Language should be used not to please the ears, but to shatter the silence and pluralize voices and narratives.
On October 17, the Editorial Board of the Daily Princetonian wrote a piece arguing that events hosted by the Women*s Center should be more accommodating of politically conservative students. While I agree that feminism on this campus and beyond should be inclusive of all women, I do not agree with their points that the Women’s Center should prioritize events related to career development over those related to sex, that their language around sex and sexuality is “crass,” or that they should sponsor less “politically charged and overwhelmingly liberal” events, in order to be more accommodating to conservative women, a sentiment I believe to be shared by many of my staff as well.
Some of my issues with the piece rise from the fact that as a woman of color I find it difficult to comprehend how simply saying one has the right over one’s own body and the right to life get labelled singularly as liberal. Another issue is with their claim on priorities; how is figuring out how authentic your presence is, how valid your experience is, or how powerful your body is less important than believing you are indeed qualified enough to be a leader or knowing your rights. In fact, how could the two be separated at all?
Other concerns come from the fact that I believe, contrary to the Editorial Board’s claim, that free and open discussion around sex and sexuality does empower women, and particularly through the language that provokes its audience. We all know how powerful language is, how it shapes the way we perceive and interact with the world – but in whose language, whose rhetoric and logic are we speaking? Who has the power to decide which subjects are appropriate to be discussed and in which manner? Who can say that because discussions surrounding certain topics are not being told in words that are pleasing to the ear, things should be otherwise – and just how much power and privilege is involved in this particular act of labelling and stigmatizing? Again, language should be used to pluralize, not monopolize, the narrative.
Inclusion is about giving each voice a space it deserves, in order to shatter the historic silence that has been forced upon many minority groups, most notably minority women. It is not only about demanding the podium, but also about learning – to listen to voices and experiences drastically different from your own and to respect those voices. It is not about listening to voices of power that have already been heard over and over again, but about listening to voices that were muffled for centuries. The Women*s Center, with its mission to recognize and redress historic and persistent gender inequality at Princeton and beyond, is a place where many of these voices find home. Let women on this campus have a room of her own, and let her speak her own mind.
Do-Hyeong Myeong is an anthropology major from Daejeon, South Korea. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org