Back in the days when I lived in my chicken coop-sized condominium, I spent a lot of weekends at the Motel Four. That’s what I affectionately called the little house I grew up in. Spring and summer Saturdays were for gardening and on Sundays I might grab 40 winks on a lawn chair beneath the beautiful trees before jumping in my car and heading back to the New Hampshire coop.
It was a relaxing ritual; my father would bring his transistor radio out and he’d tune in to WJTO in Bath, Maine. It’s an oldies station, playing sometimes very rare oldies.
One summer Sunday, Herman tuned in WJTO and we were all kind of drifting off in our lawn chair hypnosis when Eddie Fisher’s voice came over the airwaves, singing “Oh My Papa.” My mother stirred in her chair and said “I haven’t heard that song in a long time.” I’m not sure why, but we all laughed. Then we went back to our drifting.
I suppose it might have been funnier if Helen had said something like “That song is so patriarchal. Turn that crap off.”
Well…that’s not generally how things roll during lawn chair season under the beautiful trees.
I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about words being “patriarchal” or “matriarchal.” That’s why I was a bit taken aback the other night during my conversational French class. The instructor was explaining how French nouns are either masculine or feminine and the article used with them must agree. Here’s an easy example. The word “boy” is masculine. “Garçon.” The masculine form of the article for “the” is “le.” Therefore, if you want to say “the boy” in French, you say “le garçon.” Using our Eddie Fisher song, it would be “Oh Mon Père.”
It can be confusing.
And it must have been confusing during the class because as the instructor was writing out examples, she seemed uncomfortable explaining that certain words were masculine and certain words were feminine, like “the baby.” It’s masculine, even if the baby one is looking at is a girl.
That’s just how it is.
The instructor, a perfectly lovely person, did not say “it is what it is.” She said “well, French is a patriarchal language.”
I let that sink in for a minute and then scribbled a few words I no longer remember on a scrap of paper. The lesson continued and another uncomfortable masculine example materialized. Again, the instructor said “well, French is a patriarchal language.” And she further told us that French feminist linguists are working to change that.
Oh my papa!
Moi? I just want to learn to speak French fluently, so I can speak to French Canadians living in my midst. Maybe volunteer in a nursing home or something and speak to them in their own patriarchal language. Hear their stories. For posterity, patriarchal or matriarchal. I don’t like controversy and I’m not offended that a monkey is masculine (le singe) but a fly is feminine (la mouche).
When I am confronted in these moments of uncomfortable consternation, like the crosswalk conflict and now the patriarchal problem, I let things percolate in my brain for a bit and then they usually arrange themselves into a blog post. I don’t like conflict here on the blog and I’ll probably never write another post about patriarchy.
I’ve been thinking of writing a series of posts about cake. Making cakes, frosting cakes, and inviting people over to cake salon. (“Salon,” I’m afraid to say is masculine… le salon.) I will not be writing letters to the Académie francaise, requesting a redress of the language.
Just making cakes.
Maybe I’ll invite blog readers to cake salon.
Watch for it!