Monday, September 20, 2010

Language and sexism

In Spanish, all nouns are gendered. Sometimes this is kind of random. For example, table is feminine. Hairdryer is masculine. Water is masculine, but plural water is feminine. You could spend a lot of time trying to analyze the gender of words without probably getting anywhere. However, there are some instances when the sexism of language is clear. After Dana and I gave our class a powerpoint presentation on Sexism last week (there are a bunch of topics we could choose from, I of course, volunteered for that one), Evelyn showed us these words:

(an ending in -o means it is a masculine word, an ending in -a means it is a feminine word)

Zorro = hero
Zorra= prostitute

Perro = dog, man's best friend
Perra = prostitute

Aventurero = adventurous, daring, bold
Aventurera = prostitute

Ambicioso = visionary, with clear goals
Ambiciosa = prostitute

Cualquier = what's-his-name, so-and-so
Cualquiera = prostitute

Regalado = gift giver
Regalada = prostitute

Callejero = urban
Callejera = prostitute

Hombrezuelo: little guy, pitiful (hombre is the word for "man")
Mujerzuela: prostitute (mujer is the word for "woman")

Hombre público: civil servant
Mujer pública: Prostitute

Hombre de la vida: a man with experience
Mujer de la vida: prostitute

Rápido: intelligent
Rápida: Prostitute

Dios: God, creator of the world
Diosa: Goddess, mythological being now obsolete

Héroe: idol, hero
Heroina: drug

Atrevido: brave, valiant
Atrevida: insolent, badly educated

Soltero: In-demand, intelligent, able
Soltera: old-maid

Suegro: Political figure
Suegra: witch

Machista: macho man
Feminista: lesbian

Don Juan: lady-conqueror
Don Juana: Domestic worker

So... it's pretty clear that there's some lexical sexism* going on here. It is also taught that we are supposed to use the male identifiers when talking about a group, even if the group includes one guy. For instance, if I were talking about something that all of the girls in my group did, I would say, "nosotras" (we), but if Zach were included, I'd have to say, "nosotros." I read Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa freshman year (I highly recommend it!! One of my favorite books!!) , which is her account of being Chicana and navigating multiple identities, and I remember reading about her shock at learning there was even such a term as nosotras. Really? At that point I'd only been taking Spanish for 5 years, and I knew about it, even though I didn't use it very often. (I try and use it as often as I can now, and have noticed that not many people use it at all...) This interesting article (in English!) goes more in-depth about this issue, and offers some suggestions on how to make Spanish more gender-neutral.

(In this comic the teacher tells the children, "All of you [masculine] go to recess!" and the girls are thinking, "And us [feminine]?"

I'm interested in learning more about this, and being in Ecuador will definitely make this a little easier. But... it's important to remember that English has some lexically sexist terms as well. "Mankind" to refer to all people (men and women), "women," etc. Not to mention the imbalance of negative words to describe sexuality for women and men (more negative words for female sexuality, barely any for male sexuality). This article goes more in-depth about English lexical sexism. I would definitely be interested in knowing about how other languages navigate gender and gendered words, but alas... I'm only bilingual. (Well, at this point, 1.5-lingual. Getting to bilingual.) Another time, another set of google searches perhaps.

Anyway... that's my bit for tonight. Think about that!

(This sign translates to: "I'm a whore. I'm black. I'm gay. I'm Arab. I'm South American [derogatory term]. I'm a woman. The different one is you. Imbecile.")

*Lexical means vocabulary usage

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