Jeannette Muzima: Little to laugh at in writer’s take on sexist language in road signs
NORTHAMPTON — Jonathan Kahane, in his guest column about a letter calling attention to sexist language in road signs, attempts to use the last resort of those who have no intelligent response to an intelligent concept — ridicule.
Sometimes ridicule has one minor contribution which is true humor. His attempt at humor fails miserably.
When the importance of dismantling sexist language was first presented by feminist theory in the 70’s and 80’s (as opposed to patriarchal or masculist theory, which is what dominates even today), the tired old retort was that feminists lacked a sense of humor.
If there was an awareness that a woman rejected unwanted male attention in the form of a remark, or more aggressively, touching, grabbing, pinching, or even rape itself, we were told, “Oh, it’s all in good fun. Where’s your sense of humor?”
Such feeble questions try to divert attention from the reality that there is nothing funny about being assaulted, verbally or physically. In fact, verbal and physical assault is a constant reality women face throughout the world.
If “chairperson” seems awkward, maybe it is at first because it was a new word to us. Some would say it doesn’t make a difference what we call this head person.
Women are supposed to be OK with being called a “chairman,” but somehow, I think, if you called a man “chairwomen,” he probably wouldn’t like it.
But the real problem with sexist language is that it conditions women to feel inferior and allow ourselves to be treated this way.
This is because the “norm” and the “ideal” is seen as male, simply because patriarchal theory has made us all believe this.
That’s why women can now wear pants in their daily lives, but we don’t think it’s OK for a man to wear a dress anytime he wants. This kind of thinking really says that it’s OK to be more male-like, because male is good, and not OK to be more female-like, because female isn’t as good as male.
And then there’s the ubiquitous vernacular that plagues us all these days, using “guys” to address everyone, young, old, elder, regardless of gender. I can’t imagine that boys and men would be OK if they were constantly addressed as “gals.” But it seems OK that girls and women can be called “guys.”
It happens countless times each day.
So, Ms. Kahane, we appreciate your feeble attempt at humor, but let’s call it what it really is, the same, tired, old, worn-out display of sexist thinking. If you truly think that the use of sexist language makes no difference, please offer something intelligent and cohesive as a response, not ridicule.
And if you still insist on ridicule, let’s hope it’s really funny. At least we could get the benefits of a good laugh.
Jeannette Muzima lives in Northampton.