The first books I wrote in the 1970s and early 80s were (beautifully) hand written. The last book I wrote – in 1996 – was NATTERING ON THE NET and I used a keyboard on my magic Mac! (It was a brain shift after using a fountain pen.)
I had written more than 20 books by then about women and language – spoken and written – and how ‘silenced’ women were when it came to the making and meaning of words in the English language. NATTERING was mainly concerned with the amazing potential of the internet and the cultural changes that were taking place and what would happen to women.
What role would they play in this powerful new technology world? Would they be locked out (as they had historically been in the publishing world) or would they take to the internet as enthusiastically as they had embraced the telephone?
WHATS WRONG WITH WOMEN, nearly two decades later, carries on from where I left off. However this time I don’t have to wait till the book is published before I make contact with my audience. I am not only using a keyboard to write ‘a book’ (or a series of connected blogs) I’m using some of the tools and tweets of the digital age to sound out the responses as I go.
WHOSE LANGUAGE IS IT ANYWAY?
It is no small matter that most of the words in the English language are the ones that have been used historically and publicly (spoken and written) by men. And they are a wonderful resource when it comes to white men wanting to describe and explain their world and their place within it. But for women, and people of colour, such words and meanings are slanted.
SAMUEL JOHNSON WROTE AND EDITED THE FIRST ENGLISH DICTIONARY IN 1755 AND IT WAS A HUGE SUCCESS. IT BECAME THE BASIS OF THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY 150 YEARS LATER. THE ONLY PROBLEM WAS THAT HE USED THE WORK OF HIS 500 FAVOURITE AUTHORS FOR THE QUOTES AND DEFINITIONS – AND 498 OF THE 500 WERE MEN!
17,000 ENTRIES; 16,998 FROM THE WRITINGS OF MEN.
MANY OF THE EXPERIENCES OF WOMEN – PARTICULARLY IN RELATION TO MEN – ARE SIMPLY MISSING FROM THESE WORDS AND MEANINGS WHICH ARE STILL REFERRED TO TODAY
THE PROBLEM WITHOUT A NAME
I am old enough to have lived in a world without sexism and sexual harassment. Not because they weren’t everyday occurrences in my life but because THESE WORDS DIDN’T EXIST. It was not until the feminist writers of the 1970s made them up, and used them publicly and defined their meanings – an opportunity that men had enjoyed for centuries – that women could name these experiences of their daily life.
In 1963 Betty Friedan tried to describe women’s experience and subtitled her book THE PROBLEM WITHOUT A NAME. There are countless experiences that women have in everyday life that are unique to women – yet remain unnamed and unexplained. And this is one of the things that is wrong for women. And one of the areas I need help with in writing the book. What are the most significant areas we need to name?
When women had no words to name offensive and unwelcome behavior they had to try and describe why they didn’t like comments on their appearance – such as ‘sex appeal’. They didn’t accept gropes and whistles as signs of endearment. THEY HAD TO COMPLAIN. This generally put them in the wrong! They were being difficult, too thin-skinned, were up themselves, couldn’t take a joke.
SEXISM and SEXUAL HARASSMENT CHANGED ALL THIS.
Two words from women’s perspective and the power balance shifted.
WHATS WRONG WITH WOMEN is a book about finding the RIGHT words that positively name women’s changing status and roles so that we aren’t penalized every time we open our mouths.