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Old December 23rd, 2010, 6:17 am
canismajoris  Male.gif canismajoris is offline
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

Originally Posted by FleurduJardin View Post
ETA 2 - Canis, we posted at about the same time, so I only saw your post after mine was up. I'll have to read it carefully before I respond, should I feel a response necessary. Very interesting, though.

At first sight, after just a brief perusal, I'd say it confirms what both Melanie and I say, that somehow the feminine form of a word has, or has taken on, a negative connotation. The thing she and I disagree about is the way to do away with that negative connotation.

Concerning how to address a mixed group of people - They may not all be senators, trustees, whatever... So I think that "Ladies and Gentlemen" - in French "Mesdames et Messieurs" is the best and "safest" way to go about it. Let's say a TV host greets his audience. In France, it would be "Mesdames et Messieurs". Though, in the US, things being generally informal, "Hi, folks" would be OK. In France, the newscasters always start with "Mesdames, Messieurs, bonjour/bonsoir". In the US, it's just "Good morning", "Good afternoon" or "Good evening". Melanie, how is it in the UK? MmeB, do they say "Seņoras y Seņores" in Spain?
Yeah I mean, I can't deny that the disparity between women and men is reflected in certain sectors of language. But I'm just not convinced that this is a matter which can be corrected via language itself--if the vestigial conventions in language are even indicative of people's contemporary opinions, which I can't really confirm either. My problem is this: Though ample evidence exists in our various languages that men and women are regarded wholly differently, I don't see how addressing this manifestation in language gets at the heart of the matter. For one thing, if two assertive and intelligent women such as you and Melanie can't agree on the matter, then it makes me wonder if there is really a right answer rather than two or more competing preferences. On a more empirical level though, I think it can be demonstrated that efforts to neutralize language is not in itself an indicator of equalized gender relations.

I think Lakoff's seemingly underlying assertion has relevance here, that women are typically defined (conceptually, not just linguistically) by their relationships to men, while men are defined by their own agency. As a man, I have opportunistic biological and social agendas, and a woman's potential utility to me is of some importance, whether I am permitted to express it or not. Altering my mode of expression to shroud these agendas is not likely to alter these agendas--I will still desire sex and social prominence as much as I did whether I'm using gender neutral terms or not. At least I think so. Given that I do (according to this author) use a great deal more feminine speech than most men, perhaps my estimation of a womans' utility to me and her own autonomy are not really mutually exclusive. There is some consolation there, that everyone is a socially egotistical animal and gender distinctions are matters of biology rather than social value, but I can't suggest that this is universally true.

What I just can't wrap my mind around is that by using some of this language I'm upholding or advocating some form of latent sexism. Because I really don't subscribe to it. I may assume that doctors and layers and professors are men because most of the one I've known have been, and the language I use may favor this position--does this then suggest that I believe a woman can't or shouldn't be one? I don't think so. But there is certainly room for debate. I think this book presents somewhat dated evidence, but its core principles are still worth examining, namely that women are socialized to speak in such a way that they can't escape from being denigrated, that social conventions (which inform semantics) favor male autonomy only, and so on (I'm not finished yet ).

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