a bird and a bottle

Your Racist Asshole of the Week
April 1, 2007, 10:47 am
Filed under: 2008, bullshit, civil rights, is our children learning?, news, politics, tongues

Newt Gingrich.

In a week rife with stupid comments (Schlafly, Bush, Gonzales, MC Rove), this one takes the cake.

Speaking yesterday at a meeting of the National Federation of Republican Women, Gingrich shared his enlightened views on immigration, education, and the franchise:

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich yesterday described bilingual education as teaching “the language of living in a ghetto,” and he mocked requirements that ballots be printed in multiple languages.

“The government should quit mandating that various documents be printed in any one of 700 languages depending on who randomly shows up” to vote, Gingrich said.

There’s so much wrong with this statement, I barely know where to start. First, the term “ghetto” in and of itself is offensive. Second, Spanish is spoken by people across socio-economic lines; what he doesn’t want is his precious nativist government catering to poor Spanish-speaking, mostly undocumented, immigrants. Third, Gingrich doesn’t respect the right of all citizens to vote. Yes, as he notes later in his rant, there is an English proficiency test as part of the citizenship test, but it’s a farce. Plenty of people without working knowledge of English are citizens. Floating ideas like this indicates a desire to systematically disenfranchise non-English speaking citizens, many of whom vote Democrat.

What’s funniest to me about this comment (and there is something) is that Gingrich, who is considering a presidential run, just killed any chance he had at success. The GOP more and more needs the Latino vote to win. And I can’t imagine many people of Latino descent will be voting for him now.


Namecalling and Women in the Military
March 19, 2007, 3:42 pm
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, news, tongues, war

I blogged the other week about Salon.com’s coverage of women in Iraq. The article, which focused on the sexual abuse of women soldiers, was a must-read, though it was painful at times.

One quote, particularly, in the Salon article caught my attention:

There are only three kinds of female the men let you be in the military: a bitch, a ho or a dyke,” said [Mickiela] Montoya, the soldier who carried a knife for protection.

Today on the plane home I read yesterday’s NY Times Magazine article covering much of the same territory as Salon’s. The Times article also discusses the various forms of PTSD from which many women who have seen combat and/or been sexually assaulted while enlisted suffer. Once I got past the strange, seduction-style photo that accompanies the story online, I was intrigued (the story is long, but it’s worth reading the whole thing).

And then I read this:

‘You’re one of three things in the military – a bitch, a whore or a dyke,” says Abbie Pickett, who is 24 and a combat-support specialist with the Wisconsin Army National Guard. ”As a female, you get classified pretty quickly.”

The statement struck me, and left me with a strong sense of deja vu. And then I realized: it is almost exactly the same thing the Salon article quotes another woman soldier as having said. How could it be that these two women, who presumably don’t know each other and assumedly did not serve together shared not only the same idea, but even in the same words?

The only think I can think of is this: that this problem — this harassment of women sexually, verbally, and physically — is so deeply entrenched and so broadly experienced that women hear those three words often. Bitch, whore, dyke. Bitch, ho, dyke. These three words must be so strongly associated with women in the military and so commonly used to describe peers and lower-ranking female soldiers that women expect to be a bitch, a ho, or a dyke depending on the day.

The name calling might be the least of it, but it’s pervasiveness is, I think, probably representative of the respect — or lack thereof — for women in the military. The woman a soldier calls a bitch, a whore, or a dyke one day might save his life the next.

On Language & Gender, Part Trois
March 12, 2007, 6:24 am
Filed under: activism, feminism/s & gender, news & views, tongues

Language is important in shaping our conceptions of things, people, etc. It’s why there’s been such a hullaballoo around popular and public uses of words like vagina and scrotum (despite the fact that these are simply anatomical signifiers). Language is also often gendered male, as I have protested before (here and here).

Today, Alternet picks up the case, with a column by sociologist Sheryl Kleinman on the impact of sexist language. Kleinman takes aim at what she calls “male generics”:

I’m not referring to such words as “bitch,” “whore” and “slut.” What I focus on instead are words that students consider just fine: male (so-called) generics. Some of these words refer to persons occupying a position: postman, chairman, freshman, congressman, fireman. Other words refer to the entire universe of human beings: “mankind” or “he.” Then we’ve got manpower, manmade lakes and “Oh, man, where did I leave my keys?” There’s “manning” the tables in a country where children learn that “all men are created equal.” The most insidious, from my observations, is the popular expression “you guys.”

But Kleinman’s head is not in the sand — she knows that most people look at this list and say “so what?” or ask “What’s the big deal.” Her answer makes clear that language’s impact is insidious and subconscious — but significant.

Because male-based generics are another indicator — and more importantly, a reinforcer — of a system in which “man” in the abstract and men in the flesh are privileged over women. Some say that language merely reflects reality and so we should ignore our words and work on changing the unequal gender arrangements that are reflected in our language. Well, yes, in part.

It’s no accident that “man” is the anchor in our language and “woman” is not. And of course we should make social change all over the place. But the words we use can also reinforce current realities when they are sexist (or racist or heterosexist). Words are tolls of thought. We can use words to maintain the status quo or to think in new ways — which in turn creates the possibility of a new reality. It makes a difference if I think of myself as a “girl” or a “woman”; it makes a difference if we talk about “Negroes” or “African-Americans.” Do we want a truly inclusive language or one that just pretends?

But, as Kleinman is well aware, it’s not only men who feel attachment to male-gendered general terms like freshman, chairman, and you guys.

And why do so many women cling to “freshman,” “chairman” and “you guys?” I think I know why, though it doesn’t make me feel any better. “Man” is a high-status term, and women want to be included in the “better” group. But while being labeled “one of the guys” might make us feel included, it’s only a guise of inclusion, not the reality. If we were really included, we wouldn’t have to disappear into the word “guys.”

I got a lot of comments when I posted about clitzpa that it was a silly issue, that the change in language would never happen, that these posts were somehow frivolous and not connected in any real way to social change. And though I gave in and tagged the posts “frivolity,” I balked at the idea that what we say doesn’t somehow (and perhaps in a major way) affect what we do. Kleinman gets to the nub of why. Language is activism.

Now and then someone tells me that I should work on more important issues — like men’s violence against women — rather than on “trivial” issues like language. Well, I work on lots of issues. But that’s not the point. What I want to say (and do say, if I think they’ll give me the time to explain) is that working against sexist language is working against men’s violence against women. It’s one step.

And not only that, but it’s an easy step. It can’t be that hard to say you all instead of you guys (Southerners have been doing it for centuries). A change from freshman to freshpeople might be harder to bring about but hey, we’ve all got to start somewhere….Right y’all?

Blogsturbation Abounds
March 4, 2007, 8:36 pm
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, frivolity, me, tongues

The word, coined by yours truly, seems to be taking hold.

Check out this comment thread over at Feministe.