August 1, 2008

Random Act of Feminism for August: semantics

Posted in Random Acts of Feminism at 2:00 pm by LB

Most of my Random Acts have been about language.  I think there’s a reason for this.  Language is subtle and pervasive.  It carries around loads of gendered assumptions within it, yet seems to be innocuous–ya know, just semantics.

For August, I want to tackle referring to a sexual partner/sexual interest as an object, a thing.

As in:

“I’d like to hit that.” (a woman–or man–is not a “that.”  And conflating sex with hitting is also not cool)

“I’d do her.” (sex is not something you do to someone.)

“I’d like to tap that –.” (women’s orifices are not kegs, contrary to much advertising.)

“I got some of that.” etc.

No further commentary on my part needed.

12 Comments »

  1. earlgreyrooibos said,

    oh, tapping like a KEG, I get it now. I never understood that one.

  2. arctic_jay said,

    “…women’s orifices are not kegs, contrary to much advertising…”

    Yes, and New York City is not a giant apple. Figures of speech aren’t actually making equivalences. Saying “my love is a red rose” is a hyperbolic way of saying “my love is like a red rose in some way.” Likewise, “I’d like to tap that” means “I’d like to derive pleasure from that person’s asshole,” as most people who’d use that phrase probably really like beer.

    “…a woman–or man–is not a “that.”  And conflating sex with hitting is also not cool…”

    This is equivocation. In the context of the phrase, hit already has the meaning of “to have sex with.” It’s not a result of someone not knowing the difference or making an equivalence between hitting and having sex. And technically, any noun can be a “that.”

  3. lindabeth said,

    Clearly, there’s a difference between using a metaphor for say, New York City, then using thing-like metaphors for women/women’s bodies that persistently equate them to objects to be used, not people to be related with. You want to provide an apology for and give the benefit of the doubt to phrases which don’t deserve it.

    These are a few examples, and probably not the greatest. I hear new ones all the time, but when I came to write, I couldn’t come up with them all. The point is that people are not things , that our everyday language needs to reflect this, and that its persistence in everyday language perpetuates particular ideologies and is in no way harmless.

    Sure, technically any noun can be a “that”–but in usage, this really refers to a noun in an objective sense. The “that” says I want to have sex with her body, not with her. Otherwise, what is the function for saying “that” and not “her” unless it’s for the purpose of removing from a woman’s person her body as an object to have sex with/have purchase on/to be “done.” “That” in such usage tends to be accompanied by “some”, “piece of”, etc. and put together, strongly imply thing status, not person status. In real life, when we use “that” as a personal term, we say “that person”: as in “Did you see that woman over there?” or, “Did you see her over there?”, not “Did you see that?” Seriously, is it that hard to see that “that” is a thing, not a person, word, regardless of it’s “technical” meaning? Are you just playing devil’s advocate or do you seriously think these are just nice ole metaphors and technically used pronouns? Tapping as “deriving pleasure” is just a nice way of saying “I’d like to use a part of a person for my pleasure and don’t give a shit about the fact that they’re a fucking person and not an inanimate keg that you purchase and consume.”

    The point of this post is women are not things, they are people. They are subjects, not just bodies. They should referred to as her and not “that.” And a hell of a lot of people need to be reminded of this in their everyday speech.

  4. tu quoque said,

    “The point of this post is women are not things, they are people. They are subjects, not just bodies. They should referred to as her and not “that.” And a hell of a lot of people need to be reminded of this in their everyday speech.”

    I know what the point of your post is-I don’t agree with it. People can value some attribute of another person, physical or mental, while not valuing their personhood, and, at the same time, acknowledging that that person is a subject and respecting their subjectivity. This kind of interaction constitutes the majority of our daily experience. When a plumber comes to your home to unclog your toilet, what occurs is a social interaction in which two people value the other only for their use (unclogging toilets or providing monetary restitution), usually with no regard for the other’s personhood or subjectivity, but they are still of the perspective that the other is a thinking, feeling person.

    They same occurs when someone uses one of the phrases you listed. Just because someone values another persons physical appearance does and at the same time does not value their personhood, does not mean that are of the perspective that that person is merely a thing or does not have subjectivity.

    “Seriously, is it that hard to see that ‘that’ is a thing, not a person, word, regardless of it’s ‘technical’ meaning? Are you just playing devil’s advocate or do you seriously think these are just nice ole metaphors and technically used pronouns?”

    It’s ironic you’re asking me these questions, because your argument hinges on the assumption that you can deduce the meaning of these phrases by parsing them in a very literal and technical way. Do you seriously believe that if there are two men in a bar and one points to a woman and says, “I’d tap that,” and the other points to a different woman and says, “I’d eat her out all night long,” the latter is more fully regarding a woman’s personhood because he said “her” instead of “that”?

    “Clearly, there’s a difference between using a metaphor for say, New York City, then using thing-like metaphors for women/women’s bodies that persistently equate them to objects to be used, not people to be related with.”

    The point I was making was that you were making a literal analysis of the phrases, when the fact that they are metaphors denies a literal analysis.

  5. lindabeth said,

    You’re free to disagree. But metaphors aren’t “just metaphors” when they reproduce ideologies about women as sexual things to be desired, consumed, owned and used. And it is really insulting to compare the “innocence” of metaphors for Manhattan to women’s bodies and sexuality.

    I agree that we ought to be able to think of people on different levels. But only when, and if, sexist ideologies about women as sexual beings are eradicated. We still have yet to think of women’s sexuality as belonging to them and being primarily for her pleasure, and until we do, continually seeing women as “it” and “that” and not “her” reflects the social construct of women’s sexuality as primarily being for another.

    And yes, the little things matter. Calling grown women girl matters. Advertising that uses women’s bodies as functional “things” (motorcycles, video game consoles, throw rugs, foot rests, etc.) matters. “Art” that makes bikes, and urinals and end tables out of dismembered women’s (sexual) bodies matters.

    Maybe in isolation, the “that” and “it” wouldn’t be such a big deal. But it doesn’t exist in isolation. It is part of a greater culture. Language doesn’t exist in isolation and it is not neutral. It reflects and constructs dominant ideologies. “Random Acts” are not intended to change everything altogether. They are little things we can do in everyday life that start conversations about things we take for granted that actually participate in misogyny, racism, homophobia, classism, etc. because of the way they have been used, not because of some dubious “inherent meaning” (as if language even has any inherent meaning.)

  6. arctic_jay said,

    “And it is really insulting to compare the ‘innocence’ of metaphors for Manhattan to women’s bodies and sexuality.”

    I wasn’t comparing the “innocence” of the two metaphors. By stating, “women’s orifices are not kegs,” you were making a critique of a literal interpretation of a phrase. I was pointing out that like calling New York City “The Big Apple,” when someone says, “I’d tap that,” a comparison, an even narrower one actually, is being made, not an equivalence.

    “…as if language even has any inherent meaning.”

    If it doesn’t, then phrases cannot be said to be innocent or not innocent-only their utterers can, thus making “The Big Apple” and “I’d tap that” the same in regards to “innocence.”

    “We still have yet to think of women’s sexuality as belonging to them and being primarily for her pleasure, and until we do, continually seeing women as ‘it’ and ‘that’ and not ‘her’ reflects the social construct of women’s sexuality as primarily being for another.”

    We do not see men’s sexuality as primarily for their pleasure either. This is evidenced by the fact that men are regarded as the performers during sex. As with any type of performer, the primary goal is someone else’s enjoyment, which is why a man’s sexual performance is judged mostly by his ability to bring a woman to orgasm. But in general, people, male or female, who think of their sexuality, at least when it involves others, as primarily for their pleasure are seen as narcissistic and selfish.

    “And yes, the little things matter. Calling grown women girl matters.”
    The use of “girl” as an insult to grown women is much rarer than its other uses. “Girl” as with “boy” is mostly an affectionate term, and the reason for that is simple-again, it’s a metaphor. Children are seen, among all the different categories of people, as the most deserving of unquestioned love and affection. By saying someone is “your girl” your relating your love for them to the type of love engendered by children. “Baby” as an affectional term is even more exemplary. Do you think that lovers that refer to each other as “baby” are doing so to reduce the other to an infantile status?

    “‘Art’ that makes bikes, and urinals and end tables out of dismembered women’s (sexual) bodies matters.”

    There’s probably no body part, except maybe the eye, that is (literally) objectified, whether as fetish, totem, monument, sex toy, or gag gift, in a dismembered state than the penis. Also, consider “Truck Nuts,” which are the most mainstream commodification of a sexual body part in recent times.

    “I agree that we ought to be able to think of people on different levels. But only when, and if, sexist ideologies about women as sexual beings are eradicated.”

    How are you able to defend this statement? As I have shown, there is not a reasonable parsing of the phrases you listed that would necessitate their use be accompanied with a denial of their target’s personhood. It would seem the only way to defend this statement is by claiming to know the mindset of the people using these phrases. What epistemology enables you to make this claim, if you are making it.

  7. The Laughing Feminist said,

    **Pedantic MRA Alert** ;-) Lindabeth, you have the patience of a saint! If my blog were invaded by a misogynistic tripe-wielding yahoo, I would’ve told him to fook off eons ago.

    Let me see if I can break it down for him: Referring to women as objects is like walking around with a giant flashing neon sign attached to your forehead that says “WHY, YES, AS A MATTER OF FACT I *AM* A MISOGYNISTIC ASSHAT.” Please, whenever you see an attractive woman in a bar, do not hesitate to shout, at the top of your lungs, “I’D LIKE TO HIT *THAT*!” Give the poor *thing* some forewarning that she’s about to be accosted by a card-carrying misogynistic asshat. It’s only the kind thing to do, after all.

  8. arctic_jay said,

    Splendid! I say, it is treat to witness such a finely tuned parody as the one you offer, Laughing Feminist. The deft use of lovely patois such as “asshat,” the casual accusation of misogyny, and, of course, the complete lack of substance or argumentation. For a moment I though you actually were the stereotype of the petulant , chest-thumping feminist typified in a living, breathing human. I was going to suggest to Lindabeth that she denounce your behavior immediately as to not embarrass feminists in general, but then I thought, no, your post was too perfectly brainless, way too perfectly cliched and juvenile to be in earnest.

    You may never read this-I’m sure you’re making the rounds in the blogosphere dumping your (wholly satirical) bile-, but let me just say, Bravo, Laughing Feminist, on a great performance!

  9. The Laughing Feminist said,

    I’d much rather be a stereotypical petulant, chest-thumping feminist than a misogynistic asshat – and thank you, Jay, for illustrating that particular character profile with nauseatingly bombastic and self-important flair ;-)

  10. arctic_jay said,

    You would? That doesn’t make much sense, seeing as the asshattery of typical petulant, chest-thumping feminists is so advanced they’re basically gastrointestinal Mobius Strips at this point. But you’re free to have your preference.

    Bombast and self-important flair? Me? Well, I’d much prefer that over the predictable and pedestrian idiocy you so perfectly exemplify ; p

  11. lindabeth said,

    OK, this back-and-forth ends now. Any more similar comments will be deleted.

  12. Lemur said,

    I agree, LF. I *want* to hear a guy, if he is going to refer to women this way, do it loud. Where I can hear it. And then mock him and call him a douche and assure him that he has not the slightest chance of sleeping with me, if that’s what he was aiming for. Or any other thinking woman, for that matter. I personally am wildly offended by being referred to as “that”, “a piece”, or any small fuzzy animal such as “pussy”, “beaver”, or “squirrel”. I’m not anything to be tapped, and lindabeth must be a saint or a masochist. :)
    But do please declare your misogyny loud and proud, because forewarned is forearmed. Sometimes literally.


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