Your Daughters Are Beyond Your Command

On the generational attitudes towards the word ‘chick:’

Having grown up in the age of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, I couldn’t imagine casually or unironically using words like “chick” or calling adult women “girls.”

But I find that twentysomethings don’t seem to share that point of view.

I’m not going to sit here and make the argument that words don’t matter. I’m a writer, for chrissakes, of course they matter. More than that, though, intent matters. Tone matters. The messenger matters:

I remember a study done in the eighties about how children perceived the word “man”. They had one group of children drawing a picture of “man discovers how to use fire” – or something to that effect. They had another group of kids drawing “humans discover how to use fire”. The first group of kids drew men sitting around a fire. The second group of kids drew men and women sitting around the fire.

But then we get comments like this, which take the debate to a whole other place, an ugly place I’ve spent way too much time:

Part of what we fought for in the 60s and 70s was for younger women to be able to assume they had certain rights we never could assume we had.

Nice for them, except they don’t know who is responsible for the greater freedom in their lives, nor do they understand how tenuous that freedom is.

I don’t mean to pick on this commenter exactly, except as an indicator of a certain tone I’ve noticed lately as we suffer through the Hillary coverage, a sort of smug “See, see what you get when you don’t listen?” that hews awfully close, to me, to some kind of implication of fault. And maybe I’m making a leap there. Maybe I’m taking an innocent “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it backwards in heels” remark too personally, and getting defensive because whenever the True Feminism Olympics start up, I seem to be unable to come up with a medal. Maybe I just feel like we’re all taking this campaign out on each other and as much as I’ve tried to stay out of the mudfights, my back is up just as much as anybody’s and I don’t like seeing good people getting stepped on.

It’s because of the good people, good women, kickass chicks if you will, that I know working their asses off every day to live the lives they want to live, it’s because of them that I get really, really, really sick of being told my generation sucks and is doing it wrong. Not everybody’s as flat-out snide about it as one former acquaintance, who liked to regale me with tales of how her generation had the chance to change the world, and couldn’t make it happen, so feh, really, but you go be cute with your flyers if you want. Every time the topic of media obsession with the politics of the 60s comes up, somebody’s right there to chime in with how kids today (I mean, I’m thirty-fucking-two) don’t appreciate what their elders went through on their behalf. And it becomes one of those fights where somebody’s yelling at you something that is true, but is not in any way relevant to the point at hand, like screaming “Freedom isn’t free!” at Iraq war protesters; yeah, okay, AND?

I’m not saying this well. I think it’s because I’m so pissed off. How is it not demeaning to women to generalize that all of us out there who didn’t live through the 60s (which isn’t our fault, by the way, we didn’t skip town while the history was happening, we didn’t oversleep, most of us justweren’t born yet) just don’tknow, and therefore cannot be properly aware of the pitfalls of our own lives? And what is the purpose of that knowledge, that mindfulness? Is it to make my own generation better, or to venerate yours? Is it to make me feel strong or to make me feel guilty? To encourage my own desires or subtly move me to take some course of action of which you’d approve?

And I shouldn’t even have to say this, but: If the things that trip your wires don’t trip mine, that’s not a sign that I’m dumb, that’s not a sign I’m failing at feminism, that’s not a sign I don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s not a sign that I’m a discredit to my generation and that’s not a sign I don’t think your work matters. It’s a sign that your work is your work, and mine is my own. Which reassurance has got fuck-all to do with what we started out talking about here, and frankly, fuck-all to do with the cause of making women’s lives better. Still an ongoing concern, to which snide infighting about whose “back in the day” wins the Authenticity Awards is not helpful AT ALL. As this commenter, who I’d like to marry, points out:

I think I’ll just continue as I am – and if my mother doesn’t mind, I think I’m fine – but thanks so much. I’ll just continue volunteering as an escort at my local Planned Parenthood, continue fighting my southern-based company’s management to get equal pays for both men and women, and continue calling girls “chicks” and guys “dudes,” because there are just more important things to be done in the fight for equal rights, equal treatment, equal respect, equal…(you get the idea) than to get all pissy about something so damned irrelevant.


15 thoughts on “Your Daughters Are Beyond Your Command

  1. What about broad? Can I call you broad?
    The word wars just remind me of a time in college when a friend of mine and I decided we’d reclaim the word “pussy.” As in, “it took a lot of pussy to ask for that raise.”
    It never really caught on.

  2. As a thirty-five year old SAHM whose working mama initially subtly projected an attitude of “I worked my ass off so my daughter would be kicked back in the HOUSE?”, and then eased into the fact that I was easing into mommyhood and that yes, I HAD made a good marriage with a loving man who wasn’t demanding that I stay at home, I must say that I resemble your remarks. I am also living in a city where everybody regularly calls everybody else, “honey”, “darlin'”, “baby”, whatever, and nobody goes running for the nearest sexual harrassment statutes with which to whack ’em over the head.
    At the same time, women are constantly walking that fine line between what is harassment and what is endearment. So much is still projected on us at any and all times that there are certainly times when I feel like I simply want to be able to pull down my guard and not be seen as anything other than a PERSON, and I will throttle the next person who sees me as an object. It is just too bad that derogatory terms for men simply don’t seem to hurt the men as much or the fellows are able to turn such epithets into something to be proud of or laughed at with much greater aplomb than women seem to be able to.
    None of this is to say that these women who were in the trenches for many hundreds of years before us are groundless in their fears and their anger. I’d really just like to work on crucial issues such as paid family leave for a year, quality daycare for all children, greater accomodation of families on the part of businesses large and small, equal pay for men AND women…you know, all that stuff. If making it illegal to call me a “chick” would have led straight to those kinds of gains, then hey, I’d be all for it. Instead, I avoid the folks of malevolent intent who call me that kind of thing and do what I gotta do.

  3. so do I destroy your credibility if I point out that this, in part, was started by a discussion in the Scrabulous comments?

  4. I find this very odd. I would have thought that our using the word “chick” whenever possible would be a great way to defuse any negative connotations to it. I remember the first time I used the word “fuck” around my mother, and the HORROR! Now she uses it around me. Why? Partly because it has come into such common usage that the impact is fading. (I think her tipping point was the “fuck-a-doodle-doo” in Four Weddings and a Funeral)
    If the word matters, Take It Back. Don’t let them (whoever them is) use it the way they want to. Just like “liberal,” or “feminist,” or “Democrat.”
    If the word doesn’t matter, it Doesn’t Fucking Matter.

  5. May you all be stuck in what this female mathematician fought years ago. Happy Groundhog Day!

  6. Virgo, your talking me down last night was obviously wasted, since this continued to bug me all day.
    Eeew, I’ve fought some of my own fights, and they were all, ALL, so that the kids who came after me would have BETTER, not just the same. Wishing just the same on them, wishing they had to go through what I went through, is like wishing those years of my own life away, counting them wasted.

  7. To paint a simile: I grew up in the 60s in a school which was desegregated (by court order) and went from 100% white to almost 100% black.
    I say this only to point out that even in the African American community there was a large amount of dissention over which word to use to denote Black Americans and whether a given word was a sign of respect or contempt (often generationally based, a word may have been a sign of respect for one generation but seen as derogatory by a later generation. For example, Negro).
    Of course, there were some words which were seen as derogatory by all. But it was even somewhat dangerous as I could use the word mandated by one person as the proper connotation and that very same word would get me in a fight with another.

  8. Wow!
    This anger towards the “ex-hippies”, those who were young in the 60’s/70’s, is odd. It pops up over a Duncans place, too.
    Maybe I’m blind to it, but I don’t see the “we did it better” atitude, maybe because I’m to old to be on the receiving end.
    It was a special and important culture changing period in our history and you can’t blame some from taking pride in being part of it.
    The same can be said of today.
    My 2 cents

  9. Agave, all you have to do is look a few comments up at Eeew’s words. I’d be the last one to criticize the “ex-hippies,” because I know full well what we gained from that era. But I don’t particularly care for snottiness about those accomplishments, and I have run across that here and there. I think it’s true of every generation–we all like to think we invented struggle and sacrifice. I hate to think of myself doing that twenty years down the line, but I’m smart enough not to guarantee it won’t happen that way.
    pansypoo, I have a completely different take on “babe”–it was my mother’s favorite word for her kids. Whenever I think of rough times when I was a kid, I think of my mom saying, “Oh, babe, I’m sorry.” I get this weird feeling when I hear a guy use it the way you’re describing, but it doesn’t make me angry like “broad” would.

  10. I pretty much don’t care what you call me as long as I can bust your chops myself. That said, I told a boss once if a guy ever called me Sweetcakes again I’d break his jaw if I had to walk all the way to Dallas to do it, and I think I scared my boss into actually investigating all the complaints against this creepazoid from the other female personnel in the company.
    My boss and I went to the same high school. He was a senior the year I was a freshman. The year he was a junior, I got in trouble for slinging four people across the cafeteria tables, Bonanza saloon-fight style, because they were conspiring to look up another girl’s dress (and down it) by taking turns shoving her books into the floor. I think maybe he remembered, even though almost 30 years had intervened. He wasn’t one of ’em, but two of his friends were.
    Does violence really solve anything?

  11. I was the companion for an elderly woman the year before I returned to college. The election was coming up and I asked if she wanted to go vote. She replied that she had always voted — since receiving the vote. It’s a long long river.

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