Saturday, January 28, 2006


My wife sometimes talks about helpful people or situations as giving her oxygen. This is not a metaphor that resonates with me at all. I get hung up on the literal image of an EMT strapping a mask to my face – not a scenario that I find stress-reducing.

When I step back and try to accept it as a metaphor, I still don't get it. I don't get stressed very often (though I may be a carrier :-)), so I don't often feel that things are closing in, getting uncomfortably hot, or in other ways getting airless. So it may just be a peculiarity of me.

However, as I have started to listen for people talking about "getting oxygen from" something or other, it strikes me that the expression is used primarily by women.

This idea led immediately to the Oxygen cable network, which is aimed at women.

Geraldine Laybourne, founder of Oxygen,

christened the network "Oxygen" because she believes that in today's frenetic society every woman needs to take a deep breath. To drive home the point, Oxygen's daily programming cycle begins with Inhale, a yoga class, and ends with Exhale, a talk show hosted by Candice Bergen.

Oxygen debuted on the symbolic date of February 2, 2000 – 02/02.

So, what do you think? Is "getting oxygen" a distinctively female metaphor for help in reducing stress? Do people also talk about "giving oxygen" to others? If it is distinctively female, why?


Sally said...

Hey, for another sexist claim --perhaps men don't reflect on their feelings
to the same degree as women. Is it parallel to their avoidance of health
care? I don't think it is a macho thing, as others might suggest. Is it a
hormone thing? Possibly. Perhaps that is what makes women more affectively
oriented--both theirs and others....statistical probabilities only???

Jean said...

I have never used the expression "giving oxygen", but how about "a breath of fresh air"?

I didn't realize that the Oxygen channel was for women. (My association with oxygen is strictly with Joseph Priestley) However, expressions like "take a breather", "take a deep breath", and the various types of yoga breathing (there are several) all are indicative of stress reduction. It doesn't seem to me that that is particularly female.

Jonathan B. Horen said...

Another patently false claim of female exclusivity. Well, we guys are also into oxygen -- liquid oxygen, as in those big Saturn V rockets and manned space-flight and all the Right Stuff.

Anonymous said...

oxygen bars, hmmm. I'm with you; oxygen involves those flammable tanks. I think the Oxygen network (which I don't have) may have increased awareness? I tend to take breathing for granted most days and I haven't heard any recent conversations about oxygen. So, no, I don't think females are more interested in or more aware of oxygen.

gretchen said...

I've never heard the terms used in that way- maybe I'm out of some cultural loop.

Gruntled said...

I am coming to think this expression is more peculiar to my wife than I had at first thought. Still, google shows several metaphorical uses of the expression, so she is not completely peculiar (not for that reason, anyway).

No Spring Chicken said...

I get a claustrophobic feeling when people pick other people's metaphors apart, because we've all got to have our metaphors, and what they SAY for us is more important than the words chosen.
I used the expression "mullet supper" the other day at work, which made the one person who knew the expression laugh out loud and left the others mystified. Should I have to defend my equating a supper of smoked mullet with a total tacky uproar with deep south overtones. Do I have to explain the use of "mullet" rather than catfish?
Re oxygen, I haven't used that expression, but I understand it with my right brain and might use it now. Let's say the feeling of breathing space, relief, rejuvenation and being cared about strikes sPorcupine as receiving oxygen.
Gruntled is seeing the placement of an oxygen mask as something stressful in itself. I actually was given oxygen about a month ago right before having surgery -- and as a preliminary to anesthesia-- so I don't remember anything further,EXCEPT that breathing in the oxygen as instructed, in combination with being packed all around with warm blankets, was a very soothing experience in a stressful situation and an alien environment.
My assumption is that for those who really need oxygen under physical duress, or coming out from hazardous situations, like smoke filled buildings or collapsed coal mine tunnels, find it quite delicious to have that mask strapped in place and to breathe that cool pure air. Like getting a drink of cool water in the middle of a marathon.

No Spring Chicken said...

Forgot to answer the question. It doesn't strike me as gender specific but women may have more experience than men with the feeling of being trapped im metaphorical mines, fighting their way through smoke-filled mullet suppers or keeping their personal metaphors safe from the slings and arrows of rhetorical balderdash.
So to speak.

Anonymous said...

Why is this such a big deal? We seem to be reading things into gender exclusivity that are perhaps not even there... Why bother?

Anonymous said...

I disagree with anonymous.

Gruntled said...

On Saturdays I write about light subjects, things I have notice, enjoyed, or just wondered about. I agree that metaphors should not be picked about. And I had not intended here (or ever, really) to be talking about gender exclusivity. Sociologists hardly ever deal in the exclusive -- just broad tendencies.

Thanks to all for disconfirming my hypothesis.

I am a Milliner's Dream, a woman of many "hats"... said...

Hmmm...I'm female and have never said that...however, I have referred to people as "refreshing" so perhaps that's related.


Anonymous said...

Geraldine Laybourne is a fraud. She portrays herself as an advocate for women. She is an advocate of making money, no more, no less. Women just happen to be her target audience. Of course she is pandering to them. The same way she pandered to kids, polluting the air with farts and boogers. As for Oxygen? It's as contaminated as Nickelodeon.

Gruntled said...

I am shocked, shocked to learn that the head of a commercial television network is interested in making money. Give me air!