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I did a mock in English Literature the other day.

It was a really amazing question about Blake, and there was so so much to write about – the ideal question! Only I had a problem with it, one I had to ignore in order to write a good essay rather than descending into argument.

Here’s the question:

“In Blake’s view of the world, nature liberates : man imprisons” How far does your reading of the Selected Poems lead you to agree?

So yes, there was a lot to say – so much of Blake’s poetry is about nature or the restrictions of humanity (mind forg’d manacles, anyone?) and the answers just pour from the mind to the pen to the paper to the grades. But I really didn’t like the way that the question refers to humanity as ‘man’ – for a 21st century question, when it takes at least a year for them to give an exam question the OK, you’d think they’d have picked up on that one.

Because yes, it’s a term which was used (and accepted) to refer to all of human life. And yes, in many cases it still is. But to use it in this question goes one step further than having to read texts in which it is assumed that ‘he’ can count for all people and things, as it forces the student to do the same – one cannot answer the question without referring to the quote in detail, and so whole paragraphs turn into ‘man imprisons his emotions, his thoughts and his beliefs’ and suddenly women are excluded.

Reading texts which use the male pronoun throughout make me feel like an outsider, even if the intention of the author was to refer to men and women. My teacher argued that intention is all that matters – I call bull. I think that while intention is important, there are some things that regardless of how they are intended, should not be said. For example, returning to a previous post, the intention of a man who says ‘thanks babe’ in a shop should of course be acknowledged. For all we know, he means well, he thinks he’s being polite. But look at the implications of the term, and the cordiality which is being assumed between strangers, and regardless of his intentions the use of the word ‘babe’ is unacceptable. Similarly, regardless of the intentions of the author, or in this case the examiner who wrote this question, the wording of the question is exclusive and offensive.

If you are a woman who feels that the use of a male pronoun as all-encompassing is unnecessary, unequal and, indeed, unfair, then to have to answer a question in which you have to use said pronoun throughout just seems flat out unacceptable. When the question chosen faces so much scrutiny, the examiner should have to think twice before using sexist terms in their question.

I spoke to my teacher and a few fellow students about this, and it became quite heated. It ended up being me and another girl against my teacher and a couple of other guys (surprise, anyone?), and it was clear that they just weren’t listening to what we were saying. Now don’t get me wrong, my teacher is amazing. He’s normally very level-headed and seemingly aware of the inequalities in society, and he teaches accordingly. But in this case he was simply blinded to the obvious. My partner in crime (coincidentally, the same woman who I agreed with in Philosophy) pointed out that if they were to read an entire book in which humanity was referred to as ‘she’ then it would be a very different story. But because they never have to experience it, they don’t recognise the issue and so feel that it’s ok to reduce it to intentions alone.

One response to this was ‘you don’t care about the question, you’re talking about changing the whole English language!’. Well, yes and no. No, in that the question was what I was frigging arguing about. Sorry mister, but I do care or we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. But yes, I think that the English language needs some work, as it has so much of its basis in patriarchy. That, however, was not my point. My point was that the wording of this particular question was unnecessary and, if I may say so, backward. It forces men and women to accept an element of our language which has already been questioned. An element of our language which has already been dismissed by many. So my issue was not so much that the language itself needs to change, it was that our language IS changing, and this question does not allow for that.

It was also said that the question uses a quote – surely the quote must therefore have been from before the days when people cared about such petty things as pronouns? This is possible. But of all the hundreds of quotes that could be used about Blake, they chose this one. Also, as far as my understanding of these questions goes, they are not always real quotes – rather, they are expressions of a view point which the examinee must discuss. Therefore, the quote was either a modern one, invented by the examiner her/himself, or was badly chosen.

Ultimately, however, the argument came back time and time again to intent.

For me, reducing it to intentions discounts the emotions of the recipient, assuming the importance of what you are thinking over the reactions of others. I think I made my point a bit clearer by this example – in a lot of rap music, the word nigger is used. The intentions may have been good, but the word itself has a negative effect. The very use of the word seems to condone racism and a divide between white and black, enforcing the division rather than destroying it. Of course, I can never truly know how that word feels to a black person, just as my teacher and his followers cannot know how it feels for a woman to face a text which instantly treats her as subhuman, but I can recognise, acknowledge the power of words. You’d think that a chief examiner, for English Literature of all subjects, could also make that connection.

And on that note – adieu.


We had an interesting discussion in philosophy today. Somehow, the Obama calling a reporter ‘sweetie’ incident came up and we ended up talking about whether we saw it as acceptable for men to call women sweetie or darling or love, etcetera etcetera…

Personally, I can’t stand it. One girl in my class made a point that I certainly agree with – she said that often, it’s about power of the man over the woman, about being condescending. We are not children, nor are we lesser than men, but calling us darling or other ‘terms of endearment’ suggests that we are. Also, I think it is inappropriate for a stranger to call you affectionate names…

What do you think? I’d be interested to know…

And on that note – adieu.

makes me sick. But it’s always there, and complaining about it gets so darn tiresome. And ruins the breaks between perfectly decent, non-sexist programmes (cos there actually are a few…)

This one has really got me riled, and I didn’t even see it on TV, but on The F-Word

It is very distressing that this has been shown on tv. It’s like, we have a society that is supposedly gradually moving forwards, we have laws against things like sexism and yet advertising is allowed to ignore them and appeal to everyone’s sexist, prejudiced sides. If only there were more of us who don’t have them!

Oh goodness. I just found this and I feel really, really unwell now. I simply can’t understand why people would want to do something like this:

and this is ridiculous (the oh-so-rare-but-still-so-wrong objectification of men…) :

and perleeeeese, this is so stupid:

On a brighter (kinda) note, in America tomorrow they are doing something marvellous – a Day of Silence “to highlight the bullying and harassment of LGBTQ students, and their supporters”, something which has apparently been going on since 1996. If I’d only known earlier I’d have tried to organise something – as it is, all I can do is say props to those who are doing it in America, I think it’s wonderful and I wonder why England hasn’t followed suit. I only wish that such a day weren’t necessary in the first place.

See more in this vid, which is amazing and has my favourite actor from Grey’s Anatomy in it (he plays George :D)

And on that note – Adieu!

So there are two things that I wanna talk about. One: National Women’s Day. And two: surnames and hyphenation. Handily connected in my title *is pleased with self*

International Women’s Day is celebrated on the 8th of March, so it’s soon! And I’d like to do something at college to join the celebrations, or at least to acknowledge it…any suggestions??

Here’s some background:

IWD is now an official holiday in Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. The tradition sees men honouring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts. In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother’s Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers.

The new millennium has witnessed a significant change and attitudinal shift in both women’s and society’s thoughts about women’s equality and emancipation. Many from a younger generation feel that ‘all the battles have been won for women’ while many feminists from the 1970’s know only too well the longevity and ingrained complexity of patriarchy. With more women in the boardroom, greater equality in legislative rights, and an increased critical mass of women’s visibility as impressive role models in every aspect of life, one could think that women have gained true equality. The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men.

However, great improvements have been made. We do have female astronauts and prime ministers, school girls are welcomed into university, women can work and have a family, women have real choices. And so the tone and nature of IWD has, for the past few years, moved from being a reminder about the negatives to a celebration of the positives.

All this and more found here 🙂

What do y’all think? Do we need a day to celebrate women and their achievements? I personally think that it’s important, as it is one day of the year where it really isn’t taboo to talk about women’s issues and speaking out is…well, pretty much expected. For once. BUT that is only if people have heard of the day – not many people I know of are aware of when it is…or even that it exists!

I also just discovered the Brighton and Hove group: here and there’s a comedy night on Thurs…I wonder if I could go…

Anyway, I digress. If anyone has any ideas for IWD at my college, nothing too large scale because a) I have very little time, and b) There’s not a great deal of support there…then I’d appreciate them!

As for surnames…

Today, I was talking to a friend about Jessica Valenti’s book, Full Frontal Feminism, who had read an extract, and she said she disagreed with what Jessica had to say about the changing of surnames. It turned into a rather big discussion, and I was the only one there saying that changing one’s name is significant. That it still is the tradition for women to take their husbands name. And that, at some point, the patriarchal system of passing on the husband/father’s name has to be addressed.

So, here’s what was said by t’others…

  • Surnames don’t matter. They are just names, after all.
  • Women can do what they like with their names now, everyone knows that.
  • Surely feminism should focus on something else, something more important?
  • Hyphenated names are ‘annoying’ and just mean that your child has to choose which part of the name to keep.

Of course, as the proud owner of a hyphenated surname, the last one rubbed me the wrong way a little. But I think that it’s a good solution. As is forging a new surname between you, moving on from the family ‘line’ and starting anew. I don’t think that your surname is your identity. But I think that it can still be important to you, that there’s power in a name (as most fantasy novels will tell you!) and so to dismiss it as a non-issue is saddening. Especially as it was almost a symbol of ownership, of a woman moving from being their father’s property to their husband’s. I for one am not happy with that, however traditional it may be.
Also, feminism really doesn’t focus on surnames. There’s no one focus, unless you say that it’s taking action towards equality. I often get that argument, if I ever take issue with the presentation of women in films/tv, or something similar. Why should I care, why doesn’t feminism focus on more important things?

Hell, one man (a teacher, surprisingly) even said to me ‘why do you focus on feminism when there are children dying in Africa?’. He was rather surprised when I said that I think feminism could help that, for if women were treated equally to men then they wouldn’t be raped in Africa, and they would be allowed access to contraception, so they wouldn’t have so many children and HIV wouldn’t be so widespread. Then there would be less mouths to feed, so less children starving, and more children would still have their mothers, rather than losing them to HIV.

Yet again, I digress. What do you think RE surnames? Do women still take their husbands name out of respect for tradition, or do they keep their own? Is it still surprising for men to take their wife’s surname? (Interesting, in regards to this, that in 1990 people were starting to see the sexism in surnames, yet in 2003 they appear to have digressed to an acceptance of the husband’s surname again…) Are hyphenated surnames irritating? And do they really matter at all, in the end? Perhaps we should drop them altogether, as this woman did…

Oh also, on a side note – I am almost exploding with anger over this…Charlotte Allen clearly lacks any intelligence or logic whatsoever.

And on that note – adieu.

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