A friend of mine brought this article to my attention today. It’s a great article. Succinctly written, it highlights a familiar and sad plight faced by too many women. The subject matter is incredibly significant and it’s something we all need to know about – but that’s not what I really want to talk about today. See, as said friend and I discussed, there seems to be something missing from the article, something that stops the reader from pumping their fist at the end and rushing out to try and change the world – which is something the nature of the issue should instill in those who learn about it through the power of words.
The problem with the article, we decided, was the language. It wasn’t impassioned enough, it wasn’t emotive enough. It was enlightening, absolutely, and it made clear the importance of the issue – but it didn’t hammer it home. It was … too male?
The idea of male and female language is one that really took off in the 70s, thanks largely to the poetic, hyperbolic writings of Helene Cixous. She called for women to adopt their own language in order to write about their own experiences – instead of replying on and perpetuating language that privileged men over women, something she termed phallogocentrism. Cixous famously asserted that, because women are more strongly tied to our physicality, so must our use of language be and we therefore must learn to ‘write the body.’
To borrow from a recent university essay of my own …
We use language without even realising how all-powerful it is in perpetuating ideas and concepts and truths. Without realising how inherently it favours one gender over the other. Without realising the role it plays in creating meaning. I believe this was at the heart of Helene Cixous’s passionate The Laugh of the Medusa, when she called for women to start writing the body. The creation of a new language that doesn’t privilege one gender over the other, that attempts to circumvent a binary logic that has long marginalised women; and before any of this could take place, a localizing of female sexuality.
We see examples of phallogoenctrism and attempts at l’ectriture feminine (female writing) all the time in fiction and academic essays, but reading the Paul Sheehan article today made me realize both these notions exists in the everyday journalism which brings us our news and serves up opinions and dictates our attitudes. And so, to borrow a Carrie-ism, I can’t help but wonder what effect could this have on reinforcing social ideals of gender? Is the language of journalism a male domain and, if so, is there room for female writing?
* Anyone wanting to learn more about Cixous and her contemporaries and/or the notion of l’ectriture feminine for academic purposes or general interest, send me an email, I have books and essays galore to recommend.