June 17, 2008

Random Act of Feminism for June: the poverty of language

Posted in Random Acts of Feminism at 5:58 am by LB

Ok, so this is a belated Random Act…but “better late than never”!

I have really been on a language trip lately (well, I almost always am!) so this Random Act has to do with language too. As I have said before, language is important. It shapes the terms we think in. It produces and reproduces ideologies. And the poverty of our everyday language can often reinforce damaging ideas around gender and sexuality.

This month I focus on the way we talk about people vis a vis their appearance. I know this is a very small thing, but it irks me to no end and I think it says a lot about the connection between physical appearance and individual value. I continually hear people refer to those whom they find unattractive as “gross,” “nasty,” “disgusting” and the like. People are not gross. You may find them unattractive, but people are people. They are not gross or disgusting (although they may do disgusting things). This is not only a poverty of language at work but also the insidious looks=value rearing its ugly head. Say what you mean. “I don’t find her attractive” and move on.

And while we’re on the topic, perhaps try to focus commenting on entertainers based on their entertainment value and not on their appearance, since they do not exist to comply with your version of desirability, but instead act, sing, etc. So let’s try to spend some more time talking about their skills and less time discussing their face and body? This especially regards female celebrities, since they seem to be overwhelmingly discussed in terms of their appearance. Unattractive but talented actors are rarely called “gross” by hetero men (or even het women), from my own observation.

Let’s stop conflating individual value with appearance, and entertainment ability with appearance. Let’s say what we mean. Let’s value actors and actresses as such based on their acting. Let’s discuss physical appearance not in terms of the value of a person. Let’s separate acting (or singing) ability from physical beauty.

(can I just add here my frustration that less-than-special actresses persist in getting roles and media exposure, and get a critical pass from us average people whereas not-so-great actors don’t. I hear it in everyday talk-“I like her”, when she’s nothing special but is cute, where the actor that’s nothing special doesn’t get the same comment-he usually doesn’t get any comment.)

1 Comment »

  1. professor what if said,

    Ah, we certainly are language poor! I love that turn of phrase.

    Your points about the problematic conflation of appearance with value are great — esp in regards to women.

    I saw Kung Fu Panda yesterday and your post made me think: Would a lead voice role such as this be likely to go to a fat actress rather than a fat actor? No, of course not. Cuz it’s ok when men are fat cuz they can still be valued for their talent. But when women are, heck no! This fat double standard sucks! I think we should be focusing on talent as well, rather than on body size or appearance! Give me Queen Latifah and Kathy Bates over talentless ‘beauties’ any day!

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