wom·en [ woo m-uh n ]
So I learnt something at uni this year called ‘discourse‘. In all honesty I had never heard of that word before and reading Foucault didn’t help me understand it. Then I went to the lecture, the seminar and of course I still didn’t understand it. And until I’d really thought about it and seen it around me was I able to grasp it… and then do my exam on it, which was a actually good choice. And the reason I did well is because discourse turned out to be something that genuinely interested me, and if I’ve learnt anything it’s that having passion leads you to success, not the other way round. So what is discourse?
Simply put, discourse is the system of language within which we all exist and abide by. Aka how we label and talk about the world. Aka how we categorise the world. For example, we all have for most of time have accepted that there are 2 genders, male and female and we all, without consciously acknowledging it, submit to it. We use gendered bathrooms and a conversation, topically and technically is built on gendered pronouns (it’s called lexical asymmetry but I didn’t want to get snooty about it) And it’s only in our recent history that it’s maybe been brought into your eyeline because of gender fluidity – what happens when you don’t identify as male or female? What bathroom do you go into, and as a jump, what do you exist as in society?
Evolution vs. Revolution
Most of us take this completely for granted. We are comfortable with fitting into those categories of gender so that’s what we do. But because it seems so set in stone due to biology which has scientifically determined that there are two sexes, male and female, society has taken those and used them as our boundaries and our restrictions. Hence why many people can’t get their heads round gender fluidity – to some gender is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. It’s hard, I know.
But gender is only one example of discourse, specifically restrictive discourse. You’ve got to understand when you live within discourse everything that has a name, label or is recognisable to a society is included in that, whether it’s a fan or a female, it’s part of it all. But what really clicked for me is the word categories. All of these labels and ‘names’ are just categories that we’ve put things in to simplify and help us understand something clearer and quicker. For example, I’m Asian but that’s not simple or clear enough for people, generally, so identifying as Indian helps people to immediately understand where I’m from and categorise me. That’s what labels are and their effect can be powerful. For context, the word female represents half of the worlds population. And if you ask me, I don’t think categorising us all under the same term quite does us justice. And what makes it even more complex is the biological vs the sociological vs personal understanding and definition of the words female, woman etc. Whilst an older person growing up in the 60’s or 70’s has a more conservative or “traditional” understanding of female and it’s synonyms, a millennial (yes, I used that term) or someone growing up now may understand it very differently. Discourse is a reflection of our society at that point in time.
Do as Mother Nature does
That’s why I want to join the leagues of humans who are redefining woman as whatever and whoever you are or want to be. The days of stockings and modesty are out and self proclamation is welcome, at least in my eyes. Whether you identify as female because of your biology or your internal feeling, own it and live it. It transcends femininity. Not just woman but man and everything else in between. There isn’t an elixir to this. I can’t just write a blog post and make it happen. It’s erosion, a gradual breaking down and not just that but a change. And my thought is that whilst I reckon the terms man, woman and everything else are pretty settled for now, we can sure as hell change what society means by that word. That comes from us. It comes from us breaking and changing and developing.
In the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, an absolute cracker of a film, give it a watch, the mother at one point says something along the lines of:
‘the man is the head of the house, but the woman is the neck and she can turn the head in any direction she wants.’
It is perhaps one of my favourite quotes and perfectly encompasses what I’m trying to say. For as long as we live under this terminology set by yes, patriarchy, we can turn it in any which way we want, on our own terms. There’s a lot to learn from the enigmatic, undeniable power of Mother Nature, doing it on her own terms, whenever she feels like it.
ALOK – changing what it means to be a woman (@alokvmenon)