With the maternal side of my family in Cochabamba, Bolivia, struggling under civil unrest, I’ve been pondering on issues of colonization. How does it happen? What are the steps involved? Many friends and relatives who shared similar apprehensions during time together during Thanksgiving unanimously agree that among one of the most concerning signs of colonization is that of the loss of language.
Native and indigenous languages are first identified and limited before they are controlled and eradicated completely. With the loss of language naturally goes our most personal and sovereign power, that of thoughts, ideas, self-expression, associations and ways of existing in the world. Language then is our most intimate system which shapes our identities. Once language has been taken from a people, they are left without roots, they are stripped of their heritage, history, culture and community. They are left unprotected and isolated, utterly vulnerable to being eradicated and erased.
With the recent support for the Equal Rights Amendment, some things are concerning to me. For starters, the original intent and focus of the 1972 ERA was on women, with the vast majority of the culture in agreement on what it meant to be a woman. But what is the definition of “woman” today? What does the word “sex” as used in amendment mean today?
For various reasons, which include the development and progression of gender identity politics, definitions for words like “sex” and “women” are no longer clear cut and this has serious consequences for maternal feminists like me.
Headline after headline the world over illustrates how women are repeatedly marginalized, sidelined, silenced and sometimes violently abused or even killed by men. Yet the language collapse of biological sex into “gender,” obscures the ability to talk about what is happening. All over the world, institutions and nonprofits set aside for women (women’s shelters, prisons, abuse and rape groups, schools, etc.) are increasingly pressured to neuter spaces specifically for biological females. Are we really, for example, prepared to say that biologically (and legally) male sex offenders, like Karen White, who sexually assaulted two female prisoners while in a British women’s prison, should have been placed in a women’s facility?
Not all is negative, of course. Almost every international development organization now agrees on the urgent need for women-only restrooms for girls in school and for the safety of adult women. Real progress is being made to keep women safe. But how can these critical victories take place if women no longer have a female-centered language and identity?
From my maternal feminist perspective, and from the work I have the privilege of engaging in with my global sisters at Big Ocean Women, I would hope that we can find some answers to these and other questions. I would hope that as critical thinkers, we might better detect elements of language colonization as they appear, so we could challenge them in constructive ways.
In the words of feminist scholar and global women’s advocate, Dr. Valerie Hudson Cassler, “To say that there is vibrant disagreement in the U.S. today over whether that legal interpretation (of the ERA language) would help or utterly decimate the cause of biological women is an understatement. … Does the Equality Act turn the ERA into a Trojan horse for women, actually serving to erase them completely within the U.S. constitution itself?”
Let us be vigilant in this process. Let us demand transparency, and let us boldly defend our language as if our very existence depends on it, because so often it does.
Carolina Allen is the founder and president of the international maternal feminist organization, Big Ocean Women .