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Thread: Is there any such thing as ‘women’s language’?

  1. #1

    Is there any such thing as ‘women’s language’?

    The recent discussion about Katherine Anne Porter’s Morning Song on the ‘Poem Of The Week’ thread raised a number of issues relating to feminism. Obviously women are biologically different from men but they also have different physical experiences (childbirth and menstruation) and different cultural and ideological forces shaping them. Does this result in different writing?

    In The Semiotic and the Symbolic, Julia Kristeva links ‘feminine’ discourse with the pre-linguistic ‘babble’ of the child before it enters the ‘symbolic’ system of language. I’ve only dipped into Kristeva and Cixous but find the former far more interesting than the latter, whose work seems to focus on challenging ‘phallic’ discourse and producing the same polarity that she finds objectionable about such discourse but this time in favour of women’s bodies.

    While flicking through a book of women’s poetry, I came across this poem by New Zealand poet, Fleur Adcock. Is it me or is this not only a fabulous piece of writing but also a kick in the teeth to the likes of Mr John Donne and the Metaphysicals?


    The Ex-Queen among the Astronomers

    They serve revolving saucer eyes,
    dishes of stars; they wait upon
    huge lenses hung aloft to frame
    the slow procession of the skies.

    They calculate, adjust, record,
    watch transits, measure distances.
    They carry pocket telescopes
    to spy through when they walk abroad.

    Spectra possess their eyes; they face
    upwards, alert for meteorites,
    cherishing little glassy worlds:
    receptacles for outer space.

    But she, exiled, expelled, ex-queen,
    swishes among the men of science
    waiting for cloudy skies, for nights
    when constellations can’t be seen.

    She wears the rings he let her keep;
    she walks as she was taught to walk
    for his approval, years ago.
    His bitter features taunt her sleep.

    And so when these have laid aside
    their telescopes, when lids are closed
    between machine and sky, she seeks
    terrestrial bodies to bestride.

    She plucks this one or that among
    the astronomers, and is become
    his canopy, his occultation;
    she sucks at earlobe, penis, tongue

    mouthing the tubes of flesh; her hair
    crackles, her eyes are comet-sparks.
    She brings the distant briefly close
    above his dreamy abstract stare.

    Fleur Adcock


    Brilliant – exceptionally clever and with a purpose.

  2. #2
    Banned wingedspiral's Avatar
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    Yes, to anwser your first question on there, I do think that if a woman writes then she will write of her own will and experiences. However, this is also true for a man, both will but a little of themselves into what they write, weather male or female.

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    precious... subterranean's Avatar
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    I don't know much about language study, but personally I think there are these times, where a woman would say some things, perhaps just in common words, and the opposite sex would consider them as common words, but actually these words are deeply meaningful to her. And this happen only if they are said by woman


    "there are people in the world so hungry that God can not appear to them except in the form of bread"

    Mahatma Gandhi

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    I read a book about analysing poetry recently that had a small section at the end about feminism and writing style. It asked the same question and also said that feminists also complain that all language is sexist. If that is (and I'm not saying it necessarally is) the case then surely it is much worse in languages that have masculine and feminine words?

    I think there probably is a difference in general, although I have started reading something before and then realised afterwards that the sex of the writer was the opposite to what I had thought. Maybe that makes the point that there is a difference, though, since there was obviously something about the style of writing that made me think it was one or the other?

    To go slightly off topic - I'm really glad Unamable posted a poem by Fleur Adcock because out of all the poetry I've studied recently it was one of her poems that really struck me. I haven't had chance to look at any of her other work so it was nice to find that here.

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    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Unnamable
    The recent discussion about Katherine Anne Porter’s Morning Song on the ‘Poem Of The Week’ thread raised a number of issues relating to feminism. Obviously women are biologically different from men but they also have different physical experiences (childbirth and menstruation) and different cultural and ideological forces shaping them. Does this result in different writing?
    This is an interesting question. To me it's a no-brainer that women's distinct experiences find their way into the fiction and poetry. But do women, or men as well, write dfferently because of their biological differences? I don't know how you could prove that.


    In The Semiotic and the Symbolic, Julia Kristeva links ‘feminine’ discourse with the pre-linguistic ‘babble’ of the child before it enters the ‘symbolic’ system of language.
    Now that sounds like babble.
    LET THERE BE LIGHT

    "Love follows knowledge." – St. Catherine of Siena

    My literature blog: http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/

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    Regitted User Regit's Avatar
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    I hate to categorise, especially writers; but I think that it is definitely possible to draw a vague line here. Simply because of such great differences in experience of life. Though I must shamefully admit that I have never read a novel or a book written by a woman. I know, I was shocked myself, when I was going through my bookshelf in search of some kind of argument to post. Thus I don't really have one until I read one book at least. Any suggestions?
    Remember the student interview story.

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    Registered User jackyyyy's Avatar
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    Harry Potter
    Art is art.

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    ..........
    Last edited by ShoutGrace; 01-16-2007 at 11:20 PM. Reason: after reviewing the play
    As Kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame . . .


    Why disqualify the rush? I'm tabled. I'm tabled.



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    Salome.. smilingtearz's Avatar
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    don't the experiences make and the background affect "the language"?

    leave out harry potter...

    And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
    And Thou shalt not, writ over the door:
    So I turned to the Garden of Love,
    That so many sweet flowers bore. - "The Garden of Love", William Blake.

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    Registered User jackyyyy's Avatar
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    Does this result in different writing?

    We might have assumed differences between a female writer and a male writer 200 years ago because of content, and natural biases, but I don't think so because of technique, and nor content anymore. Obviously, a woman's biases can mean a difference in her work to a man's, same as one man's biases to the next man. I am including in this word 'biases', experiences, education, role, work, culture, etc. I think if you had asked this questions 200 years ago adn stook to a single environment, culture, even religion, it would be an easier matter to draw lines. A female writer from 200 years ago stood out because it was not the norm. Also, can you imagine a female version of Milton? Would that have been possible? Or conversely, a male version of Charlotte Bronte? This comment does not reference ALL women either, there are still societies on this planet where women writer's are not so free to express themselves, same as where exist religious biases. While many women 'chose' to write of feminism, and applying their biases, this does not separate technique between women and men. The fact that more women may write about children, the home, etc, is still an environmental bias. Today, a woman's environment can be much more diverse, as a man's, and we'd like to think its common to a man's (and vice versa) so I would expect to see a female version of Milton, and I mean here, without references to nurturing, home, etc, and with more reference to politics and war. I think the best writers of either sex, and even those in the middle, are able to take themselves outside of their biases, be somewhat neutral, and put themselves squarely into the topic at hand. This is not to say the final work is better or worse, just the separation of women's to men's technique, style, etc, does not exist, and probably never did.
    Art is art.

  11. #11
    Would that have been possible? Or conversely, a male version of Charlotte Bronte?
    Thats funny and true.

    think the best writers of either sex, and even those in the middle, are able to take themselves outside of their biases, be somewhat neutral, and put themselves squarely into the topic at hand.
    Do you think that male writers have traditionally been the best at this?
    As Kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame . . .


    Why disqualify the rush? I'm tabled. I'm tabled.



  12. #12
    Registered User jackyyyy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ShoutGrace
    Thats funny and true.



    Do you think that male writers have traditionally been the best at this?
    I can hardly use the word 'best', just more able because of their circumstances and environmental biases. More men went to War therefore were able to relate to it with that perspective, so its natural to see more War poetry by men. Converse being true for women. As I mentioned, today these lines are not so defined.
    Art is art.

  13. #13
    I can see now that I should have asked the question differently. I should have asked, “Is language gendered?” because most people are considering whether or not the content of women’s writing is different from men’s, which is not what I meant. Virginia Woolf in A Room Of One’s Own suggests that language itself is gendered (and I don’t mean that she complains that critics write ‘he’ when they refer to the ‘reader’). The idea is that female writers have to use a medium that is primarily a male instrument fashioned for male purposes. But, as I don’t think anyone would like to get into that debate, does anyone have anything to say about the Fleur Adcock poem? I bet no one has even noticed that there is a reference to fellatio (for those of you of a nervous disposition, he plays left back for Juventus). I bet some of you will now read it for the first time.

  14. #14
    Registered User jackyyyy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Unnamable
    I can see now that I should have asked the question differently. I should have asked, “Is language gendered?” because most people are considering whether or not the content of women’s writing is different from men’s, which is not what I meant. Virginia Woolf in A Room Of One’s Own suggests that language itself is gendered (and I don’t mean that she complains that critics write ‘he’ when they refer to the ‘reader’). The idea is that female writers have to use a medium that is primarily a male instrument fashioned for male purposes. But, as I don’t think anyone would like to get into that debate, does anyone have anything to say about the Fleur Adcock poem? I bet no one has even noticed that there is a reference to fellatio (for those of you of a nervous disposition, he plays left back for Juventus). I bet some of you will now read it for the first time.
    I did wonder the question, then decided to take a stab at it anyway. And, btw, Virginia Woolf always comes to my mind when I consider this question. If I may ask, can you explain, '...use a medium that is primarily a male instrument' ? Where and how is 'a' male instrument? I'm thick today.

    And, hehe, Felatio was some Roman uncle fellah, wasn't he? I can't imagine anyone missed that meat. Re the poem, the first thing I noticed is the 4 and 4. Quite a sharp cut at Stanza #5.
    Art is art.

  15. #15
    Fellatio? You mean it's not about oral sex? I'm well confused now.

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