For most of history, anonymous was a woman.
It seems fitting to start out a month of 26 posts, from A to Z, and centered on the topic of The Iconic Feminine with a look at feminine anonymity. This exercise is prompted by the annual April A to Z Blogging Challenge which gives me a chance to flesh out a topic that I might otherwise skitter around but which is a significant part of understanding the legacy of women.
The language of gender is the language with which we define femininity. Being male or female, a condition of sexuality, has very little to do with femininity. Sex is a biological state. Gender is a cultural construction.
I will not belabor the distinction in the three types of signs defined in contemporary linguistic and semiotic understanding, but icons are but one type of a sign. Other aspects of signs delve far deeper into qualities, actualities, and potentialities in representation.
- Icons physically resemble what they stand for.
- Indexes, or indices, point to what what they stand for.
- Symbols logically stand for something because of a rule or norm.
So this entire month of discussion of the topic of femininity is problematic because of sloppy linguistic use of personal, political or religious concepts in contemporary culture.
Femininity is often used as a symbol even though it is called an icon. Feminine qualities described as “traditional” have no relation to the physical traits. Items that point to behavioral attributes considered feminine are indexical and not iconic.
We need to understand how we construct meaning before we attempt to purposively change definitions or assign proscriptive meanings.
All this may fly right past people’s radar screens, but when small groups of people explicitly try to redefine basic elements of culture linguistically, this needs to be called out as an attempt to impose one groups beliefs one everyone. Attempts to control language are quite Orwellian.
What Virginia Woolf was saying was that women’s words have been stripped of all signs of being spoken by a woman. But there is hope, in the last century the iconic elements of women’s words have regained the richness of context through connected image and sound.
Please follow along as we look at iconic feminine images, memes, and more, through time and around the world beginning April 1st, no fooling.