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Today is International Women’s Day, so here’s a thread about how discrimination against women intersects with linguistic injustice. I’ll draw on an example from Tibet. #IWD2019
Background context is that Tibetans in China speak a number of different languages, but state policy recognizes only one. What we have here is state-sponsored language denialism.
The Tibetan public in China & around the world largely reproduces the state’s position, claiming that the diversity merely relates to ‘dialects’ of a single language. See my pinned tweet for why this is a problem.
This language denialism creates a host of issues for Tibetans who don’t speak a mainstream Tibetan language. I want to discuss how women bear an additional burden in this regard, using an example of a public scandal from 2017.
In July 2017, the Tibetan singer, Kejiang, appeared on national TV in a singing competition. Kejiang is from the Gyalrong region, where Tibetans speak a variety of non-Tibetan languages. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rgyalrong…
In an interview after her performance, Kejiang describes herself as a Gyalrong Tibetan, saying “We are a ‘national minority’ with no written language.” mp.weixin.qq.com/s/U1YS87yyIMLH…
Whilst there’s some ambiguity in her wording, she was referring to an unambiguous fact—none of the Gyalrong languages has a formalized writing system. For all intents and purposes,* they are unwritten languages.

*DM me for the footnote.
Tibetans in the PRC shared Kejiang’s interview online, and she was publicly attacked. For making a factually accurate statement. Here’s one example of the comments: “It is not that our nation has no script but that you have no knowledge.”
And here’s another: “Throw ash in the mouth of this female singer, who trod our nation's name and entitlement underfoot for her own fame and greed.”

Most of the attackers were men.
These attacks are an example of what Miranda Fricker calls ‘testimonial injustice’. Kejiang’s testimony was not believed because of her disesteemed identity. People refused to hear the truth of what she said, because of who she is. oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/a…
As a woman Kejiang is interpreted as being ignorant because knowledge of Tibetan culture is seen as the purview of men. And as a linguistic minority she is not believed because knowledge of Tibetan culture is the purview of Tibetan-speakers.
The testimonial injustice towards Kejiang is achieved through 2 behaviors. The first is mansplaining. Kejiang is not believed because she is a woman. So men explain things to her.
The second I’ll call ‘bodsplaining’—‘bod’ is Tibet. If male status trumps female knowledge in mansplaining, in bodsplaining, status as a ‘Tibet-knower’ trumps the lived experience of people who speak minoritized languages.
Bodsplaining enables people who don’t speak any Gyalrong languages and who have never read the linguistics literature, to tell someone that their language is a dialect, or to accuse them of ignorance if they say their language is unwritten.
Tibetans bodsplain to speakers of minoritized languages, but so do the Chinese state & foreign experts. Assumed expertise, not professed identity, is the decisive factor.
“Actually it’s a dialect” is the bodsplaining equivalent of “The correct term is a vagina.”
Mansplaining & bodsplaining are disciplinary tactics. They maintain two systems of oppression: patriarchy & monoglot nationalism. Each are linked to privilege. Mansplaining & male privilege. Bodsplaining & the privilege of mainstream Tibetans.
These intersect in the lives of Tibetan women who speak minoritized languages as a unique form of oppression: ‘Tibetan patriarchal nationalism’. This is the promotion of a masculinized, linguistically homogenous Tibetan identity by the Chinese state.
See Charlene Makley on the masculinization of Tibetan identity, Hamsa Rajan on how Tibetan nationalism suppresses Tibetan feminism, & read @LetaHong on patriarchal authoritarianism & the suppression of feminism in the PRC.
This must be understood in the context of PRC colonialism: the destruction of Tibetan culture & identity creates a state of exception where women’s rights are put on hold until the ‘Tibet question’ is settled. No PRC colonialism, no Tibetan patriarchal nationalism.
Although produced by the state, Tibetan patriarchal nationalism is reproduced & maintained by people & publics. It is reproduced & maintained by men who tell women what language they ‘really’ speak, and correct their ‘mistakes’.
Behaviors like this which defend Tibetan patriarchal nationalism are a form of misogyny—I’m following @kate_manne in defining misogyny not as an individual disposition or attribute but a structure of discipline that defends patriarchy.
Tibetan patriarchal misogyny, then, is a system of discipline that aims to keep Tibetan women who speak minoritized languages in their place. It defends both male privilege and mainstream Tibetan privilege.
For women like Kejiang, Tibetan patriarchal misogyny forms a ‘total climate’ of hostility. It is part of their everyday experience. They suffer all the harms of language denialism, and then this as well.
For the most part, this ‘total climate’ takes the form of ‘civilized oppression’: the network of small actions that are neither interpersonally violent nor legally meaningful but work to maintain a system of oppression & the marginalization it produces.
What must this feel like? To have your language publicly denied? To have ‘knowledgeable’ men deny your reality? It’s gaslighting. It’s a form of psychological abuse.
It obviously feels bad, because Kejiang apologized. Publically. For saying something true. Tibetan nationalist misogyny worked.
So today, on #IWD2019, please think about how discrimination against women intersects with linguistic discrimination, like language denialism.

Believe women when they speak about things they know intimately: their lives and their languages.
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