Health, Media, Parenting, Personal, Uncategorized

‘Don’t Use Words I Don’t Want You To’ – Irish Minister

pregnant-belly

As if running the Department of Poverty wasn’t a big enough job for Leo Varadkar, he’s decided to elect himself Minister for Mansplaining, and give himself cabinet responsibility for correct terminology as well.

Leo has decided that for every person, everywhere, who is ever pregnant, the correct word to use to describe the contents of their womb is ‘baby’.

‘Foetus’ Leo mansplains to all of us who have ever, will ever, or might ever, be pregnant, is not a word that we should use. Nor is it a word that should be used in reference to our pregnancies by mere mortals without a medical degree. ‘Foetus’, according to Dr V, is a medical word. The implication being that those of us who don’t hold medical degrees should not use medical words. We should not refer to our fingers as ‘digits’, either, he cautions. Presumably in case we lose the run of ourselves entirely, and start having a go at performing craniotomies during our lunch-breaks.

I only wish Dr V had been around 13 or 14 years ago, when I started telling my daughter that her vulva was her vulva, rather than her ‘fanny’ or her ‘front bum’ or her ‘butterfly’. I hope she doesn’t get notions above her station as a result. Idly, I wonder if Leo referred to his penis as his ‘passion pencil’ until he was a fully qualified medical doctor. Or if he’d be chagrined if he heard me talking about a migraine, and explaining to my GP that it had started occipitally? Would he chastise me, do you think, and tell me I should talk about the back of my head, instead? Except, referring to the back of my head is not as precise as referring to my occipital bone; and sometimes it is necessary and useful to be precise.

Does Leo not understand that women are allowed to refer to the contents of their wombs however they please? If a woman wants to refer to the product of conception inside her as ‘foetus’, ‘baby’, ‘peanut’, ‘sprog’, ‘alien’ or any other word she likes (the last time I was pregnant, my daughters referred to the contents of my womb as ‘The Minion’), it is not my place to tell her that she is using the wrong word. I would respectfully suggest that Dr V adopt the same attitude.

I find his diktat that all women should refer to their foetuses as babies – and that their friends and families should, too – to be more than vaguely unsettling.  If women aren’t even allowed, by Leo, to use the language which feels most appropriate for them, at a given time, what else does he think they really shouldn’t have a choice about? Or that they should only have limited choice about?

There is an element of nuance involved in this naming business. For a lot of women, when a pregnancy is wanted, they talk about their ‘baby’ even though they know it is not, actually, a baby. Every woman who wants to be a mother, wants to have a baby; but knows that first, she will have a blastocyst, then a zygote, then an embryo, then a foetus, then – if she’s lucky – a baby. We project our hopes onto our wanted pregnancies. We imagine what we’ll have at the end. We invest in them.

Every woman who doesn’t want to be a mother, doesn’t want to have a baby. She knows that she is well within her rights – even if not well within the law in Ireland – to decide what happens to her body. She will refer to it as an embryo or a foetus when discussing it because she is using the correct terminology, whether Leo likes it or not.

Leo also mentioned asking his pregnant friend if she knew what sex her baby was going to be (thank God he used correct terminology and didn’t ask her what gender) and I’m a bit horrified by this, to be honest. It’s none of his business. If his friend wanted to tell him, he should have left it up to her to disclose, and not gone prying. Is it just me, or does this interrogation assume a level of entitlement that he doesn’t deserve?

I also find it interesting that Leo decided to speak for his friend and his sisters by telling the world that if he had used the word ‘foetus’ when referring to their pregnancies, they would have been offended. Why? Because he thinks it’s a ‘medical’ word. I find this deeply disturbing; that a man would assume a woman would take offence because he thinks their thoughts and feelings should match his own? Is this more evidence of entitlement? Or am I over-thinking this?

When I speak to friends who are pregnant, I never say ‘How’s the foetus?’ (I reserve that for when I’m gently joshing friends who are in May-December relationships). Equally, though, I never say ‘How’s the baby?’ Instead, I ask ‘How are you?’ The person I’m addressing is free to choose whether or not to interpret that as second person singular or second person plural (do you think Leo will object to my using such technical language?), and answer accordingly. I don’t decide for her what word should be used in this context. It’s not my place.

 Maybe I’m over-sensitive. Or maybe I just don’t like being mansplained at by a privileged male with an over-developed sense of entitlement.

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Media, Personal, Uncategorized

Would Not A Rose By Any Other Name Smell As Sweet?

The decision, by the government in New Zealand, to ban certain names has led to titters on Twitter and prompted much water-cooler chatter on the subject of names and naming.  Irish people have written about how hard people in other countries find it to pronounce Irish names.  The Daily Edge beautifully illustrated this difficulty.

When you think about it, their name is the first social token a person receives.  Levitt and Dubner, who wrote Freakonomics devoted much ink and paper to musing about the social capital of certain names, predicting which would be popular with the next generation and why certain parents give certain names to their children. (Much of it is to connected to the desire to sound as though they belong to a more affluent sector of society than they do).

When I was 16, I changed my surname by deed poll.  My old man is an arse, and there was no way I was going through life with his name. It was only then I realised what a difficult thing it is to give yourself a surname. Naming my children was a doddle comparatively. I called them Ishthara Saoirse and Kashmira Meadhbh (Kashmira means The Abode of the Goddess and also the name of a flower that grows on the Malay Peninsula, where we lived when I was pregnant. Meadhbh means intoxicated with joy) .

The conversation about names yesterday and today,  made me think of interesting names I have encountered.  In one class I taught in Singapore, I had a Tan Wee Ping and a Hu Lee Ping. Their personal names were Wee Ping and Lee Ping, respectively.  I have also taught three brothers named Nixon, Regan and Clinton as well as sisters called One, Two and Three.  Their dad wasn’t going to bother using a ‘real’ name until he had a son.

When I lived in Indonesia, I knew quite a few  men called ‘Shah’  (one of them intimately). Under the new naming laws of New Zealand, they would not be allowed to use the Anglicised version of their name because it means ‘King’.  Likewise, the Indian women I have known called ‘Rani’ – meaning ‘Queen’.

In India, my daughter and I had a neighbour named ‘Dimple’ and one of the nurses at the hospital we attended was called ‘Pinky’.  In Malaysia, Azlan is quite a common name, and it took years before I stopped thinking of lions every time I heard it.

The prize for most unusual/discomfiting name still goes, however, to a seven year-old who was in the first class I taught in Singapore. His personal name was Kun Ting.  I called him ‘Darling’.

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