Wednesday, November 15, 2006

How important are words?

Sometimes I really wonder about the main focus of feminists in Germany. The reason I started wondering again was the announcement of a feminist group that finally there was a better translation for the bible into German.

As I don't expect many people outside Germany to be aware of the history of the German translation of the bible, I will give you a short summary of it before I continue with my point. The first German translation was done by Martin Luther (no, he's not missing the 'King', we're talking about a former monk from Germany here) at the beginning of the 16th century. He thought - rightfully - that people might find it easier to follow the words of God when they could actually understand them. As even a lot of priests only spoke Latin very badly and most others couldn't understand it at all, he translated the whole bible into German so that priests could use it in their sermons and the better educated people could read it for themselves. As around the same time printing with types instead of woodcuts was invented, the bible could be printed in large quantities and during the following decades and centuries the Luther Bible was to be found in almost every household in Germany. There are some other translations, but they mostly were done because languages change and the German of the 16th century became less and less understandable. Nevertheless, apart from a little correction here and a little correction there, most German bibles are still based on Luther's translation.

Now the already mentioned feminist group has translated the bible anew, in order to get a 'just' book - or maybe 'politically correct' would be the better expression. On the whole this new, 'just' bible is written in a way to ensure the female terms are included everywhere as well.

This I think needs another explanation. In English you only have one word for a job, for example 'baker' can mean both a man or a woman doing this job. There's no difference because of the gender of the person. In German this unfortunately isn't the case. We have 'Bäcker' for a male baker and 'Bäckerin' for a female one. As you can see, the difference mostly comes down to the two letters 'i' and 'n'. That's the case for almost all words that are gender-specific.

Now one could claim that it would be wise to always use the female term, as it more or less contains the male term anyway. Unfortunately the German language tends to use the male term mostly - for example we use 'men' even if we really mean 'men and women' and we use 'Man' (which isn't the same as 'man' in English, the equivalent would be 'Mann', but they sound alike) if we talk about people in general. So to be politically correct - and that's mainly the madness I try to write about here - you have to either use a slash, writing 'Bäcker/in' or you write both words with an 'und' (and) in between: 'Bäcker und Bäckerin'. While this, as you can surely see, makes the texts even longer, it's not really something important from my point of view.

I've wondered about this for a long time now, as this madness isn't new and was even around before the expression 'political correctness' and it's meaning were known in Germany. While I will confess that I, too, enjoyed emphasising as a teen that I didn't feel mentioned when people used the word 'Man', I grew out of it later on. People mostly don't use this word to discriminate against women, after all, they just use it because that's the way the German language works. If you really want to do it, you can discriminate a woman just as easily using the word 'lady' as you can using the word 'bitch'. You just have to emphasise the word correctly and put the sentence together the right way.

So what I find rather hard to understand is why some feminist groups - like this one which is part of the Lutheran Church (that's the Protestants in Germany, because when Martin Luther was done with translating the bible, he started his own church, as he saw the Roman-Catholic Church as spoiled and degenerated) - put so much emphasis on this kind of 'politically correct' wording. Of course you can discriminate against women using words, but is it really discriminating against women not to double each term for a job by putting in the female form as well? I don't feel discriminate when people just use the male form, because that's the way it works best in my language - and the way it was always done before.

And before some of you sneer: I have read the bible once, both the New and the Old Testament, because I'm actually Roman-Catholic and that means I have to take both books serious. I might have read rather quickly over the long lists of people fathering children (and I know some feminists might be angry about the fact that the mothers are not mentioned there), but I have read it.

And I really have a lot of things about those books I don't like as a feminist (like women quite often being pictured as the evil ones), but I've never worried about the fact that only very few female leaders, prophets or other spiritual persons have been mentioned. The books were written by men, so what would I expect? At least they didn't make us women the first murderesses either (Cain's a man, just in case you forgot). I could also point out a lot of things about the structures and traditions of the Roman-Catholic Church (which I know best, as you can imagine) which I see as discriminating against women. We don't have female priests and women only work in the lowest jobs. They are still seen as either saints or whores (and to be honest, not many people have what it takes to be a saint) and still have to live with being the reason mankind was kicked out of paradise. I still don't see why men should get out of this 'Original Sin'-business, nobody forced Adam to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, after all.

So there's a lot of things you can be set against when being a feminist and reading the bible, the actual wording isn't really one of them. Why should I be angry about the fact that there are no female apostles mentioned in the New Testament when the Old Testament almost begins with a woman committing the Original Sin? There are strong women in the New Testament, like Jesus' mother Mary and Mary Magdalen. After all they both follow him to his execution and are with him in his last hours on earth. For the woman who gave birth to him and the woman he is these days said to have loved that must have been really hard, watching him die slowly and painfully.

This emphasis they put on wording is what makes feminists look so stupid in the eyes of most people. As if not mentioning female apostles in the bible were the worst way women are neglected or discriminated these days... We still get less money for the same work, we still have to live with being discriminated or mobbed at work just because we're missing the 'Y'-chromosome. We're still not taken seriously when we decide to stay at home and work hard to keep the family together and the household in perfect order (and sometimes the feminists actually are doing the discriminating there; why doesn't a woman have the right to work for her family if she wants to?). Being a housewife is not a job - and with "Desperate Housewives" on TV, it turns out to actually be even less 'respectable' ... as if a normal housewife would live her life that way. Some men still seem to think it's okay to beat your wife or girlfriend when they don't act the way you expect them to, because after all women are there to serve men. There are still women out there crippled and scarred for life because men think women should not be able to feel pleasure during sex. There are women out there who have to hide because otherwise they would get killed by their own relatives because of 'honour' (a word no man has been able to explain to me in a logical and rational way up to this very second). A lot of men still think it's a woman's fault if she gets raped, even though rape has nothing to do with lust and everything with domination and degradation of the victim.

As long as all those things still exist in our world, not as exceptions but almost as the rule, I as a feminist will never be angry about the bible containing mostly male wording. And frankly I find it hard to take those feminists seriously who are angry about such a minor detail ... and celebrate such a 'just' bible as if it were the answer to all our problems.

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