Category Archives: Sociolinguistics

Écriture Féminine Mécanique: The Steampunk Feminist Perspective

Robot woman from Pinterest

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In reality, a mechanism has no gender or sexuality, even if it is painted pink and covered in lace, or gunmetal grey and carrying weaponry. Even the most sophisticated computer -designed to mimic feminine or masculine traits, like Siri – has no innate gender. Our Western society posits ‘normal’ as ‘male’, and so most robots are thought of as male, unless the robot is overtly feminine.

Begging robot

Is this robot ‘gendered’ in your opinion? If so, do you see a masculine or feminine mechanism?

This androcentric designation of gadgets and robots had been used within the Steampunk literary genre as well. Unless you specifically write against this, it is a very easy lazy writing trap to fall into. However, it also doesn’t work if you designate all your robots and gadgets as ‘female’; unless you want your inventors to be characterised as straw feminists.The TV Tropes website has a page dedicated to the phenomenon of androcentric gendering.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MenAreGenericWomenAreSpecial

ruptures and spaces

As the English language has an underlying Patriarchal discourse, language cannot be considered a gender neutral medium. Western culture in the Victorian era was staunchly Patriarchal, but that doesn’t not mean that Steampunk narratives have to mimic that cultural prejudice. In fact, I would argue that the Steampunk literary genre should embrace the concept of Écriture Féminine because of the overwhelming Patriarchal discourse, to give balance and a postmodern resonance to any narratives.

Even if you are writing in an androcentric manner for the purposes of parody and/or satire, you should be writing with the awareness of how your word choices define gender within your prose. Écriture féminine isn’t – and shouldn’t be – limited to women writers. It is just another brush to add to your writer’s toolkit.

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Filed under Écriture féminine, Feminism, Gender and Sexuality, Sociolinguistics, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Themes, Uncategorized, Writing Style

Steampunk, Science, and Sociolinguistics: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

Sociolinguistics is the study of the positive and negative effects of society on language, while the sociology of language is the reverse, and focuses on language’s effect on society.

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As a writer, I am in love with language. But, as a woman, language isn’t necessarily my best friend. The English language is gendered, skewed to favour the male of the species. The easiest way to illustrate this is how the significance of the word ‘pro’ changes when it refers to a man or a woman. If a man is called a pro, you expect him to be a professional sportsman like a golf pro. If a woman is called a pro, the expectation is that she is a prostitute. A female golf professional is a lady golf pro, not just a golf pro. Welcome to the wonderful world of sociolinguistics!

As you can see from the example, the male pro is considered the ‘norm’ and needs no gender adjective. In most cases, a sports pro will be assumed to be a man. This is one of the problems facing women in science. If someone is a physicist, it is assumed that the individual is a man, because a woman would be a ‘lady’ physicist. Gendered language is all about labels.

Look at the sociolinguistic phenomenon of Mansplaining, a portmanteau of man and explaining; this is when a man automatically assumes a woman knows less than him and he has to set her straight. This is a phenomenon that I have often come across in my life, and yet I rarely see it expressed in books. My least favourite real life example, a non-zoologist tried to explain to me that insects have no sense of pain and so can’t feel it when you ram a hook through then to use them as fish bait. Then he called me squeamish. Mansplaining can only occur in a Patriarchal culture, when some men automatically assume they are the smarter than most (if not all) women. Such men tend to communicate differently with other men than they do with women, while, as a general rule, women tend to communicate the same with both men and women.

Mansplaining isn’t a modern behaviour, of this I am certain. You can bet your life that the average Victorian man spent a great deal of time explaining things to the little woman (note the adjective). After all, this was an era when people thought a woman might go mad if her brain was overheated with mathematics or science … like what Mary Somerville’s father thought might happen to Mary. Women weren’t allowed to vote, because they could only understand domestic concerns. This is the kind of thinking that didn’t allow women to matriculate at universities. Women were weak in mind and body – too bad they were the ones that had to go through labour and then raise the children.

So, as a Steampunk writer, I always try NOT to assume that Professor Smith is a man. I have a mechanical engineer who are also a mother of six, and a midwife who is a man. I try to recognise gendered language and work against it. Just because I set my narrative in Victorian times, I am living in an era that recognises that women and men can be anyone they want to be, and my prose should reflect that. This means that I won’t have just the men making scientific discoveries, nor will I have only women dominating the sciences.

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Filed under S, Sociolinguistics, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Women in Science, writing