Deborah Cameron's Essay 'Why Is Language A Feminist Issue?'

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Throughout history women’s experiences have been denied as a result of silencing and belittling language.. In her essay “Why is Language a Feminist Issue?”, Deborah Cameron asserts that language “encodes a culture’s preoccupations and its values” and “on the whole, feminists have concluded that our languages are sexist” (Cameron, 9). One of the possible solutions to this is to create a new language based on a universally shared women’s experience, an example of essentialism which is defined by Cameron as the concept “that there is some crucial characteristic that all women have in common” (Cameron, 16). In the novel Native Tongue by Suzette Elgin, the Linguist women accomplish this by creating the language Láadan. Elgin wanted to introduce…show more content…
One type of silencing is “even where it seems women could participate if they chose to, the conditions under which they are obliged to live their lives may make this a difficult or dangerous choice” (Cameron, 3). This exemplifies the situation the Linguist women are in. They can literally speak all they want and are obliged to due to their jobs, but if they speak out too much or say something wrong men will send them somewhere to have their minds wiped. When Rachel (the Linguist) spoke out against Nazareth marrying, the women in the Barren House were “‘surprised [Thomas] hasn’t signed the papers to put [Rachel] away long before now’” (Elgin, 153). The knowledge they have of what could happen to them terrifies them so they are silenced. Silencing the Linguist women from speaking their minds devalues their personal thoughts and experiences. They have no power to express themselves or to try to change things. This drives the Linguist women to create their own language, Láadan. When Nazareth gets in trouble for confessing love to an outside Linguist, her husband and father go on and on about how stupid she is, she screams “AND WHY DO YOU GO ON TALKING THEN? It was a scream, but it was silent” (Elgin, 198). She realizes exactly what her place in society and that there is no freedom with men, further cementing men as a different species. No matter what…show more content…
Being both human and chimpanzee her life is unlike any others. She may be an extreme example, but it exhibits how Láadan would not work. In a world where feminist intersectionality is gaining more ground, it is impossible to isolate various types of oppression from each other. “‘You are real,” [Rachel’s] father says. And you don’t need some two-bit drunken janitor to prove it to you.” She knows she is dreaming, but she also knows her father speaks the truth” (Murphy, 240). Throughout “Rachel in Love,” Rachel struggles with her dual identity and the idea that being dual she is not real because she is unlike anybody else. She sees the representations of women in the magazines and on TV, “she studies the naked women, especially the big breasted woman with purple smudges around her eyes” (Murphy, 234) and feels she is unreal because she does not live up to those expectations. In her dream she is telling herself she is real, that as long as she is comfortable with herself outside the expectations of others she is free to be who she is. This message is empowering because it promotes self-acceptance and avoids defined divisions. Láadan fails because it presumes all women have the same experiences. Instead of creating a women’s language, it is more important to create acceptance of each person’s individual lives so they can rise above their
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