I know I’m beautiful, so deal with it

“You don’t know you’re beautiful. But that’s what makes you beautiful.”

BULLSHIT. Could I be rolling my eyes any harder?

Today’s rant is about why our culture seems to think it’s so bad for a woman to know that she is beautiful and to be confident in that beauty. I’ve been reading a couple YA books lately, all of which I’m thoroughly enjoying, but one thing that gets on my nerves to no end is that almost all of the teenage female protagonists are insecure about the way they look, but they feel beautiful when their significant other tells them that they are beautiful.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that this is how most teenage girls feel; it’s certainly how I felt as a teenager: insecure, unattractive, tubby, gross, unlovable. That’s largely part and parcel of being a teenage girl. However. That doesn’t mean that our characters have to share all of those traits with us. Sure, characters aren’t supposed to be perfect, but why is feeling insecure/unattractive always the go-to imperfect trait in fictional teenage girls? What about rage? Oh that’s right, anger is unfeminine if allowed to go past a certain point. What about gossip? Oh that’s right, that would make her a bitch. What about being bossy? Oh that’s right, that would also make her a bitch.

Obviously I don’t think being prone to gossip or being take-charge or losing one’s temper makes one a bitch. But I don’t think I’m too off the mark to say that our society does. After all, would this Beyoncé GIF be quite so powerful and amazing if it wasn’t also something we’re not used to seeing?

We shouldn’t be surprised by this, but part of its power comes from its being unexpected. A woman in charge (of anything) should be just “the boss”- she shouldn’t have to explain herself or worry about others perceiving her as “bossy” or “bitchy.” But she does.

Characters should above all be honest, but what I can’t stand to see is when a girl feels beautiful only when someone else tells her she is beautiful (usually this is spoken by a teenage boy, because God forbid another girl tell her she’s pretty in more than a “oh no girl, you’re like so pretty, I can’t believe he didn’t call you” way). One, until a girl or woman feels beautiful for herself and by herself, it doesn’t matter how many other people (friends, family, significant others) tell her she is. No right combination of words will make her truly believe it until this knowledge is internalized and she knows it to be true on her own. Two, that doesn’t mean you should stop telling women in your life that they’re beautiful; definitely keep doing that, but understand that you don’t get to decide what makes her feel beautiful. Whether she feels beautiful wearing makeup or none at all, dressing up or not at all, etc, etc- that’s her decision.

Three (and back to the One Direction song lyrics I started with), what the hell is wrong with a woman actually KNOWING she’s beautiful? That is some leftover patriarchal bullshit that has no place in today’s world. I could easily paraphrase the lyrics so they read: “You’re only sexy because you don’t know how pretty you are, so let me tell you how beautiful you are so I can define your beauty for you and you will subsequently want to sleep with me.” Or equally as valid: “Damn girl, if you knew how fine you were, you wouldn’t be nearly as sexy. Also I probably wouldn’t have a chance in hell with you because you’d be so confident and badass.”

People always say that confidence is one of the most attractive things in a man. The same should be true for a woman. A woman who is confident in herself, who knows she’s beautiful- this same woman is often labeled “vain” or “shallow” or worse, a “bitch” because her standards are too high and she has too much self-worth to sleep with you in order to validate herself.

Your standards don’t define me. I’m beautiful, bitches.

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Freak Out with my Geek Out

I’m going to seriously nerd it up today, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, namely why our language is constructed the way it is.

Still with me? Huzzah! Okay, so I’ve been teaching myself Irish Gaelic for the past few months, and one of the most striking things about this language is that the verb always comes before the subject. So for example, in English, we would say, “The dog ran home.” In Irish Gaelic, the literal translation would be “Ran the dog home.” The English word order is known in linguistics as Subject-Verb-Object (abbreviated SVO); the Irish word order is know as Verb-Subject-Object (abbreviated VSO).

And because I’m not content to just know about the difference in sentence construction, I went about some research to figure out why some languages are constructed SVO and some VSO. In English, the focus is on the subject of the sentence. In other words, the subject (who performs the action) seems to be key (and dare we say most important?). In Irish, the focus seems to be instead on the verb of the sentence. In other words, the verb (the action being performed) seems to be key (and dare we say most important?).

Now before I go all-out geek, I’ll rein myself in to say first, which word order predominates in other world languages, and second, what I think these differences in construction mean.

First, there’s a good bit of linguistic research on all this, but the consensus seems to be that all humans had a common language once upon a long-ass time ago, and the word order of sentences in that language was most likely SOV. Example: “The boy the bear shot” is SOV, as opposed to “Shot the boy the bear” (VSO) or “The boy shot the bear” (SVO). Then eventually, people split off from each other and language evolved, and some languages kept the SOV word order, while some morphed into SVO, others into VSO, and even other constructions which aren’t terribly relevant to this post.

So many years passed and BAM! we have around 6500 languages in the world today. The SVO constructed languages have the most speakers in the world (examples: English, French, Mandarin Chinese, crazy lots of others). The second most common is SOV, and the third most common is VSO. Examples of VSO languages include the Celtic languages like Irish, as well as Classical/Biblical Hebrew and Arabic.

So why do some languages seem most concerned with the action being performed, and some with the person or thing performing that action? Full disclosure: The following conclusions are neither scientific nor scholarly, just some semi-educated guesses by someone who hasn’t fully done all her research yet:

Maybe- just maybe- some societies historically have been more concerned with something being done than with who does it.

Now in light of the recent “Blurred Lines” controversy, I think it’s safe to say that American society today seems inordinately preoccupied with who has done something. Sure, we all want credit when we’re brilliant (I’m no exception myself), but what’s ultimately going to last? Our names and the details of our lives, or our works and the feelings they inspire?

How many people still know anything about Michelangelo (other than that he was a famous artist)? How many people know who wrote the Beowulf epic (hint: no one)? But how many people have seen the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel since its creation and been inspired, or felt awe, or felt somehow profoundly connected to someone or something greater? And how can we ever fully measure the tremendous impact that Beowulf had on countless subsequent poems, epics, novels, plays, films, etc?

Learning Irish Gaelic has made me think about all this and wonder what our society would be like if English word order was VSO, focused on the verb of each sentence rather than the subject. In what ways might it change our culture, or would it even change at all? Perhaps the glorification of the individual was always inevitable in our society, and not something rooted in our very language. Then again, perhaps not.

I Fear for the Fucking Future: Let’s Talk about Clean Reader

So maybe I’m late to the party (it wouldn’t be the first time), but just this week, I heard about this app called Clean Reader. Basically, what it does is take a book and search it for any words that might be offensive. It then replaces them with euphemistic alternatives. For example, if a book contains the word “fucking,” Clean Reader will replace it with something like “freaking.”

This program was started by a couple from Idaho who didn’t want their child to be reading offensive language, so they decided to substitute it out and simply use what words they find acceptable, instead of what words the author deemed necessary.

To give you a more thorough breakdown of what words get substituted out (and with what), here’s a lovely description from The Guardian:

“Profanities such as “fucking” and “fucker” became “freaking” and “idiot”, “hell” became “heck” and “shit” became “crap”, according to an analysis of the app by Jennifer Porter. It was not only swear words that Clean Reader scrubbed out of books: Porter, who ran a series of romance novels through the app, found that body parts were also replaced. “Penis” became “groin”, “vagina” was swapped for “bottom” and “breast” changed to “chest”. Exclamations such as “Jesus Christ” became “geez”, “piss” became “pee”, “bitch” became “witch” and “blowjob” was switched with the euphemistic “pleasure”.”

Unsurprisingly, this bothers me on many levels.

First, it bothers me as a reader. When I read a book by a certain author, I expect the words I’m reading to have been composed and approved by that self-same author. I assume that whatever words they chose, they had a reason for, and if someone’s writing style or language choice is not up my alley, then I simply don’t read the bloody book.

It also bothers me as a reader because, in the quest to clean up an author’s language, some fascinating substitutions (and by fascinating, I mean terrible) are made. For example, Clean Reader assumes that someone using the words “Jesus Christ” must be using it in an offensive way, so it will block it. And apparently, the app even looks for words like “lick” and “cock” – lots of things can be licked and it not be offensive, and what if a rooster is crowing in your character’s backyard and they want to talk about it?

Let’s say we take this method and apply it to a literary classic such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. If we used an app like Clean Reader to “squeaky-clean” it up, what would be the end result? Besides the language now being different, we’d also face the problem of a book not being true to the time in which it was written, much less to the characters about which it was written. That doesn’t mean this language is not offensive, because most certainly it is. But a great part of the power of Huck Finn comes from this very offensiveness.

Second of all, Clean Reader bothers me as a writer. When I write, I choose my language- my words- very carefully and very precisely. And I don’t take kindly to the idea that someone can (without even reading my book first) go in and essentially mark out whatever language I have found important and essential, just because they find the words offensive. You are welcome to not read my books if the language offends you, but I don’t think that gives you the right to censor my words and replace them with words that you think are “good.”

Which leads us to the point of what is a good versus a bad word anyway. Who has decided that one word, such as “bitch” is any more or less offensive than a word such as “witch”? Historically speaking, I’m pretty sure “witch” has much worse connotations of stake-burnings and hangings and devil-worship and what-not. And by the way, in no universe does “bottom” mean the same thing as “vagina” – not to mention the fact that vagina is just an anatomical word.

Now of course there are some words that you don’t say in polite society, unless you just give zero fucks. However, that doesn’t mean that you get to go in to something that I have created, that I have worked hard to produce, and say “that’s not good language, this is what good language looks like, and I’m going to arbitrarily impose these standards on you.” And if they can do this with single words, what’s to stop someone from rewriting entire scenes that they find offensive? What if someone writes over a sex scene with a scene where the characters hold hands and just fall asleep instead? What if someone decides that the mere existence of an LGBT character is offensive, so all references to that character’s sexuality and romantic interests, etc, are simply erased- or even worse, replaced to make the character straight?

In my own writing, I don’t use a whole lot of what others may deem “unacceptable” language. There are generally a few well-placed words here and there when it’s necessary, but believe you me, it is sometimes most certainly necessary. For example, in one of the key scenes in my most recent book, my main character uses a word that I never use in my personal life. I had a good bit of debate with myself over whether this word was truly necessary. The more I thought about it, however, the more I recognized that it was essential. Just because I wouldn’t use the word in my personal life, doesn’t mean this character wouldn’t use it in hers. In fact, quite the opposite.

Now I also think because my pages don’t happen to be littered with “unsavory” words, that when I did find it necessary to use this word, it made it that much more powerful and impactful. So while I may not care for books where every other word is of the four-letter variety or some creative variation thereof, I recognize that no one is forcing me to read those books.

As a final illustration of my point, let’s think back to the film Gone with the Wind. If in the closing scene, Rhett Butler had told Scarlett, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a darn,” is there anyone who thinks it would have had nearly the same impact as when he actually said, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”?

That’s it for this week. May your tales be bawdy, and your language be your own.