from boardrooms to the corridors of power (just one in five MPs are women)”. Statistics like “78% of newspaper articles are written by men” – Cochrane – and only “29% of the science and engineering workforce” – Statistics is female, are an unfortunate representation of our society’s thinking and it’s demands. Hence, women are forced down a path of doubt and low self esteem because the consequences of our language refuse to allow them the space to prove their intellectual brilliancy.

The third form of linguistic discrimination is ignorance. The ‘generic masculine’ nature of our language that causes us to identify any unknown sex as male, is the key element of discrimination. For instance a line from a book reads, “It is here in this personal capacity, that an individual can be warm…regardless of his social role, that an individual can show what kind of a guy he is” (Goffman, Encounters 152). This example illustrates how a general form of an individual takes a masculine pronoun. The second illustration of ignorance is through the usage of female terms only in association with men like housewife, wife and mother. This makes us wonder if women are even present as individuals in the writer’s mind and aware about how far the society has yet to go in exposing sexism to conscious analysis.

Opposition including Kallyanne Conway, counselor to current US President, might accuse feminists of reading too extensively between the lines. However, the truth is revealed through various psychology theories like Sapir-Whorf that prove the impact of language on cognitive thinking. Giulio Lepschy, a famous linguist and a member of the British Academy says, “we are spoken by our language, rather than speaking it” – Lepschy – which shows that our words mould our thoughts, define our personality and influence our actions.

An Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, with his theory “that the unconscious mind governs behaviour to a greater degree than people suspect” – Sigmund Freud – hints at a link between language and the subconscious. Therefore, in order to eliminate the problem of sexism from its root, one needs to identify the fault in the foundation built by language.

The question that arises is where do we go from here? What do we do after identifying a problem in a language used across the globe? The procedure is simple – we need to continue identifying and simultaneously rectifying the flaws by choosing alternate gender neutral words. Even if our attempts are not as powerful to annihilate the deeply ingrained patriarchal history in the structure of the language, they will contribute to making people more aware of the sexism embodied in their speech.

 

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1 Comment

  • disqus_wsQKEXwqrw

    I favor feminine women, not “Feminist or Feminazi”. Men & women should compliment (not compete) each others strengths & weaknesses. Men & women are not equal, – they are unique & complimentary. Language correctly & naturally addresses the differences. There is too much loony hysterical nonsense in the above article to address point by point.

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Feminist or Feminazi: What’s In a Name?