Sexism in Language

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by maxiogee, May 18, 2006.

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  1. maxiogee Senior Member

    imithe
    You're not wrong,
    you're just a woman and wouldn't understand these things - ouch, stop hitting me Emma! Mods, She's hitting me :D

    If you mean the language - i.e. English, then yes, of course there's sexism in it —> or probably more importantly, there used to be.
    I'm not sure that manhole is really sexist anymore, it's just a word to which we've grown accustomed. There are other time-honoured words which probably should be left.

    But yes, get rid of "manned" and replace it with "staffed", and similar indications of a mental image that a man is needed in certain situations, or if we really want to overcome sexist language let's campaign for a real English neutral third-person human-specific-pronoun and it's relatives and get rid of the he/she ~ his/her ~ himself/herself kerfuffle when what we really want to say is "a person" ~ "that person's" and an on-sight appreciably-singular version of "their".

    Mod Edit: These posts are being pulled from another thread in the English Only forum about use of the expression "Man on the Street." The thread started turning into an interesting discussion about "sexism" in lanauge, in particular the use of the word "girl."

    Questions: Does sexism still exist in language and is it more of a practice of culture than language in and of itself? Are you offended by this? If so, kindly give examples.

    Since emma42 and suzi br started this part of the discussion, I'll let them add their questions as they may.

    There you go. Discuss.
     
  2. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    I could not agree more, Maxiogee. Although I'm not sure I understood everything you said.:D
     
  3. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    Stoke on Trent
    England and English
    and I agree with you emma - tho I'm cool with idioms like a girls' night out ...

    it might (or might not ! ) entertain you to read this debate on another forum that I use where there are a number of feminists ...
    http://boards.gingerbeer.co.uk/index.php?topic=50471.0

    ps it may be obvious - but if you do check out that thread, I am suze in there
     
  4. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    Thanks for the link, Suzi. I must admit, I have still not made my mind up about this one. History has shown us that pressure groups can make the language change (eg "gay"), but does this process have to be part of a wider movement (eg the gay rights movement as a whole)?

    I would not want to try forcing usage of language down people's throats (there's an image for you), (a) because I'm not a great big Nazi and (b) because, much of the time (although not all) thought and attitude has to precede usage. So, for example, the attemtps of some people to force "herstory" into the language, I find risible on many levels.

    However, that does not preclude me from voicing objections to certain usages, such as "You're a very bright girl, aren't you?" when the more appropriate and less sexist term would be "You are a very intelligent woman".

    Obviously I am not talking from personal experience here because I am, in fact, a fourteen year old boy with very little brain.

    Ooh, sorry, meant to refer back to the original question: we have "man in the street" and "man on the Clapham omnibus".
     
  5. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    Stoke on Trent
    England and English
    I think that "forcing" peopleto be aware of the sexism in theire language use, especially in job adverts, has made equal opportunites more viable. If people can no longer use male job-titles and male pronouns in their ads, then everyone feels that they can apply for the job. In that case I would say that language preceded the behaviour - although the interviewer might still be very old-fashioned.

    Where I teach, youngsters are very aware of not being overtly racist in their language use, but the BNP has just won more votes than ever and racism is flourishing around me, so the language pressure has not impacted on local behaviour... :(
     
  6. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    I agree with everything you have just, Suzie. The same applies where I am a teaching assistant (primary), although I AM forcing them to learn French, but that's another story.

    When I talked about "forcing" I was thinking more of more nebulous instances, like "girls' night out" for example - where the sexist element may not be as clearcut as saying "policeman" instead of "FASCIST BULLYBOY OF THE STATE".

    I did not mean that. It was a joke. I know many lovely police officers.
     
  7. maxiogee Senior Member

    imithe
    Who are women and couldn't possibly be included in a noun like "bullyboy"? :D

    While I agree with the dislike of "man in the street", I'm not sure about the "Man on the Clapham omnibus" as I think that that is an expression in its own right now, and carries baggage with it of a bygone time.
     
  8. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    Yes, it does. So why still use it? I have heard it used loads of times in court, not so long ago.

    I have been informed that a Mod will be moving this thread to the Cultural Forum very soon.
     
  9. maxiogee Senior Member

    imithe
    Why still use it?
    Why still use "All that glisters is not gold"? Because it captures a concept and is accessibly understood by those who hear it. Maybe there is a case to be made for it being used correctly, but I'd not like to see it lost.
    It reminds me of the type of judge Ian Hislop of Private Eye reflects when he talks of "A popular beat combo".
     
  10. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    Me too! Would you want to be judged by a judge who talks about men on buses and popular beat combos? Come on - "the man on the Clapham omnibus" is a brilliant phrase (mainly because of the "omnibus"), but it's not appropriate in a court of law in 2006, is it?
     
  11. danielfranco

    danielfranco Senior Member

    You should see some of my translating cohorts of the femenist conviction (both male and female) have a cow everytime I translate a non-gender word from English ("child" comes up a lot in a pediatric hospital) to Spanish as a male-gender ("niño", in this case)... "But it could be a girl child, you just don't know, you sexist pigheaded #$%@!", they seem to think at me...
    But I always defend myself by reminding them that in our language (even though there are several "ambiguous" gender words), the masculine terms are general-purpose, and the feminine terms are specific-purpose.
    They still curse me, though...

    So hopefully the RAE will soon come up with acceptable non-gender word options, like Maxiogee suggests.
     
  12. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    Hi Daniel. "masculine terms are general purpose" - this is the whole point of the argument re "he" for "he" or "she". Why is the general purpose gender masculine? I think we all know the reason for that! There are some interesting threads on just this topic in, I think, the English Only Forum. Quite recent ones.
     
  13. diegodbs

    diegodbs Senior Member

    Madrid
    Spain-Spanish
    I wish it were not so. From the point of view of an English native speaker (or a native speaker of any language with no gender distinction) it seems difficult to understand that gender and sex are completely different things. Gender relates to grammar, sex relates to biology.

    Native Spanish speakers can be sexist or not, depending on their points of view about women, and not because of the grammar they use.
    English native speakers can be as sexist as a Spanish native speaker although English has no gender distinction.

    The RAE was against the translation of "gender violence" as "violencia de género" because as far as we know articles have never been at war with adverbs or prepositions; they seem to get on very well.

    I wouldn't like that a misunderstanding of what grammatical gender means in my language had to be changed, following the rules of any other language with no gender distinction. When we say "el libro" (masculine grammatical gender) we are not thinking about a he-book or something like that. When we say "la persona" (feminine grammatical gender) we are not thinking only about a woman but about a human being.

    Grammar is not biology.
     
  14. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    Absolutely, diegodbs! I think we may be talking at cross purposes here. I was talking about the use of, for example, "he" to mean "he or she". I have no argument with anything you have just said.:D
     
  15. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City
    What's wrong with "he" to mean "he or she" ?

    What's with "mankind" ? Or "the Rights of Man" ?

    I have always understood these to be generic. No?
     
  16. cubaMania Senior Member

    It is a convenient, oft-repeated fiction that those terms are universal.
    In fact:
    The Declaration of the Rights of Man was passed in 1789 by the National Assembly of France.
    French women gained the right to vote and run for office in 1944.
     
  17. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City

    Well, I'm not talking about that document per se. I meant that one can say "man-to-man defense" even if you are talking about women's basketball. That "man" doesn't have to be a biological male. Same thing for "Man overboard!". It can't be a dog but it can be a boy, a girl, a woman, a man, an old lady...

    Am I wrong?
     
  18. maxiogee Senior Member

    imithe
    This is where I agree with you, but not for "sexism in language" reasons. As I said, the phrase has it's place, and I would agree that that place is not in a court of law when it is being used to be "anybody".

    But I would counter that the ridding of a language of undesirable expressions can take a long time. The chronic users must be allowed to die off, because they are not going to change. My late father was a technophile and had more radios than any person ought to - but he went to his grave calling them "wirelesses" - the expression was something he never shook off.

    People are like that, they develop patterns of speech and don't lost them. I recently attended the funeral of an uncle of mine - the most un-PC person I have ever met. Yet everyone who knew him regarded him as "a character" - and more importantly, as someone they would have hated to see change. His language was both atrocious and blunt. You very quickly knew where you stood with him. He couldn't have changed his language if his life had depended on it.

    Don't worry about the judges, they're slowly being pensioned off and replaced by others who know the score. Treat them with the barely-concealed contempt they deserve and challenge their use of language when appropriate. It may swing an appeal hearing one day.
     
  19. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    The masculine isn't the default gender in all languages. In Welsh, you say "She is raining" instead of "It is raining": :)

     
  20. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    That is very interesting, Outsider. I might move to Wales.

    Maxi, again, I agree with you! "the ridding of a language of undesirable expressions can take a long time". This is why I think, in the majority of cases, the reality has to change before the language does. I would not want to stop anyone from saying "wireless". I often use it myself. That man's reality contained "wirelesses", not "radios".

    However, I think we can help things along a bit sometimes. I simply refuse to use the generic "he". I will use "he/she" or "their".

    I remember my university tutor (male) carpeting me for using "l'homme" (man/mankind in French, for anyone who doesn't have any French)for mankind/humanity. He said he was "surprised at me of all people" using that term. I said that it was "only language" (oh, how things have changed). He won the argument.
     
  21. Fernando Senior Member

    Madrid
    Spain, Spanish
    Do you mean you use he/she when speaking????
     
  22. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    I had to think about this! I will use "they" when speaking usually, but if I am talking more formally, I might use "he/she". So there!
     
  23. Fernando Senior Member

    Madrid
    Spain, Spanish
    So, when you see someone jumping, so far you can not know his/her/its/their sex, should you say: "They jumpS"?
     
  24. maxiogee Senior Member

    imithe
    Indeed, and was he not right inasmuch that our "one" is cognate with the French "on", as in "on dit" etc.?
    My copies of Chambers and Collins give "one" as coming from Old English, Old Norse, (Old High) German, Latin and ultimately Greek. But I think that probably refers to the unit, and feel certain that the French is the source of the pronoun.
    They did it better than us, and before.
     
  25. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I'm not so sure about that. I wouldn't be surprised it if were a false cognate. French on ultimately comes from Latin homo, I believe.

    Then again, Latin homo originally meant "human being".
     
  26. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    I'm not sure what you mean, Maxi. The French "on" would not have been appropriate in the phrase in question. The grander "humanity" or "mankind"(!) was called for.

    If you're saying that the French "on" is really useful and avoids offending sensibilities, then I totally agree with you.

    Fernando, I would say "They're jumping" or "that person's jumping". Or I would guess at their sex.
     
  27. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    Does not French "on" come from Latin "omnis"?
     
  28. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    According to the dictionary I quoted above, one of the proposed origins of on is Latin homo, as in the phrase Homo sapiens. There's also a reference to Picard that I can't understand very well.
     
  29. maxiogee Senior Member

    imithe
    Yes indeed, but my point is that "one" as in the French use of "on" covers "humanity" when we are expressing singular activity. Think of it as the singular of "People say", "People think" - one thinks here of the French use of "on" :) The speaker is not being grand there and referring to himself/herself in the third person, she/he is trying to say that every person thinks of the French.
    Look at the contortions I have had to go through to say that without the use of "one".
     
  30. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    And you wouldn't be able to use "one/on" to say "That person's jumping."
    "One is jumping" means something else altogether. ;)
     
  31. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    Yes, thank you so much, Maxi, for explaining how to use French "on".:D

    I have no argument with you on this point.;)
     
  32. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    Indeed, not, Outsider!
     
  33. mora Senior Member

    Canada, English
    Hello

    To those who think the masculine is an appropriate way to refer to everyone, consider how it feels to be addressed specifically by the incorrect gender. If 'mankind' is ok, then why not 'womankind' to refer to everybody? Unthinkable, right? Men consider it a horrible insult to be addressed as women, and that is how it feels for some women to be addressed as men. Nevertheless, some people still think it is OK for women to be (disrespectfully IMO) addressed as men.

    At the root of using 'man' to include everybody was the idea that women were not 'persons'. It is a lot more than a linguistic convention. Well, we can use 'humankind' instead of 'mankind', there is always an alternative. The English language is constantly evolving, and the move towards gender neutrality is a move in a positive direction.

    English is a language that does not assign a gender to most nouns, and when gender is attached to nouns it is very often perjorative or exclusionary.

    Comparing English to other languages such as French or Spanish in this regard is inappropriate, because the orthography of those languages requires nouns to have a gender. Gender in those languages does not have the same history or purpose that it has in English, and does not have the same powerfully negative connotation.

    Respectfully,

    Mora
     
  34. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City
    Hi Mora,

    I'm the one of those who is asking whether or not man can be considered a generic term as in "Every man for himself" to mean both men and women.

    I would like to reiterate that I am asking a question. In the Spanish Bible it says : "No solo de pan vive el hombre." and the English version of that is "Man does not live on bread alone." or something to that effect. Should it be "Men and women don't..." or does that "man" cover all of the bases?
     
  35. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Adelaide
    Australia English
    The non-sexist brigade seems to cherish a variation on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

    If Engish were non-sexist - so the theory goes - then people would be unable to think sexist thoughts. Rather like the aim of 1984's New Speak which would make Thought Crime impossible.

    However, if you look at other languages which are pretty much non-sexist, Malay-Indonesian, for example, you don't see a paradise of sexual equality.

    There must be a doctorate or two in comparing "sexism" in language with "sexism" in the culture.
     
  36. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    Why are some foreros insisting on using terms such as "non-sexist brigade" and "feminist cohort"? Do you think it is wrong and contemptible for people to object to inequality?

    Mora's language in her excellent and respectful post was extremely calm.

    No, "humanity" is not as "sexist as "man"" - I note that you admit "man" to refer to both sexes is "sexist". Whatever the etymology of "humanity", it is now understood to refer to both sexes.
     
  37. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City
    I tend to think that the fact that a woman who sleeps with many men is a "slut" and a man is who sleeps with many women is a "stud" around here has to do with attitudes of the people in my community. So is the word bad or the attitude itself? Is that an example of sexist language or sexist people?

    And can we even say woman without somehow putting man in there in English? Is she just a form of he?
     
  38. maxiogee Senior Member

    imithe
    I could, but won't, ask why you think "brigade" and "cohort" are indicative of wrongness and contempt? ;)

    I see it as an indication that feminists had to (unfortunately) issue a "call to arms" about sexist language, and think that the terms are perfectly valid - but object to them being tied to the "feminist" tag, as I am perfectly happy to be called non-sexist, but I don't qualify for "feminist", as I don't do positive discrimination, nor do I do anti-male. :D
     
  39. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City
    That's what I was asking!

    Man = always males only?

    Humanity = men and women?
     
  40. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    Re Post #38: Because the way in which those words have been used in this thread is, to me, indicative of the attitude that there is no sexism in the use of, say, "he" for "he" or "she" and that anyone who objects to the same is being strident and argumentative (in the worst senses).

    Does not the phrase "the non-sexist brigade seem to cherish..." sound sarcastic to you?
     
  41. maxiogee Senior Member

    imithe
    Yes, but due more because of the use of "seem to cherish" than to the use of "brigade" - (which might for some have subconscious overtones of Knox's phrase "monstrous regiment of women"). "Non-sexist" is to me a neutral construction, but I accept that a woman's point of view might well be different.
     
  42. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    Oh come on, the use of "brigade" and "cohort" in this thread is patently anti anti-sexism. They are military words and clearly imply that people are fighting when there is no need. If not, why not use "feminist thought", "other opinions", "anti-sexist view".
     
  43. maxiogee Senior Member

    imithe
    :D
    It's not my place to answer why or how people with whom I don't agree choose their words.

    I have explained what I find objectionable, and why, but I can do no more.
    What do you want from me - that I crawl up my modem cable and throttle them?
     
  44. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    Splitter.:(
     
  45. mora Senior Member

    Canada, English
    Hello

    To the question patiently posed by Residente Calle 13, 'man', and 'mankind' in the context you are referring to includes everyone, not just men. It means all humans.

    The bible was not written in English or Spanish. The use of 'man' or 'hombre' reflects the bias of the people who produced the translations.

    No solo de pan vive el hombre podría ser No solo de pan vive la gente.

    Likewise, 'People do not live by bread alone'. The choice to use 'man' to cover 'humankind' was one made by the translators.

    I am not suggesting we amend or destroy historical documents like translations of the bible or works of literature, but recognize that they are of of a time and place, and reflect the beliefs and culture of that time and place. The English language is changing, and I wanted to make the point that I believe it should change to reflect contempory beliefs about equality and inclusion. If one were to take on a contempory, plain language translation of the bible, then I think a translator might use a more neutral and inclusionary word that 'man' to refer to everybody.

    Both 'brigade' and 'cohort' are military terms that are usually sarcastic or contemptuous when used to describe people who hold an opposing view. I know that, but I was not offended so much as cheered by the idea that I was not alone in my campaign to overthrow the world, one word at a time. ;)

    Mora
     
  46. maxiogee Senior Member

    imithe
    And if the Bible is important to you, or if you feel that it is to people who's use of it affects you, then you need to campaign for a new translation. They come up with a certain regularity.
    I can see no vaild reason not to change the language in it.
    It doesn't bother me - one man's tosh is another man's Gospel!
     
  47. Sidd Senior Member

    Spain
    Spain
    I'll be up to fight whenever I know a woman is paid less doing the same job a man does.

    I will never say "vosotros y vosotras" (you all male/female in spanish) when adressing a group of people when I can use "vosotros".

    No, I don't think languages are sexists. Languages have had a development to be where they are. If their origins were a male-based society, it's ok for me.

    It's what people think that have to be changed, not how people talk.
     
  48. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    From this, can I infer that you do not think it's a "male-based" society any more?
     
  49. Sidd Senior Member

    Spain
    Spain
    Not as much as it was, that's for sure.

    Still a long way to go though.
     
  50. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Adelaide
    Australia English
    We could quibble about brigade, but not about cohort.

    Cohort is regularly used in academic writing with no military overtones whatever. Cohort studies are frequently used in social science and medicine.

    However, it is quite obvious that there are many anti-sexists who see what they are doing as fighting a war against oppression.
     
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