Friday, November 5, 2010

Fetishizing Non-European Cultures

My gender makes it difficult to have any interest in European languages. They are difficult, genderwise. The best Spain & German could do to make "gender neutral" language was to change a/o to @ (spain- Latin@ vs Latino/Latina) and capitalize the 'i' in female words (German- Pilotin becomes PilotIn). I don't think French even has a word for "it" and just uses 'he' (I zoned out in class and looked into it for all of 1 hour this summer, correct me if I'm wrong). Europe is just very, very, very bad with gender. And this has grated on me even before I realized I was a non-binary. It also makes me hate English with a passion- not just for gender, but for how flipping impossible we have made it to speak without either erasing/othering/discriminating against a marginalized group or being completely incomprehensible to the lay person. Although that might be a problem in all lanugages.

At first I thought that I just hated languages- then I found Icelandic and fell instantly, truly, and deeply in love. This love has only deepened- every time I'm reminded that you can avoid using pronouns and make the adjectives neutral, that hetja mín (female noun) can be used to refer to a werman and it's still a deep complement (lit. "My hero!"), that some the word for human being is female. And I've found other languages as well- I believe Japanese is much better about gender as well, I've heard from a few non-binaries that it's easier to be referred to or talk about people without revealing gender or it being obvious you aren't. Russia also has adjectives and even verbs that bend easily to gender, including neuter, and using gendered nouns that don't bend to the person's gender is common and, again, not misgendering. China... it depends. Thailand- I'm hesitant, the view of trans women is either good or bad, and I really want to know which (they are lumped in with gay men and drag queens as "ladyboys" and "kathoey", lit. "not man" and not seen as women but something else- not nice to gay men either) is either good or bad, and I really want to know which.

And it's possible it applies to the indigenous people who Europeans completely fucked over when taking over what is now the "Americas" as well, as they held trans people in a bit higher respect than the white people who feel they "own" the country did, and I don't even know about Africa or Australia (same thing in terms of being fucked over by Europeans, though) because they're erased in our USA-centric, Euro-centric, White-centric curriculum. I also don't think it's as easy to find resources for studying it- aside from Thai & Icelandic, all the languages I've listed are taught at my college and it's easy to find resources on them. For at least 2 languages in Chinese, too. (There are at least 10 spoken languages in China)

Russia, Japan, Thailand (as well as what are now the Americas, Africa, and Australia)- they all have something in common. They're not European and, for the most part, the people there aren't white. Except Russia. I think, I actually have a hard time keeping track of all the distinct cultural identities we've erased and shoved into "white" to reinforce our privilege and which we aren't counting as "really" white to, again, reinforce our privilege.

With Japan, I've seen too many white anime "fans" who go around completely butchering the Japanese language (this is at least part of why I used to hate Japanese with a passion- my knowledge of it was "NARUTO CHAN IS SUGOI KAWAII DESU NE BAKA GOMEN NASA~I"). And, at least Americans, don't really have the greatest track record with Asian women. I don't know where the line between admiration and appropriation is- does anyone? Do I just like these languages because, to my white European ears, they sound "exotic"*? Am I assuming that they'll be better about gender because I'm idealizing the culture as being so "unusual" and "different" to European culture rather than being aware of the reality? Am I just an Asiaphile trying to justify this?

I actually don't know, it's hard to tell. I've seen people of color complain when white people use something from a non-white culture because, too often, it's appropriation (hint: If you don't know the country, just the continent, you might be appropriating). Does that include language?

* Japanese, Thai, Korean, and everything else that I've never been raised on sounds a bit like nails on a chalkboard to me. (I'm getting better with Japanese because I'm listening to it more- but at first it was painful) Sooo, hopefully not?

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