Have you ever thought about how few words we have in English specific to women’s lives? I hadn’t either until I discovered Suzette Haden Elgin’s book Native Tongue. At the time, I was reading a lot of speculative (SF) fiction by women writers because that’s where the cutting edge theories on how women could live differently were showing up. The writing was grand – exciting, original, profound and compassionate – in short, womanly.
There was a lot of talk in those days about gender bias in language. Instead of talking about it Suzette did something – she invented Láadan, a language for women delivered to us in story form. She came up with all sorts of words for situations not covered in English:
i.e. radiídin ~ non-holiday, holiday – more work than it’s worth; a time allegedly a holiday, but actually a burden because it entails so much work and preparation it becomes a dreaded occasion; especially when there are too many guests and none of them help
or for different meanings of the same word (like the Eskimo vocabulary for snow):
bara anger with reason, with someone to blame, which is futile
bana anger with reason, with no one to blame, which is futile
bama anger with reason, but with no one to blame, which is not futile
bina anger with no reason, with no one to blame, which is not futile
bala anger with reason, with someone to blame, which is not futile
(excerpt from English to Láadan Dictionary)
Láadan didn’t exactly take off, but it appealed to women enough so that some people tried to learn it and add to the vocabulary. There is still a site that supports it. Suzette Elgin ‘s Ph.D in linguistics gave her the background to create her/our new language. It also allowed her to use her skills in promoting non-violent communication. Her non-fiction books on verbal self-defense are both useful and wise.
Ms. Elgin is old now, suffering from a form of dementia, fading slowly away from us, but she leaves an amazing legacy behind. With it she warns us to hold onto words that define our situation as women. They are maps that anchor us in reality, hold us together by allowing us to articulate our situations clearly and thus promote understanding. To promote understanding is to engender compassion.
We need the word misogyny to define a particular evil so we can be prepared to confront it. Hearing it spoken, we know we aren’t alone because the hatred we experience isn’t just in our imagination and it isn’t a secret, its known to be real. The word ‘misogyny” belongs in our feminine vocabulary, we shouldn’t let anyone water down its meaning and thus dilute the impact of the evil it represents.
I agree with Suzette Elgin that women need an expanded vocabulary. I think “entrenched prejudice against women” deserves a word of its own. And while we’re at it, how about a word for loving women – actually we need at least three: one that denotes romantic love of women by women; one expressing the generic (but intense) love of women for women; and one indicating a sort of general love of all women by anyone. As you can see, the situations begging to be defined quickly multiply.