Constructing and Maintaining Sexist Ideologies: Horses Sweat, Men Perspire, Women Glow

By Ventola, Eija | Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies, Annual 1998 | Go to article overview

Constructing and Maintaining Sexist Ideologies: Horses Sweat, Men Perspire, Women Glow


Ventola, Eija, Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies


1. Introduction

... the rules for meaning, which are part of language are not natural; they were not present in the world and merely awaiting discovery by human beings. On the contrary anything could be discovered, for without them there is no frame of reference, no order, no possibility for systematic interpretation and understanding. Once made, however, these rules have a habit of becoming self-validating and self-perpetuating, regardless of any misapprehensions on which they may have initially been based. (Spender 1980: 3)

Abundant literature exists about language and sexist ideologies (e.g., Spender 1980; Smith 1985; Poynton 1985; Hellinger 1989; see also the articles in Seidel 1988; a good representative introductory reader on these issues has recently been published by Coates 1998). Guidelines are given for administrators, educators, and people in power to avoid sexist language. Through their work, linguists (mostly female linguists) have tried to make the society and the decision-makers notice and correct the practices that suppress women and prevent equal pay and opportunities from being realised. Linguistic research has frequently focused on "valued texts" -- texts that matter in society. But as Hasan (1986: 125) points out, "ideologies live through the common everyday actions -- both, verbal and non-verbal."

This paper exemplifies how constructing and maintaining sexist ideologies happens in two very trivial texts about the Sauna -- that famous Finnish bath that is now known almost all over the world in its varied forms. These two texts are interesting because they present a concept that belongs to another culture to an audience with different cultural background and values. The texts are written to introduce a new concept to the society, but at the same time they display the social organisation and values existing in that society at the time when they were written. The theoretical framework used for the analysis is a systemic-functional one, and the analysis demonstrates the choices of the view which is also constructed for us in the saying "horses sweat, men perspire and women glow".

2. About the Sauna and the texts analysed

Taking the Sauna -- the Finnish bath -- is for a Finn an event to which s/he has been socialised ever since babyhood. Earlier, the sauna was the place where life even began for many Finns, because, being a place where hot water was readily available, it was also used for giving birth. (More detailed descriptions of the sauna are available in most encyclopaedias or tourist guides on Finland.) The Sauna is one Finnish concept that has successfully been marketed abroad and has found its way to distant countries, e.g. to Australia where the texts analysed here were discovered.

Since the procedure of taking a sauna may be a new experience in the country to which the sauna has been "transported", the manufacturers, the importers, or caretakers of electric commercial saunas often provide the customers some instructions concerning how to take a sauna. I do not know who wrote the texts that will be analysed here. I found the texts at a sauna of a university sports centre in the early 1980's. When entering this sauna, the visitor was given a sheet of paper. On one side, there was an instructional text titled "Viking Sauna Bathing Instructions", and obviously this text was the one that the saunatakers were supposed to read first, if they were newcomers, so they would know which procedural steps are necessary when taking a sauna. This text will not be discussed here (it is, however, analysed in Ventola, in preparation). On the other side, the readers could find Text 1 and Text 2 which are given later in this paper.

3. About the generic function of the texts

Why these two texts were written, in addition to the generically instructional, step-by-step text, is not that obvious. They seem to be mixed in their generic function and realisation (for the notion of genre, see e. …

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