I adore this article by Rebecca Solnit, because of how carefully and analytically – and humorously – it untangles the relationship between language and the inequities between men and women. It begins this way:
In a detective novel, you begin in a state of ignorance and advance toward knowledge, clue by clue. The little indicators add up at last to a revelation that sets the world to right and sees that justice is done, or at least provides the satisfaction of a world made clear in the end. If detective fiction is the literature of disillusion, then there’s a much more common literature of illusion that aspires to deceive and distract rather than clarify.
A perfect recent example is the Center for Disease Control’s new and widely mocked guidelines to drinking. They are like a detective novel run backward—if you read them with conviction, you’d become muddled about what a woman is and how violence and pregnancy happen and who is involved in those things. On the other hand, if you read more carefully, you might know why the passive tense is so often a cover-up and that the missing subject in a circumlocutionary sentence is often the guilty party.
Just one more excerpt:
Language matters. We just had a big struggle around the language about rape so that people would stop blaming victims. The epithet that put it concisely is: rapists cause rape. Not what women wear, consume, where they go and the rest, because when you regard women as at fault you enter into another one of our anti-detective novels or another chapter of the mystery of the missing protagonist. Rape is a willful act, the actor is a rapist. And yet you’d think that young women on campuses in particular were raping themselves, so absent have young men on campuses been from the mystificational narratives. Men are abstracted into a sort of weather, an ambient natural force, an inevitability that cannot be governed or held accountable. Individual men disappear in this narrative and rape, assault, pregnancy just become weather conditions to which women have to adapt. If those things happen to them, the failure is theirs. This training begins early. Girls in middle and high school even now, even in supposedly progressive places like New York and San Francisco, are told their forms and garments cause male behavior. Who is responsible for the behavior of boys in these narratives about spaghetti straps and leggings? Girls.
We have a lot of stories like this in this country, stories that, if you believe them, make you stupid. Stories that are not expositions but cover-ups on things like the causes of poverty. Stories that unhitch cause from effect and shunt meaning aside.