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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Words Words Words


posted by Sybil Vane
In another post, I noted that while my students make fun of feminists wanting to change the spellings of words, and that their examples are hyperbolic, there is real significance to the connections between words, identity, power, etc. Case in point, this conversation between me and my daughter (aged 2.5 years):

Me: We re going to be late, hurry up kid!

Her: I'm not a kid!

Me: You're not?

Her: No, I'm not a kid. I AM A GIRL!!!"

She then goes on to tell me that several of her boy friends are "kids."

I spent some time trying to explain that kids can be both girls and boys, but the gender neutrality of some nouns is not the easiest thing to explain to a toddler. This is the sort of thing that my dad would insist I am over-reacting about, just a cute toddler malapropism, but I think there is something significant here. I hear in this anecdote my kid's realization that "girl-ness" is not the default, neutral term, but rather the particularized term, meant to reflect the non-default position. Boys don't have to just be boys, they are also kids, they inhabit the default term.

On perhaps a more fundamental level, I am staggered that at this age she is already making pronouncements about gender that are meant to say something about identity. She really believes she is saying something important about who she is with the "I am a girl," proclamation.

Even a 2.5 year old realizes the deep significance of language and it's capacity to shape our understanding of ourselves and our world. Don't tell me feminists are quibbling.

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