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Mind your Language (and Sexism)!

kolkata book fair, meghna roy
29
Jan 2017

Mind your Language (and Sexism)!

Woman up! Woman is a social animal. Be a woman! Who’s womanning our office today?

Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Despite numerous differences in people across the world on lines of class, religion, race, ethnicity, etc. one consensus the world has successfully reached is to make our ears patriarchal- so much so that when age-old maxims are tweaked a bit, it sounds odd to our ears. This is how we are used to using the English language which, for the longest time in history, has pretended that being a human being is the reserve of men and people of all other genders are sub-humans.

Patriarchy is a transnational, transcultural and global phenomenon. No matter how varied the different forms of the most widely spoken language on earth there are, all these forms have one thing in common- they are all phallogocentric.

What is phallogocentrism?

In critical theory and deconstruction, phallogocentrism is a neologism coined by Jaques Derrida to refer to the masculine (phallus) in the construction of meaning. The word is a portmanteau of the older terms phallocentrism (focusing on the masculine point of view) and logocentrism (focusing on language in assigning meaning to the world). [Source: Wikipedia]

This essentially implies that we make only partial sense of the world when we replace “person/ human being” with “man” and “people” with “men”. If language is really a lens to see the world, our vision becomes blurred when we try to ascribe meaning to and derive meaning from the world through just one gender.

reya ahmed, kolkata book fair

Artwork: Reya Ahmed.

Think of a story which unravels before the backdrop of literature. The story is that of society. Literature, which itself is handicapped by the incompleteness of language, fails to capture the essence of this story in its entirety. It struggles to keep its reality afloat in the reality constructed by the author who inhabits a misogynistic universe.

“There is abundant scholarship which establishes that the delegitimation of homosexual desire and the production of the naturally heterosexual, properly bigendered (unambiguously male or female) population of citizens, with the women respectably desexualized, is a process that is central to nation formation all over the globe.”

-Nivedita Menon, Seeing like a Feminist

It is no wonder why nurse evokes the feminine pronoun and bus conductor inevitably is followed by a he if the gender of the person is unknown.

Language works in binaries, privileging one section of the society to the other. It looks like the world is made of opposites on two extremes of the spectrum- black/white, body/mind, nature/culture and of course the most auspicious of them all- man/woman who have been made to look so starkly different from each other to serve the grand patriarchal agenda. However, in reality, gender is far from being a spectrum.

The next time someone tells you to not be a pussy when your behavior appears cowardly, please ask them to mind their language (and sexism).

Meghna Roy
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Meghna Roy

Blogger at Meghna's Blog
I am currently a student at the Department of Sociology, St. Xavier's College, Kolkata. I recently interned at Hindustan Times. Apart from being a voracious reader, I am a spoken-word poet and music enthusiast.
Meghna Roy
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Meghna Roy"> Meghna Roy
I am currently a student at the Department of Sociology, St. Xavier's College, Kolkata. I recently interned at Hindustan Times. Apart from being a voracious reader, I am a spoken-word poet and music enthusiast.
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  • NeilR

    Woman up! Woman is a social animal. Be a woman! Who’s womanning our office today?

    Oh really? So all the pressure is on women? How about when men(especially young men) get told to ‘be a man‘, stop feeling pain and be a disposable tool for the gynocentric masses. The hypocrisy is so strong with this one.

    The author here seems to be confusing about traditional gender roles with patriarchy. Patriarchy is not a social construct, it’s biological or rather sociobiological. Humans are a patriarchal species just like Meerkats(Suricata suricatta) are matriarchal.
    Regarding the gender roles, how many female bus conductors do you see in India? And how many male nurses? So please stop making an issue out of non issues. If it hurts your sensitivities then please go live in a bubble in Pluto. There are much more pressing issues of concern in our society like poverty, illiteracy etc.

    The next time someone tells you to not be a pussy when your behavior appears cowardly, please ask them to mind their language (and sexism).

    Just so you know its men who actually get told not to be a pussy than women. Wondering if you heard the phrase don’t be a dick. What does your sociology induced feminism say about that?

    Some serious introspection recommended.

  • Pratiti Nath

    wonderful written.