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Clinton: "I'm Your Girl!"

By       Message Carol Hamilton     Permalink
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The conservative spokeswoman said yes: Clinton's use of the word was a betrayal of her "radical feminist" position. (Radical feminist?) The other spokeswoman said that it was just a contemporary idiom, like, "you go, girl!" and was not offensive. No one pointed out the obvious--all the issues around gender parity in American English.

The usual expression is, "If you want X, I'm your guy!" How does a woman say this? "I'm your woman" won't work; "woman" is just standard English, while "guy" is slang. The true counterpart to "guy" is "gal" (as in the musical) but "gal" now sounds Western, rural, and archaic.

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To say "I'm your girl" is not the same as calling an adult female a "girl." That usage, in turn, sprang from a sense that "woman" was a uncomplimentary word. Better to use either "lady" or "girl."

While boys have always loved to be called "men" when they were still boys ("Son, you're a man now"), pre-feminist women wanted to remain "girls" as long as possible. Girl suggested youth and sexual attractiveness. The feminist movement called attention to this double standard.

"Lady" was originally a class term, like "gentleman," or in the UK, "lord." (Think of Lady Diana, from the aristocratic Spencer family.) But in the 20th century US, almost every female became a lady ("Sit down, young lady!") and the class dimension disappeared.

Since class and race are linked, and even confused, in this country, there was also a racial dimension. During the Civil Rights movement, my Hoosier father was reproved by a white Southerner for referring to a black woman as a "lady." The exchange went like this:

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"Where's your car?"
"Over there, where that lady is crossing the street."
"That's no lady," the Southerner said contemptuously, "that's a woman."

So what about "radical feminism"? To my mind (& I've studied feminist theory), a radical feminist would be a lesbian separatist; clearly, HC is not in that camp. And sadly, Chris Matthews didn't ask his guest what she meant by radical feminism.

I suspect that right-wingers have adopted a new linguistic tactic--attaching scary adjectives to already loaded political terms.

Bill O'Reilly blusters about "the far left," and then alludes to Ben & Jerry. Has Bill forgotten about socialism, communism, and anarchism? These are the far, or radical, left, because they oppose capitalism. Ben & Jerry, it should go without saying, do not. They are capitalists.

And Senator Clinton is no radical. She's a centrist whose visage, as John Edwards pointed out, recently appeared on the cover of Fortune magazine--and not as a wanted poster or with crosshairs over it.

Those European countries that have proportional representation have a longer and more visible political spectrum than we do. There you can see a host of people to the left of Senator Clinton: Liberal Democrats, Socialists, Communists, and Greens. (The anarchists, of course, reject electoral politics altogether.)

There are two kinds of disabling political ignorance: a shallow knowledge of history and provincialism.

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In the United States we have both in spades. That's why Republicans don't want to spend money on public education. They don't want Americans to know about--to take a Chicago example--the Haymarket anarchists who worked for an eight-hour day, were accused of throwing a bomb at police, and were executed after an unfair trial. Nor do they want us to know about alternative social and economic arrangements in Sweden, the Netherlands, or even the UK.

But if we watch old movies, those from the 1930s and 40s, we might at least acquire an understanding of American slang, like when and when not to use the word "girl."

 

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Carol V. Hamilton has a Ph.D. in English from Berkeley and teaches at the University of Pittsburgh. She also writes for History News Network (hnn.us) and CommonDreams.org.

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