Gender and State Formation

Entities understood as outside human political activity, as part of the biological or divine order, are often used to justify and rationalize political power (Gal & Woolard, 2001). Gender and language have, individually and together, been summoned up to undergird or legitimate other social formations, particularly nations or nation-states in a variety of different contexts, ranging from 18th century European states, to postcolonial nationalist movements and postsocialist states in Eastern Europe. To question the significance of language or of gender is often to question an entire political edifice. The prevalence of naturalizing accounts of language and of gender may explain some of the challenges that have faced scholars in linking up studies of language, gender, and political economy, since linguists themselves are not immune from such ideologies (Irvine & Gal, 2000). Recent work on state formations has begun to consider how notions of language and of gender are produced in certain discourses about politics (see also Scott, 1999). For instance, Edmund Burke's attack on the French Revolution was built around a contrast between ugly san-sculotte hags and the softly feminine Marie Antoinette (Scott, 1986). By contrast, part of the way the critique of the Old Regime was developed during the French Revolution was by identifying elite women with the system of patronage, sexual favors, and corruption of power, in which they had been active participants. Political revolution was seen to lie in excluding women and their corrupt influence from the public sphere; the sexual virtue of women who engaged in public speech and activities was questioned, in ways which presented a double bind for women who were themselves revolutionaries. In yet another example, Teodoro Kalaw, a Filipino nationalist, critiqued American colonialism by criticizing the effects of the teaching of English. Filipino women reading books in English were corrupted by Anglo-Saxon influence, he argued, and insisted on being known as "girls" instead of dalagas or maidens. Soon, he lamented, they would be walking out alone without duennas, with handbags under their arms just like bold little American misses (Karnow, 1989, pp. 201-202).

One of the most sophisticated and detailed examples of the role that language and gender play in nation formation is Inoue's (2002) geneaological account of Japanese women's language. Linguistic scholars in Japan and elsewhere have published countless articles describing how Japanese women are said to speak differently from men at all levels of language—phonology, semantics, syntax, pitch. Some scholars argue that these same differences have been transmitted largely without change since the 4th century. Inoue demonstrates, however, that the association of specific speech forms with gender did not exist until the late 19th century. This period was also critical for the development of the Japanese nation-state. It was characterized by rapid industrialization, massive urban migration, labor struggle, the development of mass communication and transportation systems, a new legal code, the appearance of representative democracy, and compulsory education. At the same time wars with China and Russia led to skepticism about the desirability of rapid westernization and to an embrace of the need to "return" to Japanese tradition. The government launched a project to shape women into good wives and wise mothers, a project that mixed Confucianism and the western cult of domesticity. Women came to symbolize the shifting boundary between tradition and modernity, and speech forms referred to as "Japanese women's language" emerged in serialized novels, letters in magazines for young girls and women, and advertisements for commodities such as perfume and ointment. Inoue points out that the social power of language in this case is such that it constitutes reality not by naming and pointing to an object which already existed, but by constructing that object.

Other kinds of discourse about women can serve as a way of constructing new notions of nation. In all the countries of Eastern Europe, questions of procreation and reproduction became for a time the focus of intense public debate in the postsocialist era. In an analysis of how a debate about abortion proceeded in Hungary in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Gal (1997) points out that the debate was not linked to sexuality and women's right to privacy, as in the United States, but instead to ideas about nationhood, communism, and the defense of civility. Everyone defined himself or herself against a godless, immoral, and overly ideological communism. In conservative writings, women were portrayed as the corrupt beneficiaries of the communist state (with maternity leaves and favorable divorce and custody laws) and were called on to renounce cynically materialistic motives and produce children for the health of the nation. Doctors, lawyers, and politicians, in making these arguments, constructed themselves as the best judges of what was good for women, and thus enhanced their own role in the state and civil society as they constructed a model of a state built around national and ethnic unity. Liberals offered more lenient proposals for legalized abortion, but were ultimately less concerned with women and their rights than articulating a vision of the state as a minimal one which did not assume or construct a unified populace, and which left both private property and reproductive decisions outside its own realm. Gal points out that arguments about abortion were not the means to reach already defined political goals, but rather were constructed as ways to justify and naturalize certain political visions, to gain moral credit for those advocating certain views, and thus to display and argue for certain styles of leadership. Debates about abortion were the discursive terrain on which other issues about the form of the state, how leaders would be chosen, and what was worthy of political attention, were being fought.

Ideas about language and gender were also used to rationalize 19th century imperialist actions, especially in the analysis of grammatical gender. Many linguists have argued that in languages with grammatical gender the nouns are placed in classes not according to their meaning, but only according to their form. Indeed, feminists adopted the analytic concept of "gender" from these analyses precisely because it suggests that differentiation occurs on a social, rather than a biological, basis. However, more recent feminist analyses suggest that speakers often perceive a connection between grammatical gender and sex, and that connection reproduces a covert hierarchy between the masculine and the feminine, in scholarship and everyday life alike (see Cameron, 1992, pp. 82-98 for an extended analysis; Munroe & Munroe (1969) is an early attempt to correlate the occurrence of grammatical gender with sex bias in a society (though it should be noted that in terms of the criteria used in their analysis, American society has no structural sex bias). In the 19th century many scholars of African linguistics suggested that the way a language handled gender relations, specifically grammatical gender, revealed its "family" relationship to other languages, as well as speakers' mentality and sociopolitical conditions (Irvine, 2001). Linguists appealed to what were then taken to be ethnographic facts about African family life to explain linguistic structure and relationships. Early writers, influenced by the notions of universal fraternity developed during the French Revolution, saw in African languages the proof of human equality. Some even found the absence of grammatical gender in Wolof more rational than the arbitrary sex distinctions encoded in French. Later in the century, however, during the establishment of European colonial empires, African languages were seen to contain evidence of the importance of sexual and racial hierarchies. In the view of these linguists, African languages were not cate-gorizable into language families because of the lack of written traditions, the supposed lack of public meetings, and the lack of the kind of family life in which children were properly supervised by parents. Children, portrayed as not being carefully instructed in language use by their parents because they were largely left in the company of peers or older adults, were thought to construct a whole new language with each generation. Languages that put all humans into the same grammatical class, or which showed no noun class distinctions at all, were associated with polygamy or promiscuity. Languages lacking sex-gender systems were claimed to mark a mentality not able to recognize social hierarchy or assert independence. Constructions of family relationships based on ideologies about gender and politics shaped the representation of linguistic relationships. This analysis suggests the ways that linguists' own assumptions about gender and language always also require careful analysis.

Finally, Philips (2001) has pointed out that, though it is common for gender ideologies to be elaborated around gender dyads, societies differ in which gender dyads are selected for ideological elaboration. Key gender dyads are typically drawn from cross-gender relationships within the family, and can include wife-husband, sister-brother, mother-son, and father-daughter relationships. In many North Atlantic societies, the husband-wife relationship is treated as primary, but in the South Pacific the sister-brother relationship is much more explicitly developed, discussed, and celebrated. Philips (2001) demonstrates how the condemnation of crimes of bad language by Tongan court officials on the grounds that brothers and sisters might have been present projects such a relationship from the family to the nation: all Tongans are expected to treat one another in public as if they were brothers and sisters.

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