Tag Archives: language

Let’s Stop Saying Women. Let’s Say People.

These are people, people.

 

 

The minute you say “women”, all of a sudden listeners place them in a separate mental pocket.

 

Close your eyes for a moment. When you imagine people, you see all sorts of humans, right? (Some of you may envision only men. Men are not the default, so go back to your caves.) Nevertheless – eyes open – the humans pictured above are people first. Yes, they’re people who are female, granted. Still, human beings, people, first and foremost.

 

An interesting thing has been happening over the past few years with regard to humans who were bought and sold prior to the Emancipation Proclamation in the US, and those who now live the same tragic existences all over the world, primarily in India.

 

They used to be known as slaves. These days, most journalists and even the guides at Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, refer to them as people held in slavery or enslaved people.

 

You can tell the difference, right? A slave is not as human as an enslaved person. The latter is a person held in a temporary state of non-liberty. The former is, perhaps, subhuman and born to be owned.

 

Huge difference.

 

Think how a similar enormous difference impacts the human beings shown above. Referred to as people, they remain human. Called women, however, and something happens in the mind of the listener, particularly if dangerous cultural or political baggage gets in the way, as in this article regarding the politics of sexual violence in Egypt.

 

They become something less than people, as if we were speaking of dolphins or aardvarks.

 

Farfetched? No. Language carries enormous cultural weight and can cause confusion. In Spanish, for example, mujer is the word for both woman and wife. Asked by authorities if she is the “wife” of an injured man – spouses may give consent for medical care – a woman may well answer “yes” even though she is not legally married to him.

 

Language gives order to how we learn and remember. Language has power, and it offers power, as well. Witness the rise of Welsh-language schools in Wales, the persistent efforts of French speakers to make Quebec a separate country, and the efforts of billions of people to learn and improve their English, the current linguistic coin of power.

 

It’s just not wise to dismiss how we use words when their use either reduces power or increases it.

 

We should not have to keep making signs saying “Women Are People, Too!”. That’s so 20th-century.

 

We do need to begin replacing the words woman/women with person/people as much as possible.

 

It might sound awkward at first to talk about pregnant people, people with breast cancer, people who have survived FGM.

 

Though we do speak of pregnant whales, giraffes giving birth, and elephants that have survived poachers’ attacks.

 

If one, why not the other?

 

Doing so would point up the humanity of people who are female, rather than consign them to a lesser status in the mind of the listener. Calling them people gives primary acknowledgement to their personhood. Qualifiers – like the word female – are the secondary identification. Then again, speaking of people means that if they carry XY chromosomes, they too will need a qualifier. Male.

 

When we talk of people, we’ll make more sense than if we used words that mistakenly relegate others to a status below humanity.

 

Words like slave. And, unfortunately, women.

 

Stand firm. Use words with care. Up with people !

 

 

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Filed under Feminism

Missing In Action: Concentration

 

Using this inhibits concentration.

 

A recent newspaper article details plans to teach schoolchildren a skill they should have learned at home: how to concentrate.

 

Every US, Canadian, and UK kindergarten teacher knows that the class coming in will contain children for whom English is a foreign language; children who do not know their basic colors, or numbers up to 10; children of all socioeconomic levels whose households are so poor in spoken language that by the time the kids reach five years old they have heard 32 million fewer words over the course of their lives than their age-mates in language-rich families.

 

That children begin school on an unfairly tilted playing field is well-established.

 

Until recently, however, children began formal education with varying degrees in their ability to concentrate. Kids whose parents frequently read aloud to them exhibited more understanding that some things – for example, listening to the teacher’s instructions – had to be attended to with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of attention. Part of a kindergarten teacher’s job is to help all students learn school-time norms: keep your hands and feet in your own kind and friendly space; raise your hand for help; use your “indoors voice”; share the materials offered in class so everyone gets some.

 

But teaching concentration? That, it appears, is a new task for everyone in school, with regard to every student.

 

Why, you ask. Two words: social media.

 

It’s not just Facebook anymore. In fact, FB is old hat. Now it’s . . . well, the list gets longer every day. And ever younger children are fooling around with computers, tablets and smartphones, even if they have to borrow them to get going.

 

I use that expression – fooling around – on purpose. As students dive deeper into social media, as they email and text and tweet, not only do they use up time and energy, they adapt their brains to the rapid-fire joys of social media. What goes out the door is concentration, the ability to focus on one thing for a long time. The kind of absorption you see – okay, used to see, hopefully still do – on the faces of children building with Lego or observing a country stream and its myriad animals. The sort of raptness that differentiates the human brain from those of cognitively lighter-weight animals.

 

It is a profoundly human ability to concentrate on a single attractant without the expectation of being fed. A leopard may focus on a wandering animal, but only in order to minimize its dash. If the prey moves closer, the leopard will need to expend less energy on a shorter run. A primate sitting beside an insect mound with a stick to insert and pull out full of crawling aperitifs looks like it’s concentrating, but again, it is in the service of food.

 

Naturally, parents need to teach concentration at home. If they fail to do so, teachers must, because every child deserves the opportunity to learn deeply, to discover profoundly, and to feel as though the time spent in concentrated observation and study is its own gift.

 

 

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Filed under Children, Education