Yesterday, I opened a door with the rare desire to really make an entrance. I was en route to meet with a friend: my audience. The gesture I yenned for belongs to one Michael Vang ‘13, who is a self-described “hot mess.” He swings doors open and lunges into rooms, flourishing his free hand and saying to his chosen audience member their name, then a beat, then, “You are a goddess.” The word floats in the air for minutes afterwards, because how could anybody launch into an ordinary conversation after that?
But I was having a bit of a dilemma. The friend whom I was en route to meet was George. Which is not a girl’s name. I wasn’t about to spoil the giddy magic of the gesture by using the inappropriate gender. But as I stood there, poised to open the door into the room in which he waited, I realized I just couldn’t bring myself to say the words, “George, you are a god.” They felt wrong.
At first I thought it was the meter.
I ended up walking out, blinking a bit and then remarking on how weird this phenomenon was.
It’s not like I’m religious. It’s just that “You are a god” meant something much stronger than I wanted to communicate. “God” is powerful, is awesome. The user implies his own humility. He grovels. I only feel comfortable applying it as a direct reaction to acts, when they are near-divine (for instance, had George just baked delicious bagels). But it simply is not seemly as a general comment on a person’s character. And, while I’ve always understood that this applies to calling someone “God,” (particularly given the fact that in our culture, many people believe in a one-and-only), this definitely also applies to the phrase “a god,” as in one of many. It seems like, according to the semantics of things, all this should apply to the word “goddess,” too. But it just doesn’t.
It is at about this point in my reasoning that I started blaming the media. Ad campaigns for women’s razors have ruined feminine divinity forever! And Western women were so willing to be flattered that it was feasible. And the god-damned hippies. Women’s empowerment? If you call everyone a goddess, it, of course, loses it effect.
The problem with this theory is that I don’t think it’s possible for even the media to balance the words out. Of course, across the country, it’s out of the question. Too many devoted Masculo-Monothesists. But I want to think, someday, in certain more secular circles, if enough women objectify men for their bodies and enough Old Spice commercials, (or less cheeky, more manipulative versions of them), are seen on Hulu, that it really should be possible to bring “god” down to “goddess” level. And I just can’t imagine it working. Which is troubling, because I can imagine most things.
It really does come down to meter. “God” is masculine. “God-ess” is a feminization. A secondary one. This isn’t like Emp-eror, Emp-ress: with “god,” that “-ess” is blatantly tacked on. There is no counterpart masculine suffix. This inequality must have preceded the words. A quick romp through the OED reveals that “god” derives from the ProtoGermanic and was neuter until it started being used to refer to the Christian God. Never in the English-speaking world did female deities pack quite the punch males did. Somewhere in the monotheistic tradition, they decided the one-and-only was a He, and it stuck.
I guess this shouldn’t come as a surprise. There are probably multiple dissertations in feminist studies on this very subject. The patriarchy is nothing new. But rarely have I been more convinced of the fact that our language actually necessitates it. It almost makes me want to tell Michael to stop calling me a goddess.
Theolinguistix? Theolinguistor? Comment on the fact these are comically bad constructions at [email protected].