Sentimental butterfly photo of the week: Anthanassa texana, the Texan crescent. North South Austin, May 21, 2007.
I forgot, for a few days, that I have a blog. So many bugs to photograph, so many coffee shops to haunt. And let’s face it; is there really anything I can say about patriarchy that I haven’t already said at least 6,582 times? So yesterday I lunched at the Hula Hut* with my two nieces.
The Hula Hut is a tourist trap, but you can dine on a palapa-roofed pier overlooking Lake Austin and they have fried shrimp tacos. If you have the sort of nieces whose interest in fried shrimp tacos is minimal, you can show’em how to throw tortilla chips over the side and sit back and enjoy the water show: carp the size of Volkswagens lumber to the surface and scuffle for the crumbs. Then you can chant “Question Authority!” when your sister Tidy — who at some point between her first and second kid confirmed both your worst fears by going over to the dark side and becoming your mother — points reprovingly to a sign that says “DO NOT THROW FOOD OVER THE SIDE. DO NOT FEED THE WILDLIFE. LONG-HAIRED FREAKY PEOPLE NEED NOT APPLY.”
When I bumbled home, though, there was a very nice email from reader Alice.
I just wanted to email you and say that you have been an indirect cause of me giving a talk about feminism at my university, which went amazingly. Although I have all the ideas, it’s your ballsiness (female equivalent? ovarieness?) that made me brave enough to go and do it. So woo! I have also come up with a new feminist mantra which I submit for your approval: “men are more normal than women”. I think this sneakier more insidious sexist idea has replaced “men are superior to women”. I think this is genuinely a problem, but I haven’t read any feminism that recognises it properly. If you are bored then have a read of the attached speech.
Sa-weet! Nothing burnishes the spinster bunions like hearing that one has been an indirect cause of something that didn’t involve a S.W.A.T. team. And I’m all for feminist oratory on university campuses. There’s precious little of it these days, since so many girls have turned to pole dancing as the one true form of feminist expression.
I admit that my spirits flagged a bit when at the close of Alice’s communiquÃ© I espied the words “attached speech,” but my fears proved unfounded. Alice, it turns out, understands a thing or two about the relationship between aunts and speeches; at two-and-a-half pages, hers was the soul of breviloquence. It was also really good.
Here is my favorite part:
In general, it does not take any reevaluation to consider a person as male- but on finding that a person is female, we are often surprised.
This general way of thinking is sexist. And there are many ways it will impact negatively on women.
Firstly, being female will always be a relevant detail about a woman in a way that being male is not a relevant detail about a man, leading to lack of attention to their more relevant qualities. This effect might be seen in the way that womenâ€™s literature is sidelined, as are women composers and women poets. A woman politician or a woman CEO qualities are less likely to be recognised as a male CEOâ€™s are: the woman is thought of as â€˜the female CEOâ€™ while the man is thought of as â€˜the confident CEOâ€™ or the â€˜the most experienced CEOâ€™ but never as â€˜the male CEOâ€™.
Secondly, the expectation of maleness means that women violate expectation, and are seen as unusual or risky- extra effort. This effect might be seen at a job interview: if the default applicant is thought of as male, then a female applicant, merely by being female, departs from the interviewerâ€™s model applicant. If one expects to employ a normal person, one expects to employ a male, and it requires a little extra mental extension to consider employing a female. The same applies for race. People will just tend to employ equally qualified white males over black females, because itâ€™s the path of least resistance — employing the black female is somehow bloody-minded.
Thirdly, but perhaps most importantly, equating humanity with men, as in the term â€˜mankindâ€™, leads to womenâ€™s issues being seen as special issues. Human rights violations in SA are not taken as seriously as is warranted: there is a gender apartheid, and women are essentially enslaved, but we tolerate it.
You will have deduced by now that the topic of Alice’s speech is maleness as the default human condition. She opens with some remarks on the reasonableness of the ‘womyn’ idea, which revolutionary spelling she admits has endured a torrid career as “the ridiculous proposal of a hypersensitive man hater: a bitter woman who wants to carry on grinding her axe, and so has turn to meaningless trivialities because all the major issues have been used up.” But which she argues is pretty much a necessity if we’re ever going to slough off this women-as-variant-of-normal crap.
I would venture that nowadays, outside those insular herbal tea-infested crannies frequented by us hairy humorless women’s studyists, the word “womyn’ has almost the resonance of a rude epithet. Long have I dreamed of implementing a whole new word for “woman,” by which I mean a whole new word for “human.” I propose “taqueau.” Such a word focuses not on physiological differences that rationalize oppression, but, by invoking the pinnacle of human achievement (the taco), while remaining deliciously free of any gland-based distinctions that can be of interest only to biologists, conveys the appropriate sense of Truth and Beauty.
That’s right! Imagine if “man” and “woman” didn’t exist. The declension of the pronouns, I admit, will be problematic, particularly to those of us who doggedly cling for no good reason to what Alice calls “rules laid down by sexist eighteenth century grammarians.” But if I can cope, so can you. So check it out: what if there were only one sort of human, and reproductive organs were accorded the same cultural significance as eye color, or whether your second toe is longer than your big toe?
This condition — the one where there is only one sort of human — exists now, by the way. It’s just that patriarchy has so cleverly framed the narrative, and so assiduously enforced its assimilation, that modern humans do not possess the intellective tools to perceive it.
UPDATE: Alice provides this link to her speech.
* Persistent readers will recall the Hula Hut as the scene of a 2006 ogling incident involving a super-gross dude equipped with entitlement-squirting Ray-Bans. I snapped his picture and he is now safely archived somewhere at HollabackNYC.