Woman up! Woman is a social animal. Be a woman! Who’s womanning our office today?
Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Despite numerous differences in people across the world on lines of class, religion, race, ethnicity, etc. one consensus the world has successfully reached is to make our ears patriarchal- so much so that when age-old maxims are tweaked a bit, it sounds odd to our ears. This is how we are used to using the English language which, for the longest time in history, has pretended that being a human being is the reserve of men and people of all other genders are sub-humans.
Patriarchy is a transnational, transcultural and global phenomenon. No matter how varied the different forms of the most widely spoken language on earth there are, all these forms have one thing in common- they are all phallogocentric.
What is phallogocentrism?
In critical theory and deconstruction, phallogocentrism is a neologism coined by Jaques Derrida to refer to the masculine (phallus) in the construction of meaning. The word is a portmanteau of the older terms phallocentrism (focusing on the masculine point of view) and logocentrism (focusing on language in assigning meaning to the world). [Source: Wikipedia]
This essentially implies that we make only partial sense of the world when we replace “person/ human being” with “man” and “people” with “men”. If language is really a lens to see the world, our vision becomes blurred when we try to ascribe meaning to and derive meaning from the world through just one gender.
Think of a story which unravels before the backdrop of literature. The story is that of society. Literature, which itself is handicapped by the incompleteness of language, fails to capture the essence of this story in its entirety. It struggles to keep its reality afloat in the reality constructed by the author who inhabits a misogynistic universe.
“There is abundant scholarship which establishes that the delegitimation of homosexual desire and the production of the naturally heterosexual, properly bigendered (unambiguously male or female) population of citizens, with the women respectably desexualized, is a process that is central to nation formation all over the globe.”
-Nivedita Menon, Seeing like a Feminist
It is no wonder why nurse evokes the feminine pronoun and bus conductor inevitably is followed by a he if the gender of the person is unknown.
Language works in binaries, privileging one section of the society to the other. It looks like the world is made of opposites on two extremes of the spectrum- black/white, body/mind, nature/culture and of course the most auspicious of them all- man/woman who have been made to look so starkly different from each other to serve the grand patriarchal agenda. However, in reality, gender is far from being a spectrum.
The next time someone tells you to not be a pussy when your behavior appears cowardly, please ask them to mind their language (and sexism).