I just read a post called “Why Are Women Letting Men Wage a War Against Them? Cut Them Off, Ladies!” after Good Ole’ Woody linked my post from yesterday to his. In it, he too mentions the “deny sex” option. That made me laugh.
However, as I was reading, I suddenly became very aware of the dangerous power of language and our choice of words. I felt that power surge through me yesterday, as I tried to craft a piece of writing I could be proud of that truly spoke from my heart. I am, indeed, proud of that post.It seems I always write my best posts on Fridays, when fewer people read. But that’s not what I want to talk about.
In the above post, Good Ole’ Woody wrote:
“Men, women are smarter than you. Let them control their bodies. Let them be involved federal conversations about laws which affect them. Let women have the leading voices. Experts agree: We would be a better country if women ran it. We, men, cannot look with pride on what we have done to America. Yes?”
Now, while I agree with the sentiment of this statement, I found myself stumbling over the choice of words. “Let them . . . Let them . . . Let them . . . ” When we let someone do something, it implies that we have the power to stop them, and we give over that power. Women are indeed, and have been for a long time, letting men control the reins. However, men shouldn’t have to “let us” take control over issues that concern not only our bodies and our freedoms but the very future of our country.
This is by no means a criticism of Good Ole’ Woody’s post. I admire and am wowed by the men who recognize that women are their equals if not their betters, and that this whole situation is ludicrous. I only use this as an example of the dangerous power of words, and the danger of using words for power. Like it or not, our language guides our perceptions. In languages like Japanese, the power dynamics of male vs. female become more evident, when even the characters show dominance and power. For example the Kanji for man combines the characters for rice field and power:
The kanji for “wife” in Japanese (Kanai), combines two kanji 家内. The first represents house, the second inside. The symbol for “husband” 主人 is even more demeaning to women, combining the symbol for “lord, chief, and master” with “person.”
I am not trying to teach a Japanese language lesson, but using what little I know of the language and its construction to show how deeply language can affect perception in any culture. English is no different. The words we choose to use can unintentionally establish dominance or weakness.
I have begun to find my voice in writing, as I keep returning to writing things about and for women, justice and equality. Sometimes I fear I come off as a man-hater, although I never intentionally lump all men in one lump. Sometimes it seems like I cannot avoid making sweeping statements about groups of people, when I know that individuals within certain groups do not represent the whole. I am limited however, by words. It can become utterly unwieldy to try to write in completely non-judgmental, non-gendered language.
The limitations of language can be frustrating, especially for someone who loves to write.
I won’t let it stop me though. I will just be much more conscious as I craft my words, so that I can be heard and understood.