The Art of Discussing Dead Women
Popular folklore has it, that Eskimos have a hundred words for snow, and the Sami speakers of Norway have over a thousand words for, ‘reindeer.*
Snow and reindeer play central roles in their culture so we are very ready to believe this. As it turns out, the Inuits actually make artful use of suffixes attached to the culturally vital word, ‘snow’ to reach that famous number; fallen-snow', 'falling-snow', 'melted-snow,' etc. Why dispense of the key word when you can bolt on adjectives to reach the meaning you want?
Modern European languages are no different of course, from sixty-three letter long German nouns** to shorter, punchier compounds, ‘horse-power’, ‘underground’, ‘toothpaste.' We take the noun or nouns which summarise the essence of the definition and we add to it.
The suffix or prefix, ‘man’ in compounds was gender-neutral in Early English and stood for, ‘human-being’, in antiquated uses of, 'everyman' instead of, 'everybody' for example. However, it gradually and irreversibly assumed the male gender, largely because it was used in professions only carried out by men. ‘businessman', 'fisherman', and 'chairman', and so on. (Feminists of course have battled to accelerate the evolution of language in line with social changes that see women performing in an equal capacity in these positions, usually in the face of a Daily Wail of political correctness gone mad.)
Reading the papers these last few months, I wonder if ‘Man’ still stands for 'Human Being', and 'Human Being' is still represented by, ‘Man’, and ‘Man’ alone. Maybe our genetic memories are strong, or maybe the congruence of language with social realities is just too powerful to break. And, for reasons no thinking person should need spelling out to them, maybe there's just no desire to.
Pistorius shot dead a woman. Here is how the media reported it:
Reeva Steenkamp is a bikini-clad blonde lover, Pistorius’s blonde, defined by him. Meanwhile – his manly essence is immutable, central to the compounds he can, ‘own’.
John Lowe shot two women – mother and daughter, Christine and Lucy Lee. Here is how the media reported it:
Here, quite simply, the women take second billing to the dogs.
Finally, (IF ONLY! More than two women a week are murdered by men, as you know, but as few media outlets seems to care), Rurik Jutting murdered two women in Hong Kong.
The crime was referred to as either, ‘sex murders’ or, ‘killing two prostitutes’ across the majority of the media.
In the following days, as the headlines give way to, ‘analysis’, we have learnt about, the killers’ ‘women’. Linguistically, I’m sure you’ll agree that this is fascinating – the women are finally granted their rightful definition…so long as they pertain to the man, as his one-time possession.
Ask yourselves this: Do you remember ever reading an exposé of Rosemary West's ex-boyfriends, or Maxine Carr's, or even Myra Hindley's?
No, because they are the satellite moons, not the central, burning star. They only existed in the orbit of the man and have no history of their own.
We don’t have an immutable essence that grants us permanency in language. Words aren’t constructed round our vital being. Anyone can identify as a woman, simply by saying, ‘I feel it’.
Women aren’t synonymous with human beings.
We don’t need a hundred words for, ‘woman’. Just one will do.
*Ole Henrik Magga, Diversity in Saami terminology for reindeer, snow, and ice, International Social Science Journal Volume 58, Issue 187, pages 25–34, March 2006
** Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz - "the law concerning the delegation of duties for the supervision of cattle marking and the labelling of beef". OBVIOUSLY.Download this post as PDF? Click here