Re: cheapies, ethnicities, language & feminism

Michael John Evans (g8726246@MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA)
Wed, 26 Jan 1994 10:16:14 -0500

Eva Armstrong points out that there are a number of ethnic groups ( I
assume in the USA?) who are not interested in "paying retail" (to cite
Mike Leiber). Take a look at *our* surnames. Evans is prototypically Welsh
(you've all heard the phrase "welshing on a bet"?). Leslie is a clan, you
know, one of the clans of Scotland (yes I've read Hobsbawm & Ranger, thats
another discussion); Scots frugality has achieved mythological enormity
in our society, and never, never, have I heard anyone of my father's
family or any other person who's surname begins with "Mac" cry "racism" !
I think this is booming out of proportion, but as a feminist, it
raises a troublesome issue for me: that of the degree to which langauage
can, and should be altered to either prevent or terminate negative
stereotyping. You are all familiar with some attempts to redress
'masculocentric expressions' or support 'gender neutral' langauge:
"Herstory" is an example of the former and the suffix "-person" is an
example of the latter. Stereotypes are rich grounds for metaphor,
allegory and analogy. As anthropologists we often revel inthe muliplicity
of *meanings* we claim to identify in the formal rhetoric (or even
everyday language) of the social actors we study. The processes are the same
in our own ("north-american-academic-english-french-spanish-german-
yiddish-algonkian-athapaskan-indonesian-popular-etc-based") language.
Witness the layers of meanings deployed by Daniel Foss (always,
everywhere), and Mike Leiber most recently. So to prevent insult,
offense, stereotyping, we deny ourselves that which we revel in
elsewhere: the beauty of the language of "others". Our attempts to
control, restrict, censor our own language holds merit to the aspects of
my personality which support and identify with the messages and practice
of feminism (Note of clarification: I'm an old-style, humanist-type
feminist, rather than an anti-male, pro-female at all costs feminist),
but conflicts with my intellectual interests and appreciation of the many
ways in which people can *mean stuff*. Paradox. Catch 22.
I can't offer a conclusion, so I must leave this as a
question. What say, Dawn? Is this interesting enough for *you*?

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Mike Evans, Anthropology &/ Heather Young-Leslie, Anthropology
McMaster University, Hamilton /or: York University, North York,
Ontario. (905) 525 9140 x23907 Ontario Canada (416) 736 5261
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