5 September 2011

Women in the public sphere and language

A few days ago, I was watching a program in Arabic on television. I can't remember the name of the program, but it was an interview with an economist. He was analyzing the economic situation of Israel in the context of the economic situation of the Palestinian community within Israel. I liked what he was saying, though the idea itself was not new. He was saying that the Israeli economy cannot thrive unless the economy of the Palestinian community inside Israel thrives also. This idea caught my attention, so I continued listening to him. Then he went on to talk about the OECD, providing data and making an impression that he knows what he's talking about. So far, so good. What he was saying made sense. A country cannot thrive economically if it leaves out a whole group of people from the process. But then, in one moment, or actually with a few words, he completely messed up. He said the words "business men" and "men of economy" [although in Arabic there is a word referring to economists, he chose to use the words "men of economy" instead].

At this choice of words this, I stopped listening to him. I was enraged. He was recycling the same oppressing discourse and practices. He was talking about the state not providing fertile ground for Palestinians inside Israel to thrive economically, while he himself was using a language which oppresses women.

What, can't we women be business women? Can't we women be economists? Again, in the public sphere, only the men count. This view, this ancient patriarchal discourse, this whole frame of thought has to be eradicated. I am sick of being marginalized and excluded from the public sphere! I want my equal space in it – it's my basic right. And, guess what? Just like this man was saying about the exclusion of Palestinians citizens of Israel from the country's economy, the same goes about the exclusion of women from any process – be it economic, social, cultural, or other.

No society can thrive if it excludes women from its public sphere. Women have much to contribute to their communities and societies in all spheres of life, and it is high time to acknowledge our contribution and its importance.

I shared this thought with a close friend of mine, and he said that in Arabic, when you say a plural verb or noun, it is generally used in its masculine form, while referring to both women and men (in contrast to English, where the plural form is gender-neutral). But this very fact is also significant. The very choice to use the masculine when referring to both genders is inherently stating that men are more important than women. Although his claim was baseless in this case, as I was talking about the word "men," which does not refer to both genders at all. Close attention needs to be paid to the way we use language and words, as language shapes and designs reality.
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1 comment:

  1. Dear Khulud,

    it reminds me of how I always got angry when Arab men bowed down to one another calling each other "Doctor" while me, they always asked "Btehki Arabi? Kif halik?" and where happy when I said like a parrot "mniha". They just didn't expect me to be "Doctora", most probably because I am a woman. Women have been underestimated in my culture, too, but that was before I was born and I must say that I am quite happy to be back here in this regard. I was definitely fed up with being treated like a moron just because of my sex.

    Hugs from Germany!


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