What’s in a Word: ‘You’re Such a Little Girl’

Good Lord I hate that phrase, and it’s partner ‘stop being such a girl.’  Here’s why:

1. What is wrong with being a girl?? I was a girl once, even a little girl, and I remember it being awesome.  There was nothing second class or insulting about it.  It wasn’t until I was older when I realized that not everyone felt the same.

So when people say ‘stop being a girl’ you’re insinuating that being a girl is awful, stupid, and a horrible thing to call someone.  It’s not.  Calling someone a girl is calling them half of the population. That’s it.  Making it into this insult to masculinity or an insult to your bravery is just petty, sexist, and wrong.

We live in a world where, despite all the hard work of feminists, being a girl is still being second class.  Somehow, being a girl, or having something think you are girly is horrible enough to be an insult, an attack on your masculinity and your very being.  Using this ‘insult’ and not saying anything when those around you use it, keeps perpetuating the idea that girls are lesser, girls are weak, girls are fragile, fear-consumed beings.  God forbid you are one or have one.

I think what really gets to me is that people just shrug this off when I mention it. ‘Oh I didn’t mean that,’ they say. Which leads me to point number 2…

2. It is not what you really mean.  I think there is a rampant epidemic of not saying what you mean in this country (and probably in other places too).  We say things that mean other things and assume that’s ok.  When you say ‘stop being such a girl’ what you really mean is ‘stop being so [silly][scared][weak][fickle][etc].’  If you said what you really meant, there wouldn’t be a stigma around being a girl.  So stop it. Stop trying to cover up what you what to say by taking down an entire gender.  Start saying what you think and call your friends scare-di-cats.

I have a friend who used to say this all the time.  Each time he would say it, I would counter, ‘say what you really mean. You mean he’s being stupid.’ After several times of me butting in and speaking my mind, he stopped saying it.  He got the point to clear out veiled meanings and say what he really meant. And the best part? He now tells others about it.  See what can happen when we say what we mean to say?


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What’s in a Word: ‘Buying American’

In the past decade or so the phrase ‘Buy American’ or ‘Made in America’ has been thrown around pretty heavily.  And while it’s been thrown around, it has been connected with all things Tea Party Republican.  To be patriotic you must buy American; to be a good citizen, you must buy American.  It has become a marker of what a ‘true’ American is or should be — a ‘true’ American won’t give away money or jobs to Others/Outsiders.

But I’ve always found that my knee-jerk reaction to dislike things that proclaim ‘Made in America’ as conflicting with some of my other strongly held beliefs.  For example, I whole-heartedly support buying local.  But isn’t buying local in fact buying American? So why the conflicting emotions when all that’s different is a a few words?

As I pointed out in my last post, words matter.  The phrase ‘buy American’ is specifically targeting those or what is not American.  For example, some people only buy American cars like Fords regardless of the fact that most of these cars are not made in the United States.  Buying a Honda is not supporting Americans (even though Honda has factories in the US that provide jobs to Americans).

The idea is to buy something from an American-born company with an American name.  ‘Foreign’ here become unacceptable.   It is not a leap when this argument then gets applied to buying from Americans only.  It is so particular about the word ‘American’ that the message of becomes ‘anything or anyone who isn’t American is bad.’  It becomes an extension of racism or fear of Others.

Buying Local on the other hand, does not specify who are acceptable sellers (other than specifying that local is better than chain/big box).  It doesn’t target groups of people or bring nationality into the equation.  It simply states that buying from local merchants is more beneficial than buying from large chains or global corporations.

Of course this message is directly in line with a progressive agenda, which decries the growth of capitalistic corporations, and is not without its hidden messages either.  Buying local can often be more expensive (especially when paired with a green message), which means that the message is targeted at middle-upper class citizens.

However, for this discussion, the interesting thing to note is how phrasing can alter the message and meaning of a message.  Essentially, both phrases have the same core: support for products and companies whose profits remain in the United States economy.  It is the phrasing, the wording that changes the meaning.  As we get further into the election cycle, this kind of messaging comes up all the time.  Both sides are for the same ultimate goal, yet the phrasing is changed to appeal to core voters on each side.  We have to be able to peel back the words to get at that central message.  We have to understand what words mean.

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What’s in a Word: ‘Silence is Complicit’

I named this blog back in February of 2010, with the goal of having it be a place for conversation about gender, politics, and race.  I remember naming it after reading Audre Lorde, and could swear the name came from her, but I cannot find the quote.  So I will say it is ‘Audre Lorde inspired.’

However, the origin of this phrase is not as important as what it means, and what it has come to mean to me.  ‘Silence is complicit’ comes from the phrase ‘silence is an act of complicity’ which means that to remain silent is to be complicit in the act.

This can have several meanings.  It can mean that to remain silent while someone is attacked, hurt, or physically harmed is to be complicit in the hurting.  Watching someone be killed without doing anything to stop it makes you responsible in some way for the killing.  It can mean that to remain silent while someone is racist or just plain mean is to allow that racism to continue.

This is what it means to me.  It means speaking up when I see something I disagree with.  It means speaking up when I have something to say.  It means being held accountable to my beliefs through my words and my actions. It means thinking of all the fantastic women writers who have come before me who weren’t afraid to speak up.

I am not by nature a talkative person.  I do not like speaking up in groups, nor do I like voicing my ideas unless I am sure of them.  But reminding myself that silence is an act of complicity means that I must find a way to speak out.  I do that through this blog.  All the things I wish I had spoken up about in grad school, all the things I wish I could say to movie producers, all the things I wish I could say to the people I interact with daily – this is where I have the voice to say them.  And this is my action against it.

It’s the beginning of a new year, and I have been revisiting my blog strategies.  Which means revisiting why I named this blog, and why I started it.  In writing this piece, and remembering the importance of ‘silence is complicit’, I am hoping to revitalize this space. I am hoping to be more diligent about bringing voice to the things I want to say but don’t.

This will be the first in a monthly series of what words mean.  I’ll be looking at what words and phrases that are used often in progressive writing and talking about why they are important.  Instead of doing long pieces on things that come up as I think of them, this blog will be more organized.

I hope you enjoy the new feel, and remember that silence is an act of complicity.

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Nancy Drew and the Case of the Old Books

A visit to the local used bookstore this past weekend got me all excited about books.  Children’s books, specifically.  When I tore myself away from the huge mystery section, I found myself in the children’s section. I scanned the shelves looking for all those loved childhood books, when my eyes lit on a bright yellow spine, just passed a row of bright blue spines.

Yep, you guessed it.  A beautiful, yellow, hardbound Nancy Drew novel stuck next to the overwhelming supply of Hardy Boys books.  As I read the titles on the spines of the Nancy Drew’s, I remembered spending hours reading the original series, the spin off meant for young readers, the Nancy Drew Case Files, and the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys super mysteries, many of which still grace my shelves.  I loved following the young sleuth as she effortlessly (it seemed) extracted herself from dangerous positions and unmasked the killers/burgalers/evil-doers in about 100 pages.

In car on the way home, explaining to my partner why I had opted to buy a children’s book, and why I was going to proudly display it on our bookshelves, I realized I love much more than Nancy’s sleuthing.  I loved that she was a sleuth.  I loved that she was an independent girl, going out and doing.  Along with faithful friends Bess and George, Nancy put her brains to work and solved case after case, without help from her lawyer dad (unless you count advice!) or any other ‘adults’.  In short, she was awesome.

Finding Carolyn Keene’s sleuth in the used bookstore made me think back on some of the other childhood heroines I loved:

Anne, from Anne of Green Gables.

Laura, from Little House on the Prairie

Any of the Ann Rinaldi books (hello historical fiction!)

Just off the top of my head, and not including every Agatha Christie I could get my hands on (except for the scary ones!).  These books were great — with headstrong female leads who had spunk and smarts, and had impacts on the world around them.

I hope these books are still around when (or if) I decide to have children, or when my family expands to include small children.

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What do we lose when it’s economy vs ideology?

I was reading an article this morning about how ‘greenies’ span all income brackets, and that being green was about reducing costs.   It got me thinking: when we reduce the green movement to how to save money, what do we lose?

I’ve struggled with this concept for awhile.  I concentrated on Environmental Policy during my Master’s degree, and I ended up in classes with people who viewed environmental issues from an economic perspective only.  And then there’s me, who shuns all economics unless necessary for me to come into contact with it.  It was too opposing viewpoints, yet both believed that they were striving toward the same goal: a more sustainable world.

So which is better? Convincing people to go green because of the money it can save works.  Give people the numbers on how much they spend on bottled water versus how much the one time cost of a reusuable bottle plus tap water, and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t change (arguments about the ‘taste’ of water excluded).  Especially in these times, saving money is a plus; each and every penny counts. 

But in making the modern green movement about saving money, do we also ensure that people’s attraction to being green will end with the recession? Or that it can’t possibly reach those in the upper classes of society?  It loses some of the permanency or urgency that is necessary to propel the movement forward.

There has to be some kind of ideological back up to pitching sustainability based on economy.  We can’t just leave it at ‘you’re saving hundreds of dollars per year by not using bottled water.’ I think we run the risk of making being unsustainable a marker of success — the mentality that if I am rich enough I don’t have to be sustianable and count my pennies. I’ve written about this before, in the context of reusuable bags, but you can see it in anything.  Gas prices are ridiculously high, yet suburbanites and urbanites alike still drive gas-guzzling Hummers.  Cutting the tie between the economy and ideology of being sustainable means cutting out the meaning of the action. It becomes a façade or a shadow of something powerful.

How do we make the modern green movement about more than just numbers? I think the key is to always be connecting with the larger context.  The slow food movement is great at this — the goal there is so reconnect people with where their food comes from, with the idea that if people know where their food is coming from, they will be more discerning consumers.  This is what the sustainability/green movement needs to do as well.  We need to connect with where our trash goes, where our energy comes from, and what makes our common products.  That’s what goes missing when green-washing and consumer driven sustainable are allowed to be the sole voices of sustainability. 

Being green is about making lasting changes to the way we live our lives.  Reducing ‘being green’ to how much money we can save cuts out the impact that those actions have on everyone — it reiterates that we live in an individual society where my actions only affect me.  One of the strengths of the green movement is that is has the ability to bring communities together.  Farmer’s Markets, car shares, community gardens — all of these reduce the impact on the environment, but also encourage community interaction,  something that seems to be slowly dying in our society.  And making ‘greenies’ out to be just money saving consumers, ignores that component of the movement. 

We lose the nuances and the forward motion if we reduce sustainability to just economics.  My former classmates’ views about the pricing of water were valid, and important, and altered the way I think about a ‘solution’ to water problems.  But without the ideological component to fuel those solutions, without being centered on the ultimate goal of changing the way people live and interact with their environment, those solutions will fail, as they have before. 

So when I explain to people why they shouldn’t throw out that plastic bottle, I include not only how much they are spending on a new one, but also that there is are giant mound of plastic bottles waiting to be incinerated or buried because there are just too many plastic bottles used to recycle all of them.  And of course those mounds are on lands that could be used for agriculture by some of the poorest in the world.  Economy plus context can equal a powerful movement.

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Open letter to strangers

Dear random man on the street,

Thank you for pointing out how my hair is going grey. I really appreciate that today, my birthday of all days, you took the time to stop me on the street and tell me ‘it’s ok that my hair is grey because I am old but you are too young!’ what kind of backhanded compliment is that? If you were going for ‘you’re so young and pretty’ you failed.

Thank you for trying to backpedal and make it seem like you were just trying to say how beautiful it looked on me. I know my look of shock must have really thrown off your game. Your comment that I must be thinking too hard really hit home what you think of me. God forbid I think so hard it turns my hair grey. God forbid I think at all.

And thank you for pointing out that I dint fit into the standard of twenty-something beauty; that I am aging before my time. I also have bad eyesight and rickety joints if you want to talk about that. But you won’t. Because you can’t see those. You only see that my hair looks odd. You don’t see the confidence it takes to be ok with my greying hair. Or the years of damage done by hair dyes and the hundreds of dollars spent trying to pretend that wasn’t me. But it is me and I like it.

Finally, thank you random stranger for feeling it is ok to discuss this with me in the street corner. Most people wouldn’t be so bold, but you, you really went for it. Next time, leave the girl in peace and keep your comments to yourself.

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Evolution vs Creationism

This morning I read this article on Sociological Images.  Normally, I find the discussions on this site interesting and thought provoking.  This article, about using ‘choice’ when discussing the validity of evolution vs the validity of creationism, really bothered me.

The article (and I didn’t scroll through the comments, so it may be pointed out there) assumes that because one is science and one is religion, the religion is wrong.  The complete dismissal of religion here is a problem. People who defend creationism against evolution do so (in my understanding) because science conflicts with what their religion says.  Accepting evolution over what the Bible says is a threat to the validity of their religion.  I can fully understand wanting to protect that.

I personally fully support evolution, especially when discussing what should be taught in schools.  To my mind, it doesn’t reject what the Bible says, but show how brilliant God is to mastermind years of evolution.  However, I am not a well read scholar, nor am I one to take the Bible at its word every time.  But this post is not about my religious leanings. It is about the complete dismissal of the beliefs of a group of people, without trying to understand where they are coming from, or why they think the way they do.

In the article, we are reminded that the pageant contestants are being political — that is, they are trying to give a moderate answer that pleases everyone. But what they are doing is recognizing that dismissing the idea of creationism as stupid is also generalizing about a whole lot of people.  To then make the leap that talking about it as a choice could lead to students choosing not to learn math or chemistry is just that – a leap.  It is a choice — it is a choice of whether to stick to the strict interpretation of the Bible or to accept that the Bible might not be all truth. That’s a hard choice for someone to make or face.  Let’s have a little understanding of that.

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