Thursday, January 22, 2009

Language and Terminology

For my first blog entry of the year, I want to share my thoughts on the importance of language in the larger women’s movement, in understanding and critically engaging in feminist issues, and in developing a grounds from which to build a complex course of study focused on the topic through well-informed and educated discussion and critical review (such as that which we experience at Allegheny in the Women’s Studies department). One of the first readings that we encountered in the year was titled “Lexicon of the Debates.” The reading clearly outlined main issues that emerge within the study of feminist theory, highlighting key terms and titles which serve to explain a given movement, circumstance or theoretical position. While I was familiar with some of these terms already coming into the class, I found that the focusing of the language and terms in a way which made them accessible, coherent and connected was very useful in making connections within my own mind between the issues in an almost visual web-like fashion.

I am focusing on language in this response because I feel that it is a great way to open up the year, a grounding upon which to stand, gain some rooted stability and grow from, build upon. On the very first day of class as the room filled with faces largely unfamiliar to one another, there was a commonality that seemed to emerge when we began discussing our reasons for taking a feminist theory course. While there were certainly particularities that differed within the group, many answered that they were interested in being better able to articulate their beliefs and positions regarding women’s issues. Perhaps this is to gain respect and attention to what they feel or desire to say, or perhaps even to better understand their own feelings which, although might be unavoidably strong and present internally in a more sensual or intuitive fashion, might fail to connect verbally in a manner that can be reflected on critically in such a setting as we often find ourselves in here on campus, one of debate or progressive conversation that aims ultimately towards some form of change initiated through dialogue.

In order to be able to claim a rightful position in greater academic discourse, a movement or issue needs to possess suitable terms with which to discuss its case, conditions and concerns. Once an agreed upon set of terms can be established, it is much easier to go about participating in the conversation- to join in and add to it thoughtfully. I think that this will be a very clear development over the course of the semester as more and more individuals will obtain the language necessary to communicate their beliefs and positions on the issues that come up in conversation. It will be easier to connect with one another when we know that our language is based in the same understanding/coding. I think that it is also quite important that we are careful when using certain terms which are not constant in their interpretations across differing cultural planes of time and space. To guard ourselves from misunderstanding, I feel that it is important that we define our terms when we use them so that others may better understand what it is we are attempting to say. Similarly, upon exploring the texts of others within our textbook, I feel that it is crucial to consider how it is that they are defining their terms as they go about their points, even when it might not be explicitly stated. For example, the very first reading, “Feminism,” illustrates the polysemic characteristic of some terms, here primarily of “feminism” and “feminist.” I am not attempting to claim that this is problematic. Rather, I am simply calling for a cautiousness against assuming the definitions of terms, a greater mindfulness of one’s own usage of terms, as well as an openness to investigating the context informing particular usages of terms by other writers and thinkers we may encounter.