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Old December 21st, 2010, 3:26 pm
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Melaszka  Female.gif Melaszka is offline
HighFunctioning Sociopath
Join Date: 22nd May 2006
Location: England
Age: 50
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

Originally Posted by FleurduJardin View Post
So, since we have to live with it, I have no problem with "a group of actors" meaning both actors and actresses. Or at least I accept it as inevitable. But I strenuously oppose a woman calling herself an "actor", not when the word "actress" exists, or people hailing a woman as a "hero" when the word "heroine" exists. I'm not for inventing new words because a woman enters a profession that was exclusively male before (though, in French, when they started having male birth attendants, they were quick enough to invent a new word instead of using the feminine existing one) - but I am for using feminine words when they already exist and have been in use for centuries.

Reminds me of an article I saw recently (but which was written some decades ago) where Amelia Earhart was referred to as an "aviatrix" - or, in legalese, the use of the word "executrix" (of a will) - but I won't push it, as no one uses those forms nowadays, except for... "dominatrix".
Well, you know how I feel about this, so we will have to agree to disagree.

My problems with -ess and -trix endings in English are:

(a) they are not a feminine equivalent of the -or or -er endings they replace (as is the case with -euse for -eur or -ienne for -ian in French), they are a suffix added to that ending and both etymologically and semantically, I feel they have a diminutive quality. NOT because they are feminine (like I said, I don't have that problem with -euse in French, because it's not a suffix added to the male title and it doesn't have a trivial sound to it - I can't explain this, -ess just sounds patronising to me.)

This is even more the case with the -ka suffix in Polish, which is added to e.g. "aktor" (actor; feminine = aktorka), "piosenkarz" (singer; feminine = piosenkarka), "nauczyciel" (teacher; feminine = nauczycielka). There the "-ka" is definitely a diminutive, with something of the sense of "little". It's considered insulting to apply it to women with "serious" professions, like doctor (=lekarz. Women doctors are known as lekarz, not lekarka). It's like the -ka used in familiar forms of female Christian names (e.g. Anka for Anna, Jolka for Jolanta, Melaśka for Melania), which are usually only used with very, very close friends/family members or small children. Melaśka is kind of the Polish equivalent of Melsy-Welsy! Why would you want that kind of suffix added to your professional title?

Similarly the -ette ending in English. If a "kitchenette" is a small kitchen with fewer technical accoutrements than a "kitchen" and "leatherette" is a cheaper, ersatz form of "leather", then what does that say about the relative merits of an "usher" and an "usherette"?

(b) -or and -er are not exclusively masculine endings and have not been for centuries. There are many, many words in common use (e.g. writer, teacher, worker, banker, campaigner, visitor) which you'd never even think of adding an -ess or an -ix to, so why use it for a very narrow range of professions? It just seems to me that often the -ess and -ix endings have been used in the past to stigmatise and trivialise women trying to pursue "traditionally" male careers and to imply that they are doing something different and lesser than a man doing the same job (in some circumstances still the case - some opponents of women priests insist on calling them "priestesses", drawing on both the pagan and the diminutive connotations of the word to try to paint the idea of a woman priest as an absurdity).

I do take your point that often when people hear the word e.g. "banker" or "doctor" or "police officer", even those those words are supposedly "gender-neutral", they will envisage a man, and that's not good, but I think that preconception will fade away as people get more used to women in these jobs. They'll probably also envisage a white, middle-class, heterosexual person, too, but no-one proposes we should add different suffixes for race, sexuality and social background. I think the problem is people's limited expectations, not the word itself. IMO, we should be using words that emphasise the job, not the gender of the person doing it, and using language that celebrates how similar all human beings are, not that which emphasises and exaggerates gender differences.

(c) If I have to say "My favourite actors are Benedict Cumberbatch, Gary Oldman and Tobey Maguire and my favourite actresses are Kathryn Hunter, Francesca Annis and Josette Simon" or "Toni Collette, IMO, is a better actress than Sam West is an actor", instead of "My favourite actors are..."/ "X is a better actor than Y", it's (i) very cumbersome and stilted (ii) implies that what women who act do is qualitatively different from the job that men who act do and that the two cannot be directly compared. I dislike the fact that there is a Best Actress Oscar and a Best Actor Oscar for this reason.

And yet if we call women who act "actresses" when we're talking about them as individuals or in single-sex groups, but revert to "actors" when we don't know the sex or are talking about a mixed-gender group, then that is more sexist, IMO, because it's making the male the superior, default term.

Much better, I say, to call them all by the same word. It's not that I think the "male" term is more prestigious: I don't care if it's actor, actress, actperson, actbod...I just think that people who do the same job should be called by the same word.

I'm with you all the way on the Sir/Ma'am thing, though.

And, to go back to the idea of definitions of Feminism, I don't think that someone who insists on calling women who act "actresses" or someone who insists on calling them "actors" is necessarily a feminist or not a feminist - it all depends on their reasons.

Last edited by Melaszka; December 21st, 2010 at 5:39 pm.
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