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eshaw's picture

The Problem with Language...

(Sorry if this post appears twice...I posted the first time without signing in! oops) 

We ended class on Thursday with the question of a “women’s language.” I find this a very provocative question, especially after the time that I’ve spent thinking about the positive/negative dichotomy of man/woman. I suppose it harkens back to our well-worn topic of categorization and the destruction/fortification of those boxes. Because we are so rooted in language, as Acker articulates in her essay Seeing Gender, it seems only natural that these categorical binaries are intimately connected to the act of signification itself. The human compulsion to “name” things is something that is central to our understanding of the world around us, even in the very distinction between “self” and “other.” I feel that the very concept of identity is rooted in act of filtering out the “other” and by so doing, naming it. Ultimately, I tend to think of the whole thing as a “what came first, the chicken or the egg?” Do we construct categories of gender because of language or do these distinctions already exist and language just “names” it?

Yes, this sense of “naming” does have a kind of patriarchal, authoritative ring to it – I think of the Gospel of John (“in the beginning was the word and the word was God”) and all that logocentric, Derridian stuff.   Therefore, to come back to the initial question of creating a “women’s language,” or even the concept of such a thing existing, I think we run into a few pitfalls. Firstly, if language is essentially masculine in nature, is a “feminine” language even possible through the written word? Secondly, if such a language could be created, would we not be fortifying the walls between the genders, creating an even bigger gap than when we started? Thirdly, how does one even initiate a new language, with the old being so essentially ingrained in our education and our concept of our world? I think that the notion of a “women’s language” was radical in its conception because it illuminated some implicitly masculine aspects of the language that we use everyday. Ultimately, though, I don’t know if such a thing is possible or even productive. 

All this does relate back to the humanities in some important ways, in my opinion. I think it points to the power of words and language in relation to conceptualizing the world around us. The more I continue to think about it, though, the more I get stuck in that self-referential loop. At some point, life lies outside of what we can speak and what we can read and what we can name and I think that a crucial part of deconstructing the gender binary lies in that space beyond language. I think we run into problems when we place too much faith in our signs and words and too little attention to everything else.


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