“Progress ahoy!” I exclaimed when I came across some Spanish speaking media reporting of The Manual for the Non-sexist Use of Language recently distributed to government offices across Mexico. The manual seeks to reduce comments that enforce gender stereotypes, as well as the default use of the masculine form in the Spanish language. This pervasive use of masculine in Spanish permeates our entire culture. So, I celebrated the small victory, especially because a body devoted specifically to gender matters, the National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Women, wrote it.
Laura Carrera Lugo, the head of the Commission spoke at a press conference during the presentation and said (Spanish text, translation mine) “There are times when we need to exaggerate certain matters until we reach a middle ground; right now it is important to address how we change people’s minds”.
The manual is meant as “a tool to familiarize federal public workers with the use of non-sexist strategies in the Spanish language”. It discourages the use of phrases such as: “If you want to work, why did you have children,” and: “You are prettier when you keep quiet”.
It also advises against referring to women as possessions, in commonly used phrases such as “Pedro’s woman” or another usual form of referring to one’s wife as “my old woman” (I could probably write a book about the many instances my Argentinean grandfather used that one). So, I thought, you know, a step in the right direction.
Then I came across English language (American, to be more specific) media reporting on it, and this is what I found, courtesy of New York Daily News:
That Mexican civil servants even need such a guide speaks volumes about the dire situation of women in a socially conservative country that has been racked by a raging drug war.
Which is funny (not HA HA funny, but more WTF Funny) considering a moment earlier, I had just read a review of Tameron Keyes’ memoir of her days working in Wall Street at Forbes (yes, the Wall Street located at the same New York City that the New York Daily News reports about):
Keyes’ story is hard to read at times; a fact which makes you wonder what it was like to actually live with unrelenting prejudice described. A case in point, as Keyes is walking down the hallway one day, a male colleague calls out aggressively in front of a number of other workers, “Hey Tameron, I could f*** you so hard you’d have to hold your guts in with a 2 by 4.”
And then I became pretty upset because this othering transparently executed by New York Daily News of the specific Mexican situation is not just racism disguised as inane cultural commentary. It’s more than that because through this othering, this alienation, it also hurts American women by implying that it’s the Mexicans that have a problem and American women do not have to deal with the same kind of noxious, damaging culture. By placing the problem within the confines of another country’s borders, media does not need to address the very similar circumstances that affect people in their own local environments.
Do I believe a manual will solve the many cultural problems affecting women in Mexico? Not by a long shot. But I also believe that by addressing the use of language, at least there is an attempt to bring these issues to the surface, putting them in the public’s minds. Which is certainly more than I can say about the way most mainstream media reports on the pervasive sexism and misogyny that affect women everywhere.