I'm a lawyer. (Have I mentioned that? Oh yeah, like 50 times. Got it.)
As a lawyer, I'm a big fan of definitions.
Words have specific meanings. Statutes have specific meanings. Legal phrases -- clear and convincing, reasonable person, articulable suspicion -- have specific meanings.
We can argue about whether these words, statutes, and phrases apply to certain situations. We can even argue about how far their meanings can be stretched.
But we can't really say that something means something that it doesn't.
The English language is both soft and hard. You can wallow in the squishy stuff to your heart's content, but eventually there will be a corner. And once you've turned the corner of definition, that's it.
Over at The Exponent this week, a bunch of craaaaazy Mormon feminists (male and female) took on the subject of patriarchy.
Patriarchy has a meaning. The word "preside" has a meaning. "Dominion" has a meaning.
You can't say these words mean something they don't mean. You can't ignore half a definition in favor of the half you like.
A few posters took to the comment board to argue that in their mind, the word "preside" means only to "take the lead," without any connotation of power attached, and therefore patriarchy is A-OK. You can "preside" and be equal with someone at the same time, no problem! Silly feminists, don't you understand that?
It's great if you want to think of it that way, but that is not what the word preside means. And if you only want to mean "take the lead," you should probably just say that. Don't put up a straw man argument where you redefine the word "preside." The sticky reality is that claiming two people are equal but one "presides" does not make any sense. It just doesn't. You can either be equal, or you can have one person presiding. You can't have both.
My boss may be really nice to me, but that doesn't make me his equal. He's my boss. He can fire me or assign me to projects I don't really want to do. He could punish me or give me a raise. Because he "presides" over me. And that's fine for at work, but don't get annoyed when a Wacky Feminist like me thinks that's a bad way to run a relationship.
Somewhere else over on the Internet, I stepped in it when I said I was sick of stay-at-home-mothers claiming they are so looked down upon, disrespected, and degraded by others. (And it's true. I am.)
But I wasn't clear about what I meant (despite my love of words and their definitions) and the next thing I knew I was being taken to town.
So I have to back up and look at what I said and really try to get it right.
What I should have said was this:
I am sick of people mistaking rudeness or a lack of tact for "degradation" or "disrespect." Yes, I am sure people are rude to stay-at-home-mothers. That is not nice.
But that is all it is -- behavior on par with idle gossip and being cut off in traffic.
I am annoyed when people say, "I don't know how you stand being a lawyer, I would find it so boring!" But only a little, because I understand that to a lot of people, IT WOULD BE BORING. Hell, I sometimes find it boring. No one is saying I am a boring person. (I hope.)
So why is it so different when someone says, "I don't know how you stand staying at home with kids all day, I would find it so boring"? Sure, it's more rude, because stay-at-home-mothers command less societal prestige, but at its core, the statement is merely tactless in its delivery. Some people WOULD find that boring, why is that so awful?
(Here's a secret, boys and girls -- I suspect a lot of stay-at-home-mothers also find it boring. Guess what? They aren't doing it because they expected to be intellectually stimulated every five minutes.)
A snotty comment at a party is not "degrading." No one stripped you of rank or honor, brought you into low honor or disrespute, dragged you down into moral or intellectual character. Think I'm being hyperbolic? I'm not--THAT'S THE DEFINITION OF "DEGRADING." Buck up, people.
If a person is comfortable with his or her choices of profession, political opinion, religious affiliation, or lifestyle, an off-hand comment or even deliberately rude statement should not be considered "degrading." It should be considered tactless. Thoughtless. Immature.
We do not get on our soapboxes over immaturity, I would hope. We blow off immaturity.
(And if you're not comfortable with your choices ... well, maybe you should make different choices.)
When stay-at-home-mothers insist that they are "disrespected" on a daily, personal, institutional level, they aren't helping the so-called culture wars. They're adding fuel to the fire, because what they are really saying is that anything other than fawning adoration is disrespect. (If I can "degrade" you on accident, what level of behavior do I need to display to avoid degrading you?)
Here's another secret -- most people in our society DO respect stay-at-home-mothers.* But for some reason, we love perpetuating this myth that we don't. Why?
Because society enjoys a good catfight, of the intellectual or Jello pudding variety.
* Does this mean "respect" translates into actual policies that don't hurt stay-at-home-mothers or working mothers? (Divorce laws, administration of retirement benefits, the tax code, limited maternity leave, etc.?) Jeez, of course it doesn't.
But respect for firefighters and school teachers hasn't earned them any extra money either. We live in a strange world, and that's a topic for a different day.