Saturday, May 04, 2013

Bilingual

I first articulated the concept of women being ideologically bilingual in this world during an eventful conversation with one of my pet misogynists at The Moon last year.

The sentence sprung into my head as I decided to steer the conversation towards an area of interest to me that was a debatably female-centric topic. My interlocutor, a young man who until then had been able to maintain eight-hour conversations with me on every topic we approached together, became suddenly angry and uncooperative. The uncharacteristic anger he showed a few minutes into the exchange at first did not alarm me, I merely decided to expand on the new ideas needed to approach the subject, but that appeared to incense him out of proportion to the completely mundane topic of conversation.

As I continued to stick to my topic I began to be verbally battered by a very angry man with some surprising points of argument. He said that I had started a conversation for which he had no 'language' to enter the discussion, because he was not a woman. His discomfort meant that he started leveling some pretty interesting charges at me:

- I was using another language, one he did not know, and that was isolating him from the discussion
- I was using ideas that were not ones that he had encountered before, and I was not explaining them well enough so he could understand them, and that was isolating him from the discussion
- I was insisting on talking about something in a language he didn't understand, with concepts that needed to be explained to him, which was condescending in its expectations that he had to learn to talk in 'my language'
- My behavior in seeking to explain the concepts and language I was using was akin to 'America invading Iraq and forcing democracy and English on the Iraqis'

You can probably imagine that I was adrift myself at this point, astounded at how easily a discussion of the lack of female heroes in mainstream Hollywood movies had degenerated into something likened to the Iraq War. With each attack he made on me for discussing a topic that was 'disrespectful to him because it had nothing to do with him' I was fast losing whatever respect I had developed for him over our friendship.

It was when he started to physically shake, his voice getting more and more pained, that I actually realized that I was hurting the poor man, and keeping an eye on the girls next to us who were watching us very closely indeed, I decided to see just how truly bilingual I was.

Over the course of almost forty minutes, without moving from my chair or raising my voice, I talked pure 'man' to him and managed to get the shake out of his tense frame, the almost hysterical edge from his voice, and I was able to finish the evening with the man I had started it with. Well, almost. I haven't talked to him since, so I do not know how he felt the evening went, but I certainly felt a strong sense of shock and awe at the conversation.

I was shocked that simply hinting at an ideology that was not male-centric could unleash such venom in a man who was educated, traveled and otherwise very intelligent. And I was privately awarding myself awesome points for being better at talking 'man' then I had ever imagined. Whether he calmed down to keep the peace, or whether he calmed down because he thought I was back on his side, I will never know. But either way, I had talked good 'man', and discovered that talking 'woman' was something that was going to get me the best writing material ever.

The entire affair was pathetic though I have to admit. The mental anguish he went through when he was displaced for a few hours from being the Master of the Universe was laughable. The tortured logic he called upon to argue that I was disrespecting him by not discussing him alone was excruciating. The ease with which I turned him against me by a simple observation was ridiculous. And the speed with which his ego could be assuaged by the words of the person who had started the mental torture was, well, pathetic.

And it was pathetic that I had had to endure such self-centered bullshit, that I had continued the conversation, and that I had actually gone back to talking ‘man’ instead of slapping him soundly and leaving. I let the friendship we had urge me to forgiveness and repair, in the face of him telling me that my night of disrespect to him had wiped out the respect he had developed for me over that same friendship.

Being ideologically bilingual is both a strength and a weakness I think. It is a strength because it means that women are smarter, tougher and better able to survive in challenging ideological circumstances. We can approach things from a minimum of two different points of view every time, and this makes us adaptable and innovative. I am deadly serious when I feel sorry for men as a whole every time I look the War on Women in the face. They are hopelessly ill-equipped for the challenging times ahead, times that will require serious renegotiations of social contracts and world views, because they never have to fight for a place in the social contract or world view.

Being bilingual is a weakness because it means that women are too smart, too strong and less able to triumph in challenging ideological circumstances. We do not approach things with the fervent belief of those raised in a hegemonic and protected position, we approach things with the infinite shades of understanding and experience of resistance. We do not admit defeat in the face of inconceivable oppression because we understand that there is hope for everyone, not matter how brainwashed. We will do anything to survive for people that need us, which means we are not ready to sacrifice anyone for a greater cause.

But being bilingual is going to be the secret to our survival. Those raised in hegemonic privilege will lose everything, because they have had to fight for nothing. Those who cannot see the mixture of good and evil in everyone will always misuse and misjudge the potential in the humans around them. And those that will sacrifice anyone for their own power will not be sacrificed for when the world learns to survive in new ways.

I found my own path to being specifically bilingual, and it has allowed me to sit and write for years about ideas and concepts that changed my very being in the writing and reading.

For those interested in becoming specifically bilingual, I personally recommend adding Rabid Feminist, brought to my attention by the marvelous Si├ón Roberts, or Destroy the Joint, brought to my attention by her friend Matthew Langfield, to your news feed on Facebook, and reading every link they put up. And each time you read something in one of those articles that shocks you or enrages you, for whatever reason, research it, talk about it, write about it … talk about it again.

The articles on Rabid Feminist and Destroy the Joint are current news, current theory, current ideas, and they are overwhelming in their exposure of countless areas of conflict. Readers will not be able to hide from the world once they have read about it. They may all be feminist views, but the politics will be nuanced and varied enough to hold ideas you agree with, and ideas that you really don't agree with. And this will be the challenge, reading things that are NOT in your language.

But once you have read one article that directly confirms an experience of your own, and you are able to see that experience in a completely different light, you will be on your way to being bilingual. And the world will be brighter for all the dark that you would have let into it, because you will be better equipped to deal with the dark.

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