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You realize that you can actually tell something about a culture if it has a word for something. Like “cougar.” Not the innocent ferocious animal, the term meaning an older woman who’s dating a younger man. There is no male equivalent because it’s perfectly acceptable for an older man to date a younger woman and no one needs to comment on it. Another old axiom can be found in some of Robert Heinlein’s books in which characters announce that they are “free, white, and twenty-one” and therefore able to do as they please. And there’s the phrase “don’t be cowed,” which Americans will recognize and the phrase, “bull yourself up,” which Brits, at least, will know. In America we occasionally directly call a woman a cow, and that’s always derogatory; I believe the expression is even more common in the UK. Pert means something like sassy, which is another thing men aren’t. (Yet another female-oriented word.) Do I really have to go into why this kind of weakness is less than desirable? Why should there be a different word for her stature just because of her sex?
Teenagers growing up now are different from any who came before.
Or, if you can’t imagine the consequences, take a look at some of the studies on language that are out there. Women are commodities, objects, to be judged by their sexual appeal.
Imagine what this can do to your subconscious when you hear or read it coming from virtually everywhere, all day, every day, ad infinitum. Damsel (which almost begs having “in distress” added to it)? If they’re not outright slanderous, then, like voluptuous and bewitching, they refer to a woman’s attractiveness quotient.
There’s still a lot of implicit racism in the English language, of course: in general dark things are bad and light, white, or bright things are good. And it behooves every one of us to think about it and try to fight it—but others are doing a much better job than I ever could of arguing against this kind of racism.
What we have to realize is that verbal misogyny is just as disgusting, just as harmful, just as pernicious, just as insidious, and just as necessary to stamp out. As a word association football aside (only Monty Python fans will find that amusing), did you know that in Japanese you can say that someone did something without saying “he” or “she”? I don’t know what this says about misogyny in Japan, which there is plenty of, but I do hear that these days Japanese women are often choosing not to get married at all. Teachers have been named “Gender Champions” and are using guidelines promoted by the Department of Education and the Institute of Physics, a London-based scientific charity that works to advance physics education (yay for them! “Go make me a sandwich” is also among the new no-nos.
As babies we learn from language, and philosophers and philologists have argued for some time whether language actually dictates our thoughts rather than the reverse. The very idea that there is a specific insult meaning that a man is over-influenced by his wife/girlfriend/baby mama is outrageous.
I’m not going to insist that the strong version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is correct and there can be no thought without language, because that’s already been disproved. Being manly is a good thing while being womanish is undeniably bad.But no one can deny that language make that name up) has written a fascinating article, How Language Shapes Thought. Try to count how many times you hear the phrase “be a man about it” or “man up” in the media and then meditate on exactly where that puts you if you are not a man to begin with and can’t be one no matter how you try (unless you’re transgender, which is fine with me but not an option for all women).It points out that in recent years “a solid body of empirical evidence showing how languages shape thinking has finally emerged.” Her conclusions, in brief, were: “People communicate using a multitude of languages that vary considerably in the information they convey. Think about terms like “Don Juan” or “Holy Joe” and the fact that there are no female counterparts to these. When you read or hear something like “a postal worker may be forced to turn on his heel and flee from –turning and fleeing. Then there’s “catty.” Only women are catty: they can be “cats,” another pejorative term, or even “hellcats,” and they get into “catfights.” There is no specific term for a fight between two men; why should there be? It’s just a watered-down way of saying impertinent and spirited. Even my beloved Sir Terry Pratchett, in says “She was short, although now Polly knew she was female, the word ‘petite’ could be decently used . Doesn’t “petite” sound sort of small and cute and harmless? And if you’re going to argue that small and cute and harmless isn’t a bad thing for women, you’re reading the wrong post. ” I suppose a small boy or a very old man might speak tremulously, but waspishness is reserved for females. I heard of boys both tittering and giggling, but in general these terms are reserved for females, too.There are decent substitutes for all the male-oriented words; we just have to start using them. ” or “What a p***y.” I’ve written to ask them not to, but I don’t hold out much hope for improvement.And the reason for that is herself: she sees no barriers before her forbidding a mere “chit” of a girl from any career to which she aspires. They have an entirely new take on issues of racism and sexism as well.