We proposed this lecture because there is much celebrating of the glass community amongst its members and much grumbling about the historical and current inequity in that community. We wanted to address both of these conversations from an informed and research-based platform. We hold the idea that grumbling about perceived problems in the community won’t amount to change without information to support it.
We want to establish the parameters from which we approached this topic and the platform we intend to speak from. We are not scholars of linguistics, women’s studies, gender politics or feminist theory. We are artists, educators, curators, writers, females, feminists and passionate glass community members.
Our focus on language is a slice of a much larger conversation which looks like ‘The location and implication of gender, misogyny and patriarchal hierarchies in the hot glass studio”. What are the words that might be worth considering in the light of that larger conversation?
Flashing, moile, glory hole, jacking, jack and crack, bonk off, necking, blow, blowing, blow harder, blow softer, blow partner, suck, suck harder, get ‘er hot, paddle the bottom, wet my paper, turn pipe, stuff the cup, hot box, glove up, just the tip… This list is a group of words that our research tells us are the most frequently identified as problematic.
No matter how benign the intention, the words we use are weighty devices, not just to deliver information, but to set the emotional tenor of the space and the interactions therein. We’d like to celebrate these interactions, as well as investigate any difficulties that this language might produce.
Below is an excavation of three of the highest ranked problematic terms as identified by respondents in our survey and conversations.
Participants in our survey responded most strongly to the phrase Glory Hole. This is, presumably, because of the linguistic relationship to a location for anonymous sexual activity. Used in this way, Glory Hole is defined as a hole between stalls in a toilet, through which the penis may be put for oral or anal sex, The Dictionary of American Slang, (C) 2007. The use of the term Glory Hole in the glass context first appears in literature in 1849, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. It was first defined as heating port in a glass furnace, distinct from the gathering port. Since then we can trace the linguistic history to today's usage, a free standing reheating chamber used in studio glass settings. We can infer from these two distinct definitions and histories that Glory Hole’s perceived problematic usage in the glass lexicon appears to be nothing more than an unfortunate homonym, unrelated save for the words themselves.
Moile is another word that was frequently cited as a problematic word in the hot glass studio. The glass linguistic history remains uncertain. The closest we come to the possible ancestor of the glass term for Moil comes, again, from the Oxford English Dictionary which cites it as a possible bastardization of the French word Meule, the word for a millstone, or small cone, Pyramid, or haystack. The connection to cone or haystack might have referenced the shape of what the studio glass community understands as Moile. This possibly etymology reveals nothing towards why this word is perceived as problematic. We conclude that the trouble stems from Moile’s phonic relationship to Mohel, the the person who performs circumcisions in the Jewish faith. The main problem is the reference, not the word itself. They are, from what we uncovered in our researched, not actually connected.
Gaffer is the one word that we dug into that actually has lexicographical roots in paternalism. We discovered that Gaffer is a throwback to an out-of-fashion word for grandfather. In the book American Glass gaffer is defined as:
“The head glassmaker, sometimes called master blower, of a shop of three to seven persons; the most experienced and skillful of whom is responsible for the quantity and quality of the shop’s output. A corruption of grandfather, as the master glass-worker is known in England.”
This etymological root is supported by the Oxford English Dictionary as well. We think this is noteworthy- the word that we use for the person running the team in the hot glass studio has its roots in a male dominated hierarchy. This isn't surprising, as almost all industries were male dominated at their onsets. We propose that there may be a possible trickle down effect of its origins in masculinity, even if people using this word are unaware of its original usage. We propose that there has been a historical seepage resulting in our current studio landscape.
These problematic words are not, save for gaffer, derived from their sexual or gendered counterparts. It is the combination and association that makes them sexy. The words themselves are benign.
In addition to cataloging and defining problematic words, we also put together an online survey that was distributed to glassblowers around the world in an attempt to gather data regarding people’s relationship to the language we use in the hot glass studio. We also hosted informal conversations with community members in our areas.
While the survey was not perfect — no surprise given that we are not pollsters or statisticians. We believe that the main ideas were confirmed by the results. Many of the more detailed questions were too complex to unpack in this article. We will focus on the main questions for now: Is the hot shop a sexual environment? If so, is language a contributing factor? Is the language, then, problematic?
There were two additional lenses we were interested in examining the data with. The first was through the stated gender of the respondents and the second was the respondents stated experience with the material. We will take you through our findings from those main questions, first looking at the whole population and then through the lenses of gender and experience.
We had 338 respondents, 100 of whom only filled out the first page of demographic information. The data we are using here is derived from the 238 people who completed the survey in its entirety. 65% think the studio is a sexual environment. Slightly more women than men feel that the studio is sexy and as our respondents experience with the process matures, there is a slight decrease in feeling the sexy studio vibe. 75% answered somewhat or yes that the language contributes to this sexualised environment. Again, slightly more women than men feel that language is a contributing factor. Respondents with more experience also showed a slight decrease in thinking the language makes the studio sexy. 38% of respondents either occasionally or frequently find the language to be problematic.
Not a majority but still over a quarter finds it to be a problem and therefore surely worth investigating. Gender and experience didn’t affect these responses by much.
Overall, the majority of respondents think that the hotshop is a sexualized place and the language is a contributing factor. Beyond these important questions, we also asked our respondents for personal anecdotes, opinions about specific words and phrases and any thoughts therein. There were a lot of notable responses. We will explore just a few here. (The selection process for these anecdotal quotes was demographic blind.)
Cis-female, 0-5 years: “My girlfriend and I met in our current glass program, so making innuendos in the studio helped get the ball rolling.”
Cis-female, 20+ years: “Oh my God, it’s been so long and the sexism so pervasive that [language is] one of the reasons I'm not in the hot shop that much anymore.”
Cis-female, 5-10 years: “As a young glassblower I was a bit seduced into having sex with a man much older than me... an experienced glassblower who I might otherwise have disregarded as unintelligent and inappropriate. But because of the context, where he was a 'skilled' craftsperson and I was learning the craft, it felt sexual despite the 10 year age gap. Marver sex was involved.”
Non-binary, 5-10 years: “You're seeing a problem that doesn't exist, courting controversy for the attention it brings to you personally.”
The data that we gained from the survey was interesting, but we wanted to flesh out the anecdotal elements. Where we found we could tease out this line of questioning in the informal conversations we hosted in our local communities. From these conversations we selected a group of salient responses that we feel are good indications of the routes we travelled.
Cis male, 20+ years: “If you change the words can you imply sex anyway because getting on your knees and blowing mimics something else.”
Individual words are not a problem, but these words in aggregate become more sexy, more naughty, and possibly, more problematic as a whole. This can lead to discomfort and alienation of the individual. In turn the robustness of the personal and community experience is compromised.
Cis male, 10-20 years: “Every time you teach, you have to go through the experience of it being awkward. It is particularly awkward for me when I teach ‘suck bowls’. I don’t have any language I feel comfortable with in that situation. From the position at the top of the chain of power, barking ‘suck’ at someone is really uncomfortable.”
The conversations inevitably veered into the territory of hierarchy in the hot glass studio. We attempted to keep these conversations to the topic of language but they always seemed to split into discussions of power structures, hierarchy, gender and physicality… but how does language — our shared lexicon — play a role in this hierarchy? This broadens the topic from the specific language we use in the studio to the way we use language in general. Language is a powerful tool to shape and control the environment and the people in it. This holds even more true in the hot shop because of the natural hierarchy of an American studio glass hot shop team.
Cis male, 5-10 years: “Have you ever met someone who has been offended by these words? I have NEVER met anyone who has felt that way.”
Cis female, 10-20 years: “If one person feels that way, it’s important to have this conversation. Often it’s the ‘victim’ who stays quiet; it’s those who aren’t harmed that can’t see where harm might happen. If one person is uncomfortable, it’s probably not an isolated incident.”
This is probably the most enlightening element that came out of these conversations. Over and over we heard “Have you really ever met anyone who is bothered by the language of the hot shop- I’ve never been offended, this is not a problem for me’ and hearing murmurs of assent from the group. It occurred to us “How lucky?. How lucky that most people have not bristled at this language? In an effort to democratize the experience and to shine a little light on places where people clearly don’t think to look- these comments further cement the need for the conversation that we are having.
Cis female, 20+ years: “I’ve been second guessing my language since that survey came out. Changing the language, using synonyms- it was just confusing. It was annoying.”
This person mentioned that they had read the article by Anna Riley in GAS News about this lecture, went online and took the survey and then talked about it with her assistants. She decided to spend a whole day in the hot shop trying to use non-sexualized language. Of course it would be annoying! This language works. It works because it's agreed on and it is the lexicon with which we teach and learn.
We don’t necessarily want the language to change, but the fact that this person had an annoying day trying to change the language means that she was addressing the language as a tool for change. Acknowledgement may be more important than actual lasting change. If there is any agenda to this conversation is that there will be a ripple of consideration of language, or inequality or creating spaces for OTHER that might not have happened without it.
We propose to heighten our awarenesses. Am I aware of my perceived role in the chain of command? Am I in power? Am I abusing this status? Am I engendering community with the language I'm using? Are there times where the words I’m using make people uncomfortable? Am I just a jerk? Let’s nurture the notion of expansion.
“Vigorously resist the urge to dismiss the gender problem. Make the effort and make the effort and make the effort until you no longer need to, until we don't need to keep having this conversation. Change requires intent and effort. It really is that simple.”
The hot shop is sexy; for some people. The language is sexy; for some people. For some of those people it is a problem, for others not so much. And for others it’s celebratory. In conclusion: Language is inert. It is the mouths that form them that can be problematic. Check your problematic mouth.