Ayim not what I think I am: The Myth of
Language and the Kind and Gentle Woman
By Patrick Bruskiewich, M.Sc.
©All Rights Reserved
There is no greater myth that perpetuates the feminist mystique than the myth
that woman are by their very nature kind, thoughtful and altruistic.
In reality, they are after all human like us men. Like any large collection of test
subjects, the behaviour of women spans a spectrum, a spectrum that includes
the extremes of angelic and the violent. In truth, the only attribute this group of
test subjects have in common are XX chromosomes. To state any further
generalities about such a varied group does not serve a functional purpose.
This is becoming more and more evident as this mystique is pushed aside by the
cold and sober realities we see exoressed nearly daily. A mother kills her infant
here in Vancouver (60% of all infanticides are caused by women), or girls bully
another girl to suicide (bullying between girls is as prevalent as that between
boys; it just takes a different form), or in the case of Reena Virk, several girls
torment, bully and then murder a female class mate.
It was wise and courageous for the Solicitor General of the Province of British
Columbia to make the Virk trial a trial case, for it has served to lay bare the fact
that lady justice's breasts are born by angels and fiends alike. These violent
acts are not isolated actions. They are indicative of the extent to which actions
that were once hidden, are now becoming more and more evident.
To use sjex as an attribute to de cide~wnetner one is g ood or not is not a valid test.
To add prejudice to poor scholarship, many feminists strive to perpetuate biased
stereotypes and questionable assumptions both about what it is to be female,
and about maleness, male anger and male aggression.
In the words of the authors of the Health Canada landmark study the Invisible
Boy; u [a]ll too often, these writers take as a starting point a caricature of the
worst imaginable elements of 'masculinity' and assume it applies to all male y
persons." (Invisible, p. 11, 1996)
The Ayim essay Dominance and Affiliation: Paradigms in Conflict , is an example
of the myth and poor scholarship that is to be found within th e fe minist \
movement. I call it an essay because it is closer to being what you read in a
newspaper or Saturday circular than an article in a journal of academic merit,
Starting with a tenuous thesis, and using very questionable sources, (many of
which stem from a backward period of sociological research - th e late 19 70's
a pti early 1980 's), the author asserts that the language of women is kind and
gentle while that of men is confrontational and aggressive.
Research has progressed far beyond what is assert&d-by Ayim in her essay. Her
views are some what out of date and incomplete. We should perhaps not forget
that where once it was thought Freud had merit, modern medical science has
shown most of his assertions invalid.
In honesty the Ayim essay leaves me disappointed. There is no supportive
evidence to this essay^only a handful of anecdotal comments and marginal
studies that very few hav^ read or take as authoritative. There is a scarcity of
clinical or scientific evidence. There are no robust, longitudinal studies included
in the essay. Her writing indeed lives up to the title of the magazine^lnformal
Logic" (with informal connoting a lacking of rigour or formality).
Starting with a tired thesis Aiym never strays far from her bias using such
threadbare standbys as the KKK and war as her characterizations of male
attitudes. As any scholar of merit will tell you do not use subjects or attitudes two
standard deviations from the norm to characterize the norm: if you do so you are
not speaking of the norm.
For instance, looking at Ayim's notions of war, even at the height of the Second
World War only around 5 % of adult males in Europe and North America were
actual combatants. The picture changes when you appreciate that over 1 0% of
European and North American women directly participated in the war effort
through war production and other such warlike activities.
We should not lose sight that men were more likely to be the victims of that
conflict than women or children, whether they were combatants or not. We
should also not lose sight that the citizens of the victorious benefit irrespective of
I think that anyone who cannot understand this should be asked to tend the
gravesite of the Canadians who gave their lives in support of democratic
freedoms and in pursuit of the rule of international law. They can start with the
grave of my godfather in Nancy France. He was killed in 1965 while on active
service with the RCAF, in support of our commitments to the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization. They are also welcome to send a picture of his gravesite to
his widow, Peggy - he had been married three short weeks.
It doesn't help Ayim's case when we are reminded that in the 1930's a majority of
German women voted Hitler into power, while a majority of German men voted
for another candidate, because these men were tired of war. (Langsam, p. 439 -
441 , 1 952) It is so shocking for feminists to accept that right up to nearly the end
of the war, the majority of women of Germany supported the Nazis.
If one were not thoughtful, and used Ayim's argument of language in the fashion
it is rendered in her essay, we must argue then that the women of Germany were (
just as responsible for the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis as those whom
themselves perpetrated the atrocities.
Indeed in the findings of the Nuremberg Tribunal it was stated as a matter of
International Law that nations fight wars and that the citizens of nations which
conspire to war are themselves guilty of a breach of international law; no
distinction being made as to the gender of its citizens. By their actions in the
Second World War, all citizens of Germany, including women, were in breach of
Setting the notion of conflict aside, (a concept that Ayim clearly does not
understand), her thesis becomes_weaker still in her reference to Zero-sum
games. Modern thought affirms mai ^omp^tjojnjsjnot governed by John Von
Neuman's Zero-sum theory (one participant's loss is the other's gain) but instead
by John Nash's Theory of Competitive Equilibrium (participants seek a
cooperative resolution to competition).
The two Johns, (Von Neuman and Nash) knew each other at Princeton in the
1 950's and the junior of the two, John Nash, felt that there was much need for
improvement in the theory of competition. Von Neuman's zero-sum game theory
was by then twenty-five years old.
In a modern sense competition is cooperative because competition seeks a
resolution that is both functional and stable; its equilibrium defined by the Nash
Equilibrium. It is clear that Ay i m does not unde rstand this, focusing instead on
engendered misconceptions of competition.
The Cold War is an example of Competitve Equilibrium. Now that it is over it is
clear that the Cold War was an affirmation that unlike Clauswitz's notion that "war
is a continuation of diplomacy by other means", our modern notion of competition
is more sophisticated - that of an affirmation that even amongst political
adversaries war is not a legal or moral option, ideas and ideology are. Ideas and
ideology are words, competitive and cooperative. Modern notions of conflict
seek equilibrium, lawfulness and nior ality.
FewJlaymanYinderstand this, including Ayim. She doesn't understand language
for what it is. Language is not just words, but context.
In his 1946 Westminister College address \ Churchill spoke the words
"[fjrom Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an Iron Curtain has
descended across the continent" \ his message was both political and personal.
The politics is obvious. Stalin means Iron or steel in Russian. Fortunately Stalin
and Truman understood that Churchill was addressing the notion of spheres of
influence. Churchill's address was diplomatic yet purposeful. Truman added to
this through his Truman jEkactrine, of confining Stalin to his sphere of influence.
Together these statements defined the fifty years of the Cold War, with the
competitive spheres of influence eventually evolving into cooperative stability in
the last decade of the twentieth century; The notions of freedom and democracy
being so much stronger than the tanks and guns that kept men from being free.
The pen was, indeed, mightier than the sword.
In expressing her gender bias Ayim turns her back on such clear evidence of
affiliative and cooperative language as found in institutions like Democracy,
Parliament, the Rule of Law, the International Court, the United Nations (and its
myriad of functioning bodies like the World Health Organization) all of which are
In her article article Dominance and Affiliation: Paradigms in Conflict , Ayim has
hope to argue for engendermentiri language. Her thesis does not survive what
is outlined above regarding modern theories of competition and cooperation. Nor
does it endure a closer look at the aggressive behaviour of younger females.
Modern clinical and medical science shows that women are not immune to
aggression and violence, not as victims of aggression and violence but ^s
perpetrators of such acts. Adolescent girls are beginning to show unsettling
behaviour, in some situations more troubling than their male classmates.
The John Hopkins trained neuroscientist Dr. Debra Niehoff notes in her book The
Biology of Violence that over the past ten years studies have shown that
"[fjemales... may not be less aggressive as much as different in
their aggression. Women, for example, are less obvious about their
aggression. To protect themselves from both social disapproval
and painful retaliation, they learn to select methods and victims
(e.g. children) less likely to provoke public scrutiny. "(Biology of
Violence, p. 168, 1999)
Women, along with being more covert in their violence, use verbal and indirect
means of aggression more so then men.
Since, for reasons of bias or politics, some writers have blinded themselves by
using caricatures of male-centred aggression, they have not understood how }
women develop and utilize their aggressive power.
Extensive studies have shown that language is the primary tool for female-
centred aggression and that this linguistic aggression begins at a young age.
You are naive to think that adolescent girls and young women today are made of
sugar and spice and all things nice.
As noted recently by author Patricia Pearson in her book When She was Bad:
Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence* when asked to answer the precise
question "do boys and girls differ in their specific types of aggression", modern
scholars have discovered that
"as soon as girls hone their verbal and social skills, at around ten or
eleven, they become aggressors of a different kind. They abandon
physical aggression, even though their prepubescent hormones are ,
still no different than boys', and adopt a new set of tactics: they
bully, they name call, they set up and frame fellow kids. They
become masters of indirection. "(Bad, p. 17, 1997)
Interestingly enough, this behaviour does not appear to be tied to any one culture
but appears to be universal. We must, because we are to be teachers of boys
and girls alike, take special note as to how this affecPour students.
If we were to take any random sampling of high school girls across Canada and
put the following question to them: "Defining aggression in as broad a manner as
you wish, are you most afraid of the boys or girls in your class? The answer
overwhelmingly is they are not afraid of the boys, but instead are afraid of the
female-centred aggression by other girls.
At the heart of female-centred aggression is language. The Finnish psychologist
Kaj Bjorkqvist has extensively studied this form of aggression and has noted that
"it is a kind of social manipulation: the aggressor manipulates
others to attack the victim, or, by other means, makes use of the
social structure in order to harm the target person ... the basic
power plays, the objective of which was to gain currency or
dominance within the social milieu. "(Bad, p. 18, 1997)
This is supported by observations by Dr. Debra Niehoff when she notes that:
"[a]t age ten, both sexes tend to settle their differences openly,
using fists, feet and verbal insults. But by age thirteen, the girls
have stopped shouting and punching. Their teachers believe
they've matured into peaceful citizens. But the girls themselves
reveal that what has changed is their tactics. They've replaced
physical violence with emotional violence: ostracism, snubbing,
gossip, mongering, and backstabbing. Their aggressive behaviour
... hasn't vanished, it has gone 'underground, invisible to
nonintimate peers and adult authorities.' Because their aggression
is 'no longer a classroom management problem', they can act out
freely without incurring punishment. The preference for covert
methods over direct confrontation may persist into adulthood."
(Biology of Violence, p. 168, 1999)
As teachers we have to become acutely aware of the dynamics amongst both
boys and girls in our classrooms, particularly as it relates to the use of verbal and
In a 1 994 article writtei>by\Paniel Golemah afst^e New York Times, ^ makes an
interesting observation that amongst boys and girls alike:
"Emotional and behavioral problems have been increasing since
the mid-1 970's ... Problems showing the greatest increase ranged
from destroying other people's property and hanging out with other
children who get into trouble to doing poorly in school work, being
sullen and whining ... there was a small but significant increase ...
in a wide variety of problems along with an erosion of basic
emotional and social competencies ... Of 1 18 specific problems and I
abilities assessed, there was a significant worsening in 45, and an
improvement in only one: the number of sports which a child likes
to take part. Among the largest changes were a sharp dropoff in
the amount of time children spent with friends, and increases in
apathy and lack of motivation, in sadness and feelings of
depression and in children disliking school. The increase in
problems is not clearly a result of any one cause, and affects boys
and girls of different ethnic groups and economic status more or
less equally." (Goleman, pA17, 1994)
The findings show an erosion of basic emotional and social competencies that
are affecting boys and girls alike. Yet the focus appears to be on the m ale-
centred behaviour A double standard is at play. (Bruskiewich, 2001)
If language is the cornerstone of our culture and we are prejudiced by our gender
bias, as Ayim is, t hen we can be blinded _by our bia seo.,
In focusing on ^igenderment of language, Maryann Ayim misse5Jiie_context^of
our language. In contrast, Sir Bertrand Russell states a better view of language
and cultivation, one that is not stuck in the mud of gender bias:
"mental cultivation produces positive humanitarian feelings
... it gives other interests than the ill-treatment of neighbours, and
other sources of self-respect than the assertion of domination. The
two things most universally desired are power and admiration.
Ignorant men can, as a rule, only achieve either by brutal means,
involving the acquisition of physical mastery. Culture gives a man
less harmful forms of power and more deserving ways of making
himself admired. Galileo did more than any monarch has done to
change the world, and his power immeasurably exceeded that of
his persecutors. He had no need to become a persecutor in his
turn. " (Russell, p 41 , 1972)
There is no greater myth that perpetuates the feminist mystique than the myth
that woman are by their very nature kind, thoughtful and altruistic.
Since some writers have blinded themselves by using caricatures of male-
centred aggression, they have not fully understood how women develop and
utilize their aggressive power. Women, along with being more covert in their
violence, use verbal and indirect means of aggression more so then men.
Much of feminist writing is focused in the realm of politics. There is an irony, not
lost, when we remember that politics is indirect and verbal.
To use gender as an^ajtnbuteJo- d ec i de w belhex-QJDejs_go od or not is not v alid
scholarship. We must be careful not to perpetuate biased stereotypes and
questionable assumptions both about what it is to be female, and about what it is
to be male. We must also be careful as to not discriminate based on gender.
Ayim, M. (1991) Dominance and Affiliation: Paradigms in Conflict,
Informal Logic, 13 (2)
Bruskiewich, P. (2001) Growing Up a Boy is Not a Simple Thing ,
EPSE 306, UBC
Goleman, D. (1994) The Beavis and Butthead Factor ,
The Weekend Sun, January 8, p B1
Invisible (1996) The Invisible Boy: Revisioning the Victimization of Male
Children and Teens , Supply and Services Canada
Langsam, W (1952) The World Since 1914 , Macmillan Co. New York
Niehoff, D (1999) The Biology of Violence , The Free Press, New York
Pearson, P. (1997) When She was Bad, Random House Canada, Toronto
Russell, B. (1972) In Praise of Idleness . Simon & Schuster, New York