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Jeannette Muzima: Little to laugh at in writer’s take on sexist language in road signs

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.

Legacy Comments2

...and yet you repeatedly use those patriarchal terms "woman" and "women", mere extensions of "man" and "men" respectively. There have been non-sexist alternatives around for decades, but I would avoid Mr. Kahane's translation technique in this case. I mean, "woperson" and "wopeople" are not just cumbersome, but downright silly. On the other hand "womon" has been around for some time and at first glance seems to work quite well. However, there are some geographic constraints. Case in point: In the Carribean, where a common greeting is "Aye Mon!" (trans. "Hey Man!"), "womon" would be as paternalistic as "woman" is here. "Womban" is another term that's used in some circles, but I don't know...am I the only one for whom the melding of the words "womb" and "ban" conjurs up a deodorant for the lady parts? Then there is the old standby that's been around for centuries, "wimmin", but that's just way too Gabby Hayes. Those who have been in The Valley long enough will remember a feminist book store called "Womyn Fire" which was next to the old Iron Horse. I think they had it right. I mean, "womyn" works quite well as both singular and plural and after all, it's all about context. A sense of humor doesn't hurt either.

Ms Muzima - It seems like your feathers are ruffled. What a pity. You must be so overwhelmed with the injustice. It's a world wide problem after all. You must be so busy dealing with the global smears. I mean, as David Sedaris has informed us, the word "vagina" in French is masculine. Oh my. You had better get on that one right away. Is it OK that ships are named after women and referred to as "she?" Should men be offended? I need to know what is politically correct here. If you keep spending all of your time on such crucial points, the "glass ceiling" will be lowered by several feet and equal work for equal pay will remain fantasy. Keep up your "important" work Ms Muzima. Ms Kahane's column recognized the vital issues which is more than yours did. Your anger seems to be blinding you to what really matters. By the way, Ms Kahane's piece was extremely funny!

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