Thursday, 27 April 2017

Plural language and the Trinity

Here is a quote from Nabeel Qureshi that delightfully ties in my points about French plural forms and knowing what the word Trinity refers to (previous post). It's from Qureshi's  2016 book No God But One; Allah or Jesus?, Chapter 6, the section entitled "The Trinity in the Bible":
"After emphasising that God created mankind in his image, the Bible then says he created them male and female. That's not to say God has genders, but it is to say that there is a plurality in his image. This is reflected in Scripture's use of him to refer to mankind, and then its switch to them. Mankind is in one sense singular, one humanity, but in another sense plural, composed of men and women. That is the image of God: both singular and plural. (p.58)
Who's to say that, far from being sexist, the French plural form in the masculine isn't in fact a glorious reflection of our status as divinely created and beloved beings?

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Language use in France and Oxford

"The Times" today features articles on Macron's wife, as I discovered after posting the previous blog entry. The articles are advertised on the front page of the paper with the headline: 'The First Cougar?", which really catches the eye as a being nice and classy, doesn't it? Anyway the main article, written by Helena Frith Powell, starts out very positively by describing "the spring in every older Frenchwoman's step" caused by glamorous Brigitte Trogneux, the 64 year-old spouse of the presidential candidate. But the second paragraph begins: "France is an extremely sexist society. You have only to look at how the language is structured to see that. A group of men and women in a room become grammatically masculine." So would a group of foodstuffs, or plants, or whatever. It's gender (linguistic), not sex (physical, biological), that dictates the rule. What else is a language with gendered nouns and pronouns supposed to do with a group composed of both genders? I always thought it was a neat solution for the masculine plural to be made to encompass the feminine, whereas when you have a feminine plural you can be certain only feminine genders are being referred to. Simple! Further down in the article Frith Powell has no problem quoting Inès de la Fressange's reference to the country as a whole in the feminine: "France is showing her individualism". Is this traditional usage also wrong? Should men decry it as sexist? Traditional language use comes under fire elsewhere in the "times2" section. The columnist Robert Crampton comments on the silliness of Oxford University's recent warning to its (or 'her') students about how failure to make proper eye contact could be construed as a micro-aggression. Crampton rightly points out that youths arriving at University are not necessarily blessed with perfect social manners and beyond that, could find sustained eye contact difficult for a variety of reasons (he mentions shyness, introversion, mental health issues; to which one could add, learning difficulties, being anywhere on the autistic spectrum, plain kookiness and good old-fashioned eccentricity). But that's not enough for Crampton: he has to manufacture a grievance with Oxford for its use of traditional names to refer to the three terms of its academic year: Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity (Trinity being the current term). "As if anyone knows what Trinity means!" rebukes Crampton. His advice to Oxford, so as to make everyone "feel more welcome", is to "ditch the whole embarrassing antiquated private-lingo nonsense." Right. So, does he know for a fact that those students from "unlikely backgrounds" feel micro-aggressed by the term names? If so, maybe the names of the Colleges are also a problem? How about the name 'Oxford' itself: too grand-sounding, too steeped in history for comfort? Where does such nonsense begin, and where would it end? As someone who came here in 1988 from a most unlikely background, I can vouch that learning the unwritten rules and the formal peculiarities of such an ancient university was far more of a strain than learning three new names. In fact those names can be seen as a plus, as different and interesting. Oxford Brookes University, up the hill in Headington, now operates a two-semester year, unimaginatively referred to as Semester 1 and Semester 2. Is that better and, if so, why? Discuss. I'm not sure in what way Crampton finds the traditional term names 'embarrassing'. 'Antiquated' means 'old, used here in a pejorative sense. Well, those names are old, but they are not 'private-lingo'. On the contrary, they are drawn from the social and church year, as they were observed by pretty much everyone in the country for hundreds of years. And far from being 'nonsense', they refer to dates and events everyone used to observe or at the very least know about. Michealmas:  the feast day of St Michael, September 29th, also marking one of the four 'quarter days' of the year when rents etc were due; Hilary: named after the feast day of St Hilary, January 14th; Trinity, the summer term: named after Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost, Jesus's promised gift of the Spirit after his Ascension, and thus celebrating the fullness of the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Mr Crampton might not believe in what the term names refer to, but what he should find embarrassing is the ignorance and chronological snobbery of his attack on them.

Macron's wife

If Emmanuel Macron is elected President of France there will be two trivial but irritating points to contend with over the next five years. 1) His surname will be mispronounced as 'Macrawn' or 'Macrone' in English-language media. He will join a list of people or characters whose name ends with an 'n' that ought to be silent, like Jean Valjean (Les Mis), Gaston (Beauty and the Beast), or Dion (French Canadian songbird Céline). This would not be a problem if Marine le Pen were elected, as the pronunciation 'le Penn' is correct in her case, unusually. 2) The age of his wife will be mentioned constantly - as the age of Melania never is, for example, even though the gap between the Trumps is roughly the same as between the Macrons (24 or 25 years). The key factor in the Macron marriage is that the wife is the elder. For all that we are browbeaten with the notion that love is love, and can withstand any permutation of orientation or identity in addition to race or social class, the notion of a young man loving and marrying a woman who is beyond child-bearing age continues to be problematic. Understandably so, but only if we allow that our instincts about what is right and what is icky or yucky have some validity. Of course we think a man should marry a woman of child-bearing age, because a woman's main currency as a marriage prospect is tied to her youth and her capacity to provide offspring. We all know this, and it's not a bad thing, even though it's now considered too politically incorrect to mention outright. But sometimes the woman a man loves does not fit into that role, and no, that doesn't necessarily mean the man is simply covering up his homosexuality by using the woman as a 'beard'. The majestic Derek Prince (1915-2003), inspirational Christian, Bible teacher extraordinaire and emphatically heterosexual, married a 55-year old woman when he was 30. And she was no oil painting, as the saying goes: plump, short, bespectacled, completely un-retouched aesthetically. He loved her because they spoke the same spiritual language and they made a great team. Their happy, successful marriage lasted until her death some thirty years later. Macron and his wife Brigitte likewise seem to speak the same language in a secular sense. Macron makes no secret of his reliance on her support. Come to think of it, would a younger woman be ready to support her husband as Brigitte does? Might that have something to do with it also? Obviously he should not be elected in order to make a case for older women as worthy wives, but such a case could be a positive footnote to his potential presidency. The worst scenario would be that such a footnote is the best one can hope for from a candidate who seems content to describe the 'terrorist menace' as reliably ongoing and who once said French society was partly responsible for the terrorism it has already endured.

Friday, 21 April 2017

"Beauty and the Beast"

Coming late to the party on this one, although it turns out to be a very good Easter Week movie, what with the death and resurrection theme of everything being cursed and/or dying being made whole and/or alive again. So top marks in the happy endings category. Lots of nice things to be said too about the look of the movie in general and how dazzling the set pieces are, and how engagingly the animated furniture is depicted and voiced. Some of the singing is gorgeous. The unacknowledged hero is the horse named Philippe (which means lover of horses). Philippe goes from cart-horse to swift and elegant saddle horse without missing a beat; he can survive on his own outside the palace in the snow and be ready to gallop away at a moment's notice, and indeed gallop back; he stands up to wolves, understands English and could probably make a cup of tea if Mrs Potts were ever to take a break. My beef with the film is with the 'B' characters: Belle and the Beast. Belle, as everyone knows, is played by Emma Watson. She is excellent casting in the sense of being familiar to hundreds of millions of potential viewers from her long-term starring role in the Harry Potter franchise. She is also perhaps 'blank' enough in her acting abilities for those viewers to superimpose themselves onto her portrayal and therefore successfully invest themselves in the movie. But by the same token - to me at any rate - she still looks like a child. A slip of a girl, with no stature and, even worse, with no deportment. She clomps around in lace-up ankle boots, slouching and lumpen. Granted she does try hard in the ballrooms scenes to move more gracefully but it's too little too late. The damage has been done: she is just not believable as a beauty. And by the way, the word 'Belle' does not mean 'beauty', as per one of the songs: it's the adjective 'beautiful', in the feminine gender. It was only when Plumette, the peacock-like feather duster, was on screen that I was able to bask in the beautifulness advertised in the title. All the more so when Plumette becomes, at the end, the lovely Gugu Mbatha-Raw. The Beast, for his part, is far too handsome. We are told in the narration early on that the selfish brat of a prince was cursed by being transformed into "a hideous beast". We're told that, we're not shown it. The Beast's impressively masculine physique is built on harmonious lines, he has an expressive face (more than Belle's almost), lovely eyes and is apparently clean and nice-smelling. Stinking rich, of course, which doesn't count as a repulsive trait. Moreover his curse is something of a blessing in that it has turned him from a selfish fop into a well-read, sensitive soul who has gratitude for his "expensive education". What's not to like? It was only in deference to the teenage girls I was with at the cinema that I didn't burst out laughing at the Beast's transformation back into a man. 'Man' is putting it too strongly. Poor Dan Stevens, deprived of his ten-inch stilts and his Beastly bearing, emerges as a dishevelled long-haired blond, looking tiny and faintly embarrassed to be there. The close-up on his pink dewy skin and bright blue eyes accentuates the contrast with his Beast get-up. This makes him come across as more feminine than Belle. She is meant to be delighted with his new look. I would have had her adapt Cogsworth's line and tell her prince: 'Turn back into a Beast! Turn back into a Beast!'. Eventually she does ask him if he would consider growing a beard, which only provokes a cheesy response. The fuss (no doubt a self-serving fuss) about the gayness of one of the characters was misleading. There are two gay characters, and they duly recognise each other as part of the happy finale. More importantly, it's what appears to be the deliberate feminisation of the male lead that is the problem with this otherwise spectacular film.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Sex education's destination

Ah, bliss, springtime in the British Isles. The sun is shining, the birds are twittering, the lambs are frolicking - and the National Union of Teachers (aptly acronymed the NUT) are calling for children to be taught about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender Plus issues from the age of two onwards. Bless their little eyes, how sweet! How enlightened! Because it's not good enough that there is already a proposal of 'sex and relationship education' (SRE) aimed at those tiny young children, approved by parliament. Oh no: the proposal has to be made 'inclusive'. Inclusive of parents who don't want their children mentally and emotionally abused by matters far too mature for them? No, the parents can go hang. Rather: inclusive of a minuscule, statistically insignificant, proportion of late teens and adults in the wider society who may not have the sexual orientation or 'identity' of their biological sex. This news I read in "The Times" yesterday. Today's "Times" gives a sense of context with a photo of 'Slogans for sale' at a NUT stall at the convention in Cardiff: 'We Are All Children of Immigrants' (patently untrue); 'Still Hate Thatcher' (why?); 'A Woman's Place is in the Union' (really?); 'This is What a Trade Unionist Looks Like' (so?); 'This is What a Feminist Looks Like' (ditto); 'Rock Against Racism' (how?). There are badges and leaflets, but the slogans quoted above appear on what look suspiciously like coasters, bizarrely, those despised middle-class weapons against ring marks on the coffee table. Be that as it may, and we must allow radicals to care about their furniture as much as the next person, the statement that struck me most from yesterday's article was one where the NUT vice-president asserts that though the provision of SRE to even very young children can be hailed as a 'victory',  there is "still a long, long way to go." Not just a long way, according to her, but a long, long way. A long way - to where? What destination can this teacher be referring to? She either has no practical idea of what she means beyond wanting to feel the glow of a desire to break down every last shred of conventional morality, or she is actively plotting a society where everything, including families, small children and every last notion of innocence, is excluded from and sacrificed to the society of her dreams. Should we ever get to that destination, I suspect that people like her will the first to complain that it's an appalling place to live.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Jenner's cutting remark

Bruce Jenner was a hero of the 1976 Olympics in my hometown of Montreal. He won the gold medal in the decathlon, a discipline that is specifically for men. He was married at the time but then divorced and subsequently married and divorced twice again He produced two children with each of his three wives. By any calculation that makes him a father of six. Perhaps by some estimations that makes him something of a patriarch. Bruce Jenner is no more, however. A search of his name re-directs the searcher to Caitlyn Jenner because that's how he chooses to identify himself. He had a ten-hour facial feminisation procedure and acquired implanted breasts two years ago, in addition to some hormone treatment (I think). Since then he/she has been much in the news and entertainment complex, boasting some fabulous wigs, artful make-up and expensive attire. Well ok, no harm done, right?  Besides everyone else having to readjust their understanding of reality, maybe not, although how readjusting one's understanding of reality weighs up against one person's understanding of their identity is in fact a huge question and not one that necessarily leads to sweetness and light by any means. The big news now, though, is that Bruce/Caitlyn has this year undergone surgery to remove his male genitalia, and presumably replace it with a semblance of the female opposite. This is what was until five minutes ago called gender reassignment surgery and is now referred to as 'gender confirmation surgery'. This news was accompanied by a quote from Jenner on the organ he calls "just a penis", the one he had chopped off. Here is the quote: "It has no special gifts or use for me other than what I have said before, the ability to take a whiz in the woods." Er, hang on a minute. First of all, in what universe are women incapable of taking 'a whiz in the woods'? (Dismissing as unworthy the other questions that pop up, to wit, how many times did Bruce Jenner actually have to take a whiz in the woods? Was it a regular occurrence? Will Caitlyn now avoid woods for the rest of her life?) Secondly and, of course, more importantly, are we meant to blot from our minds the truth that Jenner's male genitalia engendered six other human beings, all still bearing his name (except for one married daughter as far as I can tell)? No "special gifts", are you kidding? No "use"? The context is meant, I suppose, to be one where the glories of his progenitive power are in the past and now considered to be surplus to requirement. But it seems a bit hard on his children. And even if they all come out in support of their father spouting such nonsense it makes the readjustments to reality for the rest of us that much harder still.