To start, she plays the harp with precision and feeling. She memorizes the music and has yet to use sheet music when she’s performing. I’ve even seen her go around to the other side of the harp and play well known songs plucking the strings backwards.
She loves animals. She rides one horse who is finicky around others, but calm when being ridden by her. There is no pretense in my granddaughter’s behavior. What you see is what you get. That’s why I think the finicky horse likes her. She’s a clear read. That’s vitally important when working with animals.
She has learned to code in order to create short animated movies on her computer. She’s guaranteed her future economic security by learning to code. You can do anything when you know how to code and then create unique digital magic. She has all that going for her.
She loves to ice skate and performs in synchronized skating routines with other girls. She not only loves to ice skate, she’s determined to skate well. That’s very hard to do. She focuses fiercely.
She’s always been reserved around adults. I’m not sure I know why. It’s just who she is. When you joke with her, you have to be on guard, because when she’s had enough, her come backs are brutal . . . and wickedly funny.
To appreciate her she needs to be described in very precise terms, otherwise, you won’t fully comprehend her. She doesn’t fit into general descriptions of the average nine year old.
But as she grows into her teen and young adult years, the rules of social behavior will demand she be described in generic terms. To the extent that happens is the degree to which language and its rules rob us of enjoying unique and gifted people who live amongst us – you know, like my granddaughter.
Language pressures us to conform to certain standards of comportment. I really hope this nine year girl doesn’t give in to the power of language’s gravity to demand conformity.
We cannot see or hear a thought until it is put into words (or symbols). After that human behavior is shaped by words. Words form sentences. Sentences are chants that we memorize, which in time serve as commands that direct not only our behavior but most of our thinking. Much of the time we believe the world is the way it is, because the sentences say it is.
I think my granddaughter is insightful enough to see through this. If so, she will have a meaningful life.
Right now I’m going to share two examples of how she will be able to see through the control words and language have on our lives.
The Problems of Feminine and Masculine Structures in Language
In Spanish, objects are not neutral. All objects in the Spanish language are either feminine or masculine. For example, the word door in Spanish is “La puerta”, which is feminine. Words ending in “a” along with the article “la” are labeled feminine in Spanish. Words ending in “o” or “e” with the article “el” like “el auto” meaning the car are masculine.
Studies (Psychology Today) point out that such structures in languages influence our thinking. For example, the word bridge in German, “die brucke”, is feminine, but in Spanish it is masculine, “el puente”. When asked to describe a bridge, Germans most often described a bridge as elegant and beautiful. Whereas, native Spanish speakers more often than not describe bridge as strong and sturdy.
One may be led to sense that our judgment is influenced by the very words we use to describe the world in front of us. This is accomplished without us being aware of it. This also suggests that it is hard to be purely objective when describing something as simple as a bridge.
I have nothing against languages that use feminine and masculine rules to name objects. I use it only as an example of how language influences how we think and feel about the objects and people we interact with on a daily basis.
If a bridge is always considered strong and sturdy just because it is so designated by the structure of language, what’s to stop that from influencing how the different sexes feel about themselves? Maybe Spanish language structure presses men to act overly macho. What if a woman feels strong and sturdy, but feels emotionally awkward because those words are, by the arbitrary rules of Spanish, masculine. Unconsciously, we are programmed to stay in our box. If you are female, you stay in the feminine box, and are trained only to want to be described with feminine words.
You might even say that if you control the rules of language, you control the minds of the people who speak that language.
For those of us whose native language is English, we might feel safe, even superior, because English language does not break objects into feminine and masculine categories.
But, you would be wrong.
English has the reverse problem to Spanish. It excludes women from sentence structure altogether.
About five years ago I decided not to use masculine pronouns to describe both men and women.
For example in writing I do not use the words he or his or him unless I’m talking about a specific male person.
Instead of saying, “An American should not wave HIS right to a lawyer,” I will say, “An American should not wave THEIR right to a lawyer.”
In a strict rules based grammatical sense the first sentence is correct, because the noun “American” is singular and the possessive pronoun “his” is singular. But, I decided to consciously break that rule by using the singular noun “American” with a plural possessive pronoun “their”.
Even though in the second sentence I have mixed a singular noun “American” with a plural possessive pronoun “their”, I have accomplished something more profound. I have avoided the use of the word “his” as a general description for both sexes.
Why? It’s obvious isn’t it? 50% of the people are not him, or his, or he.
Gender inequality happens at subtle points, most often in the language we use to explain ideas and opinions.
I don’t want my granddaughter (for that matter any of my granddaughters) clumped into groupings that do not accurately reflect who and what they are. Accuracy matters in a society constantly striving for equality.
My opinion is that little things matter. Little things accumulate over time in language until they become foundational building blocks. We often put women under masculine umbrellas, like in the above example.
Does this have an impact on self-perception? Of course. If one is described in a way that avoids who you are exactly it has an impact. Just think of how you feel when they misspell your name. When people write my name, I want them to get it right. I’m Roger Hendrix, not Rodger Hendricks. When you write about me, I want you to get in right.
A female is not a him, no matter how general it is used. (Transgender excluded).
So in conclusion, my granddaughter is bright, insightful, and very self-contained. Let’s hope she sees through the structure of language that boxes girls in (masculine vs feminine) while trying to lock them out (describing them imprecisely).