Thursday, April 23, 2009

On Chick Lit, the Feminizing of Stupidity and Gendered Language

Most of the times, English is a gender-neutral language. Yes, it's true you can say 'chairman' or 'chairwoman', thus betraying your gendered-vision of the job market. But for most of the times, one cannot guess if the noun is feminine, masculine or neutral. Take French for instance: la femme ignorante/ l'homme ignorant. The epithet (adjective) changes with the gender of the noun - and in French, like in other Romance languages, the noun is always gendered.

So, when a man wrote the other day in one of these Romance languages: "I'm new here and I do not know the details of this problem, but I'm asking like a 'stupid' one", he used the feminine for the word stupid, and put it in between inverted commas, to emphasize the fact that it should be read in a connotative manner.

But what is the connotation here? That to ask stupid questions is always a female way of dealing with things? Most probably, yes...

The other day, someone else wrote to say he's reading "chick lit!" I was intrigued... what exactly makes literature 'chick'? Could it be because it is about poultry? Probably not... As I was pondering the 'depth of this comment' (*sarcastic tone*), I took out the newspapers and happened to come across an article about the 'feminization of the school curriculum', where 'poor boys' (*sarcasm, again*) are being forced to read those annoying Jane Austin books... Consequently, due to this 'outrageous discrimination' (*sarcasm, again), the boys' grades were going down the drain, so the professor replaced the 'chick lit' with books where the boys can read - in a manly fashion! - about the adventures of a young boy. Go, boys, go!

I wonder if people ever ponder the mangitude of such words, deeds and feelings. If they ever stop to ask themselves: why am I labeling this 'chick lit' or why is stupidity always bound to be a 'female' attribute?

Here's my biased two cents: in most cases, I suspect telling people that using such a language is derogatory, betraying a sexist and patriarchal vision of the world, will only bring a smile and maybe a polite acknowledgment: "Oh, but I didn't mean it in that way". Maybe you didn't, but then again, you did mean exactly in this way and maye not because you 'intended' it, but because that's the only language you're comfortable with, and you don't give it a second thought.
But you should.


Anonymous said...

Isn't the connotation that he's not really stupid, just ignorant to discussion ?

thinkingdifference said...

right. but he didn't think of stupidity as being associated with, say flowers or trees. but with women. that's part of the connotation...

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