A PROVERB A DAY
KEEPS NO CHAUVINISM AWAY
A cursory glance into The Oxford Dictionary of English
Proverbs reveals at once the basic anti-feminism of
proverbs. Almost every proverb that touches upon women
contains a severe negation of the value of women in society.
This is easily illustrated by such proverbs as "A woman is
the weaker vessel", "A womans answer is never to
seek", "A womans tongue wags like a lambs tail",
"All women may be won", "Women are as wavering as the wind",
"Women naturally deceive, weep and spin", "Women in state
affairs are like monkeys in glass-houses" and of course the
often quoted "Women are necessary evils". These examples
amply show that the proverb makers of the past centuries
were misogynists, who in the bitterness of old age and
regret could seemingly think of nothing better to do than to
discredit the women who most likely had served them very
well. Yet, these unflattering expressions of folk wisdom
have been handed down to us from generation to generation,
and it obviously will take time to break down the barriers
of tradition in these anti-feminist slurs.
In fact, magazines continue to abound with
anti-feminist headlines of articles and advertisments.
Taking the well-known proverb "Four things drive a man out
of his house: too much smoke, a dripping roof, filthy air
and a scolding wife" as a basis, a plumbing business varied
its content but kept the basic structure of the saying for
the following chauvinistic customer handout:
A WOMAN SHOULD KNOW
How to look like a girl
How to act like a lady
How to think like a man
And how to work like a dog.
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The full text of this
article is published in De
Proverbio - Issue 9:1999 & Issue
electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.
Two final examples will bring to light how an old proverb
such as "A womans place is in the home" can suddenly
take on a very relevant meaning, one that is politically of
greatest importance. Junior House fashions brought the
A WOMANS PLACE
IS IN THE HOUSE
(Picture of the White House and Congress)
Even some of the
die-hards are beginning to say Amen!
Women have finally let their brains come out of the
because theres an awful lot of mess that
needs cleaning up:
After all, isnt that what everybody said
girls were born to do?
A basically chauvinistic proverb is here given an
entirely new meaning, by changing the original text from
"home" to "house", and thereby referring to the White House
and the House of Representatives. Of course, this country
needs more female politicians, and the day will come, when a
woman will finally occupy the White House itself. In the
meantime one can purchase T-shrits with the inscription "A
Womans Place is in the House... And the Senate!"
Realizing the effects such advertisements have on all of us,
it becomes more and more conceivable that some of the old
prejudices will be destroyed soon.
Such examples of "liberated" proverb usage and proverb
alteration are relatively rare. Unfortunately, people are
much too quick to accept the stereotyped proverbs as
ultimate truths without analyzing their texts properly.
Modern mass media helps in keeping many of the one-sided
views concerning women alive by not discriminating more
carefully in their slogan choice. But by shrewdly varying
existing proverbs some advertisers have in fact created
proverbial slogans that are more befitting to the modern
age. Much more could be done by changing old and sexist
proverbs into new and more meaningful statements. Keeping
the basic proverbial structure, these altered proverbs carry
with them the authority of the old proverbs and have the
opportunity to become truly new proverbs. Many proverbs
continue to hold true today, but some need to be changed in
order to keep up with our modern society. Verbal stereotypes
have done and still do much damage to the relationship
between the sexes, and much time will still have to pass
until all people realize that the proverb "All men are
created equal" should in fact be called" All people are created equal".
Permission to publish this article
granted by Proverbium (Editor: Prof. Wolfgang Mieder,
University of Vermont, USA).
Previously published in Proverbium 2 (1985), pp.
Department of German and Russian
University of Vermont
Burlington, Vermont 05405