Apologies for my absence last week; I became infected with a particularly evil strain of the Lurgy which gave me a high temperature that ignored all of my attempts to counteract it with paracetamol. It’s a good thing this feature is filed under “semi-regular”, I suppose.
Now, I get fairly picky about the use of language. This is why I sometimes find myself having online arguments with people that lasts for twelve days over the sexism inherent in one word. That word, for those of you that missed that fascinating (ha!) debate, was chairman. Interestingly enough, I recently retrieved my copy of Man-Made Language from the back seat of J’s car where it had been languishing for months, and found this quote, which I thought particularly apt. In fact, my first thought on reading it was regret that the argument was not still going on. Because I am masochistic that way. Bear in mind that this was published in 1980:
“We will probably witness the rise of such usages as female flight attendant (since steward/stewardess has been abolished), woman salesperson (since salesman/saleswoman has been outlawed), as well as lady police officer and madam chairperson. They may be cumbersome usages but they will do the job: they will allow the sexist semantic rule to continue to function. The allocation of negative semantic space to women will go unchallenged.”
Emphasis in original.
Interestingly enough, the only one of those “new” phrases which I have ever seen used was the last – madam chairperson. On the other hand, I do still hear (or say) salesman – but only in the phrase “car salesman”, and then only if the person referred to really is, or appears to be, a man – and policeman – but again, only if the officer in question really is, or appears to be, a man. Perhaps we are making more of a difference than Dale Spender gave us credit for?
Well. I say that. But there are other problems with language that hit just as hard as the pernicious man-encompassing-woman nonsense. One of those problems is in the use of the word “sex”. For example, in the headlines:
The first story is the one that I’ve already mentioned twice in these features – the taxi driver who claimed he’d won the lottery, offered his lone, female victims spiked alcohol and then either raped or sexually assaulted them. Bear in mind, this man has now been convicted of rape. But you wouldn’t get that information from the headline, or even the first paragraph. Instead, it is buried halfway down page, 13 paragraphs from the top.
The second relates to a teaching assistant who has admitted to what the BBC report as “[having] sex with two teenage pupils”. What he’s actually been convicted of is “sexual activity with a child by a person in a position of trust”. I did think that this came under a catch-all heading of “statutory rape”, but it would appear that since new legislation came into force in 2004, that is no longer the legal description. Perhaps it never was.
The good news in that story is that he’s been banned from working with children indefinitely. The bad news is he’s been jailed for less than 3 years.
Continuing the nasty “sex” with children theme, how about this gem: Guard made 14 year-old pregnant.
But of course, Scotland’s rape laws are, at the moment, pretty fucking awful, as I believe I’ve mentioned elsewhere. So he’s admitted to “intercourse” with the girl, who was described as being “vulnerable because of her learning difficulties”.
Lucky for him that he pleaded guilty. Because, as the judge reminded him, he could have been imprisoned for five whole years otherwise. As it is, he gets 3.5. Joys.
Oh, and thinking of sentencing, take a look at this article. One man, the father, was found to be in possession of over 10,000 images of child pornography. For this, the other man, his son stabbed him, 16 times.
One of the two men was jailed for seven and a half years. One of the men was given a three year community order. Which was which?
Well. It’s not like we haven’t seen this kind of thing before. However, I’m feeling generous, so if, like me, you were entirely unsurprised to discover that the man given the community order was the father, give yourself a gold star.
Clearly, it was sensible to imprison the son. Much though I’d love to be a one-person vigilante group, I recognise that my summarary judgement is not socially acceptable, and this man doesn’t have a leg to stand on. And besides, any man who is capable of driving from Birmingham to Northampton in order to stab his father is not somebody I want walking around – who knows who else he might consider deserving of violence?
On the other hand, I’ll admit to being frustrated that posessing such a vast quantity of child pornography didn’t result in at least a small prison sentence. Goodness knows it’s not like I expect anything more than that, given that you only get 3.5 for actually having “sex” with a child, but still.
This entire edition is, sadly, full of things that are not nice. So I’ll leave you with news that, during one of my forrays into the unimaginable wealth that is a university library, I came across a book that I had to take out. Despite the fact that the damned thing’s in Spanish, and despite the fact that even when I was taking my A-level Spanish (over two years ago) I was never even approaching fluent, I had to take it out for two reasons.
Firstly, although the precise meaning of the title eluded me, I could take a wild stab at understanding the subtitle, mujer y moralidad durante el franquismo, which, translated, means something along the lines of “women and morality during the Franco years”. And secondly, because of a quote inside the book attributed to Lawrence Durrell, which I believe says “because the living have to always remember what those who died could never forget”. So that sounded pretty cool, if a little academic in nature.
Imagine my amusement, when I got the book home, and the word in the title that had been troubling me could be translated – it turns out that Un Inmenso Prostibulo is, in fact, A Vast Brothel. Not at all what I was expecting, but it only makes me even more intrigued to know what the book says. Expect regular updates on this… or, to link this back rather neatly to the start of the post, perhaps I should say, expect semi-regular updates!