The Symbolism of Man-Words

The physical world is symbolic, not only of a deeper, primordial one but also of power—who has it and who doesn’t. Language is no different. But recently, the emergence of “man-words” in the social conversation is challenging that.

Here are a few:

Manels: all-male panels, an observation that went viral in February after the Finnish feminist researcher and artist Saara Sarma gathered 200 photos from 10 different countries and showed the phenomena in action, including at events such as the Global Summit of Women, reported the BBC.

Mansplaining: long explanations made by men to women who often know more about the subject than they do, named by feminist Rebecca Solnit after listening to a man explain a book to her that, unbeknownst to him, she had written, reported The Atlantic.

Manspreading: the “the lay-it-all-out sitting style that more than a few men see as their inalienable…right,” noted the New York Times when reporting on the latest advertising scheme by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to attack head on—no pun intended—the issue of overcrowding on its subways last year. (San Francisco followed suit last month, with hefty fines, reported The Guardian.).

While women may chuckle with recognition at these terms, and men may trivialize them, feminists have long noted the importance language plays in surreptitiously coaxing a society’s members to accept as “normal” gender inequality.

Man-words name that inequality, and introduce it into the larger conversation.


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