Diversity Weblogging

Exclusionary language

Several webloggers have been focusing on the use of language in weblogs and how this can form an exclusionary barrier to women (see Body and Souldes femmes, and Feministe (as well as here)).

I remember when I brought this up as an issue with Doc Searls and got slapped down rather royally. It’s good to see the issue being raised by others, especially by people as eloquent and resolute as these.

Lately though I find myself less concerned about the use of overt terms such as ‘bitch’ and ‘babe’, or the use of phrases such as ‘real men’. I have found that, for the most part, when these are used within political writings the level of discourse is usually rather primitive and the writing rather dull, so I’m not necessarily offended by being excluded.

Atrios may say that he’s just directing his writing to the opponent using the opponent’s language:

If I say Bush “isn’t a real man,” I’m speaking the language of him and his supporters. I don’t think it’s insulting, but they do. It’s meant to be doubly mocking – hit them where it hurts and mock them for being so stupid as to be hurt by it.

All he’s doing though is coming across as a man who has run out of good arguments and has to resort to verbal pissing. No, I just don’t feel excluded by not being a part of these conversations. The danger is more to the writer then me–they may eventually get around to saying something worthwhile, but by that time lack the audience to hear it.

It is the subtle language of exclusion that worries me more. It is the language of Hemingway and Kerouac, and a society that praises such coming from men, but would condemn the same from a woman.

It is the secret handshake, the spirit of mano a mano; it is the weight placed on the origination, not the words themselves; that and not being told that one must press, ever so slightly, one’s finger on the scale to get full worth, or one’s side ends up light.

It is the language of Kierkegaard, who wrote:

It is the man’s function to be absolute, to act absolutely, to express the absolute; the woman consists in the relational. Between two such different entities no real interaction can take place. This misrelation is precisely the joke, and the joke entered the world with woman.

It is the same Kierkegaard who, with devestating skill, captures the essence of the language of exclusion:

History throughout the ages shows that woman’s great abilities have at least in part been recognized. Hardly was man created before we find Eve already as audience at the snake’s philosophical lectures, and we see that she mastered them with such ease that at once she could utilize the results of the same in her domestic practice. […]

As a speaker, woman has so great a talent that she made history with her own special line: the so-called bed-hangings sermons, curtain lectures, etc., and *Xanthippe is still remembered as a pattern of feminine eloquence and as founder of a school that has lasted to this very day, whereas Socrates’ school has long since disappeared…And when the rabbis forbad [women] to put in their word, it was solely because they were afraid that the women would outshine them or expose their folly. In the Middle Ages, the countless witch trials sufficiently showed the deep insight woman had into the secrets of nature.

Bloody marvelous. One almost doesn’t mind being so completely skewered when the act is accomplished by such a rapier wit. Phrases such as ‘’pussy boy’ and words such as ‘bitch’ seem crude and uninspired by comparison.

*Xanthippe was Socrates wife, and seen by him and his friends to be a shrew. He is reported to have said of her, I wish to deal with human beings, to associate with man in general; hence my choice of wife. I know full well, if I can tolerate her spirit, I can with ease attach myself to every human being else.

(Recommended reading on Kierkegaard and feminism is the paper Kierkegaard and Feminism: A Paradoxical Friendship. More on Xanthippe here, and more on the history of misogyny in literature here.)

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