February 12, 2013

diction

Filed under:, , , — cwage @ 2:02 am

It took all my willpower not to title this post "DICKtion". GET IT?! Moving on:

So, Southern/Alpha is sponsoring an event called Spark Nashville, which will feature some startup pitches, general tech-ey networking, and some speakers -- Marcus Whitney and Nicholas Holland, who were referred to in the press release as "patriarchs" -- a truly unfortunate choice of words.

Why is this a problem?

First, the definition of patriarchy, courtesy of wikipedia:

Patriarchy (rule by fathers) is a social system in which the male is the primary authority figure central to social organization and the central roles of political leadership, moral authority, and control of property, and where fathers hold authority over women and children. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and entails female subordination. Many patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage.

Now, stay with me here, but some wacky feminists of late have suggested that female subordination is a total bummer and should be avoided. If you stretch your imagination a bit, you can prrrrrobably imagine how this particular word might be a little off-putting to any women that read it.

Given that, do I think it likely that the author of the press release intended to promote the subordination of females? Not likely. Both Hanlon's and Occam's razor apply here. It's more like that whoever chose the word was simply ignorant of its implications. There really is no common ungendered colloquial sense of "patriarch", especially when so many other words would have sufficed (start with "leader" and go from there), so it's a bit weird. There it is. Patriarchs. A truly unfortunate choice of words in a city trying desperately to get women involved in many traditionally male-dominated fields, technology foremost among them.

I won't get into the details of any actual patriarchy in the industry (which of course does exist), and how hegemonies tend to be promulgated despite the best conscious intentions of everyone involved. I can't speak for Nick or Marcus, but I know that if anyone ever described me as a "patriarch" of anything I'd be annoyed and politely but firmly ask them to choose another word.

Related: this older blog post.