Motion: regarding criticism of female politicians using gendered language in other forums

A man is aggressively pointing his finger at a woman while he talks

Look kitten, I don't give a damn what you think, if I say I'm a feminist then by god I am one!

  • Since pointing out that gendered language is being used to add an extra layer of derogation to the political criticism tends to result in accusations that one is simply refusing to address the criticism contained in the argument by addressing the gendered language used instead (as if this is somehow an obviously totally unreasonable stance to take);
  • since responses that seek to insist upon acknowledgement of the fundamental sexism embodied in expecting casual acceptance of gendered slurs as the rule tend to be vigorously objected to as irrelevant because obviously the gendered languaged used is not ‘really important”;
  • and since the subsequent interaction tends to be non-productive of any change in behaviour and also derails the original thread, leading to further accusations about teh wimminz and their unreasonable fixation on sexist marginalisation;

… the following tactic is suggested. How about responding with a simple “here, let me recast your criticism in de-gendered language”, then do exactly that, then address the de-gendered argument directly? This negates their criticism of feminists allegedly hiding behind accusations of gendered language to avoid addressing particular points.

Then, perhaps on open threads (on blogs which regularly host such things), a weekly tally might be presented by various regular commentors of how many times each one has had to employ the above tactic, and then the open thread could host a discussion of what that tally might indicate about prevailing attitudes to feminist critiques without leaving the commentors open to such accusations of avoiding direct arguments.

I have no illusion of this tactic being any magic bullet, but it might well make some headway as an effective demonstration of the scope of the problem. I suspect that some of the usual vociferous decriers of how it’s all so irrelevant to call out gendered slurs or assumptions (because we’re only imagining that they are being used as a marginalising tactic against women by anybody there (by nasty sexists elsewhere maybe, but not there)) might prefer the old way where they get to pretend how unreasonable the feminists are instead of my suggestion here, but hard cheese if they weren’t willing to listen any other way.

Categories: language

Tags: ,

5 replies

  1. Here’s a good news story: I was a bit gobsmacked to go on a rowdy all-purpose blog (you may have been there too) and point out to a bloke that he had just written a long comment with several female politicians’ first names and male politicians’ surnames. And his response was: Interesting, didn’t think I was doing that, but will quietly reflect.
    I’m not used to people being so reasonable on the internet! 😀

  2. That is just such a great idea! I actually think that quite often the reflex to address genders differently is so ingrained and common that it is not noticed; by both parties. So, pointing it out might produce a response like Helen received more often than expected.
    Incidentally, what I find really annoying is how women do it to other women. Particularly by younger women to older women. I can’t tell you how snippy I become when some young thing calls me ‘love’ or ‘darling’. Would she do it to a middle aged man? I don’t think so. Friends try and tell me it’s a ‘real Australian’ thing and isnt’ meant derogatory and I should just accept it. I still find it real hard to smile nicely back though.
    While we’re at it let’s include how older people, disabled people, non Anglo people, to name just 3 other groups, are addressed or spoken about. I work in a hospital, it is daily that I gnash my teeth and politely, in the interest of work place relations, have to point out inappropriate language. Why oh why is it seen as remotedly acceptable to think of another adult as ‘cute’, ‘darling’ and think that this supposedly demonstrates caring?
    I’m going to ‘recast’ some of the language I hear around me. It will make me think too about my own language.

    • Yvonne, I certainly can’t take credit for the idea of recasting biased language in more neutral terms – it’s been around the social justice activist community for a long time. I just thought that in a particular situation I was seeing over and over in certain other blog discussions, that this particular tactic might be effective in making the point while deflecting accusations of derails etc.
      I agree that recasting biased language in more neutral terms is an excellent exercise for other marginalised groups such as you mention. As you say, it makes us think more about our own language usage, which we all need to do more often than we generally do, really.

  3. I can feel a thread of doom coming soon to a blog near me. Bring it on! That’s going to ruffle a few feathers.
    @ Helen those reasonable ones really do surprise you don’t they. Can be quite deflating if you are ready for a good spit. But I think I’d rather be surprised and a little deflated, but quietly delighted than in full flight.

  4. One of the most empowering things about the internet is the ability for feminists to swap tactics before heading back out into the misogynist world. Nice post.

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