Robin Lakoff is a professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of the seminal feminist text Language and Woman’s Place. She wrote a scathing indictment in Time magazine on people’s interest in Hillary Clinton’s emails. She calls it a “b*tch hunt” and says that people’s outrage is nothing to do with the handling or the content of her emails but more with her audacity to Speak While Female. I felt like it needed a reply. Here it is.
Okay well, first off Robin, Hillary Clinton is not guilty of Speaking While Female. She has never been guilty of that. If you’d read the emails, you’d know that. Not one word that you or I have ever heard her utter is from Hillary the woman. Hillary’s words are entirely a composite of what a team of media specialists headed up by John Podesta think will improve her polling numbers. Yes there are a few women on that team, badly-paid women I might add if her campaign is run anything like CNN tells us the Clinton Foundation is run. Every response to every question that comes from Hillary publicly is crafted by a team of wordsmiths who test every message and consider how it’s going to land with every demographic. Not once, in all of those emails, do they ask her what she believes. None of what you hear from Hillary’s mouth is Hillary. That is not a woman speaking for herself, that is a woman repeating lines.
So no, she’s not guilty of Speaking While Female in public. In fact, it’s probably one of the few crimes she’s innocent of.
They don’t ask Hillary what she thinks or believes because that’s not the point for her or for them. She has her beliefs, but they are private. We only hear the manufactured public face. They are only concerned with testing the message and maximizing votes, nothing more. It’s notable reading through it that you never read them saying “Oh, we should do something for these guys, help them out in some way” or “Hey, these guys are doing a good thing, why don’t we combine an event with them and get them some attention?” or anything like that at all. They don’t do good, they just make it look good. They play the game. They are programmers gaming humans, always with an eye on the polling scoreboard.
But before you cry victim for her, and say “Oh poor widdle Hillary is getting puppeted by the patriarchy” — stop. It’s okay. She totally gets to use her real voice, it’s just that you or I never get to hear it.
Podesta and his team are creating her public face, which is the vote-getting face. Her private face, the one she shows to her donors, that’s her. The speeches to Goldman Sachs et al are intimate and felt. That’s where you’d hear her Speaking While Female. And in those corridors of patriarchal power, no one minds her at all you’ll notice. She’s their gal. They literally say that about her. They love her. So your concern-trolling about her being dismissed by the patriarchy is unfounded. You can relax. They couldn’t love her more.
So don’t worry, she speaks while female very comfortably. She never speaks from the feminine though. Now, sure, you totally have a point there, people are very intimidated by women speaking unapologetically from their femininity, and yes they shut you down for it. I know because I do it a lot. Speaking from the guts of the feminine can literally blow people’s hair back. It’s a howl from the earth, it’s the mother crying for her babies, it’s the ululations emanating from Standing Rock, it’s the roar from a planet so used and abused by patriarchy gone mad that it comes out in a guttural and tremulous bellow.
It sounds scary because it rattles the panes of everything we think of as “true.”
It’s distinct. It’s got guts. It’s moves people. And it speaks to the heart of everyone, male or female. It awakens their own inner feminine, the intuition, the healer, the carer, the visionary, the animal body in all of us that is screaming “STOP!” to the madness of letting the “intelligence” of man-made money dictate the direction of the planet. It’s not the voice of the status quo, it’s not the voice of softly-softly, it’s not the voice of eight more years of the same; it’s a giant roar of TURN AROUND as we rush headlong into World War Three and climate chaos. It’s the voice of change, by definition, because it’s been subsumed by the patriarchy since the invention of agriculture and it’s woken up through us and it’s demanding immediate action.
It’s the voice of “ENOUGH! You naughty boys, enough diddling your share portfolios at the expense of the planet, no you cannot have more war just for the hell of it, no your obsession with adding more zeroes to your bank account is not more important than clean water for our children. Stop. It. NOW.”
The feminine woke up and she’s fixing to whoop some ass.
You are right to champion it, Robin Lakoff. It needs as many champions as possible in its infancy. You were so right to be midwifing it back into the world back in the seventies when, as a young woman, you wrote a paradigm-shifting book that broke through the veils, crying out from that very heart of the then-voiceless feminine. You are not a stranger to this voice, in fact, you brought into consciousness the mitigation of female speech patterns and how they reflected and embedded our slavery in society.
But regaining our voice was never just about feeling comfortable “flouting the maxims,” although eschewing mitigation from our speech patterns has been an essential component in making sure our voices cannot be ignored. Fully regaining our voice means regaining Our Voice, the voice of the collective, the voice that collaborates with the earth, the voice that advocates for the vulnerable, for minorities, for the indigenous, for our ecosystem, for our children, for the planet, for the future. It speaks of arresting power from the will of money and giving it back to the will of people. It wants more democracy, fairer elections, money out of politics completely so the will of the people can take over the wheel again. It wants Mother Earth to wrest her power back again from the white-knuckled grip of a powerful few.
It’s the voice Shailene Woodley used in this article for Time, a voice they arrested and jailed. It’s the voice that Bernie Sanders ignited a nation with in the primaries, an election that Hillary rigged for the elite, a gruff roar of a voice that the patriarchal media ignored, then belittled, then shut down completely.
It’s the voice of Dr. Jill Stein, a woman so impressive they won’t let her in the debates, with a mind so formidable she can knock out a policy argument in 140 characters or less, and regularly does so on Twitter. There is no private/public divide with her, mainly because no one could do a better job of explaining her position on policy than herself. But if you want a study in how a female candidate has had her voice repeatedly shouted down, belittled, mocked and mansplained away, pay attention to the way Joe Schmoes feel entitled to explain science to magna cum laude Harvard graduate Dr. Jill Stein. She routinely gets called “idiotic” and “crazy” for her objections to the way health policy is dictated by government branches run by ex-Monsanto executives and big pharma lawyers.
This is a medical doctor these mouth breathers are talking to, who taught medicine at Harvard for decades. The other day John Oliver (an employee of a powerful media conglomerate that’s donated massive sums to the Clinton campaign) had the gall to mansplain Stein’s own student debt forgiveness program back to her using cherry-picked snippets from her discussion on the topic, artfully bending a very solid policy into an object of ridicule to roars of laughter from an audience befitting of the finale of the Hunger Games. “Let them eat cake!” they chortled from beneath their powdered wigs.
Well, okay, I lie. I mean, that totally happened but I added the wigs and the cake.
That’s the sort of voice I protect with my thundering voice of the feminine, not the voices of those who amass personal fortunes and unfathomable power by facilitating the worst aspects of the patriarchy. Those who exploit, degrade and punch-down to the marginalized do not speak from that voice, and I will not protect them.
Hillary Clinton does not speak from that voice. She speaks from the voice of the powerful few. With that voice she talks behind closed doors about handing even more power to money in the form of freeing up trade, and giving the banks even more power to regulate themselves. She talks of continuing oil and fracking and protecting oil interests by military means. That’s how she chooses to use her powerful voice, by softly reassuring the hand of power that it will not have to change under her watch.
That voice does not need our protection. That voice needs our resounding, earth-shattering, heart-of-the-feminine NO. Enough. No more. Mama says no. We all say no.
I hope you will join us.
[Featured Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]