In an exclusive extract from her new book, the feminist writer explains how sexist language can wreck women’s lives.
Words, when deployed in relation to the vagina, are always more than “just words”. Because of the subtlety of the mind-body connection, words about the vagina are also what philosopher John Austin, in his 1960 book How to Do Things with Words, calls “performative utterances”, often used as a means of social control. A “performative utterance” is a word or phrase that actually accomplishes something in the real world. When a judge says “Guilty” to a defendant, or a groom says “I do”, the words alter material reality.
Studies have shown that verbal threats or verbal admiration or reassurances can directly affect the sexual functioning of the vagina. One suggests that a stressful environment can negatively affect vaginal tissue itself. This “bad stress” can also, as it supports or inhibits orgasm, either raise or lower the levels of women’s confidence, creativity and hopefulness overall. Women react strongly to male verbal abuse of their vaginas or to implied threats of rape, even when these are “just jokes”, for these very reasons – though most of us are unaware of the science behind our gut reaction that this kind of abuse is bad for us.
Comedienne Roseanne Barr described male TV writers’ behaviour when women made inroads into their profession: she noted that she hated going up to the writers’ house because there would be a “stinky-pussy” joke within three minutes. When a woman faces a workplace in which her male peers want to show her she is unwelcome, similar words or images targeting or insulting the vagina will often surface: centrefolds with legs spread, for instance, and the face of the woman in question superimposed on the naked body, will appear in public.
Read the rest over at the Guardian.
© Copyright 2013 Naomi Wolf | http://naomiwolf.org