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Old December 22nd, 2010, 10:58 pm
canismajoris  Male.gif canismajoris is offline
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

Originally Posted by Muggle_Magic View Post
All of those options are good for an informal meeting, but not a formal one. You can't see a politician's speech on the senate floor or a high-level meeting starting with "Folks", "People", or "You all". At least I can't imagine it.
Good point, but then in formal situations people may ostensibly have specific titles, e.g. "citizens," "members of the board," "Senators," "trustees," etc. ...

I mean, also I think since speech is not quite as formal as writing in general, and I think regional and vernacular speech is becoming increasingly acceptable in public life, it wouldn't wholly surprise me to hear a CEO address a group as "folks."

Originally Posted by Muggle_Magic View Post
I do, for the reasons Fleur and Pox stated earlier. It implies that calling them "Ma'am" would reduce them to the rank of "lowly females" (this is a quote, don't jump on me!!!)
I'm actually reading an interesting book on this subject, since it has been discussed here and I've never been able to do any formal research. (It's called Language and Woman's Place by Robin Lakoff, from 1975--evidently her best-known work.) She has several examples of this sort of disparity, but one I find particularly problematic is "master" versus "mistress." In the same way as "sir" and "ma'am," there seem to be some problems in usage in attributing either or both to a particular sex. We may comfortably refer to any male as "sir" or "[a] master," but Lakoff suggests that the specific terms for women are simultaneously euphemistic and derogatory (more on this later). I.e. "lady" is a substitute for "woman" in that being a woman is already acknowledged as a disadvantage, and that a lady is (in aristocratic and chivalric terms) something of an improvement, or in other words that the presence of a euphemism in the first place is proof that the status of the referent is already denigrated. To that end she also points out that many usages of "lady" can connote both frivolity and an ennobling of something that is distasteful: she feels that "lady doctor" is at best condescending, since a doctor (a male term, as evidenced by marking a "woman doctor") requires no such enhancement, and the more demeaning the subject, the more likely "lady" is to occur. But since the premise of the whole line of inquiry is that usages are reflective of existing norms, consequently, I think the usages she describes are symptoms of the original disparity, while they are not in themselves necessarily a mechanism for creating or sustaining that disparity.

This leads me down a path with any questions and no answers. While women may face a double-edged sword in the way they speak and are spoken about, men face a similar dilemma in how we speak about them. On the one hand I'm not sure that using originally male terms for women or mixed groups is always the best approach, but we have to acknowledge that usage can and does change. Lakoff's own example of "master" and "mistress" seems to fall into this category. Her claim is that "a master" can be used for men in a variety of situations, but that "a mistress" has now only a sexual connotation (still largely true). But I think she moves on to a tangent that I don't really understand... attempting to discuss how coining a corresponding term for men in the sexual connotation of "mistress" would improve the situation. What I think is left unmentioned is that "master" can and does refer to women as well, and when its meaning in the master-servant relationship started to disappear, I think its gender-specific content did as well (that is, did start to disappear, it hasn't yet). No, I mean, she is making a fairly complex assertion with this example, so I'm definitely not rejecting it out of hand, I just think there's a wealth of variation that is unaccounted for, since Lakoff admitted her own observation and usage are the primary data set.

Ultimately then, I wonder whether insisting on separate gender-based terms for male and female occupations or positions is really productive at all. Allow me to quote this book: "The very notion of womanhood, as opposed to manhood, requires ennobling since it lacks inherent dignity of its own." If this is categorically true, and can be distinguished by linguistic analysis, then neither calling everyone "sir" nor using "ma'am" can be realistically said to correct the problem. It's not about changing what we call men, thus calling men "ma'am" is an asburd counterexample, it's a matter of how women benefit if we change what we call them. Since there is a dicohotomy between derogatory (and therefore feminine, frivolous) and prestigious (that which is like a man) terms for women in many lexicons, I'm not sure how much they do benefit by "ma'am," since this could be seen as separating them into a class of officers that is not to be taken seriously. The sexism exists already, and it is reflected in the language in both ways, and therefore in neither way in particular. Thus soldiers responding to female officers with the same obedience and respect as male ones is massively more important than what they call them. Don't you think?

Anyway, I'm by no means finished with the book, but I have a lot to think about now.

ETA: I'd like to add the disclaimer that the observations of a woman in 1975 could differ significantly from those of a man in 2010 without either being inaccurate.

Last edited by canismajoris; December 22nd, 2010 at 11:13 pm.
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