But no one can deny that language make that name up) has written a fascinating article, How Language Shapes Thought. Try to count how many times you hear the phrase “be a man about it” or “man up” in the media and then meditate on exactly where that puts you if you are not a man to begin with and can’t be one no matter how you try (unless you’re transgender, which is fine with me but not an option for all women).It points out that in recent years “a solid body of empirical evidence showing how languages shape thinking has finally emerged.” Her conclusions, in brief, were: “People communicate using a multitude of languages that vary considerably in the information they convey. Think about terms like “Don Juan” or “Holy Joe” and the fact that there are no female counterparts to these.Scholars have long wondered whether different languages might impart different cognitive abilities. “Manhunt” is a frequently-used word even when it leads to ridiculous sentences like this from CNN’s website: “the furious shootout with the male and female suspects was the end of a daylong manhunt.” Then, as I said at the beginning, there’s manpower, and manning the guns/helm/ship, and those signs on the road saying “Men at work.” (A friend joked that what the signs really should say is “Cones up. “Oh, man,” and “oh, boy,” or “boy, oh, boy” are common catchphrases all over the USA.
You realize that you can actually tell something about a culture if it has a word for something. Like “cougar.” Not the innocent ferocious animal, the term meaning an older woman who’s dating a younger man. There is no male equivalent because it’s perfectly acceptable for an older man to date a younger woman and no one needs to comment on it. Another old axiom can be found in some of Robert Heinlein’s books in which characters announce that they are “free, white, and twenty-one” and therefore able to do as they please.
And there’s the phrase “don’t be cowed,” which Americans will recognize and the phrase, “bull yourself up,” which Brits, at least, will know. In America we occasionally directly call a woman a cow, and that’s always derogatory; I believe the expression is even more common in the UK. Pert means something like sassy, which is another thing men aren’t. (Yet another female-oriented word.) Do I really have to go into why this kind of weakness is less than desirable? Why should there be a different word for her stature just because of her sex?
There’s still a lot of implicit racism in the English language, of course: in general dark things are bad and light, white, or bright things are good. And it behooves every one of us to think about it and try to fight it—but others are doing a much better job than I ever could of arguing against this kind of racism.
What we have to realize is that verbal misogyny is just as disgusting, just as harmful, just as pernicious, just as insidious, and just as necessary to stamp out. As a word association football aside (only Monty Python fans will find that amusing), did you know that in Japanese you can say that someone did something without saying “he” or “she”? I don’t know what this says about misogyny in Japan, which there is plenty of, but I do hear that these days Japanese women are often choosing not to get married at all. Teachers have been named “Gender Champions” and are using guidelines promoted by the Department of Education and the Institute of Physics, a London-based scientific charity that works to advance physics education (yay for them! “Go make me a sandwich” is also among the new no-nos.
She’s popular with girls and boys both; she adores swimming, and she’s crazy about riding horses.