Maybe it's just the fact that we're both the same age--82 years--that causes Steinem and me to get a real bang out of creating new terminology and laughing at ourselves. She really did me one better a short time ago, revealing her ability to create new linguistic categories. I burst out laughing three or four times the same day, just thinking about her obscene category label.
Steinem was on a plane from New York to Seattle when a long delay on the tarmac prompted the airline to offer a free movie. When the flight attendant read the choices out loud, the man across the aisle from her said, "I don't watch chick flicks!" She knew the language as well as I...
Just in case you don't, a "chick flick" is a movie that has more dialog than car chases and more relationships than special effects. The suspense comes from the differences between the characters. My favorite (yeah, I watch both chick flicks and blood-and-guts movies) the last few years has been "The Proposal," with Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock. I think the scenes are often just hilarious, but especially the relationship suspense in the last scene.
Steinem uses the issue to point out that the person with the power (males, not females) gets the noun--and the norm--while the less powerful get the adjective. So you have “novelists” and “female novelists,” “African-American doctors” but not “European- American doctors,” “gay soldiers” but not “heterosexual soldiers,” “transgender activists” but not “cisgender activists.
What she alludes to, but doesn't explain is that nouns are the central, building blocks of language. They are the first, and focal points of language: they label and name. Karl Weick, the organizational scientist, argues that in business we need to stamp out nouns and replace them with verbs. Verbs are just as powerful as nouns. They capture the action. Verbs keep things moving. Verbs remind people that they confront the activity of the environment. Verbs point to the actions that are available for commitment.
But adjectives? The adjectives that Steinem points to? Adjectives only importance is that they are modifiers. They merely add to what you are describing. They limit, change or identify some specific detail about the noun or pronoun they modify.The fact of the matter is that often nouns don't need adjectives. They can stand alone. In short, adjectives are wimps.
So Steinem is making a cultural statement of much importance: the world is split between the powerful and the powerless. Thankfully, we may be beginning to get beyond dividing the world into the powerful and the rest of humanity. But we certainly need her insight in this post-election season.
So what was the category label for gory, blood-and-guts, terrorism filled, male movies? You'll have to look for yourself. And I guarantee you that it's such a smart, obscene, category label that you'll never forget it! So go here: Gloria Steinem!