Saturday, April 7, 2012

Language and the Female Body

As a society, we undermine the importance of women rights because we believe that it is an issue that no longer effects today’ s society. Title 9, strong female celebrities and officials suggest that sexism is a thing of the past: in today’s world women are equal to men. While we as a people believe this to be true, the implication of this mentality rules out the possibility that sexism can still exist, and overemphasizes the importance of legal equality. Jessica Valenti, author of “For Women, Equality is Still an Illusion” suggests that sexual equality is degrading because it only grants women the rights they deserve as a human being. As she asserts, “ Are American women really supposed to be satisfied with the most basic rights of representation? Thrilled that our country has deigned to consider us fully human?”. While conservatives and liberals alike argue that feminism no longer has a place in today’s world, the reality is that the basic human rights that women have only recently been granted do not change the pedagogical and socialized inequalities that exist today.

One example of sexism that is overlooked completely is the discourse around the female organs in popular culture. Terms such as “bitch”, “pussy”, “cunt” and “slut” all have inherently sexist implications that are rarely recognized; yet they have a huge influence on the way that we act and think around women. For men especially, the word pussy, which is additionally used to mean vagina, is used to demean men, regarding the receiver of the insult as a weakling, frail, soft and beneath the user. Because the word has two meanings, there is a clear relationship between both interpretations. To be a pussy, is to be a vagina, or to emulate characteristics of a women. In this sense, there is a strong correlation between weakness and the female body, indicating that women are seen as weaker than men, or below man because of their female accessories. Similarly, the word slut is used to negatively identify women who are promiscuous in their sexual behavior, yet there is no distinctive word used to characterize men in the same manner. While men can be called sluts, the word is inherently gendered, as we tend to characterize women as sluts. The gendered nature of words like slut and whore restrict the sexual freedom of women, and give men the power to abuse their sexuality by allowing them to be overly promiscuous by nature.

While words may seem irrelevant, it is important to recognize that discourse shapes reality: The way that we talk about women and the way that we view the female body is directly related to the way that we think about women. If we constantly assume that the female body is weaker and less powerful than a man’s through the language that we use to describe and demean others, than we will begin to believe that as truth. The discourse of today’s society is extremely gendered, which leads to an inherent sexism that can only be broken through a reevaluation of the language that we use. Everything that we say has a social and political connotation, and it is necessary that we as a people recognize the gendered nature of our popular discourse. Language is one of the primary tools of socialization, as we all must learn language in order to communicate our feelings and thoughts. It is arguably the most dangerous form of socialization, as it perpetuates sexism, racism and other social injustices because the implications are embedded in the contextual use of every word. If we are to address the issue of sexism, the way in which we speak must be completely altered so as to remove the negative connotations that are associated with femininity and the female body.

1 comment:

  1. It is an interesting point that so much slang is related to females. I would agree that they are meant to be derogatory to men, which is not necessarily a good thing. However just as men as insulted by being womanly, there can be insults relating a woman to a man. Being butch or saying a woman looks manly is not generally said as a compliment. I don't necessarily see it as always woman = bad, but more as not being of your gender is bad.
    Also, as an American woman I don't feel repressed or that I don't have full access to my rights. I'm not really a feminist, because I don't necessarily agree that we need to be equal to men in every way. I like that being a woman is part of my identity believing that I am different than if my identity was a man. I know that that could mean I'm not progressing the feminine movement or whatever, but I don't want to be the same as a man. I want to be respected as a woman.


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