The September book pick for the Feminist Book Club was Wordslut: a feminist guide to taking back the english language by Amanda Montell. I’ve always been curious about language, both in English and Spanish so I was very excited to read this book. Specifically, this book deconstructs various aspects of language that relates to women and other marginalized genders.
Also, Montell gives very good tips for dealing with people who tend to correct grammar (viciously) or those who refuse to learn pronouns, or even how to see beyond how some politicians are portrayed in the media.
At one point in my life I was very involved in editing Wikipedia and bridging the gender gap that exists in biographies about women. At one of the annual conferences there was an editor and researcher who had looked at all the times that the words “she” and “her” were used in the site and it turned out that the majority were referring to ships (boats, cruises, warships, etc) so it wasn’t a surprise to learn that language is not exactly feminist as it stands right now (specifically the English language).
I really enjoyed Montell’s writing style, she talks about linguistics and society while also adding footnotes that made me chuckle while reading. It is clear that she loved researching and writing the book so it was not hard work to read and understand.
Overall, this book made me think about my own use of language. English is not my first language, it is Spanish, and as an immigrant it was very important that my accent, my grammar, everything really was as perfect as it could be. I’m often told that I don’t have an accent, people have remarked how good my English is, and well, yep, that’s the point! Of course, there is something lost there too, a part of my own identity is wrapped into how I speak and use both English and Spanish. A different personality comes out when I’m speaking Spanish with my family or friends, and same with English! If anything, Montell validated a lot of my feelings about how the English language is quite unfair towards women of color like me, and other marginalized groups. That in itself felt really good, to see the reasons why I don’t use curse words generally and why I triple check spellings and grammar even while texting with a random friend.
I think this book also gave me the confidence to use language (all of it) and explore it fully without fear of being “wrong”. The biggest lesson for me was that people like me have the power to change language for the better. We don’t have to keep trying to stay within the “rules” because at the end of the day those rules are always changing. And, if these changes to language will empower women and other marginalized genders, why wouldn’t we make those changes?
If you’re at all interested in language, feminism, and just a book that is interesting and so so fun to read, definitely check this out!
PS. This was the second book for the Magical – Orilium Readathon!