PC and Phemayle Wymyn


August 21, 1992|By AMBER OLDER

Albany, Vermont. -- The first time I bit into the apple of Political Correctness I chewed it up and spat it out.

The ''apple'' came in the form of a weekend-long ''Radical Left'' conference that I was attending in Massachusetts, along with other university students. As a self-consciously ''radical'' first-year student, I was ignorant of the term ''PC,'' more interested in the dynamics of collective action than the debates of theoretical specificity.

Intrigued, and somewhat confused, by the title of a female-only workshop entitled ''Feminism, Lesbianism and Co-op/eration/tation,'' I joined 30 other students in a discussion of how to have a female voice in the male-dominated political arena.

The first item on the agenda (looking back, I'm surprised it wasn't called ''agender''), was a 10-minute discussion on how to refer to our female group within the conference as a whole. I smiled at the list of suggested names. This had to be a joke. I scanned the room to see if anyone else was amused. I saw only the tops of heads poring seriously over the lists. The joke was in my head only.

Under the title, ''What Should We Call Ourselves?'', the following names were presented:

1. Wimmin

2. Wommyn

3. Wymyn

4. Wimmyn

5. Phemayles

Having never considered the word ''woman'' to be offensive, I was stunned. I was even more stunned when the debate opened with a heated attack on the word ''woman'' as a subscription to patriarchy, a reinforcement of females (or phemayles) as silent and co-opted inferior beings. The root derivation meant ''out of -- man;'' thus, to use the term ''woman'' was to accept patriarchy, heterosexism and capitalism.

I see.

As the arguments continued, and the 10 allotted minutes lapsed into 15, 25 and 45, with no sign of reconciliation, I became increasingly frustrated. Instead of planning political action, we were arguing about spelling. The debate seemed endless; the debate seemed pointless; I left the debate.

At that time, the garden of Political Correctness offered only bitter fruit.

Five years later, as a post-graduate of English literature at the University of Edinburgh, the term ''Politically Correct'' has taken on a whole new meaning for me. Submerged daily in the flood of literary and critical theory, I have discovered the wonders of PC ,, linguistic jargon. But now, as I work toward becoming a master of critical analysis, I fear that I have also become its slave.

Suddenly, oppression is everywhere. With a new awareness of such concepts as phallocentrism (valuing the phallus as a symbol of authority) and phallogocentrism (valuing the male word as the superior form of logos), I can't do anything without re/cognizing/defining/sisting patriarchal attempts to dominate.

I find that menus epitomize capitalism. Why else would tagliatelle con pepperoni be placed in a hierarchical position over funghi calzone? Vegetarianism, like lesbianism and communism, threatens social structure; thus, it is suppressed under the domination of a carnivorous bourgeois society. This hierarchy must be toppled. Vegetarians unite; chefs, beware.

Movies offer superb chances for psychoanalytic interrogation. The eponymous Bill and Ted of ''Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey'' I realize, in a Woolfian Moment of Being, are not your average, below-average metalheads. Their continual cries of ''Excellent, Dude!'' and ''Totally Most Non-Heinous!'' are identifiable irruptions of the chora, that pre-Oedipal condition in which desire for the mother is as yet unrealized, and therefore, unrepressed. Falsely cast as mindless morons, Bill and Ted must be understood as positive and potentially dynamic sources of disruption against the patriarchal order. Freud would be proud.

And speaking of that pillar of psychoanalysis (remember, there is an ''anal'' in analysis), the F-word is not merely a four-letter expletive. When you curse over a stubbed toe it's an unconscious expression of unfulfillable lack, a recursive response to the phallic invasion of the father which occurred with your entrance into language. Remember Oedipus, and watch where you walk.

Even casual conversations must be analyzed for deeper meaning. When is a sneeze not a sneeze? When it is a site of jouissance, the experience of simultaneous ecstasy and annihilation, Eros and the death drive. It, too, is a form of subversion, a reaction against the historical conditioning of modern society. Thus, the seemingly innocent, ''Bless You,'' must be understood as yet another insidious attempt to reinforce phallocentric norms; thankfully, such reinforcement is undermined by the spontaneity of the sneeze's radical protest against capitalism.

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