Sunday, December 31, 2006

We'll use sexist language if we want to, and if you don't like it, you are stupid

For a long time now, it has angered me that people say of a man or woman who shows courage, "He (or "she") has balls. Gonads are male genitalia and have nothing at all to do with courage. To say that someone "has balls" or "grew balls" and mean that the person has courage is to say that the person has a male trait. But when did courage become a male trait?

Retired Col. W. Patrick Lang thinks that it is indeed a male trait. He rejected a comment made by Kathy of What Do I Know?, who pointed out the sexism in a commenter's statement that Saddam "died a man." Ever the military type, Lang not only rejected the comment, but informed Kathy that "I discipline people on my site, not you." Yes. Sir!

Lang also informed Kathy that "If you do not have the wit to understand that that line means that he died a resolute human being, then you have problems too profound for me to
deal with."

Here's the thing: It's okay to say that someone "died a man" or "died like a man," meaning, he was mature about it, if--and it's a very big "if"--you would also say that a female who died the same way "died a woman." The problem is, no one does say that, therefore making the original comment sexist. (If it turns out that the original commenter is a feminist who would indeed have said "died a woman," then I apologize, but I think I am on safe ground here.) People do not use "like a man" to mean "like a strong, true adult who happens to be male;" rather, they use it to mean "like a strong, true adult of either gender, only probably not a woman."

And as for you, Colonel, when did a "resolute human being" mean a male? I already know the answer: "It's just an expression." Right. Like "He has balls." Or "She has balls." Or "Our Father who art in heaven." Or "the lady policeman." Or "Joan Smith is the new chairman of the committee." There is nothing more important than language, and when language presumes that the primary referent of almost everything is male, that's called sexism.

Yes (I feel safe speaking for Kathy here), we understand what the commenter meant. He meant resolute. Brushing us aside by implying we don't get the literal meaning of something is not going to work. Resolute. Determined, intrepid, steadfast. Got it. But that is the problem--we understand that the word "resolute" is being used to imply "manly." And that is sexist.

For all of you do not have the wit to understand and recognize sexist language, your problem is indeed profound.

7 Comments:

Still, you have to admire Col. W. Patrick Lang (Ret.). He's a real man: he has the balls to be an asshole on his own blog.

By Blogger Kevin T. Keith, at 1:40 AM  

Great post. If more people objected to the constant sexist language we are barraged with, proportionally but firmly, maybe things would start to change. One can hope! Certainly if no one objects, nothing will change, and "acting like a Lang" will continue :>)

By Blogger Ann Bartow, at 12:19 PM  

Good point, Kevin!

Thanks, Ann. The problem, I'm afraid, is that most people--men and women--don't think that sexist language is sexist. And god knows, it is better than "political correctness." It is WAY past time for another round of consciousness-raising.

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