Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Some observations about language! And sexism!

Outside a cafe bar near us, as I came back from my run, in a list of things to eat I spotted this item:- hamburguesa de vaca vieja. Sounds appealing! Old cow hamburger! Really? I have no idea what the equivalent meat in English would be. Not being a red meat eater, I don’t bother to memorise such vocabulary.

In fact, when I taught French for caterers, long ago now, I had to make myself learn the French terms for different cuts of beef. Crazy! I could have a detailed and complicated discussion about things philosophical or political or cultural but cuts of meat were a huge lacuna in my language knowledge. Also, it’s not the kind of vocabulary that came up in the French taught in a girls’ grammar school. 

Good grief, our teacher got as far as telling us that “toilette” did not mean “toilet” in the sense of “loo”. She never actually taught us a word for toilet and so when friend and I went off to Paris pre-A Level exams and needed the loo we went through a whole range of circumlocutions to ask where it was. And then, light finally dawning, the waitress in the cafe said, “Ah! la toilette!”

Language had clearly moved on since Miss Scawthorne had needed to ask where the toilet was. Although we did suspect that she probably never needed to do so. Ladies clearly never needed to do such things and, just as a stick of our local rock had Southport written all through it, so you could have cut Miss Scawthorne open and you would have seen the word LADY!

 Ladies, of course, have to look ladylike. One consequence of this is the decision by many secondary schools in the UK to have what they refer to as “gender neutral uniform”. What this means is that girls have to wear trousers, not that boys can wear skirts of they so choose. This prevents girls from rolling the skirt up at the waist to make it shockingly short and rather tarty! It also means that girls can sit cross-legged on the floor, probably in drama lessons and the like, without revealing thighs and knickers to all and sundry. One journalist had this to say on the subject:-

“Some of the language has a tellingly Victorian whiff. One school has placed skirts on a list of “unacceptable items”. Another deems them “undignified and embarrassing”. Wade into this messy subject (preferably in trousers, for practical reasons) and you will come up against strong words such as “modesty” and “inappropriate” before long. But it is not the skirt that is immodest or the girl inside it, in the same way that it is never relevant what a woman was wearing when she was raped. Raging feminists manage to wear skirts and maintain their principles every single day. Skirts, in short, are fine if you want to wear them.

The real issue is the way girls are sexualised: both in school and beyond the gate. The real problem is upskirting and an epidemic of sexual harassment of female teachers. The real problem is misogyny, which in those tribal, traumatic years is both rampant and unmentioned: a particularly toxic combination. A gender-neutral uniform is part of the solution, but that means trousers or skirts for everyone.”

You could, of course, just get rid of school uniform. Many European countries do without it altogether. Pupils just wear ordinary clothes. Here in Spain you can tell the girls who go to the posh private school because they wear rather antiquated tartan kilts and matching cardigans. The boys wear smart short trousers and jumpers over shirt and tie. Maybe they should also wear kilts.

One advantage of banning skirts is that upskirting cannot happen. Now, I read about a chap in Wisconsin who was injured when the upskirting camera he had hidden in his shoe exploded. There is karma for you! When he revealed the cause of his injury to the police he was let off with a warning, instead of a possible maximum sentence of three-and-a-half years in prison and a $10,000 (£7,600) fine, because he had not actually succeeded in taking any photos!

The world continues to be a strange place!

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