I have long been fascinated by the topic of this book: how sexist language shapes our consciousness, our reality.
Published in 1980, this is not a light read, rather academic in style. Much of it was engaging, some of it was repetitive.
We learn of the many ways in which women have been silenced throughout history (the taking on of husbands' surnames, that women have been forbidden from discussing marital affairs with other women, that expressing an opinion isn't feminine, the letting slip 'out of print' of numerous works by female writers, etc).
The consequent muting and invisibility of women has allowed men to be viewed as the primary sex (with women as 'other' or 'deviant'). Reality for both women and men then is seen from the male perspective which, in turn, has shaped language.
Now that language describes male reality and not female reality, it can hold the patriarchy in place because it seems like the norm, and even women defend it. Females who object are seen as whining and unreasonable, whereas those females are simply suggesting that men be reasonable and give back what they have taken.
Men (and often women) insist that the terms 'mankind,' 'man,' and 'he' encompass women, that they refer to 'people.' But if we compare these two sentences, we see the lie:
--Man goes to war with his enemies
--Man breastfeeds his children
Up until recently sexual language (as well as all other language) was based on the male point of view. For example:
--Penetration. This is what the man does. The same act, from the heterosexual female perspective, could be described as 'enclosure.' That this seems absurd highlights the issue.
--Rape: The word means 'seize.' Rapacious (meaning 'greedy') comes from the same Latin root. This word conveys nothing of the painful, terrifying experience for a woman.
When the expressions 'sexist' and 'sexual harassment' entered the English language, this was ground-breaking. Women at last had some words they could use to describe their experience in their own terms.
This book didn't make me as angry as I'd expected (maybe because women are more liberated since 1980), but I'm still pissed off.
Author of 'Lesbian Crushes and Bulimia: A Diary on How I Acquired my Eating Disorder'