It was the most progressive of times. It was the most regressive of times. It was less than twelve months since Oxford dictionary’s word of the year had been lie. As a professional wordsmith and feminist it was a surreal moment to be alive.
A female writer, and especially one with an angle on gender was constantly in danger of using the wrong word. Furthermore, there were many stipulations about identity that a woman who wrote needed to consider. It was called a privilege check, and its purpose was to keep the little woman in her place, and boy did it work. By the time a girl had finished ticking off all the different ways her various privilege might inform her argument, she’d need a lie down, or a stiff drink, or something stiff…
It probably started with Alanis Morisette in the mid nineties and the innocent mis-appropriation of irony. Going on to sell millions what the song Ironic proved was that redefining a word had vast commercial potential. By 2017 words were evolving faster than the above average intelligent individual’s mind. In some cases, there was no guarantee that the words used to describe something in the morning would be the same by tea-time. This was a source of huge concern for the writers and the feminists, and most especially the feminist writers.
Some stopped writing because they could not keep up with the pace of change and the retribution when they used the wrong word, because it had meant something entirely different, only a few short hours before. No-where was the war on language more prevalent then in the feminist community. In the trenches the rad fems clung to the traditional view of the word ‘woman’, as per Oxford dictionary. They fought a daily onslaught of threats and insults from the lib fems who sought to liberate the word woman from the confines of an actual literal meaning.
‘Course the rad fems had their reasons for wanting to hang on to word woman and many subsidiary terms like vagina and breasts, uterus, period and lesbian. And the writers were also invested in the word woman retaining its meaning, because once words start to lose meaning then the ability to communicate diminishes. And writers are communicators.
The lib fems favoured changing the word woman to the word people, as this would make it more inclusive. Of course it’s impossible to argue that the word people is less inclusive than the word woman, but to many, that’s the point.
Eventually all writers and feminists had to pick a side, and most especially feminist writers. Did they favour the old world view where men and women were two distinct biologically different but fundamentally interdependent groups of people? Or were they willing to be pioneers of a brave new world, where ideas are so vast and experiences so unique, that no dictionary need dare contain them?
Whilst woman and all its related terms vagina, breasts, uterus, womb, period, lesbian were up for reallocation, the word of the year, fast overtaking lie was binary with a non before it. Non-binary was the term used to describe a growing sub culture of people that believed themselves to be neither woman nor man, boy nor girl. A short, sharp look in their underpants was no longer a determinant factor in what sex they might be.
It was all very confusing for those who dared dig into it, because when viewed objectively, it made no sense at all. Gender was replacing sex as the deciding component in what defined the terms man and woman. The biologically reality and difference that distinguished two groups of people was being eroded, like it did not exist. Only, it continued to exist, it just became more difficult to logistically speak about.
‘But, do you know where babies come from?’ became a controversial phrase and yet, babies continued to come from wombs, and wombs continued to come attached to women. And, it was still her tit that a baby drank life from, and her belly that was bent out of shape.
The lib fems argued that it was crude to reduce women to their body parts. The rad fems countered it was cruder to pretend women weren’t reduced to their body parts, systematically, by the patriarchy.
The rad fems had it on logic, and reason, but fell down somewhat in style and presentation. There, the fur coat no knickers lib fems, brought the house down. Though their words, at best, distorted meaning, at worst,were just plain unintelligible, they spoke them with such pezaz.
And they appealed to that deep, real fear we all have, that we’re actually a bit stupid. Truly, people were so terrified of being exposed as not getting it, that that they suspended all their ability to critically analyse what was being proposed.
And, it is here, we now sit, in this pivotal period in our history as thinkers, as seers, as knowers of stuff, as people who must pass on to our children a semblance of biological sense. ‘Coz kids deserve biology. More than that that, kids need biology, especially teenage kids, especially teenage girls. And I’ll tell you what else girls need- words.