Body, Identity, and Gender From Birth Term Paper

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[. . .] Language can be the vehicle that brings people together. It can also be the vehicle that separates people through barriers of communication. In a multicultural world, language can be a help as well as a hindrance and a means to keep others out of the mainstream and without an identity.

In her book Woman Native Other, Trinh Minh-ha shows how language can infiltrate and change the perspective and reality. In one of the chapters, "Difference: A Third-World Women Issue," she writes about "words manipulated at will." The word "difference" can actually be used as "division," when understood that way by the majority. Such distinctions act as a tool of self-defense and conquest (82). Third-World Women writers are made to feel like zoo animals, even by their sisters.

Minh-ha criticizes the academic feminists who recognize the "difference," meanwhile actually excluding Third-World women writers, who continue to see "difference" in terms of stereotypes and distinctions. For example, relates Minh-ha, writer Mitsuye Yamada must "start from scratch each time, as if she ere 'speaking to a brand new audience of people who had never known an Asian Pacific Oriental woman."

It is difficult to sit across from one another at a table, admits Minh-ha, "without feeling that our presence, like that of the 'native' (who happens to be invited) among the anthropologists, serves to mask the refined sexist and/or racist tone of their discourse, reinforcing thereby its pretensions to universality." Why, she questions, does one have to use the term "Third World Women" to begin with? Take it away, and it removes cliches and barriers.

'Difference as uniqueness or special identity is both limiting and deceiving," she adds (95). If identity refers to the complete pattern of sameness in a person's life, the "style of a continuing me that permeates all the changes undergone," the difference lies within the parameters of what delineates one identity from another. "Difference" when used to exclude, she notes, undermines the very idea of identity. It subverts the underlying basis of any acceptance of value.

The term "Third World" can be positive or negative depending on who is applying it. It cannot have the same meaning if used by a member of the West vs. someone from the Third World. In fact, in the United States, the term often leads to negative exclusionary statements such as, "Third World! I don't understand how one can use such a term, it doesn't mean anything." Or, "Why use such a term to defeat yourself?" Other terms, including "Euro-American," and "non-Euro-American" are not any better: They still divide and conquer (98).

The "difference" that occurs in the United States between women is not always better, explains Minh-ha. She ends the section on "differences" with an example: At an exhibit of women painters at the Brooklyn Museum, someone asks, 'Are there no black painters represented here?' Apparently, there were none. The remarkable answer given by the white feminist: 'It's a women's exhibit!'

The author bell hooks also talks about the "language of domination." In a 1998 interview she notes that in the U.S. And Europe, diversity and multi-culturalism necessitates a new language. When using the word, "citizen," for example, this was very one-dimensional. "You were either black or white or, you know, American or foreign." However, in today's world, what word does one use when someone has Turkish parents who does not speak English as a first language but who is in effect American?

The way in which we talk about the citizen, in those one-dimensional ways, troubles us, and it becomes even worse, if that person has dark skin, so when they're out in the streets, the world sees them as black. The complicated notions of identity, I think, have been the challenge for left-politics to think about. How do we introduce ways of talking about identity that encompass the multi-dimensionality of identity in a global diverse world?

Language also differentiates gender. In "Women and Names" (In Ashton-Jones, 272) Casey Miller and Kate Swift express that names are powerful symbols of identity in society. Yet, "women's names" are less important than men's. In many societies, women take their husband's names in marriage, which "reinforces the powerful myth that pervades the rest of our language -- the myth that the human race is essentially male." In the U.S., although no state except for Hawaii legally requires a woman to take her husband's name, most women across the country do not realize that they do not have to change their name.

The consequences of this name change are many. Despite the fact that marriage in the U.S. cannot by any means be called bondage, taking the husband's surname defines a patronymical society. The woman is giving up her family and lineage for someone else's. This makes it far more difficult to trace matrilineal descent if a child wants to find out his/her roots on the mother's side.

The basis for this name change goes hand-in-hand with another aspect of patronymy. In a survey noted by Psychology Today, it was found that a higher percentage of prospective American parents would want to have a son than a daughter as a first or only child (Miller in Ashton-Jones 281). The percentage has dropped from two decades ago. A reader responding to this change in percentages noted: "The change could be attributed to a 'breakdown in the home-and-family ideal' among young parents today. The son, and in particular the eldest son, is strongly tied to the archetypal family; first as its prime agent of continuation, and then also as the future guardian and master of the home."

Miller and Swift conclude their article in noting how the transience and fragmentation traditionally characterizing women's names have sacrificed self-image. To be named and labeled as someone else is to accept another imposed identity. It shows how language in general, not only a name change, can impact a people or gender. The authors use an example of what they hope will be part of the educational process in the future:

Question: Who is credited with discovering radium?

Answer: (all together) Madam Curie.

Teacher: Well, class, the woman (who was indeed married to a man

Named Pierre Curie) had a first name all her own. From now on, let's call her Marie Curie.

Question: Can Madam Curie ever be appropriately used?

Answer: Of course. Whenever the inventor of the telephone is called Mr. Bell. (284)

References Cited

de Beauvoir, Simone. "Femininity and Sisterhood." In Evelyn Ashton-Jones and Gary A. Olson (Eds.) The Gender Reader. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1991, pp. 34-350.

Bordon, Susan. "Material Girl." In Roger N. Lancaster and Micaela di Leonardo (Eds.) The Gender Sexuality Reader. New York: Routledge, pp. 335-358.

Butler, Judith. "Exerpt from 'Inroduction' to Bodies That Matter. In Roger N. Lancaster and Micaela di Leonardo (Eds.) The Gender Sexuality Reader. New York: Routledge, pp.531-542.

hooks, bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End Press, 1992.

Mill, John Stuart. "From The Subjection of Women." In Evelyn Ashton-Jones and Gary A. Olson (Eds.) The Gender Reader. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1991, pp. 197-211.

Miller Casey and Kate Swift. "Women and Names." In Evelyn Ashton-Jones and Gary A. Olson (Eds.) The Gender Reader. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1991, pp. 272-286.

Minh-ha, Trinh. Woman Native Other. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.

Morck, AF Yvonne and Rogilds Flemming. "Interview with bell hooks. Moving Away from the Language of Domination." Kvinder, Kon &… [END OF PREVIEW]

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