Still thinking about love, this time in the context of Western language norms and prejudices.
It’s been apparent to me for years that English is a language made by the powerful, for as much as many survivors’ words have been co-opted into the language for use by “regular people.” It’s ridiculously strict and shallow: a word can have many meanings, but there are no words for the depthless things.
I can describe joy in terms of behavior: that joy is a feeling that resists being kept private, a feeling with its own impulse to share, with generosity implicit in its nature, not of the thing that gave you joy, just of joy itself. That joy creates this radiant aura so you think you’re grinning out your eyes… When I hear capitalists speak of “joy” as a private experience, I know they’ve never experienced the thing I have. It transcends happiness. But in the wake of a society that cripples your emotions with civilization, imprisonment for indoctrination, carnism and technological mind-thinning, people apply the word “joy” to the only experiences they’ve had—ones that, to me, seem pathetic and muted, although I used to think the same things when I accepted and submitted to the system.
The value of limited vocabulary is something restricted to the privileged and powerful, because it is a privilege associated with power to be interpreted in the blandest and least-incriminating way. The words of those who aren’t white, who aren’t male, who aren’t rich are looked at with an eye that is thousands of times more critical.
A white man is allowed to say, “White people are privileged, and this privilege is killing people of color.” He’ll even be applauded for it in many circles. But Pele forbid a Black or Hispanic woman say the exact same thing… because that white man’s very whiteness and maleness suggests that he is not a serious threat to the system—he is part of the system, and those benefiting from a power structure very rarely actively dismantle it. The same damn words will get a woman of color FBI notice.
Those holding power are given the benefit of the doubt: their words are taken at face value. Look at the interactions between MRAs and feminists—when the MRA says he’s not a misogynist, that he doesn’t hate women, it’s taken as truth even when he goes on to call women whores, manipulative fuck-holes; when the feminist says she’s not a misandrist, she’s assumed to be lying for the benefit of her feminazi agenda, even repeating over and over and fucking over again that men are people too, she just wants them to act like they are—for them to act like they, too, are bound by all the interpersonal responsibilities and care that women are.
Words mean all of jack shit for those fighting the system. Truth means all of jack shit, because someone who is fighting the kyriarchy is automatically assumed to have sinister ulterior motives. People who suffer from the system are untrustworthy. People who want to fight the system are absolute liars.
It’s a remarkable self-perpetuation scheme.
Words mean different things depending on who uses them. What does love mean when a man says it, as opposed to a woman—what if they’re white, Hispanic, Black, first nations?
My experiences have taught me that words mean a whole fucking lot when white men use them, because they can correct someone who “misinterprets” them and be taken at face value—oh, that’s okay then, it was just a misunderstanding. People who challenge this—um, you say that, but your actions and other words prove you do actually think that—are taken as so mean, so unreasonable, so volatile, so angry.
Because they’re allowed to tell someone seeing the truth that it’s all a “misunderstanding,” words essentially mean whatever the powerful—white, rich men—want them to. It just compounds the problem of a limited vocabulary.
The oppressed aren’t allowed words for their experiences, thoughts, feelings and beliefs: I’ve had people argue with me that Biting Beaver’s Rapist Checklist wasn’t right because of the definition of rape that was in the dictionary. He actually pulled out a dictionary and showed me, as if it meant anything—as if it weren’t constructed by white men, as if it meant more because it was constructed by rich white men.
A dictionary could wipe out an entire populace’s experiences because the book meant more. I realized then that words—not the use of them, but their definition and their limitations—can be genocidal and gynocidal. You don’t kill someone by using words. You kill them by making it so that there are no words for them. You just… erase them, make them stop mattering. Words mean so fucking much in Western cultures: sometimes your entire value can rest upon using them correctly, in a way and a manner that the kyriarchy is sympathetic to. You need to be “articulate” and “well-spoken” if you’re not white; “rational” and “logical” if you’re female. Without words that win over the kyriarchy, your value is nil.
An absence of words doesn’t stop the experiences that would be named by them: they just stop those experiences from mattering. Do I need to point out how this benefits the power structure, again? Lacking words for my gender doesn’t stop my “flavor” from exiting the mainstream entirely. It’s never stopped anyone from feeling anything, but it’s stopped them from being heard.
So love means what it is appropriate to mean for the kyriarchy: ownership, a power dynamic, sexual preoccupation. It’s popular in the BDSM community to think they’re “deviant.” I could laugh until I coughed blood. There are no words for the feelings I have for my friends and my lovers: in the face of the overwhelming glory and intensity of those sensations, “love” is pale and anaemic, washed out. The Japanese color (roughly) for death is white; for life, red. My love needs a red word, my life a new language.
It’s why words need to be made up. The English language has no words for these things. But making up words and changing the meaning of existing ones is a power given only to the privileged and even then, only to the most privileged. I have been told so many times that “carnism” is not a word by carnists who thought they were radical and anti-oppression. If we didn’t make up words where there were none, no oppression would ever get noticed. Ultimately, their resistance to carnism was the same as the resistance to sexism and racism… they benefited from it, and they didn’t think it should matter or be heard: so any word that named it for what it was had to be inherently illegitimate. Rape has always been illegitimate… from its very beginnings, rape was about men. A property crime: rape was about men. It’s still about men; to make it about those who survive it and those who don’t has always been illegitimate.
Love has always been a privilege of the powerful, too—its definition and its use. Love your wife; serve your husband. Love is not necessary from an inferior; after all, it’s not like you have a choice. And while they may want to force you to love them, the fact that you can’t escape—you can’t escape from their love—is enough.
The more I think about this, the more convinced I become that we need a new language, one full of red words to give voice to all the brittle and tender nuances of thought and feeling that are the right of all animals: the birthright of experiencing your life.