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» The Ornery American Forum » General Comments » Would having no male/female pronouns or names reduce sexism?

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Author Topic: Would having no male/female pronouns or names reduce sexism?
Omega M.
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This is just a crazy idea (and not one I made up), but do you suppose that if all people voluntarily removed male and female pronouns from their languages (i.e., removed he/him/his and she/her/hers from English) and gave names to boys and girls interchangeably (i.e., named boys and girls "Jessica" with equal frequency in America), there would be less sexism? For instance, if this were the case, you usually wouldn't know the sex of the author of something you were reading, and therefore would be less likely to dismiss it because of unconscious sexual prejudice. Of course, the utility of doing this depends on whether most of the time when we use male/female pronouns and names the sex of the person referred to is irrelevant.
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Everard
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It would probably reduce sexism.

THere are other, less drastic, ways of reducing sexism, though.

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gruntar
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no
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TomDavidson
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I think most people already ignore bylines.
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Mr Xin Ku
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There was a proposal to take gender out of pronouns, by combining "he," "she," and "it" into one word, but that term was already in use. [Wink]
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gruntar
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More specifically, the concept you are referring to is known in the social sciences as the Safir/Worf (spelling?) Hypothesis. The theory is that if you change the symbol that stands for something, you change the way people think of it. In reality the practice just clutters the language and makes people feel confused and self-conscious trying to keep up with the nomenclature de jour as preached by the self-appointed advocates of whatever interest group happens to want to change the language that afternoon.
The underlying assumption that people are unaware of their prejuduces seems rather condescending or at the very least a loophole for self-delusion. Most sexists are quite aware of their sexism (I myself am a fine specimen of the male chauvinist porcine family and my darling wife lets me know this 5 days out of each and every month) but tend to keep it to themselves. It only looks unconscious to observers because making such an admission is socially inconvenient for those of us who lack the charm to make their sexism seem humorous and quaint rather than spiteful and mean.
At any rate it seems an awfully drastic measure to take to sell books by female authors, I was not aware sales were dragging so badly =).

[ September 09, 2004, 01:28 PM: Message edited by: gruntar ]

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jouissance
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no- but the notion of being aware of pronoun usage in relation how one speaks is relevant to gender equality and I am glad people are more conscious of the way pronouns work in our everyday use of language.

there are lots of situations where the use of gendered pronouns is relevant- there are many situation where the use of gendered pronouns is not relevant so the use reflects only the bias of the speaker- often in irrelevant ways but sometimes in ways that are disrespectful, restrictive or demeaning.

i think the confusion and self consciousness is worth the level of awareness and consideration that comes along as well.

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drewmie
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The singular "they" is far better than "he or she" which is overused for the sake of grammarians who want to keep it plural. For example: "If a person thought about it, THEY would come to the same conclusion." "He or she" may be what our teachers insist on teaching right now, but use it two or three times in a paragraph and it starts looking silly. Singular "they" has been used throughout English history, and here are some examples. Also from the link:
quote:
I posted an article quoting the Oxford English Dictionary, and tens of worthy authors through the ages from the 1300's to the present day, who have used `they', `them', `theirs', etc as singular gender-unspecific words. It is correct English. It was only later grammarians who tried to enforce the rule that they are plural words, and force us to use `he', etc. Luckily, most people have not followed their dictates.


[ September 09, 2004, 01:43 PM: Message edited by: drewmie ]

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drewmie
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On the subject of sexism, treating men and women differently will always make sense. It is only sexism if the difference in treatment is not justified by reasonable differences inherent in the gender. I'm sure we would disagree on some of them, but most situations make sense. For example, a female reporter in a men's locker room is much more reasonable than a male reporter in a women's locker room. Some people want to deny such differences (like ERA did), but to do so is silly.
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jouissance
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interesting example- in your opinion, is this because of how testosterone reacts to nudity vs how estrogene does?
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gruntar
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"no- but the notion of being aware of pronoun usage in relation how one speaks is relevant to gender equality and I am glad people are more conscious of the way pronouns work in our everyday use of language.

there are lots of situations where the use of gendered pronouns is relevant- there are many situation where the use of gendered pronouns is not relevant so the use reflects only the bias of the speaker- often in irrelevant ways but sometimes in ways that are disrespectful, restrictive or demeaning."

Any disrespectful, restrictive, or demeaning quality added to a pronoun is added in the tone the speaker (or writer) uses, and reflects a conscious decision to express contempt or disgust. Blaming the pronoun for the tone it is spoken in is ridiculous.
For instance, I can easily call a woman "goddess", roll my eyes, spit the word out and make the word sound as obscene as the word "c**t", likewise I can use the word person in the same context. My audience will get the picture. There is no reason why changing the language so my daughter's teacher calls up and tells me: "Your child Bob Jr. had its first menstrual period and would like to skip P.E." is going to advance equality. [Wink]

[ September 09, 2004, 02:05 PM: Message edited by: gruntar ]

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drewmie
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quote:
drewmie wrote: For example, a female reporter in a men's locker room is much more reasonable than a male reporter in a women's locker room.

jouissance wrote: interesting example- in your opinion, is this because of how testosterone reacts to nudity vs how estrogene does?

That's probably part of it, but only a small part. Male and female physiologies differ in innumerable ways, and it's the combination of factors that makes us male or female, and therefore makes us react differently is such situations.

However, cultural reasons contribute a great deal as well. These are the things that some people (e.g. ERA) rant against. And admittedly, some of it is sexism and unjustified. But this is not a chicken/egg situation. Physiology dictated a great deal in our cultures, and to pretend that much of our gender discrimination is not physiologically based is silly.

I'm not interested in sameness. I'm interested in reworking law and culture so that opportunities are not dictated by others, but rather by oneself. In such a situation, women may be more likely to choose teaching than policework. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as the woman who wants to be a cop has the opportunity to do it. Does anyone really think that women don't generally have different interests? That such generalities are merely cultural stigmas? Please. Sexism exists and should be fought, but perfect equality does not mean equal numbers in all fields.

To gruntar: LOL! [Big Grin]

[ September 09, 2004, 02:21 PM: Message edited by: drewmie ]

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jouissance
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"Any disrespectful, restrictive, or demeaning quality added to a pronoun is added in the tone the speaker (or writer) uses, and reflects a conscious decision to express contempt or disgust."

I am far more concerned with the unconscious factors that go into word choice than the conscious ones. the reason to be aware of gender in language is to bring to consciousness something that was not previously.

i'm not suggesting blaming the pronoun or even 'blaming' the one who uses it. my concern is not about blame and about awareness- about forcing issues into consciousness so people can more easily be responsible for their decisions- their tone and meaning.

still don't get why only women can go in the locker room.

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gruntar
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You still can't make people think about what they say by changing language. Change the people using the language and they'll use it differently. Bad word choice is a built-in feature of people who run off at the mouth without thinking first, not a built-in feature of language. I still don't see how eliminating genderized pronouns is going to raise the level of awareness of gender equality issues.
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drewmie
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jouissance, a lion shouldn't go into a stable with chained lambs. But a lamb shouldn't have any problems going into a stable with chained lions. Now of course, humans can control ourselves. However, the women in the locker room don't know this guy. For all they know, he's a pervert. Women, like it or not, are going to feel less comfortable and more vulnerable, no matter how good the guy is (unless he's clearly gay maybe). Now maybe some guys would be uncomfortable naked in front of a woman, but frankly they are typically a lot more comfortable saying so. Unfortunately, laws cannot be made for each individual, but must make very general assumptions.

[ September 09, 2004, 02:42 PM: Message edited by: drewmie ]

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gruntar
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To paraphrase part of a book on evolutionary psychology I read (Stephen Pinker's "How the Mind Works for those interested in a good read):
Men tend to see a naked woman as an invitation whereas women tend to see a naked man as a threat.

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jouissance
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"You still can't make people think about what they say by changing language" i disagree. they will think about it, even if it is just to be frustrated by why they have to think about it. but their kids won't be frustrated because they will not have learned language in a way that has now changed.

drewmie- i certainly agree- we should not invite the men's press core into the women's locker room today- but i think over time, if we wanted to, we as a species could move men in or move the discussions about sports out of the area where we clean ourselves and deficate.

"men tend to see a naked woman as an invitation whereas women tend to see a naked man as a threat."

so why are you saying " For example, a female reporter in a men's locker room is much more reasonable than a male reporter in a women's locker room." it is more reasonable for women to feel threatened than for men to feel invited?

i think that a typical professional male reporter in the locker room of the women's soccer team would not feel invited by any nudity he might see and i would not assume that the women would feel threatened. and as for the pervert comment- i am sure there are female pervert reporters who hang out in male locker rooms and men who are uncomfortable by their behavior and i doubt the men do feel comfortable speaking up about it. i am not shedding tears for those guys- but the same stereotype that says the male athletes do not mind having women around when they are changing or cleaning is probably about as accurate as saying all women athletes would mind reporters in their locker rooms.

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Rockeye
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Man v. Woman in the locker rooms...
Some of the posters seem to be implying that there are sexual factors which can't be ameliorated by changing language patterns. Some seem to be saying that by changing those same language patterns sexual differences would be significantly lessened.

I just don't think that its possible to remove the influence our sexual identity and physical reality from almost any situation. To put it crudely, even if I were to refer to Cindy Crawford using only gender-neutral terms, I would still think that she is the hottest thing I'd ever seen. Even if we used gender-neutral terms men would still be unwelcome in women's locker rooms. Even if we used gender-neutral terms men who could carry a 125 pound load of weapons and equipment while marching 12 miles in the Afghanistan mountains would be unusual and for women would be unlikely. There are physical differences between the sexes that no amount of rational logic or NewSpeak can eliminate or even ameliorate. These physical differences equate to mental differences as well. If you are physically weak individually you will learn to ask for help moving things. If you are physically strong you will prefer to do without assistance. Or put another way, women will stop to ask for directions and men won't. Physical differences morphing into mental differences. I have to run off to work now, so lets see where this thread goes...

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kelcimer
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quote:
jouissance, a lion shouldn't go into a stable with chained lambs. But a lamb shouldn't have any problems going into a stable with chained lions. Now of course, humans can control ourselves. However, the women in the locker room don't know this guy. For all they know, he's a pervert.
For all the guys in the locker room know, she's a pervert. What's your point? And what exactly is the danger posed to the women in a locker room by a single man? Like they all couldn't kick his ass via superior numbers. And isn't it sexist to say men are lions and women are lambs? Women are not automatically defenseless creatures nor are men automatically lethal hunters.
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gruntar
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"so why are you saying " For example, a female reporter in a men's locker room is much more reasonable than a male reporter in a women's locker room." it is more reasonable for women to feel threatened than for men to feel invited?"

I'm not. The reference was made in agreement to the statement that women tend to feel more uncomfortable among unfamiliar naked men than men around unfamiliar naked women. It was not a proposal to herd female reporters into locker rooms full of smelly naked jocks.
If anything I would like to see male reporters in women's locker rooms. I'd be pursuing a career in sports journalism right away...
(oh and all those perverted female jocks might make my life difficult, but I'd just have to suffer in the name of professional excellence [Wink] )

As to our topic:
"they will think about it, even if it is just to be frustrated by why they have to think about it. but their kids won't be frustrated because they will not have learned language in a way that has now changed."

Sure, then the parents will think of gender equality as a nuisance rather than a legitimate cause and pass it on to their kids.
I wish changing the language WOULD change the way people thought about things, I could start calling my used toilet paper currency and then maybe take a dump on the floor manager's desk at a Ford dealership as a downpayment on a truck when Dad dies and passes the dealership to Junior. Symbolism does not equal reality no matter how many generations you care to filter it through.
If someone wishes to attach negative images to a linguistic structure based on their experiences with the object it denotes, they will continue to do so with the new labels as soon as they realize those labels represent the same object. Tons of animal behavioral experiments show that conditioning transfers from one stimulus to the next during the process of learning. In human history during the Victorian Era reformers attempted the same thing, only they wanted to stamp out infidelity and fornication.
There is no evidence that a new generation of kids reading bowdlerized literature and unable to give police a working description of the guy who mugged them will somehow magically become unracist/unsexist when we die off any more than banning naughty words stopped all that nasty old sex going on in the 1800's that everyone was so ashamed of. Hell, the word "****" has thrived through generations of parents who whipped their offspring bloody for saying it after some of our stodgy forefathers decided to strike it from our language. Degenderizing pronouns is the same kind of intellectually crippling nonsense that infected the Victorian Era.

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drewmie
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quote:
kelcimer wrote: Women are not automatically defenseless creatures nor are men automatically lethal hunters.
In general, and to a far lesser degree than my analogy, YES! Men ARE that and women ARE that when compared to each other, because as Rockeye said, "Physical differences morphing into mental differences." It is silly to pretend that men aren't physiologically driven to be "hunters" compared to women who are driven to be "nurturers." Should we impose these generalities on men or women? Of course not. But to deny their general biological truth is silly.

Women were not offended by Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus. They bought it in droves! Stereotypes are good and useful when they help us cope with the world and feel a sense of kinship. They are bad and useless when they are used to forcibly limit others. It is not the idea that is bad, but how it is used.

Changing language happens as part of a cultural change that is already occurring. It does not LEAD to cultural change. Yes, changing terminology is sometimes good, but only because we have ALREADY begun progressing beyong the loaded term we want to shed.

[ September 09, 2004, 08:35 PM: Message edited by: drewmie ]

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Ikemook
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Just butting in really quickly to make a comment. I will be back eventually to argue more, but I have a hella lot of work this September (RA job, school exams, and personal stuff).

"More specifically, the concept you are referring to is known in the social sciences as the Safir/Worf (spelling?) Hypothesis. The theory is that if you change the symbol that stands for something, you change the way people think of it."

That's not entirely correct. The Sapir-Worf Hypothesis stated originally that language DICTATES the way we think. Which is, of course, completely silly. A revised hypothesis states that language influences the way we think, which is more accurate.

It is possible to change the way people think by changing what they say. In fact, it happens more often than we realize. Certain words are culturally "keyed" to cause certain reactions, and replacing those words with less influencial words will reduce the reaction, and cause us to think differently. For example, terrorists and "hostage-takers", as one person on another thread was complaining about. Hostage-takers is a far less loaded word than terrorists, and using it creates a less inciteful/angry/strong reaction from those hearing it.

Language influencing thought. A change of a word to a different word changing the way we think.

So yes, it is possible to change the way people think through words. Heck, if you could get the idea out that the word "Voc" stood for male/female/gender neutrality, and could get enough people to start saying it instead of he/she/it, they would starting thinking, instead of he/she/it, Voc.

This doesn't mean Saphir-Worf is a correct hypothesis (it isn't). But it also means that it would be possible to influence "sexism" through word change. Or at least, some aspect of "sexism."

I put quotations around the words b/c I don't think these things are really that sexist, nor are they worth our time. There are plenty other instances of sexism that need to be addressed.

[edited to add this:

"Changing language happens as part of a cultural change that is already occurring. It does not LEAD to cultural change. Yes, changing terminology is sometimes good, but only because we have ALREADY begun progressing beyong the loaded term we want to shed."

Yes, Drewmie's got it. Language can influence thought, but not quite outright change it. Not without other, non-linguistic influences.]

Just butting in.

Sincerely and Respectfully,

David R Carlson

[ September 09, 2004, 11:01 PM: Message edited by: Ikemook ]

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jouissance
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i know many women who were offended by the book. and it is statements like 'women were not...' that drives me nuts. as if you could speak for all women because many women bought a book.

i'm not making the claim that one ought to deny biology or that changing language will fix or change behavior in a specific way- there are women who are not nurturers- men who are not stronger than many or most women- so when you claim men do this or women do that you negate who the men and women who do not do those things are. you can say many women do this or many men do that or physiologically testosterone often generates a certain kind of behavior- but all the absolute claims in this thread strike me as poor form.

"women tend to feel more uncomfortable ..." not true of all women- that the even tend to feel this way. some wonen never 'tend' to feel this way.

"Women were not offended by Men are..." not true of all women.

"I just don't think that its possible to remove the influence our sexual identity and physical reality from almost any situation" i completely agree- but our sexuality is not- agressive pervert if you're male and weak victim in waiting if you're female. it may be true that many of us experience this as part of our sexuality- put it aint true of all men and women and certainly should not be true of those with professions that lead to locker rooms (or catholic churches or schools...)

and so on-

Drewmie said "I'm not interested in sameness. I'm interested in reworking law and culture so that opportunities are not dictated by others, " i agree completely and when you look at a woman and say- you all like 'men are from mars...' you are removing the opportunity for her as a woman- to not like that book. i do not care if this is your intent. i do not care if it is only a little bit of this feeling that comes from the statement. why make it? it is false. and it defines women as people who like a certain book... who can't not like it. it is gendered pronouns in this context that bother me the most. if cindy crawford drives you nuts and it is her femalness that drives you nuts- by all means talk about her as her. she is selling her 'herness' so i am sure she would not mind...

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Richard Dey
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H L Mencken proposed thon as a neutral 3rd-person singular pronoun; I've used it here and nobody noticed. So I'm wandering off to the local ladies' locker room to see if anybody notices.

I suppose most men aren't ashamed of themselves naked, and a lot ought to be; but most women who are ashamed of their bodies are quite right.

We need to revive thou and ye or to differentiate singular and plural 2nd person.

Decades ago now, there was a woman named John who used to live at the Essex Hotel in Dewey Square in Boston; she used to transdress ? and stood at the urinals (there were 38 in row!) in South Station all day, all night, all day and night, and just watch. Everybody knew her, and I think everybody felt a bit sorry for her. There are lots of these women.

What really offends me is a peeping tomasina who doesn't use the possessive to modify a gerund.

You guys have all been to France and had to put up with female concierges in the men's rooms -- and the women walking by as you have to do it in public. There used to be a huge trough running alongside the station in Brussel -- right in public, and there are pissing pots all over Amsterdam; I've even seen women trying to use them! Even Puritans and Victorians can learn to live with it.

One day I went in to Boston, got off the train, went into South Station -- and they'd turned the men's room into the ladies' room and the ladies' room into the men's room! It was then I discovered that dee ladies didn't get showers, hot towels, didn't have masseurs, shoe-shine boys, condom dispensers, hot towels, barbers, and servants left and right when they went to the john. Why? Women aren't good tippers.

The irony of it all is that now men have almost complete privacy in men's rooms because of pervertophobia -- but women walk around in them because there's a line at the ladies'!

Sexism is healthy. Women aren't offended by what men do in the john; men are offended by what women do in the mary. This is changing. Today college dorms are coed, everybody uses the same bathrooms, and nobody thinks anything of it.

On the other expensive hand, to give my grandsons a good old-fashioned male-only summer camp, I had to send them abroad!

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gruntar
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"What really offends me is a peeping tomasina who doesn't use the possessive to modify a gerund."

LOL

"Sexism is healthy. Women aren't offended by what men do in the john; men are offended by what women do in the mary. This is changing."

Look at the prevalence of scatological porno sites on the web.

""women tend to feel more uncomfortable ..." not true of all women- that the even tend to feel this way. some wonen never 'tend' to feel this way."

Do you have any phone numbers?

[Big Grin]

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gruntar
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More seriously:
J-
We were discussing women and men as groups. I am not (and was not unless specifically noted) addressing individual preferences but tendencies among groups. Saying that a group TENDS to hold a preference is a squishy generalization, not an absolute.

Dave-
"That's not entirely correct. The Sapir-Worf Hypothesis stated originally that language DICTATES the way we think. Which is, of course, completely silly. A revised hypothesis states that language influences the way we think, which is more accurate."

Thanks. Poor Sapir, I always get his name wrong.

"It is possible to change the way people think by changing what they say. In fact, it happens more often than we realize. Certain words are culturally "keyed" to cause certain reactions, and replacing those words with less influencial words will reduce the reaction, and cause us to think differently. For example, terrorists and "hostage-takers", as one person on another thread was complaining about. Hostage-takers is a far less loaded word than terrorists, and using it creates a less inciteful/angry/strong reaction from those hearing it."

True for awhile, until the term "hostage-takers" is paired with enough images of prepubescent kids in body bags, then classical conditioning takes its course and "hostage-takers" will probably elicit the same response.

I actually knew someone who insisted his car was pre-owned, not new. When he found a used condom in the crack of the back seat he got red in the face anytime someone referred to his car as "pre-owned". We still laugh at him.

Once again, trying to alter the language without altering reality to match the changes seems rather dishonest to me. As if the speaker or writer assumes I won't recognize what he ( [Wink] ) is really saying if he minces the words enough.

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jouissance
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"We were discussing women and men as groups- "

and when you do this- i wonder why- why make a statement that is not factual about all members of said group or is generally not based on scientific or quantaifiable findings. What is your point and what is your purpose? and how do others respond to that statement? and what does it show about your understanding of the world?

often people tend to hold preferences because they are told they do or they should because of this aspect about them or that aspect about them. often members of groups feel insulted when they do not fit the statment that is claimed as 'this group 'is' this way.

and if you do not mean- 'everyone' in the group, then be clear and say 'most' or better yet give the percentage of people you know your claim to be true about.

why not be concise?

i guess my specific question is what positive role do 'squishy generalizations' serve? i believe they play many negative roles- perpetuating stereotypes and shaping identities of members of said groups in unnecessarily restrictive ways- i do not think they play a positive role, but I am open to being convinced otherwise.

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gruntar
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""We were discussing women and men as groups- "

and when you do this- i wonder why- why make a statement that is not factual about all members of said group"

Because groups are composed of individuals who are unique enough that if you only said things that applied to everyone, you couldn't say anything at all. E.G. Female black widows tend to be black, does the fact that I stepped on a brown one this morning make that statement an absurdity? Hell no, I said "they tend to be", not "they all are".

"or is generally not based on scientific or quantaifiable findings."

I cited a source, albeit a secondary source, go read it. The findings have been quantified and are scientific, they just seem to make you uncomfortable for some reason.

"What is your point and what is your purpose?"

The purpose of the statement: that women as a group tend to feel more threatened than men when confronted by the sight and physical presence of a naked stranger shows that there are differences in the objects you seem to wish to classify as being in the same group. This in turn is part of a larger arguement that there is no point in changing our language or the way we categorize things for arbitrary reasons or to make ultra-liberals feel more warm and fuzzy.

"and how do others respond to that statement?"

You've answered your own question.

"and what does it show about your understanding of the world?""

It shows that I understand I can rattle the cages of nitpicky people who feel they are above going to the library and checking out a book before hurling accusations at other people whose admittedly sloppy citations were offered up to stimulate further discussion.

"often people tend to hold preferences because they are told they do or they should because of this aspect about them or that aspect about them. often members of groups feel insulted when they do not fit the statment that is claimed as 'this group 'is' this way."

I never said "this group" IS "this way".

"and if you do not mean- 'everyone' in the group, then be clear and say 'most' or better yet give the percentage of people you know your claim to be true about.

why not be concise?"

I make my posts on breaks at work or when things are a bit slow. I'll start a new thread tonight or tomorrow with direct quotes and cite this guy's sources for you. In the meantime you've been less than concise yourself as to exactly HOW changing our language will help women.


"i guess my specific question is what positive role do 'squishy generalizations' serve?"

The entire field of the social sciences in particular and science in general is based on statistical probabilities. A statistical probability is a squishy generalization based on observed and measured data, not an absolute. Read a peer-reviewed article in any respected scientific journal and find me a conclusion that is given as an absolute. When a group has a statistical tendency, especially in comparison with another group or population one writes that the group TENDS to do something under X set of circumstances. More women feel uncomfortable around strange naked men than men around strange naked women in cross-cultural studies. I cited a secondary source and made the assumption that the author made a valid conclusion from the data presented. But even if there were a thousand studies of this kind with similar results you still have a "squishy generalization" that does not and is not meant to apply to all the members in the group. Go to the library and look up the source, see if you can find studies that show the opposite.


"i believe they play many negative roles- perpetuating stereotypes and shaping identities of members of said groups in unnecessarily restrictive ways- i do not think they play a positive role, but I am open to being convinced otherwise."

Oh, wait. You are referring to STEREOTYPES! not trends, tendencies, or probabilites. Why not be concise?

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jouissance
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it seems like my responses have made you upset or agitated. i will try agan but i think i will not be clear enough for you- i will drop it if i am just coming across to you as obtuse.

I see a big difference between these two statements:

Men tend to see a naked woman as an invitation whereas women tend to see a naked man as a threat.

More women feel uncomfortable around strange naked men than men around strange naked women in cross-cultural studies.

the first statement leaves me questioning- so is a man who does not see a naked woman as an invitation tending not to be a man?

the second statement makes a claim that can be proven and if true is good for folks to know (i believe you without checking your sources)

when you change "Men tend to see" to "many men see-" you change the follow-up questions from- so what is a person who does not tend this way to why don't some men feel this way.

Your spider reference is also instructive.

"Female black widows tend to be black, does the fact that I stepped on a brown one this morning make that statement an absurdity?"

the brown spider you stepped on did not 'tend to be black' it was brown. when you take a statement about a group that is not true of all the members then it is false. when you make a statement about part of a group then not all members need to fit the statement. the word tend says- the whole group tends- so each example that does not tend is a dilema. i have no beef with statistics when they are clearly articulated. when they are not they end up in books like the 'bell curve'

the spider you crushed actually makes the classification of a brown spider a black widow confusing. sort of like calling a person with brown skin 'black' or a person with skin that is not white, white.

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drewmie
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quote:
jouissance wrote: i guess my specific question is what positive role do 'squishy generalizations' serve? i believe they play many negative roles- perpetuating stereotypes and shaping identities of members of said groups in unnecessarily restrictive ways- i do not think they play a positive role, but I am open to being convinced otherwise.
That's a good question. "Squishy generalizations" have a VERY important purpose. They help us act in ways that are more considerate of other people. If we all knew each other perfectly, such things would be unnecessary. But since we don't, understanding certain stereotypes helps us (1) treat one another in ways that are MOST LIKELY to be more accepted and inoffensive, and (2) know what to generally expect from others so we aren't constantly thrown off our guard.

As I said, when these stereotypes are used to help us cope with the world, they are useful. But as you said, they are often used to pressure others (by peer pressure or law) to behave or stay limited in ways they might not otherwise want. This too can be good, since we WANT people to feel "pressured" not to fart in public, or shoot their overbearing boss. Is it too much of a generalization to say that MOST people dislike being shot? [Wink] It's a silly extreme, but the principle is just as true in the locker room example.

However, we also use stereotypes to pressure others in unfair ways, just as you say. But the answer is not to throw out the baby with the bath water. It is to teach people to respect one another, to be more concerned with our own behavior than how others act, and to show greater respect to others by applying our general stereotypes AND knowledge of specific individuals in the most fair way we can.

[ September 10, 2004, 08:16 PM: Message edited by: drewmie ]

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Richard Dey
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The problem I have with sitting in judgment upon English is that there is no Accadémie Français to control it; we never had the gay aristos in the US which could effect a national academy (unless one considers the founding of the Smithsonian -- by an English homosexual as an exception). Americans generally speak in hyperbolic generalizations and our avant garde, being noteworthily gay, is dissembling: hep becomes hip becomes hop becomes innane; terror becomes terrific becomes terror becomes terrible; simplicity becomes complex becomes complexity becomes simplified; and on and on. As you say so neatly, negro becomes brown becomes black becomes "of color" as if what the Japs call 'the pink people' don't have any.

When creating a term, how many consider the contrary? Are white people (composed of all colors really colorless people ...? Redundancy: PaH's use of "nihilist" in the fourth definitional subset.

As to the substance of the discussion (and I can comprehend the use of the term "tends" here, this is militant objection to Heiddegger (Gagh!), Lacan (Duh!), Foucault (King of Hearts or Th. Szasz), and Derrida-dah-dah-dah. It is one thing to recall attention to context (which Foucauldian leftwingers intentionally overrode with hypothetical generalization); it is another to declare war on meaning itself.

I often mention UnNatural Selection because it has a 'compensation' clause which suggests that our mores are intentionally unnatural, and devised to compensate for the unnaturalness of civilization. Civilization's many forms require many different compensational adjustments. The dissumulation of language often fits this pattern.

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jouissance
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"That's a good question. "Squishy generalizations" have a VERY important purpose. They help us act in ways that are more considerate of other people. If we all knew each other perfectly, such things would be unnecessary. But since we don't, understanding certain stereotypes helps us (1) treat one another in ways that are MOST LIKELY to be more accepted and inoffensive, and (2) know what to generally expect from others so we aren't constantly thrown off our guard."

expectations are useful- to stay safe and to not offend- but i think people rely on them far too often out of laziness. when i do not expect a person i meet to be a certain way- i am constantly amazed at how facinating and amazing people are. when i expect a right winger, or lefty, or gay or woman to 'most' likely be a certain way- then their behavior that matches my expectation is what i am aware of. limiting for me and limiting for them.

that is how i experience the world and what i observe in others. my leaning to not be complacent with gendered commments that do not relate to females or males or squishiness in generalizations is that i believe the ideas of levinas concerning the alterity of the other as that to which i owe greatest ethical obligation make a lot of sense.

RD- as far as whether the great nazi metaphysician, the father of my handle, the creater of the panopticon (central theme of 'a new hope' even with george's rewrites), or dear old derrida can help us in this thread- i have my doubts. i am not sure if 'the politics of friendship' would be a topic readily digested/deconstructed?

and of course i object to the description of civilization as unnatural- it is mearly the evolution of the accident of consciousness.

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towellman
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In spoken Chinese there is only one word for he, she and it and it doesn't seem to have helped sexism there much(there are different characters for the written words.) Additionally, you have to know the language pretty well to know the difference between some male and female names.

So I would disagree with your supposition. Sexism is eliminated from the inside out not the outside in.

Finally, I don't think we should be trying to completely eliminate a recognition of the differences between the sexes. I believe that we are at a point where the feminist movement is just a blind continuation of a movement that has already acheived it's slightly misguided goals (maybe not at this moment, but actions already taken will have insured victory.) The problem with geminism is that they set being like MEN as their goal, not the best life for women.

Most of the women I know would happily trade a high paying 40-50 hour/week job plus 30 minute commute for a lower paying, but stimulating job that they could work 15-25 hours from home. Feminists continuing to fight for pay-parity and access to fields, when female college students outnumber men, is pointless. They should be pushing for a whole new job market that lets women take advantage of the parity they have acheived without giving up the other important aspects of their lives that not only provide balance, but are crucial to the rest of society.

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