Speaking of International Women’s Day…

Caravaggio - Medusa

This will be a very short blog: it would have been a tweet if I could have boiled it down to 140 characters.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, I would like to make a point about language. Specifically, I have found much of the commentary around Vicky Pryce’s trial rather depressing. I know Vicky a little bit – and I don’t want to make any comment about the facts of the case or the verdict. But I do want to say something about the way it has been discussed.

Apparently it is impossible for journalists – and others – to make comment without drawing on the traditional ‘angry woman’ tropes. And since Vicky happens to be Greek, it has been even easier to lazily call on such classical references as ‘Fury’, ‘Medusa’, ‘Medea’, ‘Harridan’, ‘Harpie’, etc.

This is annoying for two reasons. One: stereotypes are rarely helpful or sophisticated. They are reductive and serve only to simplify the discourse, rather than enlighten it. Cases and people get shoehorned into the familiar rather than understood on their own terms.

Two: the particular stereotypes mentioned above have been long-standing tools for the demonisation of femininity and thus, ultimately, the repression of women. It is depressing that we still cannot seem to shake them. Even more depressing when the journalist exploiting them happens to be a woman.

I know that there are women around the world suffering far greater wrongdoing than this bit of labelling – it’s easy to write off as a case of ‘#firstworldproblem’. But the two ends of the spectrum are utterly related, and one of the things that unites them is language.

Language matters: it is subtle and pervasive. It shapes how people think. And too many people are careless with it.

2 thoughts on “Speaking of International Women’s Day…”

  1. Absolutely! Language is a wonderfully rich resource and powerful tool – often sadly abused, underestimated and undervalued.

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