Words and Their Meanings
Hi Fun Kou Gai: (Japanese) righteous, miserable anger, a frustration and despair over a situation that seems terrible but cannot be changed.
Weltschmerz: (German) a feeling of melancholy and world-weariness.
Lebensmüde: (German) being tired of life; fed up and depressed.
All of these words describe (better than any English word) how I’ve been feeling over the last few months. No one event kicked it off. These feelings have been slowly building for, oh, years and many things all came to a head at once. This feeling is new to me. It is deep. It is exhausting. I have never minded melancholy before; in fact, it is one of my favorite aesthetics. There is a warmth and nostalgia that comes along with that kind of sadness. But this new world-weariness has none of that warmth. It just makes me tired. Like, cannot do much besides get out of bed some days kind of tired. Do not care about things I used to tired. I have been seeing a therapist for depression and that has helped a great deal. I am learning to embrace depression.
One thing that has made the most difference to me is language. Mr. Rogers, of children’s television fame, once said that whatever is mention-able is manageable. Having the vocabulary to talk about something is powerful. Knowing that enough other people have felt a similar thing that there is a word for it helps normalize emotions.
A benefit of feminism is that it, too, provides a vocabulary to talk about sexism and oppression. I could not put my finger on why I felt so uncomfortable with the way women were portrayed in some films until I learned the word objectification. I was not sure how to explain why the lack of diverse female characters in books and on TV bothered me so much until I started hearing about representation. Words like misogyny, rape culture, patriarchy, intersectionality, benevolent sexism, male gaze, and privilege (white and male) have helped me understand the world around me, myself, and how I move in the world much more clearly.
While all too often trying to address the problems that feminism tries to address can lead to hi fun kou gai and lebensmüde. (This is where the words ‘self care’ become important.) It seems like nothing changes, and in fact one could argue things are getting worse. It feels as though we are moving through a period of backlash against the progress that has been made in recent history. When I talk to many of the more conservative or traditional people that I know about issues of feminism and problems with patriarchy, I often feel like we are talking past each other. At least in some cases, I am realizing that this is a vocabulary issue.
Take the word ‘patriarchy’ for example. In Mormonism the words patriarchy and patriarch have very specific connotations. The patriarch is the benevolent leader of the family/congregation, or even more specifically, The Patriarch is a calling with specific responsibilities. When I am talking about patriarch in the context of feminism, I mean the hierarchal structure of society where men have more power (institutional and interpersonal) than women for no other reason than they are men. Once I made an off-handed comment to my sister-in-law about how the patriarchy had me feeling down, or I was frustrated with the patriarchy (I do not remember exactly what I said or the context). Her reaction was shockingly strong and shockingly negative. While my sister-in-law is a strong woman who believes in equality of the sexes, she does not spend much time talking or thinking about feminism, and therefore did not use the secular form of patriarchy by default like I did. When I realized that and clarified what I meant she was better able to see my perspective. Patriarchy is always problematic; I’m not trying to say that the church’s patriarchy is somehow ok. This is just a specific example of words getting in the way of communication.
I do not have a solution to this problem. It is something I have been thinking about a lot lately though, as I watch the discourse around me become more and more polarized. I am not naïve enough to think that using the same vocabulary would suddenly solve all misunderstandings and lead to world peace. Obviously people can be on the same page in terms of the language they are using and still disagree, and that is fine. But at least both parties are fully aware of what they are disagreeing about. The other problem is who’s job is it to teach or explain? As a woman I get so tired of trying to explain to the men in my life what micro aggressions are and why they are bad. (I cannot imagine how sick PoC must get of trying to educate others about race issues.) Despite these limitations, I cannot help but think that there must be some benefit to knowing the audience so to speak and adjusting our communication accordingly.