Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Don't Call Me a Guy

This is a speech I gave last week at Toast Masters (Mavens) 

 Equality of the Genders

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all women are created equal, that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  

I want to be clear about who is included in the group of women created equal.  We are the white, educated women of property and means.  Men, the working class and poor women are not created equal to us.  They must labor to support themselves, their families and to provide goods and services for us in our pursuit of life, liberty  and happiness.  

Now, I know there are some men who believe that, as we form this more perfect union, women should not rule over men.  John Adams, bless his heart, in a letter to Abigail, while we were writing the Deceleration of Independence asked, "In the new code of laws I know it will be necessary for you to write, I ask that you remember the men, and be more generous and favorable to us than you ancestors. Do not put unlimited power into the hands of  the wives.  Give up the harsh title of mistress for the more tender and endearing one of friend.  Do not give power to vicious, lawless women to use us cruelly with impunity.  Women of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat men only as vassals of the female sex."  Abigail was swift to let John know that the revolutionary war was not fought to prove that all men were created equal.  Abigail replied, "As to your extraordinary code of laws, I cannot but laugh."

Argument From Creation

Man clearly was not created equal to woman as demonstrated by the second story of creation, found in the book of Genesis.  He was created from the dust of the earth,  He was put in the garden of God to tend it, but was incapable of the task, so woman was created.  She was created superior to man, not from the dust of the earth but from living flesh.  She is the final and crowning achievement in God's act of creation!

Woman was endowed with the almost God-like ability to produce life, with the assistances of the tinniest male seed.  And where would we be if one women had not been courageous enough to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  She wanted to be more like God.  She wanted to be wise and so she took and ate while the man sat passively by and ate the fruit she gave him.  The fruit he had been told not to eat.  Woman had not been created when that command was given.  The truth is, life as we know it, could not have existed within the confines of the garden.

Using Our Brains

Does this argument sound absurd?  The Declaration of Independence written only for white, women of property.  Men created as lesser human beings than women.  Women divinely ordained to rule over men.  But the reverse of these arguments are some of the arguments used by patriarchy to marginalize and control women.

Women and people of color read the gender specific language of the Declaration of Independence and think, "Oh, that means me."  But it doesn't.  John Adams thought it was laughable that his wife Abigail requested that laws be written to protect women from the cruelty of vicious, lawless men and to this day the Equal Rights Amendment has not been passed.

The second story of creation, in the book of Genesis, has been interpreted to prove that men should rule over women.  That women are responsible for the sin in the world.  That it is God's will that women should suffer in childbirth.  This interpretation also implies a literal, historical understand of an ancient story told and reload by an ancient people to explain the world they experienced around them.  It also ignore the simultaneous creation  of female and male, in the divine image, in the first story of creation.  

Language creates reality and "those who control how language is used control the most powerful instrument for shaping human consciousness."  (Kevin Giels. Priscilla Papers vol. 29, no. 1)  If we call human beings mankind, we make invisible everyone who is not male or does not conform to societal norms of what a kind of man is.  If we were to use woman kind to refer to all humanity, men would know they were not included.  It is considered acceptable to insult men by calling them girls or ladies.  Women want to believe that unmanned, manmade, chairman and mankind somehow includes us.  It does not.  Addressing a group of women or a mixed gender group as, "You guys" is culturally acceptable.  Addressing a mixed gender group as, "You gals" is not and you guys is used to refer to groups of women.

Many of us worked in the seventies to change male generic language.  Fireman became fire fighter.  Policeman became law enforcement officer.  Mailman became mail carrier and with the change of language came new career opportunities for women.

The erasure continues.  The original Star Trek used inclusive language but second generation Star Trek does not.  I was in Victoria's Secret and heard a woman's voice say, "Dude, look at this bra."  I looked up expecting to see a girl and boy shopping together.  I saw two girls.  Their culturally encouraged language had erased their gender.  Male generic language, dude, guy brotherhood, mankind simply express male as normative and female as other, non-normative.

To quote Albus Dumbledore, "Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, are our most inexhaustible source of magic.  Capable of both inflecting injury and remedying it." It is sad that John Lennon was killed at such a young age.  He might have learned that we are not a "brotherhood of man." IMAGINE