Introduction: If I Can't Find the Words, Where Does that Leave Me?
Updated: Mar 22, 2022
Not all men do this - we know.
However, enough women, or people who aren’t cis men, have been at the receiving end of a lecture during which a man explains, with total confidence, something he doesn’t know shit about - or at least something the lecture-receiver knows more about - to make this problem endemic.
I’m not interested in man-bashing. I’m interested in pointing out that when you leave a conversation kicking yourself because you didn’t speak up, it’s not your fault. And that individual experiences of voicelessness from women, or anyone who isn’t a man, are systemic. I’m interested in why articulation often feels impossible, and why, when we do speak up, we often aren’t heard.
Language shapes the world. It shapes the way we relate to the world. It shapes lived experience. It shapes knowledge. It shapes identity. It shapes intimacy. It shapes history. If I can't find the words, where does that leave me?
Feminism, language and literature is a huge topic. I’m aware. Linguists like Robin Lakoff and Deborah Cameron have been writing about it for decades, covering topics like slang, conversational discourse, and the media’s treatment of women. The literary world has its share of air time too. The label “Women’s poetry” has (rightly) come under scrutiny, and poets like Adrienne Rich, Claudia Rankine and Tracy K. Smith have famously deconstructed poetic and literary male-dominated forms to make space for women’s voices.
This blog is built on the work of people like these. In these posts, you can come with me while I flounder into the field of gender and language with the hope of a) learning about language, b) learning about the connections between language, literature and the big P (patriarchy) and c) learning about how to amplify and make meaningful the voices we don’t usually hear.
I’ll be delving into feminist epistemology, particularly epistemic injustice; identity, personal relations (particularly those between men and women), silenced women in literary history, how hierarchical structures are constructed and maintained via language and how the context in which we create and write literature is gendered - plus anything else that catches my writer-ly attention at the time.
Most people don’t think about why they use the words they use, speak the way they speak, or write the way they write because we acquire these skills in a way that feels natural.
It’s not. Spoken and written language is both constituted by and a reflection of the society that uses it. So when women and minority genders struggle to find the words to self-identify, express an experience of injustice or assert any opinion without facing criticism, it’s because that society needs work.
Welcome to Talking Feminism: Gender, Language, Literature.