SEXISM AND LANGUAGE
The Second American Revolution
I entered college at the height of the Women's Movement in the 1970's. We were the first group of American women who were part of the Second American Revolution who forever changed American English. Our philosophy was: change your language and your will change your consciousness. One of my female friends used to read me parts of The Sisterhood Is Powerful. I was part of a group of female broadcasting, journalism and managers in the Communications Department at Bemidji State University. We had to deal with sexism on various levels, which unfortunately is the story of many women even today. We dealt with a man who was sexually harassing almost all of the women and one man in the radio program. How I discovered this was that my dealings with him were discussed with several other women at the radio station. Finally, we talked to the student station manager who said the man in question had actually made a sexual pass at him. One of our first lessons in college we learned was in order to effect change you do it as a group. The general manager had a discussion with the man in question and he did not do any thing like that again. Then we began to look at language and what we could do to change it to reflect the fact that women mattered and counted.
This year Kate Swift died at the age of 87. She was the American woman who led the Second American Revolution in changing our language to empower women. She changed American English forever with the publication of Words and Women (1976) and Handbook of Nonsexist Writing (1980). Both her parents were journalists and she became an editorial assistant at Time, a news writer at the Public Relations Department for the Girl Scouts of America, a science writer at The Museum of Natural History in Manhattan and the Director of the News Bureau of the School of Medicine at Yale University.
I did not know about Kate Swift in the 1970's, but on my own I was starting to clean up the language, so that women were included in our every day language. Collectively women and men worked on this challenge. Even to this day I hear some professionals who act as though this revolution and Women's Movement never occurred. The two words which really bug me are "he" and "man" which are used to include women. I explain it to men this way. What if I used she and woman instead of he and man to include men? They immediately get my point of view. Whenever I hear it, I think, "I'm not a man or a he. I'm a woman and a she." Because I am a writer and a public speaker, I often hear and read various items in books and on the internet. On facebook I see quotes all the time reminding me and other members of womankind that we do not exist. We are treated as though invisible. If we physically disappeared for one day, there would be chaos in the world. Some of these quotes I read are older quotes, but some are quite modern. Why are modern people doing that?
If you walk down the street or take public transportation, you hear everything from the most profane to the most sublime. The public library is another place you will have this kind of experience. You do realize that sexism still exists in how we speak of women, girls and females. I'm not a girl if I am in my 50's, but I hear that one a lot just walking down the street. I also hear some very profane and disrespectful words towards women and mothers. If I recorded the conversation and played it back to them, I wonder if they would realize how terrible it sounds. They do not seem to get they are hurting women and girls around them with such language. The language discounts and disrespects our women and girls.
In the church, temple and mandir some people seem to think devotees, teachers, parishoners, preachers, priests, ministers and speakers are male. You get that impression by the way they hardly ever speak of women in these roles. In most churches, temples and mandirs, the majority of participants are female. In Minneapolis we have one female priest, several female board members, some public speakers and teachers who are female in our mandirs. Many of them are very intelligent and articulate women and girls. From time to time I do kathas in two of the Caribbean mandirs. My focus is always on the female consciousness, ecology, goddesses and female empowerment.
As Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." It is fun to hear other women speak at our mandirs and other spiritual communities. I say change your language and you will change your consciousness. It gets you to think how you communicate about yourself and your gender. Do we value our women and girls? We have priests, swamis, teachers, public speakers and board members who are women. Many women cook in the kitchen, organize Yagnas and perform and organize music, too. Next time you speak at a public event, take time to include women by using words which empower and acknowledge the females around you. "He" does not stand for me. Why not say "us" or "we" instead? "Mankind" does not stand in for me. Try using humankind, humanity or humans instead. Your guru or teacher can also be a woman, so why not say so? In fact India, the Americas, Canada, the Caribbean and other locations have plenty of them.
We also need to start asking more females to be Masters of Cermonies at Yagnas. Start by having your youth introduce the Vyas at the Yagnas. Do not always choose the same people to speak. Ask for volunteers instead. When we did that at Vishnu we got three women who volunteered to be Masters of Ceremonies. When writing blogs for the internet, update the language to include everyone. What a great way to honor the Mother and the goddesses! An empowering word goes a long, long way.
JAI SHRI EMPOWERING WORDS!, JAI JAI MA!