Paterfamilias: A Male Lexicon and a Dutiful/Difficult Daughter

Paterfamilias: A Male Lexicon and a

Dutiful/Difficult Daughter

(In memory of my mother, Marney Virginia McNamara-Blattman)

As the only living female in an immediate family of nine men, I experience family as male. I have, therefore, been forced to undertake an unwilling education in the lexicon of male discourse. This was not always the case. My sister, a wise woman, departed this life at the age of 36 and my mother crossed the Great Divide about four years ago. They left me stranded in the dark wood of a psychic terrain in family dynamic that had radically altered. I am going to contend in this article that a male grammar and lexicon in terms of familial communication is mediated almost entirely by women. I am going to bypass the argument that men are somehow illiterate, uncommunicative, unable to articulate emotion, or innately compromised in any form of human communication because they are chromosatic mutants,[1] because that argument is just too simplistic. I am interested in something that is much more intangible, and therefore, to me, compelling. Let us agree that I will be working in area of gross generalizations at times and that any man reading this article will probably be righteously outraged. With that disclaimer I can now move on.

At the very best of times families are strange collective beasts. We should remember that the word family came from the Latin familias and was a description of a household including goats, chickens, servants and slaves, apart from family members. The Greeks had an even more interesting word for family, oikonomia, from which word we derive the modern word economics.[2] In terms of etymology we are far, far away from our current understanding of the word family, although the economic dynamic roils beneath it with an appetite that appears to be insatiable.[3] So what exactly does the word mean? It brings such huge power with it that we must clearly establish parameters here. Why is the familial unit, or the nuclear family, so powerfully constellated in Western Patriarchal capitalism? Obviously the connection to money and money making is exploited in every possible way, consider Mother’s day, Fathers day, Grandparenting day; the all consuming nightmare of economic excess that now represents Xmas.[4] Eminent criminologist Jocelyn Scutt once remarked that:

The nuclear family is the most violent institution in society.[5]

It is possible that a large part of that violence is the blistering and traumatic result of the pre-eminent male discourse of our time. The belief that regardless of circumstances might is right, that part of the male lexicon is utterly compromised by their level of testosterone, their innate predisposition to violence and brutal recourse to the physical rather than the emotional and intellectual province of the human experience.[6] This would indeed be damning, if it could ever be proved. It implies, among other things, that males have failed to evolve from their cave men dwelling ancestors. Critics always reply that women are violent, too, and this is true. The problem is the sheer statistical analysis of the predominance of male violence against the young, the weak, the old and the vulnerable.[7] We know that men are equally good as protectors, as peacekeepers and as custodians of familial welfare. So why does the balance sheet fall so far from grace? Or does it? Has it merely risen above the subterranean layers of shame and secrecy and become fodder for the voracious and insatiable demands of the media?

Regardless, the statistics in regard to male violence remain highly disturbing. Is violence & brutality the first language of males?[8] If so, are men just Neanderthals a la football culture or are they genuinely sick units? I rather object to this idea as I am a mother of sons, and although they are far from perfect, they are not a brutish sub species. Coming from a long line of Irish matriarchs I was educated at a young age to believe that a:

Man who was a good provider was worth feeding.

I also remember my maternal grandmother saying on numerous occasions that :

Men are alright, but you don’t really want them in your house.

Perhaps she thought they were dogs who should be kenneled appropriately. My own mother would become extremely cross with my father if he dared to come home during office hours and disturb her own regime. These were highly articulate women who shared an acidic humour and tonal language qualities that would have shredded a dirty nappy. Consequently I grew up with the idea that men were always helplessly behind the female discourse and one really could not expect any better. And that this subversive female discourse was the true power that functioned in an unpredictable and unexplicated dynamic; being used to support family communions or to destabilize according to the needs of a particular situation. Mostly it was used to support the enthroned nature of patriarchy, but with a very large proviso. It was obvious who ruled behind that throne.

On adult reflection I can only compare these ideas to the experience of so many rich and gifted male poets and writers whose articulation abilities would shame the dead back to life. If only. One needed only consider James Joyce Finnegans Wake or Dylan Thomas Under Milkwood.[9] This word-making is, of course, particular to the public domain, where men function often superbly as politicians, policy makers, speechwriters, articulators of most matters related to State, Church, and usually the disciplines of Law, Science and Religion. It would be a waste of time to compare the numbers in terms of male and female lexicon here. The statistical probability of a female ascendancy in this realm would lie in the margin of statistical error, although there are spectacular exceptions. In fact Sherzer[10], contends that

Gender distinction is built into language itself…one of the problematic assumptions is that male conversation is the norm.

(emphasis mine)

I am less interested in this discourse as compared to the male lexicon in the private domain. I would like to deconstruct a family conversation between my father & myself. Here is an excellent example of a conversation that could only take place on a telephone, because visual input may or may not have clarified a number of points.

My father Hello darling, how are you?

Me Good, Dada, and you

My father As fit as two fiddles, love.

(First point: A mysterious discourse, what does being as fit as two fiddles mean?)

Me You don’t sound well, have you got a cold?

My father Bit of hay fever.

Me You might need to see a doctor

My father Yeah, he gave me some pills

( Second point: How is being as fit as two fiddles, having or not having hay fever consistent with a situation where he has already been to the doctor and probably been given some antibiotics? What is a dutiful daughter to do?)

My father (cont) How is the boy?

(Third point: please note the use of evasive tactic here, moving away from explicit information about his health and into the relatively neutral territory of his grandchildren. The subtext is usually about me not worrying about him unduly. If only men realized, women worry more when they sense that vital welfare/health information is being concealed from them. They just do not get the point of this activity.)

Me What kind of pills?

My father I don’t know, I just take what he gives me. Have you been watching the cricket?

(Fourth point: Getting nowhere fast and I know it; he could be taking equine influenza tablets for all I know. The point is that he has been diagnosed by a health professional as being unwell and has been prescribed some elusive medication. We are now very far away from being as fit as two fiddles. Please note the paradigm shift into sport. Cricket, tennis and Golf are acceptable discussion areas. With an only daughter these are considered properly genteel sports rather than Football, which is really sublimated warfare, so therefore rarely mentioned.)

Me No, I am working.

My father We’re winning.

(Fifth point: This is complex country because it is well known in my family that I usually support any team playing against the Australians except when they are playing the English. I have no choice in this at all, as it was mandated to me by my eldest sister who is now dead. So if the Australians are winning I will usually be cross. My father knows this so it is another evasive tactic to steer the conversation away from his health; indeed it could be considered provocative. Please note the truncation, the short sentences, and the lack of any adjectives which may give a hint of meaning)

Me That’s nice

My father Is it cold down there?

(Sixth point: New departure in discourse. The weather is the greatest equalizer in any given social situation. No one is exempt from the elements; it is almost guaranteed to be conversationally and socially neutral; there are a limited set of reactions to any experience of any weather)

Me It’s cold

My father OK love, got to go, tell the boy I rang.

Me Love you, Dada

My father Love you too, honey, bye.

End of a conversation which may have taken all of 30 seconds. The really interesting thing about this conversation is that throughout this discourse I am using the same truncated, shorthand, male dialect as well; possibly as a result of so many failures in the other female dialect. As Marx famously remarked:

An Oppressed minority group takes on the values of an Oppressor in a more extreme form.

Perhaps the linguist Deborah Tannen[11] is absolutely correct when she contends that male discourse reigns supreme regardless of the circumstances. And that conversation, even in the private domain, between males and females is a set of interchanges loaded with a potential to destroy a number of delicate balances. Tannen suggests that in conversation words for a man may:

Cause a male to suffer a blow to pride…and arouse the need for one up-man ship.

Perhaps without knowing it, I have become a male speaker, that I have begun to trade in their lexicon and that I am diminishing rapidly into a mere verbal jouster. However, according to family mythology, I can still talk under wet cement so I am unlikely to succumb to linguistic infection in either private or public domain.

This conversation would have been entirely different had my mother been still alive. She would have contextualized the discourse and I would have been privy to enough information to make an astute judgment rather than being forced to use fuzzy logic. It is in this area that I believe women function to mediate the language of their male dependents. It is equally interesting that in the public domain my father is a gifted communicator as both a public speaker and an entertaining Auctioneer particularly at charity auctions. He can also, when he has been affirmed in that role by a significant woman within the family, rapidly sort the men from the boys in a critical mass event and get down to tin tacks encouraging everyone to lay all their cards down on the table. Sometimes these discussions are adjourned to the Back Shed, a religious-like edifice, where most all-male conversations take place in camera.

However, if violence is the first language of men, and truncation and evasion is the second, we need to look at the third level of communication where men excel in the private domain. This can only be described as silence. Silence is not neutral or value free, All silence contains something. In the case of a male lexicon sometimes it is a basic refutation of language altogether. Consider Jane Austen’s wordless Mr. Darcy or Emily Bronte’s Heathcliffe. Words for these Victorian heroes appear to have become entangled under their tongues, they appear to be choking on them, much is implied through the eyes, although that is hardly reassuring for the heroine who is forced to sit demurely as the hero strides across moors, through drawing rooms, unable to actually speak those especial words of love. Silence, however, has a number of levels of potential meaning. As the poet Dorothy Hewett remarks, silence is like a broken tongue;

[12]

My tongue’s a broken clapper in a bell,

With books and candle I roll down to Hell,

And circling back upon my mother’s bed,

Gift wrapped receive the Kingdom of the Dead.

Having defined some elements of a male lexicon, I find it is far more complex than on superficial acquaintance with the discipline. It is possible that I can only define it by what it is not: a female discourse. This is a fairly unstable platform for argument, but I can justify it on the grounds that I have few theoretical tools or data on which to build an argument, given the above: physical violence, silence, evasion, allusion. In a play entitled Mother Tongue which I co -wrote some time ago,[13] I was interested in uncovering some of the elements which constitute a woman’s language in engagement with other women. The following is a short extract.

Lillith: How a woman lies, with her silence, mouth clotted with the blood of dark nights.

Carla: Birds fly through her as she walks casting no shadow.

Imogen: She may speak easy, speak strange, web of twisted vowels.

Lillith: A woman who lies dreams alone in mute seeds.

Carla: Like an architect of desire she contrives.

Imogen: Cities of artifice, bright uniform, cloudless, slowly encasing her heart.

Lillith: Silence is the ornament of a good woman.

Women do not normally talk like this, we have entered the domain of public discourse. However at some later point I was asked to write about this particular play and I found it difficult to deconstruct my authorial premise, but not necessarily impossible.

Furniture has an almost mystical significance for women: the kitchen table, the ritual of the teapot that presides over great and small crises, the archetypal bed in which children are conceived and the old die. Women talk…(about topics)… like this, they go over and over the same material, approaching it from any number of angles, untangling threads, weaving one story into another, the details to some extent are unimportant, it is how the story is told that is critical. And for what reasons. In the subterranean world of women’s conversations the agendas are myriad….the conversations may appear at first reading to be disjointed but they are not, the rhythm and flow of speech follows musical patterns that are not necessarily schematized. Women deconstruct personalities and events, extracting scenarios, rejecting absolutes in analysis, they damn and vilify…sometimes with a flawless grace.

A conversation may begin with the washing and travel over convoluted terrain to arrive at a discussion about Brecht…it is a (conversational) country not ruled by Logos…Few men perceive the circularity of the discourse, that everything will be discussed in its own good time…[14]As French philosopher, Luce Iragaray, remarks ”We are always open. Stretching out, never ceasing to unfold ourselves, we have so many voices to invent in order to express all of us, even in our gaps, we have so many dimensions”…

Women circle around ideas, re-pattern them, re-position critical elements…often playing Devil’s advocate to their own beliefs. Not surprisingly Patriarchy intuits that women talk is deeply subversive and thus describes it as “talking up a storm” or “brewing poison in the kitchen”.

Now while all these dissertations may well be interesting in a

cerebral kind of way they do little to clarify my current predicament of experiencing family as male. It is a given that language has primacy in a social construct, although I have considered mime at times, language appears to be what we mostly use for communication. If the male lexicon is sub-textual, sub-lingual, evasive and allusive, how on earth can a highly articulate woman identify meaning?

As a dichotomous dutiful/difficult daughter my relationships with my siblings is similar to a cartographer trying to chart the country which was unexplored and mythologized in the Dark Ages and marked accordingly on maps as: Here Be Dragons. I know how those explorers felt. The brother/sister sibling relationship conflict has been describes in Jungian terms as irremediable and irrefutable.[15] At many awkward family functions where the presence of my dead sister, my son, and my mother is sometimes almost tangible to me, I tend now to observe interrelations from a distance. Male grammar is found, like female grammar, in the body.[16] The arms crossed in front of the body, or loosely clasped behind the back and the feet spread wide, sometimes an arch towards the ball of the foot. This grammar speaks volumes, it is a set of contradictions; it functions to claim space, to assert dominance in a male hierarchy, to fend off closeness and to keep a tight reign on emotion. The arched foot is a primal bodily reaction, encoded perhaps in that XY chromosome; the male is always ready for fight of flight when the clan is gathered. One has to wonder exactly what they are fleeing from or against whom they are preparing to fight. To the blood daughter of the clan this remains an arcane mystery; perhaps Masons with their code of body speech are more accessible in terms of meaning.[17]

For the daughter again there is no access to the discourse which is usually containing and excluding, that is it is in realm of short lexias related to subject matter pertaining to most forms of sport. The job of the various wives in this situation is truly unenviable and they function, often magnificently, as a supplementary communication resource that diffuses tensions, re-translates meaning, enliven cold silences, fill in awkward moments with the necessary trivia and other peace keeping activities.[18] I am in no way denigrating their abilities here. As a daughter and sister however I have a different set of boundaries, blood relationships are powerful, regardless of the thin veneer of civilization in the social construct. Since I am devoid of a husband, a desirable accoutrement in this particular situation, I fall into an ambiguous category. Shall I be spoken to as a male or a female? A husband would sort this out immediately as, if he was found to be acceptable, he would be in the prime communicating position in regard to myself.

Harold Pinter has captured the complex dynamic in many brilliant plays that deconstruct the subtle communication levels that orchestrate emotional relationships in difficult families. Both The Home Coming and The Anniversary are superb examples of dysfunctionality and the infliction of cruelty with malice aforethought.[19] I have often thought Pinter must have been truly multi lingual. His mastery lies in his ability to bring texture and sub-text to relatively simple family interactions. Beneath the simplest of questions lies a history of experience layered with malice, resentment and suppressed fury. Phraseology becomes positively demonic. Family discourse is littered with detritus of past misdeeds, unexploded bombs or linguistic minefields. There is little of compassion in his families and much of brutality, vengeance and an insatiable need to eradicate contenders for the family throne. Dominance is all, regardless of the cost and arrogance and sheer malice usually win that throne. There is metaphorical and real blood shed all over his stage. Buried Child[20] is a truly chilling portrait of a modern family.

It was Jung who contended that families embody mythic archetypes and mythic journeys; consider the devouring mother, the homicidal son whose only desire is to murder his father, the Oedipal daughter; and the betrayal of the son by the father, the murderous wife, the child abandoned on the mountainside.[21] If family is enshrined in such volatile myth it is not surprising that we come home to it a little hesitantly. And if language is as unstable as a home made acetylene bomb then trouble is certain to be brewing, possibly even in the kitchen where all those women are gathered talking up a storm. Perhaps silence and folded arms are more acceptable, less damaging, but I doubt it. Such silence enfolds too many uncertainties, possibilities that are not open to full family negotiation. Resentment in the family is, I believe, partly born here.

James Hillman contends that when we return home as adults we arrive at a place

Where shadows come rushing out of cupboards without moral opprobrium… (and that) such shadows, good and bad are magnified under the lens of the family.[22]

Hillman would have made a good playwright. He, like Jocelyn Scutt, also believes that it is the home, that lair which really should be constellated as security from the wolf like forces of the outside world, actually becomes something far more deadly, a place:

where one is most likely to be killed … a place of victim and perpetrator[23]

The sheer historical weight placed on the nuclear family, not the extended clan model, in the West is totally overpowering. And the unit itself is profoundly flawed; it has been constructed to further the consumerism necessary to the greedy oligarchs of Capitalism. We must all feed this capacious beast that is the entrenched philosophic and economic animal that has functioned to endanger an entire planet. It was not always like this. Aristotle believed that the health of the family was essential to the functioning of Demos or the governance of the state.[24] It is worth noting that this healthy family unit functioned as the lynchpin of the entire democratic system because it was sustained by the voiceless labor of thousands of slaves, who had no say in anything. If we return from that Golden Age to a contemporary experience we find that the family is staggering under the weight of such philosophy and the domination of capitalism. Add to this fragile and complex ecosystem a flawed lexicon of male grammar and it is really not surprising that there are all kinds of problems. Not the least of which is the familial violence that rises up from the netherworld of the male psyche.

The problem that appears to consistently arise is the role of women as mediators, whether for good or evil, within private familial discourse. If the mediator of this language is astute at the art of translation[25] and able to defuse impending complications, then the discourse may well proceed relatively untrammeled, indeed the male lexicon may flourish under these circumstances and there may even be cross gender/neutral translations. The male may feel authenticated and validated and that sense of participating in a real dialectic may be empowering. The role of female here has a whole of codex of implication. She may manipulate and connive, control or facilitate. In either area her power is unstated and I am always wary of any arena in public or private life where the presence of absence is used to define and shape a dynamic. However, if the links in this fragile communication system become in any way compromised we are usually in deep water, sinking into a dark and airless underworld. As the true daughter of an Irish matriarchal system of governance I understand the shades and nuances in this complex dance of words. Indeed I have often used it to gain advantage, there being plenty of historical female precedents for this behaviour. Increasingly I have found it useful to observe the discourse from a distance, seeking some form of proto-objective methodology to understand underlying principles.

Since I have no official marital ties I can, at times escape from the inevitable dance, but blood ties are strong and imbued with mystery and power. My objectivity here is badly compromised by insubstantial obstacles such as love and compassion. The job of translation is onerous and sometimes totally infuriating, and I need sisters under the skin to assist me with a blood transfusion of sheer energy that would be required here. The real question is do I wish to continue and does a dutiful/difficult daughter have any ethical responsibility towards such a conundrum. If I were a male person, I would fail to get this point entirely; however it is really not my fault that the males of the species fail the most basic of emotional intelligence tests in their private lives, even when they seem to be quite clever at the same tasks as managers, supervisors or politicians.

It is interesting to note that even my sons will exhibit aspects of the male lexicon in conversation when they wish to remain incommunicado. Here is an example of communication via the telephone with one son:

Me Hello darling, how are you? What are you up to?

Him Nothing much

(Note the truncation, no access points being given here)

Me Are you studying for your exams?

(Note the attempt to extract some indicator of son’s psychological or physical state. Why didn’t I just ask him if he’d been pissed for weeks and would not have a sober brain cell to bless himself with? Or have I just become a Jungian devouring mother? Oh God the guilt, the guilt)

Him Yeah, sometimes

(Truncation, again)

Me Is it still raining up there?

(Oh dear we are in neutral gear, weather code)

Him Yep

Me (getting cross now, this is a very articulate son when in the mood) What are you doing right now?

Him Watching the cricket. The Australians are winning.

Me I’ll ring you later

I do not know if other women experience the same levels of frustration with their immediate male dependents. I suspect they do. What is clear, once again is that through passive aggression, males easily dominate the private domain through obfuscation or sheer obstinacy. I suspect that there are large areas of the discourse that are deeply frightening to the male dependents; the fear of saying the wrong thing, of unleashing emotional chaos, of looking less like an alpha male, of making a fool of oneself in these obscure dialects. Anyone who ever had to speak in a second tongue to first language speakers will be consonant with this experience; normally in families we tend to stay with the same language, although not necessarily.

Since families are complex and yet often broken and/or badly repaired social units it would be interesting to undertake a serious analysis of this paradox in lexicons. I am tempted to say that the problem is just too large, too entrenched in social paradigms that thrive off uncertainty, that feed off a lack of clarity; that provide endless golden opportunities for sometimes willful misleading and manipulated exchanges of meaning, but I suspect that I am really not ready to retire from this particular Bull Ring. I am too stubborn and far too cantankerous. Besides I don’t like being defeated in language games whether they be articulated in words or whether they lurk in the sub-lingual area of throat and larynx.

I did not expect to solve the Sphinx like riddle of family and lexicon with any grace, much less with ease. Like a Pinter play the dynamic is made precarious by its manifold dimensions, most of these lack clarity let alone logic However, it is possible to re-frame several ideas about the duality between family and male lexicon. Men might like to detour back through the work of the philosopher, Locke, and remember his ideas about the infinite set of possible ideas and the limitless possibilities for indefinable words. There has to be some cohesion somewhere; we live in an age of nano-technology, surely a male lexicology cannot be so easily dismissed. Men may need to re-invent their own lexicon within the domestic arena, without recourse to a female translator. This could be powerful magic, indeed. We could all remember that long before the great gods of Logos and Objective Scientific Methodology came to rule out thinking, there had been thousands of years in which many cultures valued a range of acquiring knowledge: intuition, circularity, parallel thinking, seer craft and other wild, unsupported suppositions. Perhaps males could become less insecure and make a leap of faith, jumping into the flux of uncertainty which is such an anathema to their cultural prejudice.

Leibniz, that strange and somewhat unpredictable philosopher, devoted his entire life to a discovery of what he called

The innate alphabet of human thought. He believed, almost obsessively, that

Language was the best mirror of the human mind and that an exact analysis of the significance of words would show us better than anything else the workings of understanding… (emphasis mine)[26]

Such an understanding may well facilitate an authentic conversation between both sexes in the private domain. However, the onus would have to be on males valuing this area of language; of according it time and due respect within the gender/family relationship. New language is rarely acquired through osmosis.

If they were willing, males might find that much was revealed; indeed the veil of female mysteries may shift and reshape and allow access to a comfortable discourse in the indefinable areas of domesticity; such mysteries regarding where the cat food is always kept and why the washing machine is preset to cold for some fabrics and not for others, are not as simplistic as they seem. One has to wonder if men actually do really forget these things; many males who are related to me demonstrate cognitive abilities similar to a laser beam in non-domestic discussions, but appear to regress to the age of 4 year old persons when confronted with such problems. Perhaps it is a way of shirking real responsibility in the home. Generally many women will fulfill tasks themselves, rather than wait for the inevitable penny to drop in regard to knowledge, let alone memory, when it comes to males performing domestic tasks. Language can get very cagey around these areas. Women sigh deeply, and men, I suspect are secretly hiding smiles of victory. Are women really so easy to defeat here? These re-visionings of a male lexicon may be more radical than they appear on first viewing.

Interestingly, it may be truly disturbing to some female mediators of meaning to undertake changes in this arena. Women wield enormous power here, their traditional role as custodians of health and ability to understand and articulate health language is merely one example; and sometimes women do not wield this power with good intentions. The ability and authority given to them to interpret male silence, to shape it and weave it according to their own desires; to translate the truncations, adding or detracting from implied or unstated meanings can be a female power-broker’s dream of almost Machiavellian like proportions. Deception is easy in this country, as men strangle helplessly on words and women override the potential of those words, this may become a common and a comfortable event; it is here that some women may choose to avenge themselves on real or perceived injustices. It can also be the only authentic field for a woman to demonstrate power and expertise.

For some women familial truths are a luxury they are unwilling to purchase, even when they have the necessary resources. To some extent, it can be argued, that women are socialized into this normalized duplicity under such flimsy guises as not making a fuss, making everything run smoothly and/or doing anything for peace, as if family conversations were a little like sharing a really good recipe for a nice bit of sponge cake. Some women, I believe become almost enraptured with these types of mischief-making translations, indeed they could be described as malicious; perhaps it could be vaguely justified as a statement by women who need to jockey for position in the vast power structure that is a female hierarchy within the family. If only we were as simple in terms of our socialization as the Great Apes.

Despite these types of nefarious activities, it needs to be clearly stated that it is equally true that not all women function like this, that they work hard at extrapolating the real or intended meaning of their male dependents and function as Ambassadors willing to cross the Great Lexical Divide. I am badly in danger of revealing women’s business here: I can almost feel my grandmother shaking her head in disgust at my naivety. And the conversation between her and my mother would run something like this

Mac (grandmother) She’s always been a fool

Mum She’s a hopeless idealist, she lives in fairyland half the time. She was always a daydreamer.

Mac Bloody idealists! That’ll get her into more trouble than anything. Do you think she’ll ever learn?

Mum No (sighing) she’s just like her father.

You will have to take it on faith that this conversation, with its subtext, would rival any Pinter play.

Linguist Anna Wierzbicka proposes in her remarkable text Lingua Mentalis[27] that there are a set of linguistic units in which we actually think, before we bring language into utterance, before we actually turn breath into words, we are all thinking in these same lexical units. Perhaps this lingua mentalis is genuinely gender free. I rather like this idea as it supports the contention that despite the fact that all language is the product of learning and socialization, there remains an option for learning a new lexicon. Perhaps we are not hardwired into eternal divisions between private or public discourse, regardless of whether we are male or female.

Despite voluminous words, texts, PhD theses, and all our rhetoric of living in a po-mo world, we do not actually live in a post feminist society. We never actually really lived in a feminist society. Nor would I necessarily desire a return to a restructured Bachofen matriarchy. My ideal would be to live in a society in which both gender and sexuality were as interesting as a certain kind of predilection for fruit or vegetables. I like parsley, you like tomatoes; it would be as simple and revolutionary as that. In the meantime I shall continue my pseudo-scientific observations on lexicon and family. It has a particular fascination for a descendent of a strong matriarchy, based as it is on premises that are as unsustainable as pre-conditions in Chaos Theory.

It occurs to me that I may have unconsciously aligned myself with the myth of Cassandra, a royal daughter of a doomed house, who defied Apollo the God of prophecy. Her punishment appears to me to be oddly contemporary in its relevance to any woman who is articulate in the public domain: destined always to tell the truth and never to be believed. Consider women in the ecology debate, the discourse on almost any war in recent times, the problems associated with raping and pillaging the earth regardless of the effect on climate. (28) Cassandra, like Sophocles’ Antigone, is yet another dichotomous, dutiful and difficult daughter archetype. I picture her often, standing on the walls of her ill fated city, frothing with rage and articulation, trespassing into the sacred domain of the public male discourse in terms of war and politics. She was unable to reconcile her calling from the God; her outrageous and disturbing visions occluded her from connecting to love and loyalty within her blood family. Not surprisingly her father had her caged in a wicker basket for repeatedly shouting out the prophecy of Troy’s fall as Agamemnon and his barbaric mate, Achilles, assailed the walls of that beautiful and god-protected city. Listen to Cassandra crying out with the truth of desperation and defiance at the very end of her life, just before she, too, is sacrificed to the blood curse of the House of Atreus:

Apollo, O Apollo, you who lead my ways. O you are set against me

Wither have you led me

O into what house

A human slaughterhouse, its floor

Splattered with blood (29)

I thank the Great Goddess daily that no psychotic and capricious God can actually compel my speech.

Kate McNamara ©

March 16th 2008

28. For a wealth of discussion in this area see Woman, Culture & Society ed Rosaldo, M & Lamphere, L. (1974) Stanford University press, California

29. Aeschylus, The Oresteia, Lines 1051-1056 translated by Rieu, V. (1956) Penguin, London

Bibliography

Aeschylus, The Oresteia translated by Rieu, V. Penguin, London, 1956

Aristophanes, The Lysistrata Translated by Dudley Fitts, Faber& Faber, London, 1966.

R.W Connell, Gender and Power Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2002

Suzette Elgin, Native Tongue, London, The Women’s Press, 1985.

R.W. Fowler,The Religions of Ancient Rome Oxford University Press 1836

Suzanne Griffiths, Genderlects http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/tannend/, accessed 6/03/08.

Dorothy Hewett, Rapunzel in Suburbia Prism Press, Sydney, 1976

James Hillman, A Blue Fire Harper Perennial New York, 1989

Kate McNamara, SlaughterHouse, Ed. McNamara, Verdon, R. & Keaney, G. Aberrant Genotype Press, Canberra, 1999.

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Harold Pinter, The Homecoming, The Anniversary and Buried Child Penguin, London

Women, Culture & Society, edited by M. Rosaldo and L. Lamphere

Stanford University Press, California, 1974

Joel Sherzer, Ways of Speaking, University of Texas Press, 2002

Sophocles, Antigone Penguin, trans, V, Rieu, 1964

Deborah Tannen, Men and Women in Cross-Cultural Conversation, an extract by Susan Griffiths http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/tannend/. Accessed 6/03/08.

Male Trouble, edited S. Tomsen & M. Donalson, Pluto Press, Victoria, 2002

Anna Wierzbcika, Lingua mentalis: the Semantics of a Natural Language Academic Press, Australia, 1980

Footnotes

1. Chromosatic mutants is epithet I coined some years ago; it describes an ironic premise that as we all stated out as XX chromasomatically, and the determining of gender for males involves a loss of part of that chromasomatic identity, it follows that men have mutated into another species.

2. W.W. Fowler, The Religion of Ancient Rome (1896) Oxford University Press

3. Anecdotal experience would appear to validate the amount of tension, internal division, and real suffering that often is a direct by-product of a parental death and the matter of inheritance.

4. Connell.R.W.(2002) Gender and Power, Allen & Unwin, Sydney. It has also been proven, statistically, from evidence gathered by a group of Women’s Refuges that the incidence of family violence increases sharply around Festive seasons such as Easter and Christmas. See statistical research at ABS for years 2005-2007. Equally Beyond Blue, Lifeline and other mental health support organizations arrange additional support services for potential suicides at this time. It would appear that not everyone is as happy and fulfilled by the family ideal at these times as advertisers and marketing moguls would like us to believe.

5. Scutt, Jocelyn In Women and Crime, in a radio interview with Kate McNamara, 2XX, 1981, archived in the National Library of Australia

6. Compare Aristophanes marvelous satire on men and war and women and sex in his satire The Lysisitrata

7. Male Trouble (2003) Ed. Tomsen,S & Donaldson.M. Pluto Press, Victoria. See very interesting discussion in Katherine Agostina’s chapter on Men, Identity and Military Culture pp108-131.

8. Opcit. Male Trouble see Aussie Rules! Schoolboy Football and Masculine Embodiment by N. Wedgewood, p180-199.

9. An interesting observation one could make here is that Dylan Thomas’ wife Caitlin was so enraged by her husband’s death & her failure to avenge herself in any language that she wrote her own book entitled Left Over Life to Live.

10. I am indebted to Robert Verdon’s scholarship in linguistics here as he directed me to the work of Sherzer & Deborah Tannen in area of gender and language. Sherzer, Joel (2004) Ways of Speaking, University of Texas

11. Tannen, Deborah quoted in Men and Women in Cross-Cultural Conversation, an extract by Susan Griffiths http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/tannend/. accessed 6/03/08.

12 [1]Hewett, Dorothy from I’ve Made my Bed, I’ll Lie on It (1978) Rapine in Suburbia, P.22 .Prism Press, Sydney

13 SlaughterHouse (1999) Ed. McNamara, Verdon, R. & Keaney. Aberrant Genotype Press, Canberra. P.39-42

14 Quoted in James Hillman A Blue Fire,(1989) New York, Harper & Rowe. See chapter on Mythology as Family p.197

16. McNamara K. (1997), from MotherTongue p 39-40 for a discussion on female grammar Praxis, Language and the Death of Meaning, Aberrant Genotype Press, Canberra

17. I am referring, of course, to the whole code of secret handshakes in this extraordinarily ritualized male institution.

18.Tanner, Deborah, op cit

19 Pinter, Harold The Homecoming, (1974) Penguin, USA

20. Pinter, Harold, Buried Child (1978) Penguin, USA

21. Hillman, James (1989) A Blue Fire, New York, Harper and Rowe. See Chapter on Mythology as Family Pp194-249

22. Hillman, James op cit, p204.

23. Hillman, James op cit p.190.

24. Aristotle, Poetics I and II or for a more accessible reading in Aristotle’s work try Parker, G.F. (1967) Greek Philosophy from Thales to Epicurus, Edward Arnold Pty. Ltd. London

25. An interesting reading in this area is a fictional account of female linguists in Suzette Elgin’s Native Tongue London, The Women’s Press,1985.

26. quoted in Lingua Mentalis: The Semantics of a Natural Language p.7 by Anna Wierzbicka(1980) Academic Press, Australia

27 Lingua Mentalis: The Semantics of a Natural Language Anna Wierzbicka (1980) Academic Press

28. For a wealth of discussion in this area see Woman, Culture & Society ed Rosaldo, M & Lamphere, L. (1974) Stanford University press, California

29. Aeschylus, The Oresteia, Lines 1051-1056 translated by Rieu, V. (1956) Penguin, London


[1]Chromosatic mutants is an epithet I coined years ago; it describes an ironic premise that as we all started out as XX chromasomatically, and the determining of gender for males involves a loss of part of that chromasomatic identity, it follows that men have mutated into another species.

[2]W.W. Fowler, The Religions of Ancient Rome.(1896) Oxford Press

[3]Anecdotal evidence would appear to validate the amount of tension, internal division, and real suffering that often is a direct by-product of a parental death and the matter of inheritance.

[4]Connell, R.W.(2002) Gender and Power, Allen & Unwin, Sydney. It has also been proven, statistically, from evidence gathered by a group of Women’s refuges that the incidence of family violence increases sharply around Festive seasons such as Easter and Christmas. Equally Beyond Blue, Lifeline and other mental health support organizations arrange additional support services for potential suicides at this time. It would appear that not everyone is as happy and fulfilled by the family ideal at these times as advertisers and marketing moguls would like us to believe.

[5]In Women and Crime, in a radio interview with Kate McNamara, 2XX, 1981, archived in the National Library of Australia.

[6]Compare Aristophanes’ marvelous satire on men and war and women and sex in Lysistrata. Translated by Dudley Fitts(1960) Faber& Faber, London

[7]Male Trouble (2003) Ed. Tomsen, S. & Donaldson, M. Pluto Press, Victoria. See very interesting discussion in Katherine Agostina’s chapter on ‘Men, Identity and Military Culture’ pp108-131.

[8]Op cit. Male Trouble. See “Aussie Rules! Schoolboy Football and Masculine Embodiment” by N. Wedgewood, p180-199.

[9]An interesting observation one could make here is that Dylan Thomas’ wife Caitlin was so enraged by her husband’s death & her failure to avenge herself in any language that she wrote her own book entitled Left Over Life to Live.

[10]I am indebted to the scholarship of Robert Verdon who directed me to the works of Joel Sherzer Ways of Speaking (2005) University of Texas as well as the work of Deborah Tanner particularly in the area of Genderlects.

[11]Tannen, Deborah quoted in Men and Women in Cross-Cultural Conversation, an extract by Susan Griffiths http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/tannend/, accessed 6/03/08.

[12]Hewett, Dorothy from I’ve Made my Bed, I’ll Lie on It(1978) Rapunzel in Suburbia, P.22 .Prism Press, Sydney

[13]McNamara K. & Elliot, M., 1997, from MotherTongue p 17, Praxis, Language and the Death of Meaning, Aberrant Genotype Press, Canberra.

[14]SlaughterHouse (1999) Ed. McNamara, K., Verdon, R. & Keaney, G. Aberrant Genotype Press, Canberra. P39-42

[15]Quoted in James Hillman, A Blue Fire (1989) New York, Harper & Rowe. See chapter on ‘Mythology as Family’, p.197.

[16]McNamara K. (1997), from Mother Tongue p 39-40 for a discussion on female grammar, Praxis, Language and the Death of Meaning, Aberrant Genotype Press, Canberra.

[17]I am referring, of course, to the whole code of secret handshakes in this extraordinarily ritualized male institution.

[18]Opcit: Tannen, Deborah

[19]Pinter, Harold, The Homecoming (1974) Penguin, London.

[20]Pinter, Harold, Buried Child (1978) Penguin, London.

[21]Opcit, Hillman, James (1989) A Blue Fire, New York, Harper and Rowe. See Chapter on ‘Mythology as Family’ Pp194-249.

[22]Opcit, Hillman, James, p204.

[23]Hillman, James op cit p.190.

[24]Aristotle, Poetics I and II or for a more accessible reading in Aristotle’s work try Parker, G.F. (1967) Greek Philosophy from Thales to Epicurus, Edward Arnold Pty. Ltd. London.

[25]An interesting reading in this area is a fictional account of female linguists in Suzette Elgin’s Native Tongue, London, The Women’s Press, 1985.

[26] Quoted , Linga Mentalis: The Semantic of a Natural Langaguge,(1980) P.7 Academic Press Australia

27 Opcit. Wierzbicka

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