Monday, January 11, 2010

Fembot Attack!

Consider the following bit of dialog:

Me: I worked as a waiter for a while.
Someone else: Don't you mean waitress?

No, actually, I do mean waiter. I also mean actor, not actress, when I talk about the merits (or demerits) of Rachel McAdams or Merill Streep. And I'll be damned if I'm going to bother with "he/she" in any kind of paper or essay when "he" suffices quite brilliantly.

There's a small feminist voice in the corner of the room now raving and stamping her feet. She's going on about patriarchal language and how it's keeping the WOman down. By using the masculine form of a word to mean either sex, I'm valuing the masculine over the feminine. I'm not only playing into the oppression inherent in the system, I am making it worse. How can I call myself a forward thinking woman and make such linguistic choices.

I'll tell you.

The way I see it, using the masculine version of a term is actually a kind of linguistic castration. Using "waiter" to mean both men and women who wait tables makes the term a-sexual. Once that is done, there still exists a term for a woman, but no separate term for a man. It basically cuts off man's linguistic phallus and renders him without sex. Eat that Sigmund Freud!

Moreover, because there still exists a feminine term once we de-sexualize the masculine term, we solve the problem of woman being defined by what she doesn't have. Suddenly woman is not that-which-lacks-a-penis, she has her own term and her own section of language that man is not privilege to.

And that's all I have to say about that.

5 comments:

veganaron said...

What if the person you're referring to is nigher man nor woman? Or what if they don't identify as either?

By sticking to the gender binaries you fail to recognize that some people don't fit nicely in to such categories.

Aly said...

I've never thought about it that way. I'm still torn on it, though. I dunno. It seems like it shouldn't be given a sex; it's the same job, and the quality or difficulty of the work does not change. The only thing is personal preference; the feminist may want to be recognized as a waitress; but what about things like being a "hostess" at a restaurant, if you were a male?
[That's complicated.]

Cassie The Great said...

Aaron - The problem of gender binaries is deeply embedded in out language. The fact is, there are really only two different linguistic sexes. If I call someone transgendered "it" - really the only gender neutral term available, that is much more offensive than using "he" if she identifies female. I am completely in favor of de-sexualizing the masculine form and and using if for everyone. That bothers a lot of feminists though - it's The Man keeping the WOman down. The problem of gender binaries is much, much bigger.

Aly- in the case of "hostess" I would just call them "host." In fact, I was a host for a while and that's exactly what I called myself. It's amazing how many times I was corrected. It probably is a matter of personal preference, but unfortunately there's not way to communicate that preference to people before they use one term or the other.

veganaron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
veganaron said...

I agree, the issue of gender binaries is a very big issue but the fact is that there ARE other terms to use; for one, "they" is a perfectly acceptable gender neutral term that people are already in the habit of using, just not as a pronoun in place of he or she. Our language is very male centric but it does not have to stay that way. If you look at the evolution of speech and how it has and continues to change we do not have to accept the inherent sexism at all.

I think it's interesting that you default to the masculine pronoun even in the case that the person may not identify as male. I see what you mean when you want to "de-sexualize" pronouns but the problem of defaulting to the male is that it doesn't question current gender inequalities and heteronormitive ideology. I also have to ask, why do we need to de-sexualize language? purposefully ignoring gender is just as bad as being down right sexist, in fact it is being sexist but doing so in a covert way. Not recognizing other genders besides male is reinforcing the gender normative ideology of men being the only important gender so we don't even need to mention the others. It does not emasculate men, it reinforces male domination and oppression of other genders, most importantly for this discussion, womyn. For example, when Armstrong landed on the moon and said, "it's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." his use of the male pronoun does not acknowledge that womyn are fifty-one percent of the population. In fact it completely hides them and makes womyn invisible. I think back to when we read books... When you read how often does the writer use male pronouns when referring to all of humanity? Defaulting to male pronouns is not de-sexualizing lanuage, it's reinforcing current male centeric ideology and making the oppression of womyn invisible.