Discourse, social coercion, and totalitarianism

The weaponisation of language to force through a new reality by literally inscribing it in discourse is nothing new. I should say I am quite liberal here – I welcome the new ‘Mx’ that I recently saw as an option on a form, for non-binary people (I believe gender is on a spectrum but there are two biological sexes). Feminists in the 70s claimed ‘Ms’ so that women could represent their unmarried social status, and so ‘Mx’ could fulfil a social identity need where this is important to the person’s identity (of how they want to be addressed in social situations; I’m presuming here that ‘Mx’ goes along with ‘they / them’, it’s not my area of expertise).

That however is different from a full-scale discursive encoding that takes place when lobby groups such as Stonewall ‘walk through the institutions’ to push their agendas (for example the removal of the word woman from the NHS landing page on ovarian cancer to be trans-inclusive increasing barriers to understanding for women whose first language is not English, who may not understand the phrase ‘anyone with ovaries’ used instead of the simple word ‘women’ (that exists in all languages).

That sort of thing (Stonewall and similar groups’ social coercion) can leave you bitter – the discrimination against the most powerless women in society, in the real world, and at large scale (see also, gyms and bathrooms, and many women’s needs for decency in those areas in order to feel comfortable). This is not social progress at its own pace, and negotiated in a democratic society. It’s social coercion through language, with the intent of forcing a different reality, one that is more hostile towards some women, especially those without power.

The increasing discursive undermining of (women’s) identities and self-worth is also present in a recent survey I filled about my oral health, for a new dentist. Behavioural manipulation through language was intentionally built in. As part of the survey, I was first primed to feel bad about my wrinkles and skin (p. 2), before being offered a solution (p. 3), and then primed again to manipulate me towards the desired action, while making me feel in charge (p. 4). Again, this kind of thing is disgusting to me, because it intentionally feeds off (women’s) anxiety over their looks / smile to upsell a procedure. And that’s from a NHS dentist – but I guess the NHS need to increasingly operate like businesses, much like Universities, and it is no longer really about the common good. We are now always made to feel bad, or guilty, while language offering solutions is increasingly kinder, and more loving. A winning combination!