Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Pancakes, International Women's Day and what not to say to a feminist

I'm actually more excited about it being Pancake Day than International Women's Day. As someone said on Twitter, social media seems to have reduced International Women's Day to the level of National Chip Week.

And I never like the idea of being told when to think about any particular issue - whether it's Comic Relief or Valentine's Day or Climate Week. Or Women's Day. I'd prefer to choose myself when I want to be charitable, romantic or green. Or feminist. And preferably not as a one-off.

On the other hand, there is something relevant to women in society that's been bugging me for a while. I don't expect to be popular for saying this but I'll say it anyway.

It's not big and clever to use the C word. It's not even funny.

Everyone knows that Kenneth Tynan first said the F word on British television. It's pretty likely that it was James Naughtie who first said the C word on British radio. And yes, anything that involves being rude to Tories is always going to get a laugh.

The problem is that something has changed since then. I've heard other people say it on the radio - just quoting, of course, to start with. But now that someone has broken the taboo, it's not going to stop there. Suddenly everyone seems to think this word is OK. I hear it spoken often. I see it on Twitter and Facebook.

Stop right there. It's not big and it's not clever to use words that hate women.

You think that's extreme? Think about it. Back in the 80s, when gender politics was more mainstream than it is now, a friend of mine gave me a book called Womanwords: a dictionary of woman-related words, how they've changed over the years and how they ended up, well, in most cases worse than they started. It makes you think about how words change their meaning, and what it says about the society that creates and condones those changes.

The definition of the C word tries to explain why a neutral, descriptive word about the female body ended up as the most violent term of abuse you can think of. And it quotes another writer who suggests that it 'reflects the deep fear and hatred of the female by the male in our culture.' Before you scoff, just think for a minute. You don't often hear women use this word, do you?

And, by the way, if you think that 'twat' is just a more vehement form of 'twit', think again. And try to think of something different to say instead.