Archive | March, 2012

Boyzone were wrong

23 Mar

Language matters, don’t you think? By saying something mean you can hurt someone’s feelings, by saying something lovely you can make someone’s day, by being emphatic you can express excitement and joy and so on. I have always thought that the language we use says a lot about us and our feelings, but I’ve recently started thinking that it also says a lot about the society in which we live.

I wonder if you’ll take part in a small study… it’s simple and easy, and I promise will provide fascinating results! In one day see how many times you hear gender-specific words, or more to the point male words being used to talk about gender neutral activities or professions, or being used to address women.

How many times have you heard ‘we need volunteers to man the stall’, ‘the policemen were being rough with the protestors’, ‘the postman is running a bit late’. Just to what extent our language has been man-ified is exemplified with the charming phrase ‘grow a pair of balls’ or ‘man-up’, which imply that to have strength and to approach something with courage requires you to adopt male qualities.

When I was a little girl I would get really annoyed when people who were an hour shy of lunch and had only just finished making their way through breakfast would say ‘I’m starving’. They didn’t think anything of it, it was just a phrase to express their relative hunger. But it drove me nuts! If we used that language, what language was left for someone who was actually starving, and more importantly, wasn’t it making light of a really serious issue?

Now, many years on, whilst that still annoys me, my most hated expression is ‘hey guys’, especially when used to address a room full of women, or even a room with just a few women. People have told me, ‘guys’ is just a phrase. Yes, but one that refers to the male sex. So why address the female sex with it? Imagine the outrage if you went into a meeting full of men and said ‘hey ladies’.

I think we should reclaim language and be proud to be addressed as the sex that we are. I’m no guy, so I don’t want to addressed as one. If I were a guy then fine, but I’m not.

So Boyzone, I’m sorry, but I don’t agree that ‘it’s only words’, because words are one of the most important ways we have of communicating. They mean everything and it’s time they weren’t so male-dominated.

What does one 71 year old atheist and 750 million Muslims have in common?

11 Mar

She knows everything about their “choices” (she would add the quotation marks, not me), who makes them and why they make them.

She is Dame Ann Leslie, who today was so gallantly standing up for the millions of oppressed Muslims in the Middle East. She was vehemently declaring that they were not making any choices of their own and this was a cause of great concern to her.

It’s nice that she is concerned. But really what does a 71 year old, white, middle class, atheist woman really know about young, ethnically different, religiously different, women from Malaysia to Saudi Arabia? Not much.

So, why has she taken it upon herself to speak on their behalf? It is patronizing, and it is disempowering. Western women, please stop pitying Muslim women, and trying to fight their corner. For many, there is no need for any fight, as their rights are respected and realised, and where they aren’t, they can do the fighting for themselves (slight caveat: this doesn’t apply to situations of conflict, where the impetus is on all citizens the world over to ensure the rights of women are realised).

Please let’s stop being so patronizing and disempowering as to declare all Muslim women unable to make choices, decisions, and indeed, changes of their own.