In praise of the Editorial
Gender and Language is rarely explicitly fronted with an Editorial. We have Editors’ Annual Profile of Contributors and Decisions Made, ‘Launching studies of Gender and Language in the early 21st Century’ (1/1, 2007), an Editor’s ‘Report on our first year’ (1/2, 2007), the explicitly flagged ‘Editorial: Five years of Gender and Language’ (5/2, 2011), ‘The seventh year of Gender and Language’ (8/1, 2014) and ‘Ten years of Gender and Language’ (10/2, 2016), as well as ‘Editors’ Introduction to Volume 12’ (12/1, 2018). The most recent candidate, ‘Feminist refusal meets enmity’ (14/1, 2020), by journal Editors Rodrigo Borba, Kira Hall and Mie Hiramoto, though labelled ‘Editorial’ in the header, is not pre-titled as such, which means it does not appear as an Editorial on Equinox’s webpage for the journal. Which is a shame, as it is timely, forward-looking, substantial — and, for the purposes of this piece, fulfils many of the functions an Editorial of an academic journal should fulfil.
What are these functions? Without carrying out a Swalesean genre analysis of characteristic moves, I propose they go way beyond description and summary, and include: providing an overarching framework for the issue, perhaps by contextualising widely, in line with the journal’s ideological stance (which we can take as given as intersectional, transnational feminism); commenting on all contributions (almost certainly not in chronological order) and, further, relating and synthesising these, even when this is not a ‘special issue’; taking an intellectual lead and pointing to ‘the way forward’, in terms of epistemology, scholarship and perhaps sociopolitical practice, using the collection of articles as a springboard. The point of view expressed can be assumed to be those of the Editors as a group, though not necessarily of all the Editorial Board, and, inevitably, having selected the articles, the Editors are likely to concur with the contributors (‘As X rightly points out, ….’), thus providing implicit endorsement. However, in terms of structure, there needs to be a sensitive balance, integration and segue between the Editors’ own points and their chosen representations of the contributors.
The ‘overarching framework’ is likely to involve abstractions, of which ‘Feminist refusal meets enmity’ is a good example. Neither refusal (to accept all forms of oppression of and discrimination against women) nor enmity are mentioned as such in the titles of the five articles in Gender and Language 14/1 — or even, as far as I can see, the articles themselves. Yet this is what all five are about. The relationship between them is neatly produced through the Editors’ identification of ‘semiotic mechanisms’ (such as those used by ‘anti-gender’ movements, see below) which silence feminist protest (p. 3):
Different kinds of semiotic mechanisms have been studied by scholars in gender and language, for example, in this issue of the journal, contributors highlight the sociohistorical indexical valence of linguistic phenomena such as metaphor (Chirry; Rojas-Soja), profanity (Diabah), and laughter (Li and Blommaert), as well as paralinguistic attributes such as colour, shape and size (Putland) (my italics).
This synthesis provides a unity and direction to the particular journal issue and gives a useful steer to readers. Further coherence is achieved through the Editors’ linking of the homogenisation (of the coming-out experience) critiqued in Deborah Chirrey’s article with that in Deyanira Rojas-Soja (beauty norms), and the role of language in controlling images in Rojas-Soja’s with that explored in Grace Diabah’s (the use of profane songs by male University students). Further grouping together of the five articles is achieved through “The articles … additionally suggest that language seldom works alone in shaping our societal positioning as gendered beings” (p. 5); “all of these articles … expose macro-sociological processes underlying the continuous surveillance and disenfranchisement of women, queer and trans people” (p. 5) and “The articles… show that this observation [language is a medium of patriarchal oppression] still holds true for diverse contexts in the early twenty-first century” (p. 6).
Women sing “El violador eres tú” in Santiago del Cile © Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images
Notably, Rojas-Soja’s work concerns Latinas in the USA; Diabah’s, Ghanaian campuses; and Kunming Li and Jan Blommaert’s, a Chinese media platform. The importance of the global and transnational to 21st century feminism is further achieved by the Editors’ own early introduction of the protest song ‘Un violador en tu camino’ (‘A rapist in your path’/’The rapist is you’). First performed on November 25, 2019, in Santiago, Chile, by the feminist collective Las Tesis, with the facilitation of social media videos of this event went viral, prompting mimetic performances across the globe, from New Delhi to Mexico City — a reminder of how we live in a continual state of flux, and a clear case of localisation and hence recontextualization — but, importantly, not resignification.
A similar if less dramatic phenomenon occurred in the UK Processions event of June 2018 when women marched in all four capital cities (Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London) to celebrate the centenary of (some) women’s suffrage in the UK, and the Italian protest song ‘Bella Ciao’ (‘Bella’ referring to Italy) resonated among the marchers .
Participants at the 2018 London Processions march. Photo by Alice White - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
The Editors make the point that such global movements constitute a form of refusal of what has come to be termed, increasingly globally, ‘gender ideology’ — a collocation which does not refer to the progressive identification and contestation of restrictive, regressive, binary social constructions of gender in relation to women and men, to the benefit of both, but is a negative descriptor of such identification, with an additional focus on and misunderstanding/ misrepresentation of trans issues. Resulting in ‘anti-gender’ movements, gender has here been appropriated, hence the Editors’ further point that “semiotic resources may either perpetuate or challenge oppression” (p. 4).
Accordingly, the Editors’ lead lies in identification of those semiotic mechanisms and resources which could be deployed precisely “to stand against the continued disenfranchisement of female, trans and queer individuals” (p. 3) — perhaps through our own appropriation. This is pleasingly illustrated in the Editors’ reference to the article by Li and Blommaert, who look at “women’s masochistic requests for evaluator comments about their appearance on an influential Chinese media platform”, the responses to which — the objectification of women’s bodies — are “transformed into a laughingstock … the male gaze is transformed into a laughable materialisation of the male commenter’s social inadequacy” (p. 6; for a similar point, see my own ‘Contradictions in gendered discourses: feminist readings of sexist jokes?’ in an early (2007) issue of Gender and Language (1/2, p. 207-228)).
The Editors neatly conclude their Editorial by revisiting the performative ‘virilisation’ of ‘Un violador tu camino’, with a powerful reference to “the interdiscursive dynamics of repetition and localisation” and to the need to find new ways to understand the performative power of masculinist rhetoric (p. 6). This understanding is of course so that such rhetoric can be, as the Editors say, confronted — and, we can add, monitored and subverted. To different degrees and in different ways, but using similar concepts and shared premises, the five articles in Gender and Language 14/1, do precisely this. But it serves the field well for the academic journal Editorial to synthesise these and use them as a springboard to identify ways forward. May there be many more.
 ‘Bella Ciao’ originated in the hardships of late 19th century paddy field women workers who sang it to protest their working conditions. It is now sung worldwide to demand and celebrate freedom and resistance, but is relatively little known in the UK.