Dirty Words: The perversion of the English language

Consider for a brief moment a world dominated by female pronouns, female centered language, and female linguistics being used as the norm in society. How will this affect the power structures of our culture? Humans continue to ignore and overlook the power and implementation of language in the world. This is not going to be a lesson on languages per se, but how gender specific language, performativity, and linguistics produce meaning to objects and people, specifically womyn in our society.  My intent is to educate and enlighten people to understand the power of language, and how the English language can be oppressive to humankind. Furthermore, my main intent is to raise awareness so that people can QUESTION, PROBE, and ANALYZE dominant discourse.

  • The the usage of male pronouns to stand for gender neutrality is invalid and should be eradicated. Rather than using ‘He’ to suffice for both genders, use ‘S/he’ or ‘He/She’ or ‘She/He.’
  • Fireman, policeman, mailman, chairman. These are gender specific titles attributed to both genders. Use ‘policeperson,’ ‘chairperson,’ ‘mailperson’ and so forth.

Language constructs the foundation of power relations in our society. The male pronouns are typically used to refer to both womyn and men; therefore, people perceive it as being gender neutral. That is not logical reasoning. How can something that is blatantly not neutral be perceived as being so? Why weren’t the female pronouns used which actually have the male spellings associated with it? (S-he, for example). You may inquire: Why should we care? Well, like I stated above – language is the foundation of power structures in our society. It creates and constructs a hierarchy which we conform to unknowingly. This is primarily advantageous to the male species, and womyn have not defiantly and actively questioned this oppressive form of westernized language.

During the nineteenth century, Nietzsche warned against the mistaken tendency to take grammar too seriously: allowing linguistic structures to shape or determine our understanding of the world…(Barad, 2003). This has obviously been ignored because words are simply powerful, and language is a highly effective way of communicating meaning and associations of the world in which we occupy. The use of language functions in politics, religion, culture, sexuality, education, and economics; therefore, making it impossible to disregard.

The Oppressive Embrace of Gender Specific Language

Performativity in the social sciences include the daily behavior (or performance) of individuals based on social norms or habits. Philosopher and feminist theorist, Judith Butler, has used the concept of performativity in her analysis of gender development, as well as, in her analysis of political speech (Gender Trouble). (Barad, 2003) states, “performativity is precisely a contestation of the excessive power granted to language to determine what is real.”

For the sake of my argument and intent of this post, I will focus on Judith Butler’s work dealing with the philosophy of language and linguistics. Her foundation predominantly relied on Foucauldian theory. Foucault simply believed power is exerted throughout society through discourse by the dissemination of knowledge. This then controls and constructs people’s’ realities and beliefs within a society including language and linguistics in relation to gender construction.  The exclusion of female centric language and linguistics is detrimental to the female species in all disciplines and practices. Furthermore, it limits womyn in possessing or gaining autonomy and agency in the public arena where they can have a direct influence and impact on society.

The way language, linguistics, and meaning has been constructed in the English language is through the male. The way HE speaks. The way he perceives the world around him. The way he thinks and behaves. To accept and conform to the ludicrous idea that the English language is gender neutral is invalid. For example, performativity represents meaning through the visual fields such as pornography. ” Pornography makes the world a pornographic place through its making and use, establishing what [wo-men] are said to exist as, are seen as, are treated as, constructing the social reality of what a [wo-man] is and can be in terms of what can be done to her, and what a man is in terms of doing it” (MacKinnon, 1993).

How can we operate in a truly egalitarian society when the history of the human language is male formulated? This is a perturbing question that cannot be ignored if we as a human race believe womyn and men are equal in their rights. Language, the way we communicate through representation, semiotics, meaning should be independently expressed through the female species.

Womyn should no longer be represented and perceived as:

Masochists, Subordinates, Objects, Secondary citizens, solely mothers/wives, seducers, temptresses, mistresses, etc. These are titles and descriptions of the female species through a man’s experiences and consciousness developed and incorporated in the English language to signify the subordination of womyn. So how do we construct and constitute the social reality of what womun is through language? Perhaps, we must unravel and form an original approach to the English language through womyn’s own consciousness and experiences? One unsettling criticism of this is how can one undo centuries of oppressive and limiting language that has constructed an entire gender? This is truly the insurmountable challenge I propose to womyn and men. One suggestion that I use in my daily life is changing the spelling of words to be legitimately gender neutral.

Some examples include:

S/he, Him/Her, Womun, Womyn, God/dess, Chairperson, Sistory (History). There are many more and you can utilize this change in the English language. It’s  powerful and delivers a vital and revolutionary message that womyn desire to possess agency in the world they occupy and represent themselves as an independent entity.

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2 thoughts on “Dirty Words: The perversion of the English language

  1. Andreea,

    Wonderful post.

    You are absolutely right — our male-dominated language does seem to be an “insurmountable challenge.” Your suggestion to change the spelling of words to make them gender neutral is a great idea and one I’ve never thought of.

    I fight sexism in language by not using words like “slut,” “bitch” or “whore” in my conversation and try to call my friends out when they do. It’s strange how we, as women, have been convinced to use such blatantly sexist and oppressive language when referring to one another.

    Keep blogging!

    Jessica
    http://jessicaschreindl.wordpress.com/

  2. “history” is not a gender specific term… and its greek, not english (unlike the word “his” which is old english) it came before the word his, and he, and has nothing to do with maleness in any way. Your contention would mean all of these words are also “male centric” despite having nothing to do with anything masculine… and they’re not:

    anthropomorphism
    antihistamine
    calligraphist
    chisel
    franchise
    Hispanic
    masochism
    schism
    sapphism
    sophism
    whisks
    whisper

    gah, you get the point, dork

    having the letters h-i-s in a word does not make it gender specific. 😛

    a better discussion topic (imo) might be discussing a social shift, from calling Women, “women”, and to start calling them ‘Men”
    Infinitely more appropriate, that the Birthing gender be considered the origin gender, and the pollinating gender be consider the “from-” gender
    I dont mind being called “woman”, if your gender is called “man”.
    it makes infinitely more sense to me that way, anyway.
    “Maleness” should be “curvy hips that promote safe childbirth, a heartiness of body to protect and defend offspring and awesome breasts… cause I like em”
    😛

    “During the nineteenth century, Nietzsche warned against the mistaken tendency to take grammar too seriously: allowing linguistic structures to shape or determine our understanding of the world…(Barad, 2003). This has obviously been ignored…” (because you wrote this manifesto)

    and yes, Im taking the piss, a little, but the point still holds. Whether you stand against it, or with it… your still taking it too seriously. the warning is for you, as much as anyone else.

    ~b.

    “A happy woman is one who has no cares at all; a cheerful woman is one who has cares but doesn’t let them get her down.” ~Beverly Sills

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