Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sex-sensitive Southern Sister Seethes at “Snowman”

Since the big blizzard of 1993 near Atlanta, Georgia, we Southerners have had our usual ½ inch snow once every couple of years and our obligatory ice storm with similar frequency. North Georgia is not a snowy clime.

We had occasion, shortly after that highly-newsworthy blizzard, to have dinner with several couples of our acquaintance, and the conversation turned to events surrounding the big snow. In the course of the discussion, someone mentioned seeing many snowmen constructed in the median of a very busy section of Interstate 75. The discussion around the table did not then turn to the issue of traffic shutdown engendered by the huge snowstorm. No, indeed. One of our table companions was an outspoken and rather over-sensitive feminist who could not let the conversation leave without challenging the wording.

“SnowFRIENDS,” she corrected the speaker. Then she launched into a rather long-winded dissertation about the implied gender-exclusiveness of the term. One had the impression that the speaker, by calling the snow sculpture a “snowman”, had denigrated females in general and implied that only males were worthy to be designated as the esteemed creature commonly referred to by that term. Certainly, her lecture suggested, females were qualified to become snowcreatures (and presumably receive equal pay for doing so.) In fact, her attitude implied, a female snowcreature would doubtless already be president of Snowland but for the obvious bias against her in our society. At the very least it was insensitive for one to imply that snow creations must be male in gender. Society as a whole must avoid gender-defining references – make use of alternate personal pronouns indiscriminately, use general terms for persons regardless of the awkwardness of the wording – carefully delineate choice with either/or statements, etc.

Eventually the conversation moved on to other topics and we continued to have a pleasant dinner party. However, in the intervening 16 years, our family has had a lot of fun arising from that enlightening dinner conversation. Although our opportunities have been severely limited due to our residence in the Sunny South, every mention of playing in the snow has resulted in numerous other possible designations for the product thereof. We have constructed (or more likely just pointed out in a Northern friend’s photos) a “snow- creature, snow-bird, snow-dog, snow-queen, snow-midget (common in the land of ½ inch snows), snow-alien, snow-giant, snow-family, snow-siblings, or snow-?.” Often we would snigger behind our hands and point out a poorly-constructed snow creation and comment, “With snow-friends like that who needs snow-enemies?” or “Look, it can’t be a snow-friend because Emerson said that ‘the only way to have a snowfriend is to BE a snowfriend’ and I don’t want to get that cold!” Someone else would pipe up, “Hayes said that ‘snowfriends are the sunshine of life’ and that snow sculpture can’t be sunshine, she/he’d melt him/herself!”

But a funny thing happened in the intervening 16 years since the dinner party and our next big snow – which occurred just this week. “Snow-friend” has become the most logical and comfortable way to refer to our snow creations. In the Christmas 2010 one-day snowfall, our grandchildren constructed Bob, their snow-friend. They gave him their constant attention. His needs were foremost in their minds. They held him together with their own hands when he seemed ready to fall apart. They made endless trips in and out of the house to find just the right parts to complete his features and ensemble. They filched broccoli florets for buttons and presented them to him without expectation of repayment. One gladly and joyfully took the ponytail holder from her hair and contributed it to Bob to make his smile. They would stand away and look at him, consumed with discovering what it was he needed to be complete, yet they asked him for nothing in return. One removed her own scarf and contributed it to keep Bob’s neck warm while another added his own warm hat for Bob’s bald head. When they were satisfied that they had met all his needs, they proudly called the entire family into the yard to meet their friend. Bob was a “snowman.” He was also a “snowfriend.”

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