this might be stupid

(26 Posts)
HalloweenNameChange Fri 16-Nov-12 19:40:46

but do you think it is relevant than when we describe someone we always use there gender?

If I was telling you about meeting someone in a bus stop and I said "this black guy" I would get pulled up as the fact that the person was black is irrelevant to the story. But you wouldn't necessarily say why is the fact that he was a man relevant?

But in most cases gender is also irrelevant, but we almost always describe a person as a woman or a man not a person. And in cases where a gender neutral term should be used (doctor, police officer, EMT) a qualifier will be used especially if the gender doesn't fit the stereotype, lady doctor, male nurse, female police officer.

Should we be making an effort to totally stop using gendered language?

alexpolismum Sun 18-Nov-12 14:52:12

I do think it's a bit silly to say things like "woman driver" or "woman police officer". I have been known to use the same terms in reverse with people who do it, so saying "man driver" and "man police officer", for example, until my father and brother the people involved get the point.

However, it is relevant in some cases, I can see that a lot of women would prefer to have a woman HCP to deal with things like smear tests.

If it makes you feel any better, it doesn't help to have a gender neutral language. Georgian and Armenian both have just one pronoun in the third person, and they still find ways to clarify gender. And then there are downright wierd linguistic phenomena, like in Greek, where the word "girl" is grammatically neuter rather than the obvious feminine.

I don't get hung up on pronouns and using "they" instead of he or she, I just see them as part of the way the language works. I just try to avoid things like "woman firefighter" or whatever.

kickassangel Sat 17-Nov-12 22:51:46

Don't you just love the stereotype of women drivers being useless but they gave less accidents. Hmm, safer drivers are hardly useless are they?

SamuraiCindy Sat 17-Nov-12 19:58:10

Exactly grimble....my DH and I had a right moan about that one. It was everywhere, just inviting people who comment online to attack women drivers and make disparaging remarks. I also hate it because yet again it implies thaat women are the other and men the default despite the fact that as many women as men are drivers. I remember on that same day there was a story about a doctor who had allegedly caused the death of an elderly person - you had to dig around in the story to discover the doctor was male. Can you imagine what the headline would be had the doctor been female???

grimbletart Sat 17-Nov-12 19:47:18

Yes SamuraiCindy: classic example of that with the van driver that knocked Bradley Wiggins off his bike the other week. Quite a few of the media headlines were "Woman van driver..."

SamuraiCindy Sat 17-Nov-12 19:01:22

One headline I ALWAYS see is 'Woman driver'....invariably she did something daft. I think when gender is mentioned in cases like that it is to lead people to make negative assumptions about women - all women, not just that one driver.

I get what you mean OP. It's weird that we have different pronouns for gender, but not for age or race or social class or any other qualifier.

kickassangel Sat 17-Nov-12 18:49:27

Because they assume that certain jobs are only done by one gender

grimbletart Sat 17-Nov-12 15:40:06

I think we can be too precious about this, but I must admit I get mad at newspaper headlines that feel it necessary to put a gender in.

For example, one headline a week or so back said "Female detective collapses and dies while chasing teenage thief". You would never see "Male detective collapses etc...so why not just detective?

Another one 7 November "Female solder rebuked for offending...." Why not just soldier?

And 8 November "Female pilot killed in helicopter crash.." Why not just pilot?

You do see headlines with "Male nurse... but that is about the only example I can think of.

kickassangel Sat 17-Nov-12 14:25:18

Grumpy, of course you can add some detail if you need to, but there are many times when the gender is unknown or irrelevant. It gets annoying to have to say it. I think if you kind of place the emphasis on the action but use he she it doesn't mean we focus on it do much.

Eg I went to see the doctor. She was greAt and told me all about ...

That way you focus on the point of the discussion. My dad would say, I went to see a doctor, turned out ton be a lady, very attractive one as well. Anyway, she told me...

There's a big difference.

I also find that if I say 'my child' when talking about dd people want to know if I have a dd or ds.

Anyone remember the couple on Canada who decided that they wouldn't make the sex of their baby public knowledge. People were howling with rage about how the child would grow up with deep seated issues, as if their entire identity relied upwind their sex.

People are often desperate to know some detail so that they can label another person. It can be age sex or race, but we all have labels and stereotypes clamoring to be recognised

YoullScreamAboutItOneDay Sat 17-Nov-12 13:57:39

LastMango - I wasn't saying you couldn't avoid gender in those examples by restructuring the sentence- I was saying you couldn't use he/she in the latter one without sounding mighty odd. smile

I am not really talking about hiding gender. Just the everywhere-ness of gender.

grumpyinthemornings Sat 17-Nov-12 13:50:54

"I got chatting to a man at the bus stop earlier." "The woman at the checkout was nice." What's wrong with that? It just gives a bit more information about whoever you're talking about. I have no problem with people referring to me as a woman. Because I am one...

As for skin colour, it's a characteristic different from yourself. It distinguishes the other person, like hair colour or height. If I say "there was a tall black guy, with dark hair", you have a rough picture of what he looks like. I'm not being racist, I am simply describing him. And he was very nice to talk to smile

LastMangoInParis Sat 17-Nov-12 13:48:43

*"The Chair will open the meeting and confirm the agenda".
"The doctor was really nice and said it was just a virus"!*

Works alright, no?

Kind of strange to be hiding sex of person in these situations, though?
<avoids crap joke about having an a-gender>

YoullScreamAboutItOneDay Sat 17-Nov-12 13:45:46

Yes, and you can only really use he/she when talking about a hypothetical person or person who gender you don't know. "The Chair will open the meeting and he/she will confirm the agenda". You can't say "The doctor was really nice and he/she said it was just a virus"!

LastMangoInParis Sat 17-Nov-12 13:43:43

I don't think it's stupid at all! (I have sometimes had the same thought and then had a go at myself for being over analytical - glad someone else has mentioned it, though.)

I think there are circumstances where a 'genderless' way of talking about people would be useful - and at the moment there seems to be just 'they/them' (bad grammar) or 'she or he'/(s)he (awkward sounding).

I remeber reading that the original Anglo-Saxon meaning of 'man' was 'person'. (So everyone was a man, women were also women.)

I think there a lots of instances, (particularly if you're talking about a hypothetical situation in a formal setting), where gender is of no relevance whatsoever in that context and having to fart about with clumsy language making sure that non-gendered contexts remain just that (as they should be) can feel a bit of a PITA. IYSWIM.

YoullScreamAboutItOneDay Sat 17-Nov-12 13:43:39

Yes, exactly. If you are telling a story about what the doctor said when you went to visit, the gender of the doctor is irrelevant. But lots of people will tell you she was a 'lady doctor'. And even if they don't, as soon as they get into the story, they have to say he or she (or bend over backwards to avoid it by purposefully doing 'they'). So gender becomes the thing you know about that doctor, as if it is the most central and defining thing about them in all circumstances. It might be sometimes, but others (e.g. when acting in a professional capacity as a doctor) it really, really isn't.

kickassangel Sat 17-Nov-12 13:36:05

I think it depends on the situation. Just telling an anecdote rarely requires that we know the gender/age/color of a person so it doesn't need to be mentioned. The whole issue of he hers etc is a big debating point in language development now.

I do refuse to tell people my gender unless they need to know as it should make no difference to job applications, credit card etc.

It obviously becomes hugely important when discussing some issues, so does need to be specified.

I hate when my dad tells stories in which he says things like "a good looking young lady" or "the doctor, she was a lady" as if it makes a difference.

summerflower Sat 17-Nov-12 13:27:58

>> it is somewhat irritating that I can't say "I saw someone standing at a bus stop. A bus drove past into the puddle and absolutely drenched him" without bringing gender into it<<

you could say this if you used bad grammar - for example, I saw someone cross the road and they were soaked by a bus going through a puddle. Maybe this is local to where I live though - 'what are they doing??' does not need to be two people, for example.

StewieGriffinsMom Sat 17-Nov-12 13:26:28

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

YoullScreamAboutItOneDay Sat 17-Nov-12 11:56:18

It's not an invalid argument - it isn't inevitable that language is set up that way. We could easily have language where the noun was 'person' and gender needed to be an adjective (I suppose 'a female person'). We can wonder why language is organised this way.

I think the issue I have is that gender is so entrenched in our language that it becomes the automatic feature of any statement. If I am describing someone I don't have an issue with gender being used (nor other descriptors for that matter), but it is somewhat irritating that I can't say "I saw someone standing at a bus stop. A bus drove past into the puddle and absolutely drenched him" without bringing gender into it. Because it does reinforce the idea that our gender is the defining aspect of ourselves.

SomersetONeil Sat 17-Nov-12 10:16:48

Well, as a tall person, I semi-expect to be described as tall. If I was living in, say, Tanzania, I'd expect to be described as white. It's a differentiating characteristic, after all.

I'm probably not best placed to comment, since I don't see a problem with the other, supposedly taboo characteristic-describers.

The problem is that our language is engineered around gender - he / she / his / hers / it, etc. we should probably just be grateful that the English language doesn't go as far as other Latin-derived languages and feminise/masculinise inanimate objects - le table, la chat, etc...

But it's an invalid argument - black, thin, gay etc are adjectives, and "man" and "woman" are nouns. The words aren't analogous.

YoullScreamAboutItOneDay Fri 16-Nov-12 22:57:14

I would never add a qualifier to a profession unless relevant to the story.

I actually try to make a point of not referencing gender from time to time. I particularly do it with children. So I will say to DD 'watch that younger child on the slide'. It is strangely difficult to do. Sometimes the parents jump in and tell me the gender, as if I only failed to mention it because I was unsure hmm.

I think gender is hard to ignore because the structure of our language demands that you contort yourself trying to avoid it. We had a very closeted colleague at work who would always refer to his partner gender neutrally. It was very noticeable. So I may not reference it in a short statement - I saw someone get totally soaked by a bus at the stop today. But if I go on - he was literally dripping - the structure of English has demanded I use gender.

jiminyCrick Fri 16-Nov-12 22:41:49

I suppose the thing that is most obvious is the description you use... gender is the first thing you see generally.

If you were saying about meeting a baby, you would say "I met the sweetest little baby today..." The most obvious thing about that person is that they are a baby...

I think the objection people have to be being defined as "black" is that it shouldn't be the first thing you notice about someone, because you wouldn't say "I saw a white person at the bus stop" you would say "I saw this guy at the bus stop" you would define people as male/female, but not define someone as black/white. I think if it is equal, then it is not such an issue.

How else would you describe someone? "I saw a non gender specific human being standing at the bus stop. It was wearing a coat"...it wouldn't really work.

The only time someone has used "lady doctor" to me is when I book in my smear test...I assume it's to reassure me...in those cases, I do want a doctor who is female! Otherwise, it tends to be "police officer" "Nurse" "doctor" "CEO" etc....

I kind of get what you're saying, but also kind of don't... smile

HalloweenNameChange Fri 16-Nov-12 19:57:31

That's kind of my point. WHy wouldn't you, their gender isn't necessary to the story (in most cases) so why do we have gender specific language. What's the difference between gender and race? Why does gender have to be mentioned?

BeerTricksPott3r Fri 16-Nov-12 19:52:26

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now