Saturday, 19 March 2011

Mind your language

Cross posted

In the Dominion Post this morning:

Blue lines on roads in Island Bay mark the furthest point that a worst-case tsunami has been calculated to reach.

Since the lines were painted in February, after consultation with GNS Science, almost every coastal suburb has expressed an interest in having them.

"If there was a big earthquake in Wellington, and you live on the coast and have seen that line on the street, then hopefully you grab your wife and kids and go to behind where that line is," Wellington emergency management office senior adviser Dan Neely said.

You grab your wife and your kids...

So many possible meanings there. Maybe it's because only men are capable of taking action, or because men are the ones who take responsibility for action, or because when it comes to disaster planning, we plan for men. Also, you will note that we only plan for nuclear families, and families that have a husband and a wife at that.

It's such a small thing, but it's revealing. It shows which people are regarded as being the norm, the average, the ones from whom all others are different.

And it's so easy to fix. All he needed to say was, "... then hopefully you grab the people around you and go to behind where that line is."

Maybe that's what he meant to say. I'm sure he is concerned for the safety of everyone in Wellington. It would just be nice if that thought got out into public discourse too, instead of using language that reinforces notions of men as normative, and women as others who need to be cared for.


Nicky said...

As you say, it is a small thing, but language is so important -- it shapes and influences, so thank you for your post.

Anonymous said...

Agree. What they are doing is great, but too often people minimise the importance of words.

I would be prepared to give him credit in that he was thinking about things only from his own perspective - what he would do. But with his role, with a public announcement, it is really important to think about the impact your words can have.

I have kinda come to like the phrase "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can destroy my soul".

Thanks Deborah.

Anonymous said...

I think when one talks about these things they personalise it as it means a lot to them. He said he'd get his wife and kids - and subconsciously he intended it to be said like that. I really do not think it was an intentional dig on same sex couples or that women cannot be heros.

Terry said...

Sorry... But I think you're being small minded and petty. You've spent a huge amount of time and effort analysizing that one sentence of Dan Neely's compaired to the amount of time and thought he'd have put into it. There is nothing wrong with what he said. What I find odd is that you've put so much time and effort into this post over one sentence. You've highlighted that one sentence,by its self, without its context, and are commenting negatively on it, now that's what I call sad.

PM of NZ said...

You people really need to get over yourselves instead of looking for conspiracies in every utterance.

The writer is probably a happily married man whose 'norm' is caring for his wife and nuclear family. And his worldview should be the gold standard, apparently being married is better for your health.

Find something real to do rather than stirring the pot over abstractions.

Kelly W. said...

PM of NZ 8.05AM Why do you have such little respect for your wife that you think she's unable to think or look after herself or her family in an emergency situation? Also, being in an relationship without respect for your partner isn't healthy. It's not healthy to be with someone who treats you like a child who they think is incapable of looking after themselves just because of their gender.

Deborah said...


PM of NZ said...

kw, Where was respect mentioned?

I also think my cook is very capable of looking after herself in any emergency.

Kelly W. said...

I can see why you wouldn't consider respect to be a fundamental in a relationship. You're that type of guy.

Anonymous said...

Double sigh, Deborah.

My second attempt at posting - previous one would let me submit for some reason.

I think anonymous 06:33AM is right. Like I mentioned earlier, I think he was speaking only from his own perspective. But that is part of the problem.

This is a public statement about safety and preparedness. However, "grab the wife and kids" speaks of lack of preparation.

What I would have expected is this:

"Discuss with your entire household/family what you will do if a tsunami warning is in effect. Like with any emergency plan, assign tasks to various family members. Decide on your escape route and meeting points and times. Make sure everybody has their own task, and that they know how to contact others."

There, isn't that better? And as Deborah said, so very easy.

eym said...

A woman might have written ‘ grab your hubby and kids’.
Unless he was just displaying some old fashioned chivalry.
Chivalry is dead isn’t it?

What would your comment be if a lifeboat sign said:
“Women and children first”?

Anonymous said...

eym - a woman may well have said that, but really it doesn't change anything.

The issue, to my mind, is that women continue to suffer the sort of behaviour on show here. The presumption of men always having the power to decide.

While a woman saying "grab the hubby and kids" would be equally sexist, it has less impact because men are generally used to having the control.

Like I said, words really do mean something. In personal conversations, it doesn't matter quite so much. But when there is a public statement, great care needs to be taken with language. Because you are speaking to tens of thousands of people. And your words create images in their minds.

From my perspective (and I presume your question isn't directed at me), a sign "women and children first" is also insulting. Especially as a **sign**. Evacuations require a rational approach, rather than something based purely on age or gender.

Not A Feminist said...

Yeah Deborah, how dare you discuss a language-related feminist issue on an explicitly feminist blog that often discusses language-related feminist issues!


eym said...

‘Evacuations require a rational approach, rather than something based purely on age or gender.’

Gravey- What if there is no time for rationality? And panic is all there is.

What are the innate drives that take over?
In the recent tsunami some people had no warning others had a few minutes.

What if we were on a sinking ship, say with 90 people, men women and children in equal numbers and one lifeboat with room for only 60 safely?

12 minutes to go before the boat sinks, how do you rationally assign places?
A confused male genuinely wants to know what the current thinking is, when panic takes over.
Is it women and children first?

Deborah said...

I call a troll. "I just want to know..."

eym said...

Chaos then, you have no answer?

Anonymous said...

In the unconsciously chosen words are prejudices revealed.

That, I believe, is the whole point. Me, I have big issues with the word 'grab'. Am I wrong to take it by its literal meaning? In that one word is disrespect, ownership and violence coded.
The rest of the sentence merely supports that theme. That is not a sentence that talks about safety, it is a sentence that talks about ownership.

While the general populace considers these forms of words normal and acceptable, the need for feminism to counter the sickness revealed is paramount.

eym - in such a situation, personality and prior experience will direct action without regard to gender. Those who expect leadership roles (many of whom will be male) will assume such. The end result will hinge on their worldview of what should happen.
Does that answer your question any?


Anonymous said...

In the case of a sinking ship, I expect the people in charge with the evacuation to have already planned how they proceed, with a definite idea of what happens.

The idea of having a plan is that you reduce the panic. With a dedicated emergency plan, well-laid and well-rehearsed, you tend not to panic, you just do.

I would have thought that this is what recent events have taught us.

The answer to the question is you figure it out on the spot. If those managing the emergency can't make those sort of decisions on the spot, you're fucked anyway.

In any case, coming back to the actual subject, the issue really is about two things (again THM please forgive the presumption):

1: What our choice of language says about our sub-conscious motives; and
2: The impact language has on social perspective.

Hence the subject "Mind your language". Paraphrased as "be careful what you say and how you say it, because you probably don't realise the consequences it brings'.

Anonymous said...

Oh crap. It is time to go to bed. I saw the first line of the post and just heard Yoda saying "Mind the line. Save your life, it might".

Sigh. Sorry Deborah. I'll shut up now.

Boganette said...

In the case of the sinking ship:

The big strong men will obviously act first as their brains are larger than lady brains and ladies are prone to panic and hysteria. The ladies - delicate as they are - will be focusing only on not getting their pretty dresses wet. The big strong men will carry the shrieking ladies to the boats while they kick and scream (silly ladies can't handle the stress of an emergency situation so they tend to either go mute or wail). Women and children are essentially exactly the same - in terms of their ability to handle emergency situations so they will both be put on the boat together in no particular order.

BUT male children will go last. Because a male child is actually smarter than a woman. And stronger physically and emotionally.

This is important - There will have to be some men on the life boats as ladies don't know how to work boats. Boating is a man sport for menz. The paddles confuse the ladies. And again, they fear their petticoats becoming wet.

As the ship goes down the big strong men will flex their muscles while the ladies coo approvingly from the lifeboats. The big strong men will hold their heads high knowing they made the ultimate sacrifice for their little lady friends/children. They are men. And that's what men do. They do not fear death. Because this is Sparta.

The women will cry. As really, that's all women do. Not one man will shed a tear because men don't cry. They won't even flinch even though the water is super-cold.

Deborah said...

I've been enjoying your comments very much, goodgravey. You go right ahead!

Great comment, Boganette. I must remember to wear my pretty frock next time I'm on the Cook Strait ferry.

eym said...

‘The big strong men will obviously act first’.

I think you are right, that in the current confusion about chivalry, it will be the case that a few of the strongest men will exert their will over the others and take just who they want onto the boat. The boat then might only have 20 or so people on it, instead of the maximum 60. ( These men will later fight amongst themselves)

Not because men are now more violent but in the absence of order and an unspoken social tradition like chivalry,there is no time to work out a hierachy of leadership, so brutality is more likely to prevail.
Possibly chivalry might have evolved not to dominate women but to control men.

Whereas even thirty or so years ago when there was still a remnants of this tradition which men adhered to, the lifeboat would have been full of mostly women and children. Some of the women might be pregnant also, and no time to ascertain that either, especially with the fluffy petticoats.
On the Titanic , first class passengers, rich men who paid a lot of money to go on a sinking ship, gave up their places in lifeboats to poor women on a third class ticket.
Isn’t the crux of feminist theory that sperm is cheap and eggs are expensive? Don’t men and women instinctively understand this?

Mysig said...

Isn’t the crux of feminist theory that sperm is cheap and eggs are expensive?

Put down the MRA pamphlet there sparky, it's rotting your brain.

Deborah said...

Isn’t the crux of feminist theory that sperm is cheap and eggs are expensive?

I laughed so hard when I read this that I scared the cat.

eym, this is completely incorrect. I have never heard feminism so described by feminists. Please take yourself over to Finally Feminism 101 and spend some time there learning about what contemporary feminists do say about feminism.

Please also show some basic respect here. Your question about feminism is a statement in disguise, and an incorrect one at that, as you will when you spend some time at Finally Feminism 101. Aside from the lack of knowledge you display, phrasing statements as questions that invite agreement is a nasty. bullying and dishonest tactic. Nest time, plase phrase your statements as "I think that feminism is about....."

To other commenters on this thread, feel free to have some fun with eym, or to ignore her or him, just as you see fit. She or he sounds a bit like someone trying to work themselves into a howl of self-righteous anger, rather than anyone who need be taken seriously, given her or his bullying way of phrasing statements.

Boganette said...

"On the Titanic , first class passengers, rich men who paid a lot of money to go on a sinking ship, gave up their places in lifeboats to poor women on a third class ticket." - Holy crap for real? That is amazing. Poor women even?! They're like the least important ones!

I think that I'd be quite handy as a lifeboat captain as when I became a feminist I cut off one of my breasts so I could shoot arrows better (this is all part of being a feminist, as well as this you have to take part in a 14-week-course to improve your ability to sell egg and sperm products).

I really think that with my arrow-shooting prowess, my Sell! Sell! Sell! attitude, excellent paddling skills and barren womb I could protect the poor womenfolk quite well.

In saying that I really feel like everyone might die while we're all discussing chivalry. Will someone think of the children? Particular the unborn ones because they're the worst swimmers.

Hugh said...

I think that "sperm is cheap, eggs are expensive" line is from the SCUM manifesto which some people still regard as the bible of feminism despite it having been almost universally denounced (not least by its author)!

eym said...

Yes there is no difference between the value of an egg and sperm, that is why it is just as easy to find a surrogate mother as a sperm donor. The investment is the same-no difference there.

Apologies for sounding bullying, but I guess I am no closer to understanding the prevaling social mores.
In an emergency rather than the lecture theatre.

Lolwut, do you have children?
I have two daughters.

Do they get on the lifeboat or the two young guys pushing and shoving?
They are much bigger and stronger than my daughters.

No manners, no chivalry, just panic.

I used the word control of men, not oppression ,in this case control might be a useful thing.
Chivalry might be a device to level the playing field in times of emergency.

But seeing that the handbook is out of print for a generation of young men, I and many young men I know are unsure what is in its place.

All in the cause of being prepared.

The crew has already abandoned ship as they so often do.
There is negotiating, and pleading.
The lifeboat is only a quarter full...many young men. What to do?

Ship sinks in 5 minutes.

eym said...

Boganette-your scenarios are entertaining, but in every one you have assumed that you are actually on the lifeboat.

Deborah said...

Goodness. A man setting an artificial timetable, and demanding that we play by his rules. I'm sure there's a term for that. Hmm.... let me think... would it be PATRIARCHY?

Anonymous said...

Just to shut eym up.

On the buses I ride, healthy younger women (including me) will quite often give up their seats to elderly or visibly disabled passengers whatever their gender. I don't see why the same situation wouldn't apply with lifeboats.

Those who stand the most chance of survival outside of a lifeboat (including healthy young women) defer to others who have less chance, it's just common decency.

Women and children first is a lousy philosophy.


Mysig said...

Eym has provided us with a strawman hypothetical situation, where:
a) ALL of the men are physically stronger than ALL of the women
b) There are not enough lifeboats for all of the passengers
c) Not only are there not enough boats for all of the passengers, there are only enough for the men
d) There are no elderly, disabled or otherwise physically compromised people on board (pregnant or injured people)
e) The men don't give a fuck about children or there are no children present
f) The men ignore the authority figures in charge of the ship (i.e. the captain and crew) who are in charge of delegating evacuation
g) That men panic under stress and cannot control their basic fight/flight response
h) That physical strength is the only requirement for securing a place on a lifeboat
i) I could go on and on with further debunking of your shitty scenario, but I think that's sufficient for one post.

So sorry, not going to batter away at your strawman; you'll have to put up a REAL argument instead :-)

Boganette said...

Don't worry! False alarm! The boat isn't sinking after all. I fixed the hole by stuffing it with gender stereotypes.


Robot Pie said...


After that comment, I am going to deliver a gift wrapped John Cena to your home and/or place of work.

Boganette said...

All I've ever wanted is a gift-wrapped John Cena. I will prepare my boudoir for company.

Tui said...

"Yes there is no difference between the value of an egg and sperm, that is why it is just as easy to find a surrogate mother as a sperm donor. The investment is the same-no difference there."

Surrogate mothers aren't providing eggs; they're providing nine months of labour for twenty-four hours a day. Unsurprisingly they are a bit more difficult to track down than sperm donors. Egg donors are much more easy to track down than surrogate mothers, but harder to track down than sperm donors because extracting eggs is a more complicated process than extracting sperm.

None of that says anything about the actual value of eggs and sperm.

eym said...

I had always assumed as a given ‘women and children first’ includes the aged infirm as well, why wouldn’t it?
It is the principle of chivalry at play.
But thanks for the advice, I will go check Feminism 101 for the assurance.
This simplifies things for me.
And even though Boganette has somehow got herself on the lifeboat by explaining to the other men/women/ children,that her DNA is so much more important than theirs-well done great negotiating skills there,I am almost convinced that even in a life or death situation a feminist woman would not expect a man to give up a place.

If it came to that.
All things being equal.

And I know now not to use the word ‘grab’ in an emergency.

BTW the ship sank,and the lifeboat was only half full.
There was too much name calling and indecision, mostly because the men did not know who to defer to.
Just remember to count the lifeboats next time you go to sea.
Bon voyage!

Mysig said...

Chivalry is sexism. Plain and simple.
Fuck chivalry and the white charger it rode in on.

Anonymous said...

Mysig said...
"Chivalry is sexism. Plain and simple."

Damn straight. It's like the arguments we often see about men who open doors for women. Me? I like to hold doors open for people. Because I feel like shit when I walk up to a door only to see someone let it close in my face.

I wouldn't mind it if chivalry was re-defined to mean common fucking courtesy.

As for the boat scenario: I don't give a shit - I'm on a plane. Second thoughts, let me take some drugs. I am a plane. Wheeeee.

Jeez - I really need to get to bed earlier.

Boganette said...

Gravey - can I also be a plane? Or at least enjoy some of your plane-hallucinogenics.