On the bus recently, I listened to a group of noisy adolescents, out from school, carry on. Their common language was continually interspersed with "slut", "ho", and "F--k", so much so that I was shocked. A daily language that makes absolutely profane sexuality, and in particular, girls and female sexuality. So very sad to see this as the ugly petri dish within which these girls are blossuming into their female beauty and potency. A very long cry from, say, the coming of age "Pollen Ceremony" for young women among the Navajo.
I reflected on why the imagined world of Jane Austen is so popular to many sensitive young women, in the face of such brutality and vulgarity everywhere.
I have to thank Max Dashu for forwarding this article by "Dr. Nerd" Harris O'Malley,
which articulates so well something I know most women have had to deal
with in one form or another. At least, I did in my youth, and it was a
long process learning to not become disempowered and self-negating. Examining language is so important, as it reveals what is deeply, and collectively, embedded beneath the surface currents of social interaction.
are certain words that are applied to women specifically in order to
manipulate them into compliance: "slut," "bitch," "ugly/fat" and, of
course, "crazy." These words encapsulate what society defines as the
worst possible things a woman can be. Slut-shaming is used to coerce
women into restricting their own sexuality into a pre-approved vision of
feminine modesty and restraint. "Bitch" is used against women who might
be seen as being too aggressive or assertive... acting, in other words,
like a man might. "Ugly" or "fat" are used -- frequently
interchangeably -- to remind them that their core worth is based on a
specific definition of beauty, and to deviate from it is to devalue not
only oneself but to render her accomplishments or concerns as invalid.
"Crazy" may well be the most insidious one of the four because it
encompasses so much. At its base, calling women "crazy" is a way of
waving away any behavior that men might find undesirable while
simultaneously absolving those same men from responsibility. Why did you
break up with her? Well, she was crazy. Said something a woman might
find offensive? Stop being so sensitive. The idea of the "crazy" woman
is so vague and nebulous that it can apply to just about any scenario."
"The association between women's behavior and being labeled "crazy" has
a long and infamous history in Western culture. The word "hysteria" --
defined as "behavior exhibiting excessive or uncontrollable emotion,
such as fear or panic" -- is derived from the ancient Greek word
"hystera," meaning uterus. Until the early 20th century, female hysteria
was the official medical diagnosis for a truly massive array of
symptoms in women including but not limited to: loss of appetite,
nervousness, irritability, fluid retention, emotional excitability,
outbursts of negativity, excessive sexual desire and "a tendency to
cause trouble." While some of the symptoms of "female hysteria" could be signs of
legitimate (if misdiagnosed) mental health issues, most of it described
male (as the medical field was a men-only profession up until the
mid-19th century) discomfort with women's behavior and sexuality.
Calling it a medical issue meant that men didn't have to respond to
behavior that challenged male sensibilities or belief structures.
Instead, labeling women as "hysterical" made it much easier to diminish
women's concerns and issues without having to pause to consider them as
possibly being valid.