Monday, September 14, 2009

Tangled up in blue

We always did feel the same,
We just saw it from a different point of view,
Tangled up in blue.
--Bob Dylan

Blogger friends J.L. and Jay dropped by the last post here to make a couple of great comments.   J.L. says that from some of his friends he's "heard that feminism 'sissifies' men."  And he asks this fantastic question:  "So it is 'pink' to consider women equal?"  Jay adds this wonderful statement:  "Just because someone is bilingual (can speak both pink and blue interchangeably) does not mean they are confused."
(In the post, I was saying how a couple of friends here in Texas were using "blue" for the way men think and talk and "pink" for the way women think and talk - and "feminism" for the problem of men becoming "pink.")

What's funny to me is that we can talk together about "male" language and "female" language and never really examine whether our own conversation is "blue" or "pink."  Our talk is hypocritically immune from any critique while we're questioning - dare I say criticizing? - the talk of others.  Here's the rub:  am I speaking in manly terms (i.e., talking "blue") when talking about how "different" men and women are?
One of my friends says this:  "Men and women have different plumbing AND they have different wiring."  (I'll let you decide whether this friend is a man or a woman, whether the assertions are "blue" or "pink.")  This friend believes that genitalia AND brain functioning constitute a fundamental, inherent, natural set of differences between males and females.  Maybe this is "true" and is "true Truth" too.  (Aristotle certainly set out to prove this sort of Truth.)  The fascinating thing, to me, is how we talk about "difference" and "similarity."

We talk, we categorize.  "feel the same" / "different point of view" / "tangled up in blue" / "blue" / "pink" / "feminism" / "sissified [male]" / "equal [females]" / "man brain" / "woman brain" / "penis" / "vagina"

The conversations, the categories, get all tangled up.  I'm not talking "confused."  Rather, what I mean is that the very labels themselves order our realities as if Mother Nature or Father God were shouting out and yelling down at us.  These things - the very words made real - become threatening.
My eldest daughter, for example, declares she's not a feminist because she's feminine.  And, she quickly adds, "But am equal to any guy when it comes to making money or to intelligence.  In fact, not bragging or anything, but some men are just not as smart as most women." 

I retort that she's just not a first or second wave feminist.  But that she's a fine third-wave feminist!  (As if I have to defend "feminisms.")

We talk (she and I) about Leonard Pitts, Jr.'s daughter.  "So for the record," he announces, "I am a feminist. My daughter is too. She just doesn't know it yet."  But is he a "sissified" sissy, then? we wonder.  What we haven't done yet is read Pitts's debut novel.  The reviews say it's very good. 
And one reviewer says Pitt's first novel, Before I Forget, is actually very "blue" and not necessarily very "pink":
The message manhood: becoming a man; accepting and performing the responsibilities of a man, and teaching our sons what a man does and how a man behaves is refreshing and on point. Oh yeah, it’s that deep. The beauty of the novel is that each of the male characters in the book, not just the Johnson family, displays different levels and aspects, positive and negative, of manhood. I’m kinda stunned at how Pitts was able to accomplish this.
Now, is the reviewer a man or a woman?  Seriously.  Look at his or her language.  Is it more "pink" or "blue" - just judging by the language.  What language!:  "becoming" "accepting" "performing" "refreshing" "deep" "beauty" "displays" "different" "levels" "aspects" "stunned"  One might argue that the words tend to be "pink" more than "blue" even though the novel is about "men" and "males" and "manhood."  (In fact, the reviewer is a man.  Maybe he's just one of those sissyfied sissies.  But I don't think so.)

Black men (now I'm talking about African American males) tend, it seems, to have a particular issue with how they're talked about.  When you add "pink" and "blue" with "black" and "white," the labels get really colorful, don't they?  My wife and I just watched the wonderful Steve Harvey on BET this weekend.  He doesn't hold back with his vulgar hilarious humor, insider jokes in Ebonics!   And he's got so much to say, to his own daughters about his own kind.  There's much wisdom in his book Act Like A Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitments.  And he's got a few things to say to young men too, about being "blue."  (One of my blogger-,  Facebook-, reallife friends cracked:  "Isn't he kinda like an Oprah for guyz?")  And yet he actually mentors the boy "in blue" himself.  Here's a video news report on his blog.  Now, I do know people who find Harvey's humor to be racist and his language about men and women to be sexist and stereotypical.  Oprah Winfrey (who is "kinda like an Oprah for girlz?") is, nonetheless, not one who is offended by this (black) man.

Somehow now, I'm brought back to Jay's wonderful comment:  "Just because someone is bilingual (can speak both pink and blue interchangeably) does not mean they are confused."  I like that alot.  Jay's statement is getting at something very personal:  our languageS, our voiceS, and our listening to one another with clarity.  When we're talking about other people, and if we can talk about ourselves too, the gendered labels can actually help.  Help, that is, if we don't get tangled up in blue.

(Now, a quick parenthetical thing:  When Bob Dylan sings Tangled Up in Blue, he's not meaning "blue" is "equal" to "male."  He's not even meaning "blue" is equal to "xanh."  He means "blue" is an emotion, a feeling, a profound "sadness" in this case in a relationship.  And none of us English speakers hearing his song "confuses" these categories.  It is fun to listen to the song, knowing Dylan's a "man" singing about a "woman."  It'd be crazy for us Vietnamese speakers to get tangled up in grue/ bleen "xanh".)


J. L. Watts said...

I'll mediate on this post for a while - but doesn't the idea of 'pink' language (pink as in women have to be extremely feminine to be a woman) undercut any attempts and getting rid of sexism?

Is their a purely human language?

J. K. Gayle said...


Not sure I understand your question. I do know that many (feminists and non-feminists alike) have described "womanly" language and "manly" language in contrastive ways.

Are you saying the implications of womanly language include sexism? I'm not sure I follow.

J. L. Watts said...

No, I think I can see a difference between womanly language and manly language, just the aversion to the idea of 'pink' as the color of a womanly language.

J. K. Gayle said...

Ah, now I understand. And share your aversion also!