Sunday, September 23, 2012

Linguistic Lacunae: What Our Sexual Language is (not) Saying

“Language and culture cannot be separated. Language is vital to understanding our unique cultural perspectives. Language is a tool that is used to explore and experience our cultures and the perspectives that are embedded in our cultures.”  -- Buffy Sainte-Marie
Language reflects and recreates culture.  Cultural attitudes become crystallized in language, which then serves to reinforce those cultural attitudes.  It behooves us to carefully examine our language, to interrogate the meanings lurking within our everyday speech. 

Take our sexual language, for example.1 The way we talk about sex speaks volumes about our cultural attitudes towards sex.  I don't just mean the pervasive sexism of our sexual slang that reveals itself through the construction of women's bodies as dirty and the continued presence of the sexual double standard (Braun & Kitzinger, 2001; Schultz, 1975).  I don't even mean the negative view of sex that becomes obvious whenever sexual terms are used as crude insults.  Of course these themes are revealing and deeply troubling.  But our cultural attitudes are also evinced through what is missing from our sexual lexicon.

Take a moment to think about the sexual words and phrases you know -- terms for parts of the body, sexual acts, all of it.  (Go ahead; I'll wait.)  Then think about what is *not* present in this sexual language.  There are several important aspects of sexuality that get short shrift in our sexual lexicon.

[Note:  Sexual terminology will be mentioned after the jump, so if you are offended by crude or explicit language, you may not wish to read further.]

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Death and the Salesman: The Use of Morbid Sexism in Advertising

As I was reviewing magazine and newspaper ads in preparation for class this week, I was struck by this ad:

Ad in Elle for Louis Vuitton;
from the Ms. Magazine No Comment archive (Summer 2010)
Why on earth would any company want to advertise its product by displaying it with a dead woman?  I couldn't understand the motivation here -- what were the advertisers thinking?  On the face of it, associating your product with death just seems like a bad idea.  I can just imagine the conversation in the marketing department --  I know, Bob, we'll show our bag with a dead woman, so everyone will think that our accessories can kill you!  Ok, maybe this ad is just a fluke, one of those advertisements that miss the mark.  But then I found more.