confusion of female and male

Nobu.0

Senior Member
Japanese
Hi!

Below is an excerpt from a novel. Can someone help me understand "confusion of female and male" in this sentence?
The protagonist ("she") is inside a restroom stall and finds a scribble on the wall. In this context, what specific action is referred to as a "confusion of female and male?"

She noted that someone had scratched “Bob is cute” with a sharp object on the paint and she smiled with the confusion of female and male.

My interpretation is that whoever wrote "Bob is cute" is confusing the conventional female and male roles with the use of language. When someone says "XXX is cute", it has a connotation that it is being said by a male to a female, but this scribble is in ladies' restroom so it was actually written by a female and addressed to a male. So that is the confusion of female and male. What do you think of this understanding?

Thank you,
Nobu
 
  • Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    Your interpretation is reasonable (although this is not restricted to saying it to someone, but also happens when speaking about someone), but it pre-supposes that women don't generally refer to men as cute. But I believe that to be false, i.e. they do. Therefore I don't understand the underlined phrase.
     

    Enquiring Mind

    Senior Member
    English - the Queen's
    That's how I understand it too, Nobu. But this passage could be coloured by the particular socio-linguistic context. In the UK at least, it's not unusual these days for young women or girls to call a man "cute", or even for a male to call another male cute, if he bats for the other team.
    Perhaps it would help if we knew what the novel is and when it was written.
     

    Nobu.0

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Thank you so much for your inputs.

    The excerpt is from "The Woman Lit by Fireflies" (page 177) first published by Jim Harrison in 1990.

    it pre-supposes that women don't generally refer to men as cute. But I believe that to be false, i.e. they do.
    That's what I thought. So given the information above, I'm guessing the comment about "the confusion of male and female" was made when the current use of "cute" was not very common (in the 1990's?)?
     

    Enquiring Mind

    Senior Member
    English - the Queen's
    I think it was probably common enough - certainly in the US - in the 1990s. But maybe the woman herself is of an older generation, or calling a man "cute" just isn't part of her own particular parlance. Apart from that, I think your understanding is correct, and I wouldn't try to overthink it.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    How old is "she" in the novel? It tends to be younger people in the UK who think of men as "cute", having been influenced by AE usage. If "she" is of an older generation, her condescending amusement is unsurprising.

    (crossposted, and agreeing with Em)

    Edit: It was probably some time in the 1980s that I first heard an American actress on TV remark on a young man's "cute butt". I thought it was a very odd thing to say, because of the use of "cute" for a man and also because she noticed his butt rather than any other part of him.
     
    Last edited:

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    She noted that someone had scratched “Bob is cute” with a sharp object on the paint and she smiled with the confusion of female and male.
    I'm not sure how deeply this should be analysed but

    "Bob" is male
    "Cute" is applied to small kittens and young women/girls

    Cute has been applied to a male.

    The unasked question that causes the smile is "Would Bob (male) describe himself as 'cute'?" and hence the philosophical "Is it possible for a male to possess cuteness?"

    The protagonist, in both cases, thinks not and smiles.
     

    Roxxxannne

    Senior Member
    English (northeastern US)
    Although the novel was published in 1990, it need not take place then. And a particular character in a novel might be amused by the gender issues in the sentence "Bob is cute" even if no one in real 1990 life thinks anything of it.

    I suspect PaulQ is hinting at a plot twist: 'Bob' will be revealed -- on the next to last page -- to be a fuzzy little bobcat kitten.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Women have been calling guys "cute" in American English as long as I can remember.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Women have been calling guys "cute" in American English as long as I can remember.
    :thumbsup: I picked a random old novel that I thought might have something - Valley of the Dolls (1967) - and sure enough:
    "Well, what about this Tony Polar?" her mother asked.
    "He's real cute!"
    "Jen!"
    "Mother, he is cute... and I like him. ...
     

    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Read it. You can't copy and paste from Google Books.:)

    In any case, Clare leaves a note in the toilet addressed to the police in which she tells them she's being abused by her husband and describes the car she's in. She leaves them her daughter's phone number as well. She leaves the note next to the scribble praising another man mentioned above.

    I read 'confusion' here as meaning male/female interaction. Otherwise it makes no sense to me.

    Edit. Thinking about it I'm not sure it means interaction, but I still think the two things are linked in that they are both about relationships between men and women and their attitudes to each other, which are 'mixed up' on the toilet wall.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Read it. You can't copy and paste from Google Books.:)
    I did read it and I don't get it so you need to actually say more than "wink wink nudge nudge". On top of that a bare link like that may be no help at all in the future (thus the forum rule on not doing it), plus Google Books hides different books in different countries and that link goes to .co.jp. The other day there was a link to Google Books in Greece that gave no preview for me.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    The extensive context leaves me none the wiser. If the novel is set in the UK, I'm standing by my post #6. :) But I don't think we've been told where the action takes place, and which variety of English "she" speaks. "Restroom stall" suggests to me that this is taking place in the USA, in which case I have no opinion..
     

    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    The extensive context leaves me none the wiser. If the novel is set in the UK, I'm standing by my post #6. :) But I don't think we've been told where the action takes place, and which variety of English "she" speaks. "Restroom stall" suggests to me that this is taking place in the USA, in which case I have no opinion..
    It isn't set in the UK, which becomes obvious if you click on the link.:)
     

    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I did read it and I don't get it so you need to actually say more than "wink wink nudge nudge". On top of that a bare link like that may be no help at all in the future (thus the forum rule on not doing it), plus Google Books hides different books in different countries and that link goes to .co.jp. The other day there was a link to Google Books in Greece that gave no preview for me.'
    It wasn't a bare link. I specifically said it was from Google Books and the link to the book was imbedded in that. In any case, here's the direct link which goes to .co.jp (because I searched for the page directly from the OP's link, which was of course Japanese) but which I have no problem accessing:

    The Woman Lit by Fireflies

    I can get it on the Google Books .it page as well, no problems.

    That said, my apologies, I will of course bear in mind that in the States you maybe can't access certain things. I have also had trouble accessing some US sites because I was detected as being from a European country....
     
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