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What's In A Name? Plenty

by Maggie Van Ostrand
"Word discrimination against women is literally never-ending from cradle to grave. It begins with nursery rhymes. Who's dumb? Little Bo Peep. Who's scared? Little Miss Muffet. Who's contrary? Mary, Mary. Who eats no lean? You got it ..."
Maggie Van Ostrand
Anyone who's hooked on television's Sex and the City knows that it's currently cool to be a "singleton," as opposed to being just the dreaded "S" word -- single. The award-winning sitcom's depiction of independent women with 'tude is directly responsible for this modernization of the "S" word. High time that we who choose at the moment to be mateless, join HBO in taking up the cudgel against the stigma of verbal Onehood.

Back in great grandma's day, the derogatory "S" word was "spinster," and meant only one thing: No man had ever asked for your hand in marriage, you had to continue sitting on your bustle in Papa's house embroidering doilies like Catherine Sloper in "The Heiress," and caring for maiden Aunt Whacko who lived in the attic.

"Spinster" is defined in the dictionary as "A woman still unmarried beyond the usual age of marrying; an old maid." Pretty insulting you say? How's about the counterpart word, "Bachelor" which was then and is still defined simply as "an unmarried man." No stigma carried. No complaints lodged. No changes sought.

We fought like tigers to get "old maid" upgraded to "spinster," then "single" and now "singleton," whereas men have no complaints about the word "bachelor." Why would they? It's always been without stigma.

Perhaps women are stronger because we've had to fight for every little improvement, while men are satisfied to leave everything as was. Why not? For them, it's been complimentary.

What's in a name? Plenty. I submit that one of the reasons singletons procrastinate about refinancing their homes is the phrase which appears on every page of the thousands of documents requiring signature, both at the mortgage holder's office and at the escrow company. That phrase is "an unmarried woman." We don't want to sign papers that still call us that. It doesn't just mean you've been struck spouseless, it means other things as well, all negative.

"Who are you calling 'an unmarried woman?'" my emotional friend, Louise, screamed at the hapless male escrow officer. "It sounds like I can't even get a date, let alone a husband. I was married twice, and asked a lot more than that, Buster! Not that it's any of your business."

Later, when she had calmed down a bit, Louise confided that her jangling nerves wouldn't have forced such a fuss had the word "individual," appeared after her name instead of "an unmarried woman."

Why don't they get smart and use the word "individual?" There are many updates in today's American speech and our dictionaries are frequently amended to include new words, and yet the antiquated phrasing "an unmarried woman" remains. Why? Is this to be our next battle?

On the other hand, "an unmarried man" sounds sexy and appealing, as though the guy was either too clever or ran too fast to be reeled in by one of us designing women.

Incidentally, "designing" is defined in the dictionary as "scheming; artful; crafty; wily; cunning; tricky or sly." Ever hear of a designing man? I haven't.

Word discrimination against women is literally never-ending from cradle to grave.

It begins with nursery rhymes. Who's dumb? Little Bo Peep. Who's scared? Little Miss Muffet. Who's contrary? Mary, Mary. Who eats no lean? You got it ... only Mrs. Jack Sprat. Mr. Sprat, you'll recall, eats no fat. There it is for all tots to learn: fat woman, slim man.

As we grow into adulthood, we have dictionary definitions to contend with. In some dictionaries "Fat" is defined as "having too much flabby tissue, chubby, corpulent. A fat woman," while the word, "thin" is defined as "having little flesh, spare, lean. A thin man."

"Overweight" is defined as "weight in excess of that considered normal: Her overweight has become quite a problem." Stout is defined as "bulky in figure, heavily built, corpulent, thickset, fat. She is getting too stout for her dresses."

In fact, the only time the word "thin" is associated with the example of a woman is "thin-skinned," defined as "sensitive to criticism, reproach, rebuff, or the like; easily offended. A thin-skinned prima donna." Isn't thin-skinned the other side of the sensitivity coin?

Word discrimination against women ends with death: "The Old Gray Mare" who "ain't what she used to be."

What chance have we ever had for true equality when we're stuck with a lifetime of negative labels?

Never mind contemptuously allotted so-called equality giving female reporters admittance to the Yankees' locker room to cover a story, or the forcing of gyms to become co-ed, or the marching arm in arm with our lawyers into exclusive, formerly male club memberships, and never mind that the old saying, "Aaaah, yer mudder wears Army boots," is no longer far from the truth.

Frankly, I don't want men as members of my gym, leaving sweat stains on the benches and hair caught in the weights. And I haven't the faintest idea why women would want to make men's gyms co-ed. Is it just to say we forced it to happen?

When we force issues, sure, we get results some of the time. So what? What we don't get is respect.

Verbal equality. That's the nucleus issue. We've got to straighten things out beginning with nursery rhymes and forget about lawyering up to attack another male bastion. They say it's a man's world. Fine, they can have it, as long as they do what we want.

We need to rise up and say to all the decision makers: the way to a man's heart may be through his stomach, but the way to a woman's is through her ears.

Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand

"A Balloon In Cactus"

June 6, 2005 column
Email: maggie@maggievanostrand.com
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