Friday, December 16, 2011

Lost Virginity

To "lose" one's virginity is a curious phrase. My first thought is that this phrase implies one possesses her virginity to begin with. To possess is: "to have as belonging to one", "to keep or maintain", "to maintain control over", "to seize or take", "to gain or win". Virginity, for the womun living in patriarchy, is not something to "keep or maintain", it may start off as something considered to "belong" to the individual, but the real purpose of a womun's virginity, within male dominated society, is to be "seized" or "won".

For both men and wimmin in patriarchy, virginity is not something to be held onto or maintained. Men are encouraged to get rid of it fast, this is fundamental to "manhood". Wimmin are encouraged to hold onto it (because of course, if she gives it way too easily she's a dirty shameful woman), but not forever, a man must receive it at some point (because to hold onto it with too much grip makes her a frigid prude, a who thinks too much of herself). To many men, womun's virginity is a prize, something to be won. There can be only one man who gets her virginity, to be that man is to have beaten all other men around the world, something to be worn with pride, like a badge of honour, and military decorations. It is something to "win" by any means necessary.

To lose something implies it was an action taken without the possessors consent. This cannot be said to apply to most men. For the vast majority of men, virginity isn't lost, it's thrown away with fervour, or freely given. To lose something implies that despite possessing it an individual couldn't hold onto it, somewhere along the line it became no longer hers/his. It also implies we don't know where it went.

Many wimmin don't "lose" their virginity, they know exactly where it went, they can remember clearly and with horror the men who stole their virginities. Others, like me, were coerced, either by a man directly, or by society more generally. I carelessly gave it away, out of curiosity and a sense of obligation (after all, what's a seventeen year old high school girl supposed to do when her university-going boyfriend has tolerated her companionship for six months?*)

I do not know the origins of this term, but it is clear to me that "losing" one's virginity is an inappropriate term for the majority of wimmin and men. Moreover, I don't think virginity would be such an important concept outside a patriarchal world. If we lived in a society that didn't see wimmin as sex objects to be competed for, or possessed, if we didn't accept that men are competitive sexual predators (which feminists recognise is socially constructed, not natural), and if we rejected the notion that manhood is bound to preying on wimmin, the concept of virginity would, for the most part, be irrelevant. Virginity is only of import to patriarchy, because the oppressive dualisms between man/womun, masculine/feminine, and active/passive, underlie all social relations.

*Sarcastic tone


Recently I have stopped spelling wimmin and womun the "correct" way: w-o-m-e-n/w-o-m-a-n. Wimmin" is the spelling created by radical feminists during the 1970s. It was used to remove "men" from the word, and it was part of a wider campaign to create a womun centred culture: "for wimmin, by wimmin". Underlying this philosophy was the concern: how can wimmin create their own identity, independent of men, when even the word "women" is consumed by "men"?

I like to honour that movement where I can by using that spelling, because without those wimmin and their campaigns I would not have received the rights and privileges I have, such as rape crisis centres, a univeristy education, wimmin's rooms, shelters and centres, law that allows for a boyfriend or husband to be charged for raping his girlfriend or wife, acceptance and love of my cunt, the hair on my body, my menstrual cycle, my entire body as myself rather than an object for penile penetration and male vouyerism (to name but a few).

The word "women" means: wombed-men. This definition assumes that man is the natural standard by which all others must be judged, that wimmin are simply a different version, a variation or mutation, of men. Radical feminists also removed the "o" because they were frustrated that their wombs were used to define wimmin in entirety, they were rejecting: biology as destiny. Or as Simone De Beauvoir articulated: "Women? Very simple, say the fanciers of simple formulas; she is a womb, an ovary; she is female"*. This is not to say that using one's womb is oppressive, rather the way wimmin's wombs have been used against them (that is: to define their worth and selves in entirety) in patriarhcy is oppressive. It was, and is, a statement: "yes I can create life, but that doesn't mean I have to!"

The most common criticism I have encountered with regard to my alternative spelling is "changing a couple of letters in one word isn't going to change anything! What a waste of energy. There are better ways for feminists to fight for women's rights than that". Wimmin who adopt an alternative spelling to the malestream version do not simply do this as one measure for bringing down patriarhcy, it is just another act in their busy activist lives. Therefore saying there are more important ways to combat partiarchy doesn't hold weight as a criticism, wimmin who spell it "wimmin" know better than anyone there are more important ways to fight oppression; they're doing it.

Another concept I have come across is the idea that it should be spelt "women" because it honours and recognises wimmin's reproductive powers: "men come from women, from women's wombs." Saying; but why can't we simply interpret it as: man comes from woman, is a nice subversion of the traditional understanding of the terms, but the reality is that within patriarchy this is not how the majority views it. Within patriarchy wimmin are defined and judged in relation to men (see "Patriarchy" post below). Whatever little we can do to challenge that, such as alternative spelling, is necessary.

Furthermore, by changing the way I spell wimmin and womun I, at the very least, force those who otherwise would not question it, to start thinking outside the patriarchal square. The "Why does Sazz do that?" response is what I'm aiming for, it's the first step towards those individuals recognising that wimmin face huge obstacles as they strive to define themselves indpendently of men.

*Beauvoir, Simone de, The Second Sex, London: Vintage, 1989, p. 3. (First published in 1949)

**On a personal note I chose to spell "woman": w-o-m-u-n, because for me leaving the recognition of my womb/my significant difference from men in the word was important. I decided to use a "u" instead of a "y" because I felt "u" better reflected the sound of the word, and because wimmin don't have a y-chromosome.


This is a word I use a lot, so I thought it best to record somewhere what I mean when I refer to "patriarchy" My favourite definition of patriarchy comes from Adrienne Rich, a fantastic radical lesbian feminist and American poet:

"Patriarchy is the power of the fathers: a familial-social, ideological, political system in which men-by force, direct pressure, or through ritual, tradition, law, and language, customs, etiquette, education, and the division of labor, determine what part women shall or shall not play, and in which the female is everywhere subsumed under the male."

Within patriarchy wimmin are constantly judged in relation to men, and defined on male terms. Examples of this include but are not limited to:
  • Physical strength is recognised as the most importat human quality, and wimmin are seen as lacking or inferior because they can't lift things men can, or can't batter men, in a physical fight a man can hold a womun down, therefore he is "stronger". The ability to push children of 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 pounds through our vagina's and endure hours and hours of uterine contractions is not recognised as a sign of physical strenght or superiority.
  • Being professional involves behaving like men; dressing in suits (note that business women wear wimmin stuits, that complement men's), not breastfeeding at work etc.
  • Wimmun have been denied many things because of their ability to menstruate, one example is frontline military comabt (while I am against anyone engaging in war it is important to remember that war is an important and central part of our society, and men have been rewarded and admired for their militaristic work, there is also the line of thinking that one is not truly a citizen of his nation until he has militarily served it).
  • Wimmin's sexuality is defined by men: heterosexuality. Wimmin are expected to be sexually attracted to men, to engage in regular coitus (penis in vagina sex), to please the penis, despite the fact that vaginal orgasms are rare and the clitorous is the woman's primary sexual body part.
This world is a patriarchal world, which is evidenced by facts such as: wimmin own 1% of the world's land, 80% of the world's 27 million refugees are wimmin, 2/3 of 300 million children who have no access to education are girls, over 200,000 wimmin die annually from backyard abortions*, wimmin do 2/3s of the worlds work for 1/3 of the pay, over 70% of all violence against wimmin occurs in their own homes, the list goes on...

*These stats are from Jan Jindy Pettman "Gender Issues" John Baylis and Steven Smith Globalization of World Politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, p.676. The statistics provided after these come from lecture notes from my BA.

"Man-hating"-attempt to silence feminists

I am often accused of "man-hating". Of the times I can remember being called a man-hater one was a response to a discussion I had with a friend about the many ways women are oppressed by men, and how we are disadvantaged in comparison to men. Another time was because I pointed out that the demise of midwifery and the rise of obstetrics was a male war against women.* Another time I was accused of man-hating for pointing out that men have power in hospitals and make decisions rather than the woman in labour whose body these decisions are being carried out on.** Once I was even accused of being a man-hater by another feminist academic (though not a radical feminist) because I suggested some feminists might like to work with groups concerned about men's health in order to help them see how they too can suffer because of patriarchy, she was very quick to say "I'm not saying men are the enemy, I'm saying we should work with them". Funny, I thought that's exactly what I said!

Accusing someone of man hating can be conveyed in many creative ways. No one has actually had the gall to say to me: "Sazz, you are a man-hater" (I suspect they might have trouble accusing a heterosexual of man-hating -since, by definition, she either unknowingly accepts, or chooses, to make men an important and central feature of her life). Generally people say "that sounds a bit like man-hating", or (one of my favourites) "I understand what you're saying BUT I'm not against men". Interesting that making an observation about society equals being "against men". Feminists should not have to preface every observation, theory, or statement with "I'm not against men, but". Our movement has nothing to do with "being against men", it's about "being for women"! It's about recording and fighting patriarchy (system of male dominance):
"Radical feminism opposes patriarchy, not men. To equate radical feminism to man-hating is to assume that patriarchy and men are inseparable, philosophically and politically."***
Calling me a man-hater is supposed to shut me up. It's supposed to make me rethink my politics and be nicer to men, and not point out all the ways they oppress women. Man-hating is supposed to be interpreted as emotional rather than well thought out. To the people who call me that, "man-hating" is not political, it is just crazy Sazz getting over emotional. I don't consider myself a man hater, but because I know what "man-hater" means to others, I take it as a compliment. It means that I can see the ways men oppress women- and I can name woman-hating (which is a lot more prevalent than "man-hating", but doesn't get named nearly as often). It means I'm not afraid of speaking out against woman-hating, and trying to make men accountable for all that they have done to women. Thus, accusing me of "man-hating" does not silence me, it reaffirms my conviction that woman-hating is rife, so rife that to even identify it is to be put-down and accused of hatred.

Even though I don't consider myself a man-hater, I think man-hating can be considered completely reasonable. These people (men) have violently oppressed women for hundreds and hundreds of years. They have raped, beaten, physically, emotionally, psychologically, socially controlled women, they have forced women into domesticity, heterosexuality, motherhood, pornography, prostitution, hospitals for birth, drugs for natural elements of our life cycles, drugs to make us more easily fuckable, to name but a few. A group of people who do things of this nature to another group of people have earned the contempt of those they have oppressed.
What I am getting at here, is that man-hating (whether that be actual, accepted and advocated contempt for men, or whether that be the name given to women who dare to point out the things men have done to women) is a useful political tool as we strive to make this world a feminist one.

I am tired of the "individual male" defence, for example: "you can't say men oppress women because my husband loves me and lets me do what I want, and he's a man" (for one the very fact that you are married to him means you entered into a social contract that is premised upon man taking ownership of woman. Your marriage is evidence that men have oppressed women). Or even "but my boyfriend is pro-feminist". Looking at the individual men who understand and support feminism does little to further our movement and make the rest of them accountable. Furthermore, it is one thing to be a pro-feminist man, and try to live a feminist life yourself, it is quite another to advocate feminism and expect the same of your mates, or your brothers or fathers. Despite knowing many pro-feminist men I have yet to meet one that will put feminism ahead of male bonding and immediately act against another man when he does or says something sexist or patriarchal. But I digress, the majority of men do not understand, do not support, and do oppress women. As controversial as some may find this, I believe the majority of men are woman-haters, and that's what feminism is trying to address and change. So lets stop feeling uncomfortable with identifying women's oppression, and start naming woman-hating when we see it. And from now on, if someone accuses you of man-hating, take it as a compliment, for you are simply observant and articulate.

*For more on men's take over of midwifery:
Daly, M. (1979). Gyn/Ecology: the metaethics of radical feminism. The Women's Press.
Donegan, J. B. (1978). Women & men midwives : medicine, morality, and misogyny in early America. Greenwood Press.
Donnison, J. (1988). Midwives And Medical Men: A History of Inter-Professional Rivalries and Women's Rights. Historical Publications.
Ehrenreich, B. and English, D. (1976). Witches, Midwives and Nurses: a history of women healers. Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative.
Hester, M. (1992). Lewd women and wicked witches: a study of the dynamics of male domination. Routledge.
Oakley, A. (1977). Wisewoman and Medicine Man: changes in the management of childbirth in Mitchell, J. and Oakley, A. (Eds), The Rights and Wrongs of Women, Penguin Books.
**For more on women's lack of power in hospitals:
Ehrenreich, B. and English, D. (1978, 2005). For Her Own Good: two centuries of the Experts' advice to women, Revised Edition edn. Anchor Books.
Kobrin, F. E. (1966). The American Midwife Controversy: a crisis of professionalization. Bulletin of the history of medicine 40, 350-63.

***This quote was passed on to me from a friend in a personal communication, but she could not remember where it originated. A great quote nonetheless.


In a recent encounter I had with a doctor, the doctor finished our appointment by telling me to take a piece of paper to "the girl at reception". This angered me, as the "girl" at reception was in no way prepubescent. In fact, she was a fully grown, mature, woman in her thirties or forties.
I got to thinking, when I first met the woman at reception she never referred to the doctor as "the boy out the back". I never hear "the boy will see you now", it's "the doctor will see you now", or he even gets the privilege of being identified as an individual "Dr such and such will see you now".
Presumably this doctor works everyday with this receptionist, he could have said "take this paper to such and such at reception".

This stayed on my mind for a few days, and I realised that I too refer to women as "girls" all the time. I say I'm having lunch with "a couple of the girls". In conversations with people who don't know the woman I am talking about, I refer to her as a "girl".
I questioned myself. Why would a self-proclaimed feminist refuse to use the word "woman" when it is clearly the appropriate word? I realised that the word woman had negative connotations that I was trying to avoid. Woman conjured up something harsh, something old, something derogatory. "Woman" is used by misogynists when they refuse to acknowledge a woman's personhood, used as a derogatory nickname: "What's for dinner, woman?"
I had wanted to avoid those negative connotations. Girl sounds nicer, flattering even, and so it would in a society such as ours where women are supposed to be young and pretty. Maturity in a woman is not a positive thing, because it implies age (maybe I should start referring to age-defying make up as maturity-defying make up, or wisdom-defying make up?)

I never refer to men as "boys" in conversation. I have rarely ever heard of a man being referred to as a boy, unless he is actually prepubescent, and even then boys often get called "little men" or other words that have positive associations (my father used to refer to my brother as "Kingsize" when he was prepubescent. I was referred to as "Sawah" instead of "Sarah").

Referring to a woman as a girl is derogatory, it is insulting, and it is patriarchal. Referring to a woman as a girl is infantilising, stripping her of her years of increasing intelligence. It is only a compliment if you accept that a woman growing older (and thus wiser) is undesirable.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Language Revolution

A linguistics as well as language blog for the daily user, not excessively technical the least bit. Language is an aspect of routine life and our purpose is to analyze the nuances of languages.
As observed previously, language is always deepening and new words are expanded a language's vocabulary. Nevertheless, is there a such thing as adding unnecessary words to a language?

There's been a survey done latterly on the most hated words on the internet. Some debate that adding too numerous of these words will ruin the English language.