August 2009


I know some Tunisian Arabic. It’s not great, but it’s enough so that I don’t get lost or ripped off in a taxi, I can buy what I want in stores and restaurants, I can communicate where I’m going, comment on the weather and other various phrases, and understand at least the topic of conversation when two Tunisians talk. I’m still learning.

It’s interesting how language shapes a culture, how words that exist say a lot about the people who speak them. For example, the plethora of nicknames for “vagina” that are negative and derogatory (cum dumpster, ever lasting cum stopper, bearded axe wound, etc), or define the vagina as in relation to a penis instead of an entity in and of itself – it reflects the sexist culture that we live in, the negative and inferior way at which women are still looked. Take this in relation to the nicknames for penis that make it sound mighty and large (the shaft, rod, sex pistol, Russell the one-eyed wonder muscle). This indicates that men are stronger, sex machines, etc. Language says a lot.

Now take Arabic, or at least the Tunisian dialect. I recently learned what to call my boyfriend – sa7bi (transliteration because I don’t have Arabic letters on my computer, and some numbers look like Arabic letters that don’t exist in the Roman alphabet, pronounced SAH-bee). Lyoom, bish nimshee fee piscine m3a sa7bi. “Today, I will go in the pool with my boyfriend.” Now, in this instance I am referring to a male who I am dating. However, if I meant a friend that happens to be male who I am not romantically involved with, I would still use sa7bi. In English, we typically use “my boyfriend” to mean romantic partner, and “my guy friend” to indicate a platonic relationship. However, if I said sa7bi, regardless of who I was actually referring to, the person I’m speaking with would probably assume I meant romantic boyfriend. Same goes for men who refer to their sa7ebti (female form of “my friend,” pronounced sa-HEB-tee).

Why the ambiguity? Why is there no way to clearly refer to a platonic friend of another gender? Basically, because much of the Arabic culture thinks that no such thing can exist. Obviously all men are horndogs and are incapable of being “just friends” with a woman. And obviously any woman who’s “just friends” with a guy is leading him on and a slut, because no respectable woman should hang out with men that she’s not married to or related to. (I don’t think that, I’m just trying to see things from their point of view… but still not seeing it.) And also, if I’m female referring to sa7ebti (or a male saying sa7bi), I obviously mean a platonic friend, since homosexuality is so taboo that it’s not talked about, and there certainly isn’t a word to describe it.

I find that “guy friend” is a good way for a woman to refer to a male friend. I can also use “girl friends” to refer to a group of female friends. If I say “girl friend” though, at least in some social circles, it can sometimes be ambiguous, too. If I say it, people who know I’m bisexual may wonder what the relationship is like. In other contexts the ambiguity does not exist, but our culture as a whole has become much more open and accepting of homosexuality. Granted, there is still a LOT of discrimination, but we’re progressing.

It’s interesting that when referring to both romantic and non-romantic female friends we use “girl” as the prefix. Whereas with a romantic male we use “boy” and non-romantic we use “guy.” Perhaps because women are still looked upon as more juvenile? Who knows.

No real point to this post. Just an interesting reflection on how language shapes a culture, and how culture shapes language. Since different-gendered, platonic relationships don’t exist in Arabic culture (at least not until recently), there’s no need to have a word to describe an impossible situation. This also makes me appreciate the English language for having gender-neutral nouns to avoid this mess. And also, sometimes I like ambiguity.

I’m a nice person. I’m a generally happy person and I love life. As I mentioned in my last post, I smile when I pass people on the street at home, I try to be cheery and make others feel happy and comfortable. I’m not like this 100% of the time because well, who is? But I’d definitely say that the vast majority of the time I’m a happy person. Life has so much to offer and as a recent college graduate, I’m just starting my life.

Now, why do I even have to mention this? Why do I have to justify and defend my like-ability? Shouldn’t people already know this about me if they know me? Yes, they should and they do, for the most part. But every now and then I’ll go on a rant about something that ticks me off (usually concerning women’s rights), or I’ll write on this blog or, previously, in my school newspaper The Wheaton Wire. As a writer, I value the opinions of my friends and peers when it comes to what I write. However, sometimes when I ask their opinion, they tell me, “It was good, but you sound angry.”

The way they say it makes it sound like a bad thing. It’s not, “You go girl, you were so pissed off, you really showed them and told them how it is!” It’s more of a, “You sounded angry, that’s so unattractive, why would you write about something like that? Why aren’t you happy? Are you okay?”

No, I’m not okay. There are many things in this world that royally piss me off. Such as the lack of access to affordable birth control for all women, the lack of access to abortion in all states, the horrible abstinence-only sex “education” programs that warp the minds of the youth, the fact that women still get paid less than men, the fact that I can’t walk down the street without getting harassed, gender stereotypes and expectations… just to name a few.

You know what else pisses me off? The fact that I’m apparently not allowed to be pissed off. Granted, I’m allowed to have a bad day and be upset over things like a bad grade, cheating boyfriend, bad hair day, having my period, or other personal problems. However, if I’m angry about something that actually matters in the real world, I’m just the epitome of the angry feminist stereotype: hates the world, hates all men, does nothing but complain and makes a big deal out of nothing. Basically, someone that nobody wants to be around. The same goes for the angry black man stereotype: hates all white people, thinks he’s being discriminated against when he’s really just overreacting (Henry Louis Gates anyone?), and if he gets too angry, a dangerous threat to society.

But of course we’re angry! White women, black men, purple transsexuals – it doesn’t matter what gender or color we are, what matters is that we’re NOT white men and are thus disadvantaged. Of course we’re angry that we’re judged based on what we’re not (white men) instead of what we are (individuals with our own, equally valid experiences). Of course we’re angry that the society we live in is set up to systematically oppress us at all corners. Of course we’re angry that when we speak up, no one listens because we’re just another stereotype. Of course we’re pissed off as hell!

I’m angry that because I’m a woman, I’m expected to always have a smile on my face and just put up with the oppression around me. I’m angry that I’m not supposed to care about disadvantaged women, because since I do benefit from certain privileges (such as being white and college educated), they don’t concern me. I should just live in a bubble and be happy. While no one’s actually used to word “bubble” before, I’ve essentially gotten that advice from numerous people. Why waste all my energy on being angry about something that doesn’t affect me?

By the way, apparently sexism doesn’t affect me because there is no such thing anymore (same with racism, we have a black president, duh!). In fact, it’s all reverse-discrimination now, and I actually have an unfair advantage just for having a vagina. Because no one admits to being sexist or racist nowadays, it obviously doesn’t exist. Just like the cop who called Gates a “banana-eating jungle monkey,” he said he’s not racist because he has black friends, so he’s obviously telling the truth. We should trust the white man.

Ah..ah… AH-CHOO! Excuse me, I’m allergic to bullshit.

I’m a happy person. But there are things in the world that piss me off, and instead of sitting on my blog to bitch about it, I hope to do something about it. I also hope that I no longer have to justify my niceness, especially to people who know me very well. I hope that being a feminist and being angry about certain issues does not mean I’m an extremist and a man-hater. I also hope that I’m not expected to be super cheery and perky 24/7 simply because I’m a woman. So, sorry if I care about people, sorry if I get angry about blatant (and subtle) discrimination in society, and sorry that I’m not just going to put up with it.

On second thought, I take that back. I’m NOT sorry.