Thursday, March 4, 2010
This movement included the examination of language -- the words that were used to describe women. It became unacceptable to refer to an adult female as a "girl." Other previously ordinary terms came under the microscope of social change. Why "man and wife" instead of "husband and wife?" Why use male pronouns to describe all of humanity? Why use the term "chairman" when that position was held by a woman? And so on. Usages that have become more or less the new normal in the 21st century were changed during the turbulent decades since the mid-1960s.
In fact, the story of "woman" begins with the ancient Indo-European root mem-, meaning "to think." Mem- lead to the Latin mens, "the mind" and to the Old English mann. These words referred to male and female humans of all ages.
Speakers of Old English wanted to be able to distinguish between a female human and a male human, so they came up with wif-man for female-human and wer for male-human. By the way, it was only later that wif (meaning "female") became our word "wife."
This little investigation has led me to drop my assumption that the word "woman" is another example of the many ways women have been seen as secondary, afterthoughts and "also rans." Though oppression of women cannot sanely be denied, I know that some things have changed in the last few generations. Some things most certainly have not.
The point for me is to remind myself that I can only help myself (and others) move forward if I open my heart and mind to new information, to changing realities and ancient truths. Being willing to examine my assumptions helps. Drawing on youthful enthusiasms as well as aging perspectives helps, too.
I'm proud and grateful to be a woman. This was not always the case, but it is today.