God, I love this squabble. The White House is getting a new petition urging President Obama to stop using the “wives, mothers and daughters” rhetorical frame:
The campaign was inspired by one line in particular from a speech this week in which Obama said, “We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace and free from the fear of domestic violence.” A totally righteous argument, right?
This “our wives, mothers, and daughters” phrase is one he routinely employs, but it is counterproductive to the women’s equality the president is ostensibly supporting.
According to the petition, “Defining women by their relationships to other people is reductive, misogynist, and alienating to women who do not define ourselves exclusively by our relationships to others. Further, by referring to ‘our’ wives et al, the President appears to be talking to The Men of America about Their Women, rather than talking to men AND women.
“Please embrace inclusive language, Mr. President.”
Poor guy can’t win, huh? He wants to harangue us about giving the gals a fair shake in the marketplace and protection from violence (what is he, by the way, stuck in the 1970s?), and gets beat up for being reductive and misogynistic.
One lesson he’s apparently not learned yet is that, no matter how good your intentions are, you simply cannot talk about a whole group of people without seeming to diminish them and coming off as arrogant and condescending in the process. I found this out the hard way in my second year of journalism. I did a series of articles on “The Kentuckians” exploring how so many people from Paintsville, Ky., ended up in Wabash, Ind. Very sensitive, understanding stuff, I thought, real insights provided by a writer who grew up with those people. But when I read the series years later, I was embarrassed by how overbearing it seemed. “Those people” came off as bugs under the wise journalist’s microscope, not individuals.
And with due respect to the petitioners, what’s wrong with being defined by our relationships? I can see a problem if that’s the only way we define people, but we certainly shouldn’t ignore how others fit into our lives. And it’s worth noting when the way we use the relationships seem unequal. I think it is a little off, for example, how some wedding vows end up pronouncing people “man and wife” instead of “husband and wife.” But when a man calls his spouse “his” wife or a woman introduces “her” husband, they’re describing a relationsip, not defining some kind of ownership.
Oh, this stuff just gets sillier and sillier.