Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Thoughts on a Word, and More, at Feministe


I've got content lined up for the rest of the week, but I'll be honest: Guest-posting at Feministe has been great, and it's taken a lot of my word-energy, so for today I'm going to just direct you over there for posts that may interest readers of The Beheld.

Last week, I looked at the politics of "hello", which has long vexed me as to its appropriate place on the street harassment spectrum. For sometimes, it's just a hello—and other times, it's an encroachment of public space, directed at me solely because I'm a woman.

As many women in urban spaces well know, hello isn’t always as friendly as it seems. ... I’m talking about the hello that has an undertone of You, Woman, owe me, Man, your attention—an undertone that’s usually so subtle as to be difficult to define, leaving me wondering if I’m just being a misanthropic New Yorker who can’t play well with others. I’m talking about the hello that slides up and down the scale, the echo of a wolf whistle, its tone indicating what its denotation cannot. I’m talking about the hello that happens just as I pass a man on the street, the hello that is not a greeting but a whisper, the hello that puts me in a position of reaction—to turn my head in good faith to acknowledge the existence of a fellow human…or to hurry past, knowing full well that there’s a good chance it’s not my human existence, but my female existence, that’s being acknowledged.

And today—less on-point with The Beheld but still perhaps of interest to my fellow wordy girls—I look at the evolution of female and why it makes my skin crawl when used as a noun...and whether it's worth reclaiming.

Common wisdom and cultural and etymological research shows that the prevalent objection to female as a noun is because it’s a term used to generically describe the egg-producing party of any species, not just our giganto-cranium intelligent species that includes, you know, women. Hell, it’s used to describe plants. ... But in poking into the etymology of female, I was surprised to find that female is not derived from male. Female originally sprang from the Latin femella and later the Old French femelle; contrast that with masculus from the same period, and it’s clear that unlike woman (which was indeed a compound), female has its own birth. The word only began to seem a counterpart to male in 1375, when the spelling was altered to seem a better rhyme for male.

I also posted on domestic violence, which, of course, has nothing to do with beauty but has everything to do with women. So!

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