I said earlier this week I’m not naturally snarky. That doesn’t mean that things don’t rub me wrong and get me angry. And I am very angry right now. I have been watching a swelling tide of articles about people who are attempting to use language as a weapon. They have grasped the old saying “the pen is mightier than the sword” wrong way round and they don’t have a clue about what they are doing with it.
It starts with this. A professor is accused of racism for correcting student’s papers. The students, unhappy with this relatively mild critique of their work, staged a sit-in, even recruiting a nationally-known author to partake with them. One wonders if she read their papers and was tempted to whip out a red pen, or if she just saw the red flag of racism and charged. I have heard of students crying when confronted with a poor grade, but this is ridiculous. Suck it up, kids, we all make mistakes. You’re supposed to learn from them, though, not throw temper tantrums. Oh, and the papers? These are graduate students in an education program, writing proposals for dissertations. I would think spelling corrections on your life’s work would be a kindness.
Then this article hit me in the face like a cold, week-dead fish. I had kind of ignored the person who commented on an article I wrote a while back (The Genderless Mind) who told me he thought gender was a social construct. Sorry, no. You are born one thing, or another, and it’s not a choice. Biology is inescapable, my dear child. Stop trying to manipulate the language to fit what you want it to say. You can be a special snowflake in your own writing, while the rest of us try not to giggle out loud at your pretensions. Surely you don’t think you are the first rebel generation?
Another case of manipulation came to my attention gradually. I’ve known for most of my life that the uses of “man,” “mankind,” and “he” were falling out of favor for what they were intended, as general words for humanity. Unlike many other languages, English hasn’t got feminine and masculine endings to words, so we compromised on those, which now, it is said, means that we are promoting men over women. Oh, grow up. Anyone who isn’t looking for a reason to be offended knows what they mean, and it’s a fifty-fifty split between men and women on this planet. But now, there’s another word I keep seeing, and I finally had to look it up. “Cismale” is, evidently, a guy who was born that way, likes it, and stays that way. Often linked with gendernormative, another nonsense word, and fascist, when used by internet trolls.
This is where the double-edged sword comes in, and starts to cut those who are so enthusiastically grabbing onto these concepts. You see, normal people think of themselves as male, or female. People who opt to change their bodies to match how they see themselves in their own head don’t want to be called abnormal, they too are working for “male or female” and by creating all the odd terms, the perpetually peeved are othering them, as well. Division only creates barriers, fear, and suspicion. There’s enough of that already.
All this is confusing to everyday people, who all shake their heads and back away slowly when you come near them, and now you know why. You’re making those who want to live normal lives suffer, so you can throw your temper-tantrums. I really liked this from a recent discussion of cismale, “we offered a class called digital photography. What do they call it today? Photography. When something becomes normative, the adjectives, modifiers and prefixes disappear. At least they should. Its a matter of clarity. It is obvious that heterosexual behavior is normative. When you add a modifier to a normative word, you are not adding clarity, you are destroying it, intentionally.” So if you are confused what to call someone, try male, or female. Anything else is a cultural construct, and useless for any intelligent discussion.
Coming back around to the first article, the little boy who cried wolf is obviously no longer read aloud to children. Perhaps it has been replaced with a little girl who embraces her hairy moon-howling brother (and does he sparkle in the sun? Oh, mixing my metaphors). Those who decry racism with such vigor are not only diluting any real issues, they are often committing the very act they accuse. Whenever I see the term “person of color” I cringe. When I look at a person, I see a person, not a color. This, I believe, is the idea. If we are all equal, then why do people like this persist in twisting language to suit what they want to say, which is that the poor people of color can’t fend for themselves, they must have assistance to get that equality? That blog post is so wrong on so many levels it isn’t even funny. It’s like one of those comedy movies that is so stupid I have to hide my face and plug my ears if I’m not allowed to leave the room.
Writing needs to be about understanding language at a level that enables our readers to understand it as well. I enjoy learning new words as much as the next person. I don’t enjoy watching language become a vehicle for the agenda du jour, driven by ignorant people who are doing more harm to their own causes than they can possibly comprehend. It’s obvious to the rest of us that they are, like Winnie the Pooh, “of very little brain,” and it is time to put our foot down and say no. The tantrums need to stop, and until you have learned what that word really means, please don’t use it.