Feminism & Failures of the English Language


I missed the memo about feminism and the failures of the English language.


Oh Gwen, how I feel your pain…

The other morning, I shared an elevator with a man who appeared to be in his 40s and another woman who was probably rounding the corner on 60.  In the time it takes to ride up 17 floors, you can have some truly fascinating conversation about weather, how good coffee smells, and the general suckiness Mondays.  I mean, I thought we bonded.  So I was a little dismayed when the man exited the elevator and said: 

“Have a good day, girls.”

“Girls.”  I don’t think I’d ever really taken much notice of being addressed as a “girl” but for some reason, it  bugged me.  Maybe it was the tone.  Or maybe my knickers were already twisted that morning.  Or maybe it really is inappropriate to address two women who could buy cigarettes without showing ID as “girls”. 

It’s a weird thing to work in a male-dominated environment in the age of political correctness.  Most of the time, male colleagues mind their manners, but often the strain of self-censorship is evident.  They don’t want to put a foot wrong, and I don’t want to seem thin-skinned and defensive, and the result is men behaving more politely than is natural for them and me pretending that I don’t know that it’s a total farce.  It’s weird.  I don’t want to be “just one of the guys,” but at the same time, the kid gloves aren’t necessary. 

All evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, I’d like to think that most men have a fairly enlightened attitude about women as their partners and peers in both the professional and personal realms.  So maybe it’s just our language that fails us.  If Mr. Elevator had been chatting with a couple of other men, he may have said, “Have a good day, guys.”  And the word “guys” doesn’t seem to have much of a charge to it, and indeed it’s become nearly gender-neutral.  So what’s the appropriate feminine counterpart to the word “guys”?  Is it, in fact, “girls”?  Certainly, it isn’t “gals”.   (I mean, who says “gal”?)  Is it “doll”, as in “Guys & Dolls”?  I sure as hell don’t know, so I do cut Mr. Elevator a little bit of slack. 

When it comes to gender-specific language, I presume a dissertation or two has been devoted to the exploration of why we have the words we do and what the use of these words does to advance or undermine the cause of gender equality.  These are probably bigger thoughts than I can ultimately get my girly head around.  That’s why I usually just refer to everybody as “dude.”

I don’t really abide, but nonetheless…memo received.

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The Trigger Effect


I missed the memo about The Trigger Effect.

Yesterday, there was a widespread power outage that affected a big chunk of the southwest.  Mercifully, it seems like the lights are now back on, but whenever I hear about a blackout, I get a little shiver thinking about The Trigger Effect.  Like Scorchers, The Trigger Effect is a really good movie that you’ve probably never seen.  (And you probably never will…it’s not on Netflix, WTF?)

The Trigger Effect tells the story of the fairly quick descent into chaos that ensues once the lights go out and stay out.  While there are some sensational plot twists that ramp up the tension, there are also banal crises which lead to all sorts of desperate times and desperate measures.  Like when one of our protagonists, as played by Kyle MacLachlan, is just trying to get the pediatric panacea which is liquid amoxicillin (aka, “the pink stuff”) for his baby daughter, who is miserable with an ear ache.  But because the power’s out, the pharmacist can’t access the prescription in the computer or conduct any transactions.  But our protagonist can see that the pink stuff is right there, it’s on the shelf!  Why can’t the pharmacist just give it to him for Pete’s sake?  For the love of God, his baby is sick!

And it just gets crazier from there.  No phones.  No computers.  No ATMs.  No functional gas pumps.  Looting, violence and mayhem.  And a very frazzled but MILF-y Elisabeth Shue….

Of course, the The Trigger Effect represents a crazy worst case scenario of what might happen during an extended power outage.  For fun, it throws in some wacky coincidences of strangers whose lives intersect in ways that initially seem unpleasant, but insignificant, but later turn out to be a big deal.  As movies go, it really is entertaining.  If you come across it in a bargain bin somewhere, snatch it up.

Interestingly, the term “the trigger effect” seems to have roots in geology, where it has this definition:

When rock is subjected to increasing stresses there comes a time when it is on the point of failure. In some circumstances it may remain at that point for a considerable time. Any small external influence, such as a seismic wave, may then be sufficient to precipitate the failure. This is known as the trigger effect.

I’m not sure if the filmmaker had this definition in mind when choosing the title, but it’s interesting to ponder whether we, as crazy modern people, might be walking around at “the point of failure” all the time.  What are the “seismic waves” that might turn a little crack into a chasm? 

Happily, my friends in San Diego report that after recovering from the initial irritation of being without power, they were totally OK.  Forced to unplug, they enjoyed candle light and star light.  Instead of watching TV or fooling around on a computer, they talked to the precious people they happen to live with.  They still wanted the power to come on before all the food in the fridge spoiled, but as evenings go, it apparently wasn’t too bad. 

Maybe it’s a weird sort of irony that having the convenience of electricity is the very thing that whips us into a frenzy of busy-ness that sometimes has us at our breaking points.  Taking it a way, just for a little while, might bring us back from the brink just a bit.  In any event, everything looks better by candle light, don’t you think? 

Memo received.

Hope


I missed the memo about hope.

Here in Los Angeles, Hope is a one way street. I kinda like that.

Call me Pollyanna, call me Candide, just don’t call me late for dinner.  I’ll admit it…I’m a pretty hopeless optimist.  I’ll even go so far as to make the following statement: 

 There is no such thing as false hope; all hope is true.
 
President Obama and I have the same birthday and apparently the same ineptitude when it comes to cynicism. Perhaps it’s astrological.

When I say that all hope is true, what I mean is that even when your hopes are disappointed, hope in and of itself is still good.  Hope is creative and emotionally productive in ways that make it an end unto itself. 

Let’s consider an example…let’s say you’ve applied for your dream job.  There’s only so much you can do to influence the hiring decision, and once you’ve done what you can do, you’re left alone with your own heart and head to wait for a decision.  And while you wait, you can hope.  You can envision your happiness and fulfillment in your new job and contemplate all the tangible and intangible rewards that might come your way if you get the offer.  Or, you can choose not to hope.  You can operate under the assumption that you are not getting an offer and therefore not entertain any notions of how the new job might change your life for the better.
 
Some might say a bit pessimism in the job search scenario noted above is just self-preservation.  After all, if rejection does come, the pessimistic person is better prepared, right?  But flip that frown upside down and contemplate that the hopeful person, just by hoping, becomes more prepared for their success.  (And while just hoping for something to happen doesn’t magically make it happen, when you hope, you might be vibrating the molecules of the universe in a particular way which helps to shape a happy outcome, but what the bleep do I know…)
 
While I generally take the Andy Dufresne approach to the positive power of hope, I did learn one disclaimer this morning when I was (shockingly!) listening to NPR.  I heard this story about a young Libyan man, Hisham Matar, whose father was kidnapped in 1990 and has not been seen or heard from since.  In describing how he has coped with this awful thing that happened he said:
 
‘Living in hope is a really terrible thing,’ Matar says. ‘People speak about hope most of the time as a very positive thing. … [But] it’s a very dispossessing thing, it’s a very difficult thing to live with. When you’ve been living in hope for a long time as I have, suddenly you realize that certainty is far more desirable than hope.’ 
 
Damn.  Doesn’t that just break your heart? So hope is awesome when there is a knowable timeline for getting an answer to what you’re hoping about.  But when it’s possible that you’ll never get an answer, then hope can become a bit of a quagmire, I suppose. 
 
But nonetheless, I hope I never stop hoping. Memo received.