the last time i checked, most of us are women. i'd feel better if it were just broad's corner. i can deal with that just being a joke. also, here's an article that some of you may find interesting.
Why Sexist Language Matters
By Sherryl Kleinman, AlterNet. Posted March 12, 2007.
Originally printed in the Center Line, a newsletter of the Orange County Rape Crisis Center.
For years I've been teaching a sociology course at the University of North Carolina on gender inequality. I cover such topics as the wage gap, the "second shift" (of housework and childcare) that heterosexual women often do in the home, the "third shift" (women's responsibility for intimate relationships with men), compulsory heterosexuality, the equation of women's worth with physical attractiveness, the sexualizing of women in the media, lack of reproductive rights for women (especially poor women), sexual harassment and men's violence against women.
My course makes links among items on that list. For example, if women are expected to take care of housework and children, then they cannot compete as equals with men in the workplace; if men see women largely as sex objects and servers, then it is hard for men to see women as serious workers outside the home; if women are taught that it is their job to take care of relationships with men, they may be blamed for breakups; if women are economically dependent on men, they may stay with abusive male partners; if women prefer intimacy with women, men may harass or violate them. What I've left off the list is the issue that both women and men in my classes have the most trouble understanding -- or, as I see it, share a strong unwillingness to understand -- sexist language.
I'm not referring to such words as "bitch," "whore" and "slut." What I focus on instead are words that students consider just fine: male (so-called) generics. Some of these words refer to persons occupying a position: postman, chairman, freshman, congressman, fireman. Other words refer to the entire universe of human beings: "mankind" or "he." Then we've got manpower, manmade lakes and "Oh, man, where did I leave my keys?" There's "manning" the tables in a country where children learn that "all men are created equal." The most insidious, from my observations, is the popular expression "you guys." Please don't tell me it's a regional term. I've heard it in the Triangle, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Montreal. I've seen it in print in national magazines, newsletters and books. And even if it were regional, that doesn't make it right. I'll bet we can all think of a lot of practices in our home regions that we'd like to get rid of.
I sound defensive. I know. But that's because I've so often heard (and not only from students) ... What's the big deal? Why does all this "man-ning" and "guys-ing" deserve a place in my list of items of gender inequality and justify taking up inches of space in the newsletter of a rape crisis center?
Because male-based generics are another indicator -- and more importantly, a reinforcer -- of a system in which "man" in the abstract and men in the flesh are privileged over women. Some say that language merely reflects reality and so we should ignore our words and work on changing the unequal gender arrangements that are reflected in our language. Well, yes, in part.
It's no accident that "man" is the anchor in our language and "woman" is not. And of course we should make social change all over the place. But the words we use can also reinforce current realities when they are sexist (or racist or heterosexist). Words are tools of thought. We can use words to maintain the status quo or to think in new ways -- which in turn creates the possibility of a new reality. It makes a difference if I think of myself as a "girl" or a "woman"; it makes a difference if we talk about "Negroes" or "African-Americans." Do we want a truly inclusive language