Part of my distrust of terms comes from a funny experience I had coming out of college. Allow me a brief digression: I went to a liberal west coast school. The kind of school where many of the kids manage to be oppressed and wealthy and socialist all at the same time. A frequent topic of discussion was the “inherent sexism” of the English language. There were two main lines of argument – 1) in English, the default pronoun is “he” 2) English contains a number of words, such as “bitch” and “pussy” that combine an insult with femaleness. So as not to digress too far, suffice it to say that I think these arguments are unconvincing. At the least, they require a lot of nuanced (even statistical) explanation in order to claim them as true. That said, this sort of thing was my impression of how “sexism” worked in society.
Then I moved to LA to get into the film business. In LA, it is considered acceptable to ask a potential secretary to send headshots. In LA, it is acceptable for a casting director to say “could you play that role blacker” as a way to say “act loud and dumb.” In LA, you hear people describe homosexuals who’ve died of AIDS as having “died of assfucking.” In LA, you hear even nice people say “women can’t be funny.” These aren’t exaggerations – these are things I experienced. Having seen these things, it was incredible for me to look back at the way that, in college, we’d parse the tiny details of language to try to locate some sexism. In Hollywood, it was real sexism, without doubt or hesitation. It was people holding back women (and other groups) actively and overtly.
It occurred to me what a bizarre thing it is that “sexism” blankets both the experience I had in college AND the experience I had in LA.