Ferdinand Saussure explained the way that binaries are imposed through language. Identity is made up from the ‘othered’ things we’re not. (For example – I am not a man therefore I must be a woman.)
The early twenty first century addressed the verbal lacks that pose themselves to those who live between opposition’s tracks. We speak of ‘they’ instead of she or he for those identifying differently, setting the non-binary free – we strive to find some liberty from language’s prescriptive dictates.
But faced with an emergency the binaries reassert themselves, proliferating in media and social media’s texts.
Today’s social media feeds draw men as the feared, women their prey in response to the horrendously shocking news of the nature and manner of Sarah Everard’s murder.
I am wary of demonising ‘all men’ as much as I fear losing sight of those who are or are not or are not not ‘women’ or ‘men’ and I am worried by the amnesia or absence in the public discourse of the need to recognise those who don’t identify with one or other oppositional identity.
I met a single parent – looking after six kids, one disabled, in the vaccine queue. They explained they had been physically attacked repeatedly until, suddenly, they had been abandoned utterly, as had their six children 14 months before.
He was still shaken and yet somehow managing to look after his family – while finding it very hard to gain any credibility: he looked like a big strong man – being a father to six kids whose mother had run away … not like a victim of domestic abuse.
Not quite all men. Not just all women.
Image note: Grayson Perry’s Art Club’s mini challenge, ‘mimic an artist’, inspired a series of Dick Bruna influenced postcards – this one represents Claire.