It is no secret that language can be used to exclude people. We’ve been talking about exclusionary and ableist language for a while now. It is very easy to make an entire population feel completely othered just by using a word you may think is harmless. While we are fighting against ableist language within the English language, there is another group of people who are being ignored – non-English speakers.
The quickest way to exclude someone is to start speaking in a language they don’t understand. We learn this at a very young age: we write diaries, journals, notes to friends in coded language; we use discourse our parents and teachers may not understand; we learn languages like “pig latin” with our friends. My students do this all the time – if they’re talking about something private, they switch from English to another language. This is all part of forming a community, but an unfortunate part of forming a community is also being able to exclude people from it. A community that really does good – a truly feminist community – must not exclude people.
In Feminist Theory From Margin to Center, bell hooks speaks very eloquently about feminists excluding women from the movement; white, upper class, college-educated feminists were excluding poor and/or black feminists from the women’s liberation movement. She says: “Like Friedan before them, white women who dominate feminist discourse today rarely question whether or not their perspective on women’s reality is true to the lived experiences of women as a collective group” (3). Although I think we are moving beyond this, especially with all of the discussions about ableist language, I fear we are still excluding those whose primary language is not English.
The wonderful thing about feminism on the internet is that both the fight for women’s rights and the internet are borderless – women everywhere are fighting for their rights in different ways, and we are using the internet to spread the word because anyone anywhere can find us! – which is all well and good, but only if they can understand us.
I want to point out this issue because so many people either assume a site is useless to them because it is not in English, or write about women’s rights issues from a strictly English-speaking cultural standpoint. And I think we really need to be aware of that and accomodate fo it. My first step (and I urge you to follow) is installing a translator on my blog to make it accessible to others. I would also love to read feminist blogs in another language (and translate them into English) and link to them from here. Do you know of any blogs that aren’t in English that I could read? What else can I do? What do you do to break down the cultural/language barriers? I’m completely open to suggestions. Let’s all do what we can to break down barriers. Who’s with me?