Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Words mean things, imagine that!

I don't like doing the Feminism 101 stuff, but occasionally I'll indulge.

This might be feminism 150, actually. Anyway, if someone wants to claim that they are any of the following:
a feminist
a feminist ally
a humanist (in the contemporary sense)
an egalitarian
not a sexist

Then you should make a concerted effort to not invoke common sexist stereotypes with the words you use. Radical, I know.

Some helpful examples:

Saying that HRC's only qualifications (and therefore lack of substance) is that she was the (bad) wife of Wm. Clinton is sexist. HRC is no more a junior, inexperienced senator than B. Obama, so stfu about her qualifications being limited to her marriage. Her marriage and her political career are not the same thing.

Similarly, criticizing a female public figure for having, oh I dunno, cornrows, cankles, or spending too much on clothes is sexist. Her appearance has nothing to do with her political prowess.

Referring to the likes of Ann Coulter as shrill, also sexist. If you're not also going to call Sean Hannity or Chris Matthews shrill, then yeah, you're a sexist jackass.

Ditto referring to Condoleeza Rice as frigid or closeted for not having a husband and children at her age. Unless you're also going to level that charge against George Clooney, stfu.

When you reinforce and invoke sexist stereotypes, you are reinforcing sexism. You are not being ironic. You are not being un-PC. You're being a sexist jackass. In order to claim to be feminist/ally/not sexist/etc., you should actually make a concerted effort to erase sexist stereotypes from your language and actions. This should be pretty basic, right?

Hope that clears it up!


  1. Inasmuch as racism and sexism are NOT interchangeable and function differently, I think you can safely say that the same general principle applies to reinforcing racist stereotypes. If you want to claim to be "not racist," then the burden is on you, the speaker, to not rely on racist stereotypes.

    This isn't meant to be a defense of the poor, downtrodden Rich, White people. But I needed to use widely known examples, and unfortunately that's what came to mind.

  2. I do make a concentrated effort to avoid saying things that are sexist, although there are two exceptions: 1) I am being sarcastic, which is a typical response from me to something that disgusts me, or 2) I am unaware of the (implicit) sexism. In the latter case, I welcome someone to point that out to me, although I might then question them about the reasons. In the former case, I suppose I might have some 'splainin' to do.

    It's rather discouraging to find that something I thought was so off-the-wall obviously over-blown in its racist message, basically intended to lampoon people who say similar things in earnest, is actually taken as being absolutely true. For this reason, I've elected to tone it down a bit.

    I am totally fair about the shrill thing, though. Without knowing much about Matthews, I would call both Coulter and Hannity "shrill" speakers, because they both annoy me with the way they talk, to the point where it is difficult to discern how much is because of what they say, and how much is the sound of their voices. I think it's important to keep in mind that the word "shrill" itself doesn't contain the sexism, but the application of the word certainly can, so it's tough to tell whether or not the use is sexist on a single-case basis.

    You know, as opposed to other words, where the use of the word doesn't matter because it is already infused with racist/sexist/?-ist meaning.

  3. You know, I have to disagree. Shrill is gendered female. Using it in a negative context against a woman is sexist. I don't think shrill has a positive context, actually.

  4. Hmm. I think our disagreement here is because you are talking about "shrill" being used as a general pejorative, whereas I thought you meant to include the observation that a person's voice is shrill, which will apply more often to women, because they tend to have higher-pitched voices. In my last comment I noted that both Coulter and Hannity sound shrill to me. The part I wrote about words being "infused" with [whatever] was way off base, but I see a crucial difference in using "shrill" to describe a voice and using it to describe an entire person, or some aspect of a person that isn't vocal. Calling HRC a shrill person or saying her politics are shrill is sexist, but saying that she has a shrill voice is not.