What music gets you ready to Revolt?
A Litany for Survival
by Audre Lorde
For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:
For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.
And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive
In Revolt‘s opening scene, entitled “Revolutionize the Language (Invert It),” Alice Birch reveals the way language underscores the power dynamics between men and women in heterosexual relationships.
Language is a fascinating reflection of society and the way societies structure their words and sentences reveal subtle cultural norms. In the Journal of Language and Linguistics, Xiaolan Lei describes sexist language as, “language that expresses bias in favor of one sex and thus threats the other in a discriminatory manner.” When examined closely, it’s easy to see how sexism has been layered into the English language. One big example is in the way that the word “man” is used as a common denominator for all people — man is used to describe men, but also to apply to human beings generally, as in mankind. Meanwhile, to acknowledge a female, an entire morpheme needs to be applied. A morpheme is the base unit of a word that cannot be divided further, and wo is the added morpheme to turn man into woman. Man/men being established as the norm in language is one more way that women are made invisible, dependent, and othered.
Additionally, Lei’s report investigated people’s titles, or honorifics. Men are referred to as Mr., while women are given Miss or Mrs. as forms of address. These two options force women into two categories: married or not married. Since men are not forced to reveal the same information, it subtly signals that a woman’s marital status is a reflection of who she is and how we as a society should view her.
Inherent sexism in language does not only apply to cisgender women, as evidenced in the current national conversation about how to ask for and identify the pronouns that non-binary people use. Currently, he or she are the default options, but by forcing people into those two categories, we are ignoring and the existence of those who are neither man or woman.
Making a conscious effort to eliminate sexist language in everyday speech is important, but it can be tough to get in the habit of using new words and rephrasing. Here is a list of rephrased words to get you started:
Here’s a video that dives deeper into gendered words and grammar: