Thursday, October 11, 2007

Words, Bunk Gender Studies, and Rampant Sexism

While reading about how languages evolve in the new edition of Nature (future speak: "I readed the article and thinked it was interesting!), I was reminded of the lovable linguistics-buffs over at Language Log. I thought I'd pop on over and see if they'd discovered the Nature article as well (they have). It was then that I noticed that they are still discussing bunk sex-difference studies, this time in the form of a short post entitled "Are Pop Gender Studies from Uranus?" I love that the ever proper grammarians are in no way too stuffy for a 'talking out your bum' pun (do I get points for slant rhymes?), and I also loved they they noticed the chauvinistic and condescending attitude with which NYT writer treats author Deborah Cameron in a recent Times interview in which she discusses her new book, Talking Tosh on Mars and Venus (also, Language Log delves into what all is meant by the term "Darwinism" these days - its initial meaning to refer to Charles Darwin's grandfather's idea that "all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament" and its use by evolution denialist cranks as a disparaging term for the sane people).

So, after spending an enjoyable morning thinking about words, I was prompted to see if anyone else was still talking about that bunk "happiness gap" study that first led me to Lang Log and - alas! - my own local paper, the Atlanta Journal Constitution is not only still treating this mythical gap as though it were real, but also debating whether or not feminism caused it! Shaunti Feldhahn, dimwit extraordinaire, mis-defines feminism to include not only the opening up of opportunities for women but also for the sexist attitudes that continue place full responsibility for child care on women. As she sees it:
Most women have a deep desire for someone to share their life with, to have children and watch them grow. There’s nothing wrong with seizing our modern workplace opportunities. But if a woman pursues those opportunities at the expense of those personal desires, and then finds that she’s lonely, past child-bearing age, or has missed the key moments in her children’s lives, why wouldn’t she have regrets?
Yes, let's not consider the poor men who also fail to spend enough time on personal relationships - a feeling of isolation in the modern world must be a problem for women alone. Heaven forbid that men and women share responsibility of child care so that everyone's lives might include family as well as other interests. It was so much better when men were emotionally distant and women were intellectually unfulfilled. Feminism, and not continued sexism, makes women unhappy. What tripe!

It is official, I now live in the most regressive city in the world.

8 comments:

Casmall said...

I love to think about how words evolve and you've given two recent examples, Darwinism and Feminism. Strangely, no one actually uses Darwin as a word and it was only given the -ism ending to attempt to market evolutionary thinking as a political movement. Darwin was a person with scientific theories and I think that the term Darwinism caught on because it implies that a whole scientific field is just the opinion of some guy. The Nature article talks about grammar usage changing because the rule are complex. "Darwinism" seems to have survived because it proved useful as a political label, not because it describes anything.

La Pobre Habladora said...

Yeah, there are three types of word changes mentioned in this post. The first type of change involves the natural evolution of the language. No agenda here, just an accumulation of error that results in an overall change (somewhat like biological evolution, no?).

You sum up the second type of change as neatly as anyone could - in the case Darwinism, the word has always been used to imply that a scientific theory is merely the posturing of one individual. The change is that the term once denoted the theories put forth by Erasmus Darwin, who's ideas are no longer discussed, and now refers to evolution in general. So, as you say, the sole reason for the term's continued usage is its adoption by anti-evolution cranks to imply that evolution, a scientific fact, is somehow still just an idea proposed by one man. This is useful for the cranks because they can attack Darwin's personal ideas and writings and call it evidence against the existence of evolution itself.

The third type of change is the hijacking of a word. The word feminism, much like the word liberal, is constantly being imbued with new connotations and meanings as the movement's detractors re-define it as a slur. By consistently juxtaposing the word feminist with the words "man-hating", they try to re-define the term to mean "man-hater". The same thing is happening with "god-less liberal" - say it often enough and people will naturally narrow their understanding of the word until it just means "atheist."

Casmall said...

It seems that a lot of liberals are shifting to the term "progressive" when they describe themselves or their organization. I like it, its actually more accurate as a political descriptor for a lot of the things we'd like to see in government. The political term has a long history-Teddy Roosevelt was a republican progressive!

La Pobre Habladora said...

Well, I'm not ready to let our detractors re-define the word feminism as something negative, nor do I think that the word liberal should be relinquished so easily either. Not that I'm against the word "progressive," but I feel like dropping the term "liberal" all together is letting our detractors define the debate through spin and bully tactics. Certainly, with the word feminism, there is no other term to be used - to make a slur out of the term is a major offensive against the movement.

Casmall said...

How do you think feminism was co-opted and changed? How long did it take? Its seems the negative connotations, much like for liberal, have been fairly recent-possibly 80s-present.

La Pobre Habladora said...

Rush Limbaugh is largely credited for popularizing the term "feminazi." According to a Wikipedia article on this topic (found here): "Many cultural theorists believe the term feminazi is one way in which social conservatives attempt to minimize and marginalize the work of liberal feminists. This work includes equal pay initiatives, sex discrimination and sexual harassment laws, reproductive freedoms, promotion of diversity, and legislation that helps protect women from violence."

La Pobre Habladora said...

Also, Christina Hoff Sommers has been a leading voice in the campaign to smear the term feminism. Her best known books, Who Stole Feminism?: How Women Have Betrayed Women and The War against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men, were published in 1994 and 2001. Sommers, like many of feminism's detractors, tries to redefine feminism as misandry,the hate of men.

La Pobre Habladora said...

Also, Feminism 101 has a lot to say about "strawfeminist" - which is exactly the type of thing that we are talking about, an invention of a fake scary feminism to keep people away from the real good ideas.