Thursday, 10 February 2011

language matters

so i failed to be impressed with brian edwards' attitude towards the high school student who objected to being told she looked like a slut (or somesuch). there was a healthy dose of not getting the point that using abusive language towards a student was not actually going to shock her into behaving in a manner whereby she would be safe from sexual violence. because there is in fact no such behaviour that will guarantee safety.

he tops that effort with a post highlighting the lack of courage shown by tradespeople who won't be honest about the fact that they are unable to take on a small job. which is a reasonable complaint - if you're too busy to do the job within a reasonable timeframe, say so and let the potential customer deal with someone else.

but look at the descriptors he uses to describe this lack of courage:

These pathetic wimps, wusses, chicken livers, cream puffs, crybabies, fraidy cats, milksops, momma’s boys, pantywaists, sissies, yellow bellies and big girl’s blouses do not have the cojones to tell even a little old lady they can’t concrete her drive...

surely it's not just me who objects to the fact that most of these descriptors equate lack of courage with feminity ie with being like a woman or being close to women. really, you couldn't have made your point without "momma's boys", "sissies" or "big girl's blouses"? it's such a terrible thing for a man to be close to his mother that this mere fact needs to be used as an insult? and just to ram the point home, he adds the implication that courage is dependent on having male genetalia. nice.

i'm also not liking the fact that he is equating a "lack of assertiveness" with lack of honesty. the problem is not that these tradespeople have trouble in being assertive, it's that they have trouble being honest about their workload and their ability to do the job. lacking assertiveness is not a bad thing, in and of itself. some people aren't assertive by nature, but that certainly doesn't make them less than anyone else. having seen a couple of people being put down simply for not being outgoing and assertive, i know how harmful that kind of judgement can be. perhaps mr edwards doesn't believe that the meek shall inherit the earth, but that doesn't mean they deserve contempt.

as i've said before, language is often a tool of discrimination, and he has provided a healthy dose of it here. language matters, it shapes the culture and environment people live in, it can aid in marginalisation, especially when it's used in the way it is here. mr edwards works in the field of media and communication, so i can't imagine that he would be unaware of this fact. i can only deduce that he chose to ignore it.


LadyNews said...


I was also unimpressed by his post, and for the exact same reasons as you. I had planned to write something but admittedly was a little wary given how he responded to me the last time I critiqued his writing.

It really leapt out at me how much of his language was essentially associating allusions of femininity to mean bad, insulting, ineffective, etc. And the "have the cojones" comment bothered me too.

I was especially bothered by this because, as you said, he works in the media and communication, and he of all people should be especially aware of the care that should be taken when choosing words. And I honestly can't believe that he he never considered that the words he uses to mean "inferior" or "lacking" are allusions to femininity- possibly he has never clicked on this point, but I struggle to believe that of someone who has a reputation for being astute and intelligent. If he has considered it, then his use of these terms means he doesn't think it's a big deal. Considering his reaction to the schoolgirl being told she looks like a slut, I get the impression he doesn't feel that these words matter very much or actually have power. This is why the whole thing confuses me, because doing what he does I would expect him to understand the power that words have. Possibly he has the privilege to disregard this, and I really find it hard to respect that he wouldn't challenge his idea that using words like this isn't hurtful or damaging enough to be a big deal.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the good Doctor hates women he's just old fashioned in his terminology.

He's like your old fashioned uncle/aunt.

stargazer said...

thanx ladynews, i also didn't feel comfortable commenting over there after the reponse i'd recieved to my comments on the previous issue.

anon, two things. please use a consistent handle for your comments, as requested clearly in the paragraphs above the comments box. secondly, nowhere in this post have i suggested that mr edwards hates women. even if i accepted that "old-fahsioned" people can't possibly change, ever (which i don't, i bet there are things many people wouldn't say now that they did say 30 years ago), language is an area of expertise for mr edwards as has already been pointed out by me & by ladynews.

Nicky said...

Couldn't agree more with the post. A recent Listener article talked too about how 'masculine' our expressions are in NZ, and I go along with that. Unfortunately, I think that Brian Edwards has got to the stage where he can't be bothered checking himself. I call it the "older folks' eye-rolling stage" (and I'm no spring chicken myself) because the effort of not being thoughtless and dull makes them roll their eyes.

Trouble is, I see such a lot of women around setting lame examples for the female sex. Everywhere the media pushes that we are only for decoration, and I don't think a lot of young women get it that it's okay to be thoughtful and sure of yourself. There's so much giggly, ditzy behaviour about that I am sometimes embarassed to female.