Have you ever wondered about the word woman? I mean just look at the word… wo-man…
Linguistically I have long held the suspicion that as women we are nobodies. At least in English. In German and in most other languages I am semi familiar with we still are somebody – as females (yet another example).
Don’t know where I’m going with this yet?
It’s the misogynist English language that makes me feel like a nobody and almost non-existent because I am a woMAN. We are feMALE. There is not even a word to describe us. All we appear to be is MALE or MAN with prefixes. We are not even huMAN…. and do we need to talk about MANkind???
www.etymonline.com clarifies (But you don’t have to read this if you believe me:-)):
“adult female human,” late Old English wimman, wiman (plural wimmen), literally “woman-man,” alteration of wifman (plural wifmen) “woman, female servant” (8c.), a compound of wif “woman” (see wife) + man “human being” (in Old English used in reference to both sexes; see man (n.)). Compare Dutch vrouwmens “wife,” literally “woman-man.”
It is notable that it was thought necessary to join wif, a neuter noun, representing a female person, to man, a masc. noun representing either a male or female person, to form a word denoting a female person exclusively. [Century Dictionary]
mid-15c., humain, humaigne, “human,” from Old French humain, umain (adj.) “of or belonging to man” (12c.), from Latin humanus “of man, human,” also “humane, philanthropic, kind, gentle, polite; learned, refined, civilized.” This is in part from PIE *(dh)ghomon-, literally “earthling, earthly being,” as opposed to the gods (from root *dhghem- “earth”), but there is no settled explanation of the sound changes involved. Compare Hebrew adam “man,” from adamah “ground.” Cognate with Old Lithuanian žmuo (accusative žmuni) “man, male person.”
Funny though, that neither in German nor French (nor many other languages, but I cannot vouch for all) does this problem exist. No MEN in us there:
Woman – Frau (German), femme (French)
Human – Mensch (German; compare with Mann – man); humain, humaine (f) (French; compare with homme – man)
Mankind – Menschheit (German); humanité
Do you agree with me? Do you see a problem here?
Nomansland, as a result offers a user-friendly guide on how to ‘degenderise’ the world’s most widely spoken and utterly misogynist language (when including non-native speakers). Despite my tongue ever so slightly in cheek, I’m sure you agree that words and language are such potent tools that have the power to include or exclude, to build bridges or define borders, to integrate or segregate, and I reckon this poor state of affairs needs addressing.
Nomansland then is based on my fabulations and has become a campaign to eradicate male-as-norm words when referring to WoMAN, MANkind, huMAN and feMALE, as they only serve to reinforce patriarchy. The historical oppression of women comes as no surprise when men are swinging such a dominant semantic weapon. The misogyny contained within the English language can do nothing but antagonise; it supports the patriarchy and undermines gender equality.
Are you still with me?
Speculating on what it would take to change that, how could such ingrained meanings and words be challenged in order to facilitate a level playing field? Let’s take the words woman, mankind, and human and create an anagram…. Out of a wider choice I chose Dunkwonhami – one for all and all for one; male, female, transgender, gender neutral, non-binary, agender, pangender, genderqueer, two-spirit, third gender and all, none or a combination of any of these! I hope you like it too!
The use of anagrams allows for historical recognition but equally emphasizes the need for reconstruction and vetos the status quo. I call for words that encompass a notion of unitedness and are analogous with the physical processes in my own practice – undone, reformed, remade, reconfigured, reconstructed.
What I am further proposing is a tapamtriarchal society, neither matriarchal nor patriarchal, but a society that is based on parity, equality and tolerance. Inspired also by xenofeminist gender-abolitionist views which ‘call for gender being about as significant as the colour of one’s eyes’ (newhumanist, s.d.). I know this is controversial within some groups and though I think it may momentarily be necessary to segregate in order to gain validation, ultimately I believe we need to join forces and become dunkwonhami!
Huh, back to the story😊
There is also evidence that the first vaguely human beings were actually female (Knussmann,1982). Inspired by Haraway (2017) who talks of Speculative Fabulation, a telling of ‘wild facts’, a way of telling stories whilst keeping to the truth, I tell wild facts of the gedsods, the first woman, the original dunkwonhami. Speculating that she may have reproduced asexually, until at some point the female double x chromosomes XX developed a little fault and one of the legs of one of the Xs began to degenerate and shrink until it fell off completely. Suddenly we had the XY combination – and man. Rather than showing any gratitude, man began to point out their stronger physique as confirmation of superiority and, as they say, the rest is history. I am aware that this represents quite an abridged and simplistic description of events that are primarily based on my own perception, and although religion, geography, etc played significant roles in the process I am not taken any of it into account here. Remember, these are wild facts:-)
So, back to my fabulations… Action Men© became my symbol of related issues around patriarchy, power, sexuality and gender bias. In order to achieve gender parity, tapamtriarchal tolerance and solidarity, I think both male and female views and values must be challenged in order to eradicate misogyny at all levels. Trust needs to replace fear. Haraway, D. (2017) termed the phrase ‘companion species’, which expresses my intentions perfectly. In short Action Man first has to learn to care, to nurture, to protect and take responsibility affect and affection. All traditionally female traits and actions. Similar to Fankenstein’s creation I also try and create the perfect man. In this case a dunkwonhami. With the help of an extremely complicated mathematical formulae and some female body parts I set to transform Action Man.
None of this is a process that I imagine happening overnight. The transformation of Action Man will not happen in the next decade or two. If we are lucky and the world still turns in 500 years and current humans / post-humans have not killed the planet, we may then find and create ourselves (yes, us, the dunkwonhami) a perfect Cluechenthu. Cluechenthu is an anagram of Chthulucene – a place and a time of a more livable future, a new coming-together, a new kinship, first envisaged by Donna Haraway (2017).
Each of the various parts that make up my creations, from the gedsods, to the donkwonhami and the Cluechenthu are created from materials relating to the concept. From the traditional to the recycled, from the pilfered to the handmade and the found; they were undone, reformed, remade, reconfigured, reconstructed in spontaneous and planned processes, none of which can be viewed in isolation. They developed together through and with each other, their sympoiesis made apparent by their coming togetherness.
I would love to hear your opinion about ‘Nomansland’, open a discourse and maybe meet you at the exhibition? If you cannot make the PV, there will be Meet-the-Artist sessions on Saturdays, 18th and 25th September as well as 2nd October.
Want to see more? Don’t forget to check out the video and my page about Nomansland here:
Haraway, D. (2016) Staying with the Trouble. [Kindle Edition] From: Amazon.co.uk (Accessed on 19 November 2020)
Haraway, D. (2016) Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene. At: https://www.e-flux.com/journal/75/67125/tentacular-thinking-anthropocene-capitalocene-chthulucene/ (Accessed on 09 January 2021)
Haraway, D. (2017) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1atjLfbNxE&list=PLeyYJSEX04sBAekFWL_TURlHiKv4VzsX_&index=13&t=0s (Accessed on 09 January 2021)
Hester, H. (2018) Xenofeminism. [Kindle Edition] From: Amazon.co.uk . (Accessed on 09 February 2021)
Knussmann, R. (1982) Der Mann, ein Fehlgriff der Natur. Hamburg: Gruner & Jahr AG & Co. Stern-Buch
Puig de la Bellacasa, M. (2017) Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press Douglas