Feminist Sociolinguistics


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What Feminist Sociolinguistics would include is the following: analyzation of the contrasting roles of the female in society and how they are evident in everyday language use, comparison of the value society places upon a female’s body versus her intellect, how language makes these roles and values apparent, and furthermore, how language can be used to further constrain or liberate these female roles. In short, how does language use oppress or liberate the female mind and body – and how does this impact her everyday life, and ultimately, our overall culture?

In order to approach all these concepts, I will be delving into a variety of subjects to provide the most comprehensive study. Thus, in order to effectively explain what I\'ve learned, I\'ll be providing an array of evolutionary psychology, neuropsychology, language as a patriarchal tool of oppression, the history of the development of language (more written, but some oral), how women have tried to regain both their bodies and the sexual language that is associated with them, how females record history (and have had history recorded on them), society\'s expectations and projected gender roles on women, and the importance of writing as a form of therapy and mode of defiance.

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  • “ If a right-handed person has a major stroke in the controlling left hemisphere, with few exceptions, a catastrophic deficit of speech, right-sided muscle paralysis and/or dysfunction in abstract thinking will occur. Conversely, damage to the right brain will impair the afflicted person’s ability to solve spatial problems, recognize faces, appreciate music, besides paralyzing the left side of the body” (Shalin 18) - Female strength: right brain Female strength: verbal capabilities, used to pass down culture and traditions to children Right brain traits ensure social safety, left hand is linked with right brain “ Many cultures use the left hand exclusively to aid in the elimination of feces and urine and consider it unclean, reserving the right hand for eating. The evidence that these prejudices still persist resides in our language. To be left out, to be served left-overs, to receive a left-handed compliment, or to be left in the lurch reflects the negative connotation associated with this side, and by extension, the right hemisphere. The word for left in Italian is sinistra. The word sinister in English comes from the same root. In French, left is gauche, which also means clumsy. Droit, the right, means correct” (Shlain 26). Cones: male, Rods: female; cones developed from hunting, more specific to humans than any other animal species Cones function in a liner fashion, linked with left-brain, reads one-at-a-time and scrutinizes Rods are based at viewing the world all-at-once, intuiting gesture and bodily communication, more linked with female. Cones used more for reading In speaking, both hands and cones and rods are used.
  • “ The ruling elite of the 1500’s took pains to keep this high explosive out of women’s hands, muzzling 80 percent of the population with enforced illiteracy. ‘Rhetoric in all its forms,’ declaimed the authorities, ‘lies outside the province of women.’ Those who rebelled were forced into marriageless obscurity and social exile” (Prioleau 121). Orthodox: written scriptures and divine revelation. Gnostic: spiritual instructions were given and received orally. Orthodox: misogynisitc, literal biblical interpretations, written records, wiped out Gnostics, celibacy and purity, demonize sexuality: “sin” Gnostics: equality, symbolic interpretations, oral traditions. “ Because Adam and Eve are characterized as they are, human history and social relationships are set in order in such a way that certain possibilities are excluded” (112). Eve took the apple, punished for knowledge and sexuality, suffering and death in childbirth Last commandment: women listed as property, alongside donkey and house The biblical word for wife, beluah, meant “owned” Eve is made from one of Adam’s ribs, literally supporting a man. Hebrew word for rib, Tsela, was “stumbling” Lilith, Adam’s first wife, omitted from mainstream knowledge, ‘Why should I lie beneath you,’ she demanded, ‘when I am your equal since both of us were created from dust?’ Abstinence education: girls told that condoms are highly effective and won’t prevent HIV, HPV shot will increase promiscuity, promiscuity increases depression and lowers grades, skin-to-skin contact can transmit an STI, you can get pregnant just by touching someone else’s genitals, STI from someone else’s tears, swallowing bleach to avoid an STI, premarital sex against the law
  • - Cunt was a female title of power and respect, a slut or prostitute was sought for safe haven and cleansing, and whores were holy
  • - “The very word ‘erotic’ comes from the Greek word eros, the personification of love in all its aspects - born of Chaos, and personifying creative creative power and harmony. When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the life-force of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives.”
  • - There have been several scenarios that Emma Salazar, Community Education Coordinator of local organization, SASO (Sexual Assault Services Organization), has encountered during her Bystander Intervention sessions in high school classrooms where girls have reportedly said, “Well, what does it matter if she was raped? She’s a slut,” implying: it doesn’t count, she couldn’t have been violated if she’s “easy.”
  • Feminist Sociolinguistics

    1. 1. Feminist Sociolinguistics Sociolinguistics: “Sociolinguistics is the study of how language serves and is shaped by the social nature of human beings. In its broadest conception, sociolinguistics analyzes the many and diverse ways in which language and society entwine.” - http://www.pbs.org/speak/speech/sociolinguistics/sociolinguistics/
    2. 2. Evolutionary Psychology <ul><li>Left brain vs. right brain </li></ul><ul><li>Verbal capabilities: spans both hemispheres </li></ul><ul><li>Goddess worship before existence of written language </li></ul><ul><li>Rise of left hemisphere with introduction of alphabet and written word </li></ul><ul><li>Right brain: more intuitive, creative, and emotionally perceptive </li></ul><ul><li>Negative lingual connotation for left-handed </li></ul><ul><li>Cones vs. rods </li></ul>
    3. 3. Religion <ul><li>US: A Christian nation </li></ul><ul><li>Orthodox vs. Gnostic </li></ul><ul><li>Adam, Eve (and the apple) and Lilith </li></ul><ul><li>Lilith insisted on equality, rejected missionary position </li></ul><ul><li>Bible being one of the first written books and best sold </li></ul><ul><li>“ Literacy was the indispensable key to advancement in the Church hierarchy and a monastery was the only institution capable of conferring literacy, because monasteries possessed all the book there were in Europe. The price for acquiring literacy, then, was celibacy” (Shlain 272). </li></ul><ul><li>Virgin-Vamp dichotomy: abstinence education </li></ul>
    4. 4. Language and Body <ul><li>“ Many women allow our lives and sexual expressions to be dictated by the threat of being perceived as ‘Whores.’ </li></ul><ul><li>Sexual Assault: “sluts”, 1 in 4 women nationwide. 84 percent of rape cases not reported. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Us” versus “them” mentality. </li></ul><ul><li>Virgin-Vamp dichotomy </li></ul><ul><li>More positive words for men than women: 220 words for a sexually promiscuous female and only twenty for a promiscuous male. </li></ul><ul><li>Words like cunt and slut actually have matriarchal connotations </li></ul><ul><li>What better way to limit a woman’s power than to cut off her sexuality? </li></ul>
    5. 5. Language and Body <ul><li>Audre Lorde: Eroticism as more empowered and creative. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Sluts” imply low-class and trashy, a girl who naturally dresses provocatively - otherwise why else would she use her body? Clearly she lacks intelligence. </li></ul><ul><li>When a sex crime victim is considered attractive, she receives less sympathy. </li></ul><ul><li>Yet, as a Kinsey researcher noted, there was a direct correlation “between female sexuality and intellectual or creative development. Kinsey revealed that the most accomplished women - intellectually, academically, or professionally - had had their first orgasms at an age… </li></ul>
    6. 6. Language and Body <ul><li>“ earlier than the norm. Former Kinsey Institute researcher William Simon told Seaman, ‘Most girls are raised to believe that they have a time-bomb between their legs. They are encouraged to devote much of their creative energy toward preventing this time-bomb from going off. The women who manage to escape devoting their energies to repression seem to be the ones who have the most energy left for mental activities, and who also enjoy the most active sex lives’” (Tanenbaum 106). </li></ul><ul><li>Due to abstinence education, most girls cannot comfortably even locate the precise parts of their own sexuality and reproductive system. </li></ul>
    7. 7. Language and Body <ul><li>Loose definition of rape. </li></ul><ul><li>Stay pure but lambasted with sexual media images. </li></ul><ul><li>“ After one woman was raped from behind, Vachss reports, a judge ruled that because she hadn’t actually seen the rape, she couldn’t really be sure there was penetration…” (Tanenbaum 126). </li></ul><ul><li>In sexual assault cases, “eight factors tilt a woman towards the vamp identity: if she knows her assailant; if she is young; if she is considered pretty; and if she is in any way deviates from the traditional housewife-mother role” (Tanenbaum 127). </li></ul>
    8. 8. Language and Body <ul><li>Men are unaware of how to deal with a female’s sexuality due to ambiguous societal messages, unaware of what to define as rape. </li></ul><ul><li>“ A common way to to damage a woman’s credibility is to call her a slut” (Tanenbaum 2). </li></ul><ul><li>“ The language we use to talk about violence is quite literally being taken away from us. In 2004, a Nebraska judge barred the word ‘rape’ from the trial of a man accused of… well, rape. The judge ruled that the language would be too prejudicial. The victim instead would have to use words like ‘intercourse’ and ‘sex’ to describe her act,” and fortunately and inspiringly, the girl replied: “I refuse to call it sex, or any other word that I’m encouraged to say on the stand, because to me that’s committing perjury. What happened to me was rape, it was not sex” (163). </li></ul>
    9. 9. Language and Body <ul><li>Girls who act out, speak out, and generally act with the same aggression of a typical male will frequently be called a bitch. The girl who takes on these same types of activities in the sexual realm becomes a whore. </li></ul><ul><li>“ The Claire Boothe Luce Policy Institute, yet another organization that combats ‘obscenity,’ even published a booklet called ‘The Vagina Monologues Expose: A Student’s Guide to V-Day,’ which calls the play ‘humiliating’ and ‘pornographic’ and aims to help students protest their campus’s productions” (Valenti 94). </li></ul>
    10. 10. History <ul><li>Sparta and Athens: </li></ul><ul><li>Sparta more verbal, also women were free to bear children with more than one man </li></ul><ul><li>Athens: more written, women were excluded from education, govt. and public affairs - and furthermore, they were also denied the right to purchase or sell land. Encouraged virginity, chastity and fidelity. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Was Joan of Arc a saint, a witch, a virgin, a whore, a transvestite, or a simple peasant?” (Ulrich xxii). Inspired woman suffragists and also became an icon of Catholic conservatism. </li></ul>
    11. 11. History <ul><li>Amazons: good Amazons versus bad Amazons, virginal heros versus lustful women who fought against men and social order. More than a female soldier: an object of fantasy, longing inspiration, and fear (Ulrich 50). </li></ul><ul><li>Witch hunting: “Over 80 percent of accused ‘witches were female; in German-speaking lands the percentage often was close to 100 percent,” and furthermore, “Sex crimes against women dramatically increased; perpetrators know that if a woman pressed charges, they need only claim bewitchment to have the accusation turned against her” (Shalin 364, 374). </li></ul>