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Feminism: Definitions and Opinions



 
 
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  #81  
Old December 17th, 2010, 5:26 am
FleurduJardin  Female.gif FleurduJardin is offline
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

At one point earlier, we discusssed whether a "neutral" word (since English doesn't have feminine or masculine articles, "the" and "a" both being neutral) could have gender connotations.

This is a NY Times article which deals partly on the matter (it's a review of a book called "Through the Language Glass").

This long article can be a bit dry, but don't be discouraged. Skim through it, you'll find some interesting tidbits, such as:

"speakers do indeed, on a subconscious level, form associations between nonliving ("neuter") objects and masculine or feminine properties." [Some of us already knew this....]

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/bo...ckerton-t.html

This also reminds me of a discussion I had on another thread in this forum. It was about how, in the TV series Battlestar Galactica, female officers are addressed as "Sir" and not "Ma'am" (as they are, for example, in the US military, among others) and how the female president, though addressed as "Madam President", will be answered "Yes, Sir" when she gives a particularly important order.

A male debater told me that, if he were a woman, he'd be pleased to be addressed as "Sir" because that would mean he was getting as much respect as a man. I strenuously objected to this, because it showed, once again that, perhaps subconsciously, the masculine is perceived as superior to the feminine.

My whole fight about the feminization of function titles stems from that. I would like women to be considered equal to men as a matter of course, and that addressing them as "Ma'am" in no way diminishes their authority. That an actress is just as good as an actor, a queen just as powerful as a king, a heroine just as, well, heroic and admirable as a hero, a huntress as deadly as a hunter (whoever called the goddess Diana a "hunter" or worse a female hunter, or the female god of the hunt?)

Someone earlier also said he didn't think that supposedly neutral words carried gender connotations. Does he really think "male" when he hears "nurse", "prostitute" or "receptionist"? Just curious...


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  #82  
Old December 17th, 2010, 12:21 pm
Midnightsfire  Undisclosed.gif Midnightsfire is offline
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

Look at the word "God." Aside from the word "goddess," does one refer to He, She, or It?


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  #83  
Old December 17th, 2010, 10:43 pm
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

Quote:
Originally Posted by Midnightsfire View Post
Look at the word "God." Aside from the word "goddess," does one refer to He, She, or It?
Excellent example. Most people will automatically think "he".

This reminds me of the controversy in France (I don't know whether the English-speaking world ever asked itself that question) about which gender angels are. It's funny because in French, without changing the gender of the article, one can say to either a man or a woman "vous Ítes/tu es un ange" ("un", not "une") ("you're an angel") wherewas, for a child, it's "un enfant" or "une enfant" (the word in the feminine doesn't take an "e" like most French words do, but the article changes.) Not to be mixed up with "un infant" or "une infante", which is a Spanish prince or princess royal. Confusing, I know.

Sorry for the digression. My point is, words, even when deemed "neutral", do have a gender connotation. I'm firmly convinced of it, whatever other people may say, think or write.

I am however open to discussion on the matter, bearing in mind that my native language(s), unlike English, has/have gender differentiation in the articles. It makes a world of difference.


  #84  
Old December 20th, 2010, 11:19 pm
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

Quote:
My whole fight about the feminization of function titles stems from that. I would like women to be considered equal to men as a matter of course, and that addressing them as "Ma'am" in no way diminishes their authority. That an actress is just as good as an actor, a queen just as powerful as a king, a heroine just as, well, heroic and admirable as a hero, a huntress as deadly as a hunter
I forgot to add: Whether the answer is "Yes, Sir" or "Yes, Ma'am", an order is obeyed in exactly the same way, isn't it? It bothers me no end that for certain people, saying "Yes, Sir" is seen as carrying more weight, and as giving more power to the order-giver (even if she's a woman) than "Yes, Ma'am".


  #85  
Old December 21st, 2010, 1:36 am
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

Quote:
Originally Posted by FleurduJardin View Post
This also reminds me of a discussion I had on another thread in this forum. It was about how, in the TV series Battlestar Galactica, female officers are addressed as "Sir" and not "Ma'am" (as they are, for example, in the US military, among others) and how the female president, though addressed as "Madam President", will be answered "Yes, Sir" when she gives a particularly important order.

A male debater told me that, if he were a woman, he'd be pleased to be addressed as "Sir" because that would mean he was getting as much respect as a man. I strenuously objected to this, because it showed, once again that, perhaps subconsciously, the masculine is perceived as superior to the feminine.
Quote:
Originally Posted by FleurduJardin View Post
I forgot to add: Whether the answer is "Yes, Sir" or "Yes, Ma'am", an order is obeyed in exactly the same way, isn't it? It bothers me no end that for certain people, saying "Yes, Sir" is seen as carrying more weight, and as giving more power to the order-giver (even if she's a woman) than "Yes, Ma'am".
Reminds me of a scene from The King and I (1956) --

Anna Leonowens: "Please, do tell me, why do you keep calling me 'sir'?"
Lady Thiang: "Because you scientific, not lowly like woman."


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Old December 21st, 2010, 3:53 am
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

I agree that feminine titles should command as much respect as masculine ones.

But I don't care for the fact that, when both masculine and feminine titles are used, the masculine title still seems to used as the default sometimes, and the feminine one still seems to be an "offshoot." For example, I can hear someone refer to a mixed-gender group as either "actors" or "actors and actresses," but never as "actresses."

In Spanish, which uses different forms of words depending on the gender of the people being referred to, defaults to the masculine forms when talking about a mixed group of people. You never default to the feminine form.

I guess I don't really see a point in creating different versions of titles and profession names when the gender of the person holding the title or profession doesn't really matter. And if a woman can be a great actor or a great actress, why can't a man be a great actress?


  #87  
Old December 21st, 2010, 6:04 am
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pox Voldius View Post
Reminds me of a scene from The King and I (1956) --

Anna Leonowens: "Please, do tell me, why do you keep calling me 'sir'?"
Lady Thiang: "Because you scientific, not lowly like woman."
That is exactly my point, thank you Pox.

That is also why I fight so hard for the feminine word to be used when it exists in languages (like English) where the articles are neutral, or, in languages where the articles are not neutral, that the feminine article is used for a woman if the word is the same ("le" ministre, "la" ministre).

Quote:
Originally Posted by DancingMaenid
In Spanish, which uses different forms of words depending on the gender of the people being referred to, defaults to the masculine forms when talking about a mixed group of people. You never default to the feminine form.
It's the same thing in French. Unfortunately that's a grammatical rule we cannot change. In French, even an animal, or an inanimate object, if it is in the masculine, will determinate the form the adjective or complement will take. Like "A dog and a woman were kidnapped", "kidnapped" will take the masculine plural form. Ditto for "A truck and several nuns were seen", "seen" will be in the masculine plural.

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".

ETA: It really bothers me that in a TV series like BattleStar Galactica, where the two genders are totally equal - there are both men and women pilots, commanders, admirals, presidents, etc. They dress the same, they even have the same communal bathrooms and showers, they do the same work, but the women with power are still "Sir" to show that they are not "lowly women".

It's the only show of that kind that does that. In others, from JAG to Babylon 5 to Star Trek Voyager (which has a female captain), the female officers are all "Ma'am". I wonder why this difference in BSG.


  #88  
Old December 21st, 2010, 11:22 am
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

Quote:
Posted by FleurduJardin:

This reminds me of the controversy in France (I don't know whether the English-speaking world ever asked itself that question) about which gender angels are.
Well, that was source of a lot of controversy during the Middle Ages,too... In Spain we have the phrase 'argue about the gender of angels' to refer a long discussion that's doomed to take nowhere.

I can't stand the "actors and actresses", "boys and girls" discourse to refer a mixed group of people. It kills my patience, I can't help feeling it a waste of words and breath.

P
Quote:
osted y DancingMaenid:

I guess I don't really see a point in creating different versions of titles and profession names when the gender of the person holding the title or profession doesn't really matter.
And the obsession that all words with a female meaning have to end in -a and that any word that doesn't means male (I'm talking of Spanish). For instance, there's that mania of calling female judges juezas, while everyone agrees that it would be ridiculous to call male journalists periodistos. The day I graduate I'll entitle myself as ingeniero though I'm a girl, and I think people should be more worried about my planes flying properly than wether the final letter of my title is an -a or an -o.


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  #89  
Old December 21st, 2010, 2:26 pm
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

Quote:
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 4:39 pm.
  #90  
Old December 21st, 2010, 7:52 pm
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

Quote:
Originally Posted by MmeBergerac View Post
Well, that was source of a lot of controversy during the Middle Ages,too... In Spain we have the phrase 'argue about the gender of angels' to refer a long discussion that's doomed to take nowhere.
It's the same in French.

Quote:
I can't stand the "actors and actresses", "boys and girls" discourse to refer a mixed group of people. It kills my patience, I can't help feeling it a waste of words and breath.
I agree about a "group of actors" meaning actors of both sexes, but I'm puzzled by your "boys and girls" example. Would you call them all "boys" even when there are girls in the group, or would you say "a group of young people"?

Quote:
And the obsession that all words with a female meaning have to end in -a and that any word that doesn't means male (I'm talking of Spanish). For instance, there's that mania of calling female judges juezas, while everyone agrees that it would be ridiculous to call male journalists periodistos. The day I graduate I'll entitle myself as ingeniero though I'm a girl, and I think people should be more worried about my planes flying properly than wether the final letter of my title is an -a or an -o.
Yes, "periodista" meaning journalist of either sex is one exception in Spanish. Like I learned that the adjective for Vietnamese was "vietnamita" and invariable, whatever the gender of the subject.

In French, a sentry is "une sentinelle", and a military courier is "une estafette" with the article in the feminine, whether the person is male or female. The exception that confirms the rule, I guess.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Melaszka View Post
Well, you know how I feel about this, so we will have to agree to disagree.
Yes, we already agreed to disagree.

Moreover, my arguments are really founded on the fact that I'm basing myself more on the French language than on the English one.

Quote:
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 disagree with the feminine ending being patronizing in all cases, and I see nothing wrong with using "priestess". In the cases where it is perceived to be down-putting and patronizing, I feel that using it more would take the negative connotation away.

That also reminds me of a science fiction series where the highest authority in a certain religion is called "the Son of the Sun". When a woman did get to that rank for the first time in the history of that religion, she was also called "Son" (and not daughter) of the Sun. That drove me nuts.

But we already agreed to disagree on it, so I won't repeat my arguments.

Quote:
I'm with you all the way on the Sir/Ma'am thing, though.
Hurray for that!

But don't you see, it just confirms what I was saying, and what I'm fighting against - that the male form of address, or a masculine noun, is always perceived to be superior, and that using the feminine form, if widespread enough, would eliminate that perception of inequality.

It's the same argument you used for the opposite, actually. That when there are enough women doctors, police officers, etc., and people acknowledge that there are male nurses and male prostitutes, the perception will change. As you said, our objectives are the same, but the ways we think those objectives can be reached are diametrically opposite.

Quote:
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.
Well, in my case my reason is a feminist one - but I see your point too. Back to agreeing to disagree.



Last edited by FleurduJardin; December 21st, 2010 at 7:57 pm. Reason: Typo
  #91  
Old December 21st, 2010, 10:35 pm
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

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Originally Posted by MmeBergerac View Post
I can't stand the "actors and actresses", "boys and girls" discourse to refer a mixed group of people. It kills my patience, I can't help feeling it a waste of words and breath.
That's interesting, from a man's point of view. Because I usually make a point of saying "guys and gals", having been berated by women when I said "You guys" when addressing a mixed group.

MmeBergerac, would you also do without "Ladies and Gentlemen" too? Just say "Gentlemen", considering that would include the ladies, the way the word "actors" includes actresses? Or maybe "Gentlebeings"?


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Old December 21st, 2010, 10:40 pm
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

Quote:
Originally Posted by Muggle_Magic View Post
That's interesting, from a man's point of view. Because I usually make a point of saying "guys and gals", having been berated by women when I said "You guys" when addressing a mixed group.

MmeBergerac, would you also do without "Ladies and Gentlemen" too? Just say "Gentlemen", considering that would include the ladies, the way the word "actors" includes actresses? Or maybe "Gentlebeings"?
But those are not the only options...

kids
children
folks
people
everyone
you all
etc.


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Old December 21st, 2010, 11:27 pm
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

Is saying "ladies and gentlemen" when addressing a group only consisting of adult men and women wrong?


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Old December 22nd, 2010, 12:02 am
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

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Originally Posted by NumberEight View Post
Is saying "ladies and gentlemen" when addressing a group only consisting of adult men and women wrong?
I'm not sure why it would be. I mean first we have to accept that there is no right or wrong here, it's all a matter of the types of unforeseen reactions one is willing to elicit and put up with. Looking at Muggle_Magic's example, saying "you guys" to a mixed group reflects (in my opinion) a perfectly reasonable adaptation of our language. It doesn't imply that the female members of the group are male, because English can accommodate any old person as a "guy" in collective situations. And really my comment to him was only a reminder that we do have gender-neutral words available for such a task--one need not choose between unwieldy inclusiveness and misogyny.

Ultimately though, I am not of the school that language and opinion are so tightly espoused, as many here seem to believe. And not just here, specific minutiae of usage are matters of contention in every debate. What I'm left with is a feeling of guilt, that I should choose my words to avoid offending women, when in reality this is a level of deference that I rarely pay to men. So what's my motivation, as it were?


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Old December 22nd, 2010, 12:18 am
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

Well, the vibe I get from this thread is that if you say a certain thing, you are looked down upon and considered wrong. For instance, I don't think there's anything wrong with a female officer in a television series being called "sir."



Last edited by NumberEight; December 22nd, 2010 at 12:26 am.
  #96  
Old December 22nd, 2010, 7:46 am
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

Sorry to interrupt this interesting discussion with something completely irrelevant, but last night I was out with a friend and when I went to the ladies' room and closed the door, I saw a yellow post-it on the door from the inside that read (in a handwriting): "You are beautiful - just the way you are!" It made my day. That's feminism to me - women supporting other women.


  #97  
Old December 22nd, 2010, 8:26 am
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

Quote:
Posted by FleurduJardin:

I agree about a "group of actors" meaning actors of both sexes, but I'm puzzled by your "boys and girls" example. Would you call them all "boys" even when there are girls in the group, or would you say "a group of young people"?
Quote:
Posted by MuggleMagic:

MmeBergerac, would you also do without "Ladies and Gentlemen" too? Just say "Gentlemen", considering that would include the ladies, the way the word "actors" includes actresses? Or maybe "Gentlebeings"?
Quote:
Posted by NumberEight

Is saying "ladies and gentlemen" when addressing a group only consisting of adult men and women wrong?
Okay, I think I didn't axplain myself very well.

I lke the formula "Ladies and Gentlemen", and I don't think it's wrong at all. It's, as you've posted, a corteous way of adressing a mixed group of adults. What I can't stand is the overuse of that and other formulas. If you hear a politician giving a speech in Spain you'll surely hear something like:

Amigos y amigas, os aseguro que todos y todas los diputados y diputadas y los ministros y ministras trabajamos para que todos y todas los ciudadanos y ciudadanas...

(Impossible to translate to English)

In Spanish, the way of referring a mixed group of people is the male plural form. The use of both male and female is for emphasis. But if you use constantly the emphatic form, a) the emphasis is lost; b) you sound unsuffereably pedantic, specially if you are in a colloquial context.


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  #98  
Old December 22nd, 2010, 8:42 pm
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

Quote:
Originally Posted by canismajoris View Post
But those are not the only options...

kids
children
folks
people
everyone
you all
etc.
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.

Quote:
Originally Posted by NumberEight View Post
For instance, I don't think there's anything wrong with a female officer in a television series being called "sir."
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!!!)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Yoana View Post
Sorry to interrupt this interesting discussion with something completely irrelevant, but last night I was out with a friend and when I went to the ladies' room and closed the door, I saw a yellow post-it on the door from the inside that read (in a handwriting): "You are beautiful - just the way you are!" It made my day. That's feminism to me - women supporting other women.
That was a most welcome interruption, Yoana.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MmeBergerac View Post
In Spanish, the way of referring a mixed group of people is the male plural form. The use of both male and female is for emphasis. But if you use constantly the emphatic form, a) the emphasis is lost; b) you sound unsuffereably pedantic, specially if you are in a colloquial context.
I see your point.


  #99  
Old December 22nd, 2010, 8:46 pm
NumberEight  Male.gif NumberEight is offline
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

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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!!!)
If reality was reversed, that women were considered superior and male officers were addressed as "ma'am," would the same opinion be held?

Seriously, I have to wonder if some of you think "woman" is a terrible word because the word contains "man" in it.


  #100  
Old December 22nd, 2010, 9:04 pm
Muggle_Magic  Male.gif Muggle_Magic is offline
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Re: Feminism: Definitions and Opinions

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Originally Posted by NumberEight View Post
If reality was reversed, that women were considered superior and male officers were addressed as "ma'am," would the same opinion be held?
IMO, of course it would. How, as a man, would you like to be addressed as "Ma'am"?

Quote:
Seriously, I have to wonder if some of you think "woman" is a terrible word because the word contains "man" in it.
You're stretching it here. But it's not for me to say, let the ladies respond to that.


 
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