The Medium vs. the Message

7 Oct

The other day I was reading a chapter by the translation scholar Luise von Flotow for my PhD. She is one of the bigwigs of feminist translation theory, and her chapter dealt with a German translation of Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology. She wasn’t a big fan of the translation for numerous reasons and noted that the translation was so difficult to read as the result of footnotes and explicated puns that German women formed reading groups in order to read the text together and discuss it.

It is important to note that the translator added all this paratextual material out of her admiration for the book – she wanted its German audience to be able to understand exactly what Mary Daly was saying even if some puns and phrases were difficult to bring across in another language.

While von Flotow acknowledged the translator’s laudable aim to educate women and make it possible for them to read this influential text in their own language, she made a very important point: the translator lost track of the text’s audience. Mothers rarely have the time for regular meetings, to sit down for a couple of hours, and to spend this time deciphering a complicated text. It might be a generalisation, but as someone who has struggled for months now to find time to go to the gym (no excuse), I think it’s true to a large extent. I don’t mean to insinuate that women can’t cope with complicated texts, it’s just that sometimes you need to cook dinner, sort out Dr’s appointments, perhaps it’s someone’s birthday, then a child is unwell… This problem is multiplied when a group of women all need to find time to attend meetings. So texts which can be read quickly are more convenient.

Enter The Internet. Twitter and Facebook were the message-spreading tools of the protesters in Egypt and the rioters in the UK. One of my friends is even writing her MA dissertation on this subject, that’s how effectively they worked. And I would say that is also how they are being used by feminists and mothers: I see breastfeeding advice by trained IBCLC every day on Twitter, birth stories encourage women to attempt a VBAC, or forego an induction; when a mother is prevented from breastfeeding her baby in public, the story is immediately circulated so action can be taken.

Obviously books are still important, and I would love it if there was a feminist mothers’ discussion group in my town! But at the same time, the internet has done a lot for women.

I’m not sure what I mean to say with this post really. Mostly I wanted to bring von Flotow’s realisation to your attention because it is a good point.


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