Author Topic: Gender in society.  (Read 9511 times)

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Offline Yip

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Gender in society.
« on: January 11, 2011, 03:28:36 am »
One of the things I think about from time to time, and that I've been thinking about a lot lately, is how ingrained gender specifications are in society. Personally, I feel that this should not be the case. Except in areas such as sexual relationships, whether someone is masculine or feminine, male or female, should be inconsequential.  And although society seems to be moving in that direction, towards equal rights and treatment for everyone, one of the things that I find as an obstacle for this is language itself. Our language places far too great an emphasis on masculine and feminine. Words like HE and SHE are very hard to avoid without directly drawing attention to the fact that you are avoiding them. I think this is a problem, and I'd like to find a solution to it.

Offline Shabbernigdo

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #1 on: January 11, 2011, 04:11:47 am »
i dont really see a problem with having certian things being gender specific. I also dont see a problem with words like He or She.
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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #2 on: January 11, 2011, 04:48:30 am »
The problem you reference has bugged me considerably in the past.  I use "they" as a gender neutral singular third person pronoun to reference nonspecific individuals (i.e., "A geek might name their computer after a favorite character.") for that reason, but in my opinion, it seems weird to use "they" in the same way to reference specific individuals (i.e., "Sally likes their ice cream covered in chocolate syrup.").  The way I use pronouns suggests that individuals must fall under a specific gender, but that classifications of people need not have a typical gender assigned to them, which in turn subconsciously promotes gender equality but not freedom of gender expression.

From what I can see, the strangeness of proposed gender neutral pronouns encourages the use of verbose alternatives using already accepted terminology such as "he or she" (which promotes gender equality but not free gender expression in the same way that my pronoun use does).  The extra effort to be gender neutral in turn encourages the continued use of gender specific pronouns.

The only solution to this dilemma that I can see is the acceptance of either a new gender neutral third person singular pronoun set or the use of an existing pronoun set (such as "they") as such.  That might take a while.


i dont really see a problem with having certian things being gender specific. I also dont see a problem with words like He or She.

Gender specific pronouns can occasionally produce implications involving gender.  For example:

  • The use of "he" or "she" to refer to a nonspecific individual implies that that type of individual has a gender.  For example, saying "The computer programmer turned on his comptuer." implies that computer programmers cannot be female.
  • The use of "he or she" implies that individuals must fall under to one of those categories.  In other words, it implies that one cannot have an ambiguous gender.

The issue is that the words "he" and "she" have genders tied to them; these genders get conveyed when you use these terms, even if you don't want to convey a gender.

I hope that helps to make things more clear.
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Offline Yip

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #3 on: January 11, 2011, 05:38:47 am »
Yes, what RedYoshi said is exactly what I'm talking about.

I also tend to use "they" when referring to a non-specific individual. But such usage breaks the meaning of "more than one" that 'they' implies. This is more acceptable when referring to non-specific individuals since it is talking in non-specific terms anyway.  And using the singular but gender neutral 'it' is very often taken as an insult. So that's out. Same for phases that attempt to include both, consider: "Ted likes his or her ice cream served with fruit."  This kind of thing won't fly in day to day conversation.

Offline Foxpup

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #4 on: January 11, 2011, 07:09:48 am »
Yes, what RedYoshi said is exactly what I'm talking about.

I also tend to use "they" when referring to a non-specific individual. But such usage breaks the meaning of "more than one" that 'they' implies. This is more acceptable when referring to non-specific individuals since it is talking in non-specific terms anyway.  And using the singular but gender neutral 'it' is very often taken as an insult. So that's out. Same for phases that attempt to include both, consider: "Ted likes his or her ice cream served with fruit."  This kind of thing won't fly in day to day conversation.

The only times a gender-neutral form is required (or even sensible) is when referring to a specific person of unknown gender (eg, "The murderer left his/her weapon behind.") or a generic person of irrelevant gender (eg, "If the bowler is right-handed, he/she should step off with the right foot."). Trying to use a gender-neutral form for a person of a specific gender is usually unnecessary and awkward. Even worse is saying something like "I met a teenager who said they couldn't decide who to vote for.", which implies that you know the person's age but not their gender, which in turn implies that you need new glasses. :D
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Offline Narei Mooncatt

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #5 on: January 11, 2011, 07:23:45 am »
I think gender roles and identities do play a role in society, and that doesn't mean they can't be equal. I'm all for letting anyone be or do what they want with their life (within reason of course. :P ), but I like to be able to distiguish between talking about a male, female, etc. It's the same as identifying someone as white, black, or asian. It's just a way to identify someone, and not saying anything about the person's character or abilities. The whole idea of androgyny that seems to be gaining popularity is typically associated with looking more feminine in general. At least from the people I've heard expressing this idea. I.E. long hair, feminine clothing, and acting. No offence to these people, but as I straight male, I feel cheated if I'm looking at what I think is an attractive woman and find out it's a guy.

I guess to sum it up, I would hate living in a world where I greet someone face to face and say, "Good afternoon, person. How's your day going?"

Hopefully this is the kind of answer you were looking for. If not, then I guess maybe I missunderstood the intent of the original post.
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Offline Dusty

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #6 on: January 11, 2011, 08:12:38 am »
  • The use of "he" or "she" to refer to a nonspecific individual implies that that type of individual has a gender.  For example, saying "The computer programmer turned on his comptuer." implies that computer programmers cannot be female.

I just wanted to point out that this makes no sense as the subject in that sentence is a specific, unnamed computer programmer.

Offline Shabbernigdo

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #7 on: January 11, 2011, 11:57:51 am »
Gender specific pronouns can occasionally produce implications involving gender.  For example:


•The use of "he" or "she" to refer to a nonspecific individual implies that that type of individual has a gender.  For example, saying "The computer programmer turned on his comptuer." implies that computer programmers cannot be female.
•The use of "he or she" implies that individuals must fall under to one of those categories.  In other words, it implies that one cannot have an ambiguous gender.

The issue is that the words "he" and "she" have genders tied to them; these genders get conveyed when you use these terms, even if you don't want to convey a gender.

I hope that helps to make things more clear.
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If it was the programers computer i dont see an issue with calling it his computer / workstation. Just as if he was using the workstation of a female coworker. he turned on her computer.

Nothing wrong with having a gender tied to them and normally its a usefull bit of information to have added to the sentence.
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Offline Kiska Nirpaw

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #8 on: January 11, 2011, 12:50:54 pm »


  • The use of "he" or "she" to refer to a nonspecific individual implies that that type of individual has a gender.  For example, saying "The computer programmer turned on his comptuer." implies that computer programmers cannot be female.

I hope that helps to make things more clear.

I hope you realize that makes zero sense. It implies nothing but THAT particular computer programmer is a male. Now, a term like "PoliceMAN" or "MailMAN" implies that it's not acceptable for a female to be in that profession. In those cases "Mail Carrier" or "Police Officer" (to me) are the preferred terms. I'll agree with you on that. But I will tell you, I'd be HIGHLY offended if you referred to me as a "Him/her" or "it".

I'm all for gender equality. I'm all for seeing male nurses and female mechanics, stay-at-home dads and working moms. And hey, if you wanna be androgynous, go nuts. That's your life and your prerogative. But I'm with Narei. Saying "Hello, person" just seems awkward and impersonal, and I'd rather not be to that point.

I would love to see society be less backwards about the fact that a woman's only position is bare-foot and pregnant in the kitchen. (Yeah, ok, it's not that bad everywhere, but you know what I mean) I've worked in both the auto and the electronics industry, fairly male-dominated. It irked me to no end when a customer would have nothing to do with me because I lacked a Y chromosome, but I always was vindicated when a male coworker would give them a blank stare and tell them to "ask her, she knows way more about that than I do." I think that might be a whole 'nother topic on itself. [/list]

Offline Yip

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #9 on: January 11, 2011, 01:20:47 pm »
... but I like to be able to distiguish between talking about a male, female, etc. It's the same as identifying someone as white, black, or asian.
And do you think language should force you to say if someone is white, black, or asian?

I'm not saying we need to do away with the ability to identify male and female, but rather that we need to make it something that the language does not force you to do. It may be a useful piece of information when you are trying to identify someone, but you can always specifically specify such things when it's necessary. Essentially what I'm saying is that male/female should be the same as white, black, short, tall, heavyset, and so on; you can specify them as necessary but they are not an integral part of talking about someone.

Could you imagine if the language forced you to identify people as fat or thin the way it does with male/female?  "Tim met thin mother at the store. Thin invited fat to dinner on Thursday."


The use of "he" or "she" to refer to a nonspecific individual implies that that type of individual has a gender.  For example, saying "The computer programmer turned on his comptuer." implies that computer programmers cannot be female.

I hope you realize that makes zero sense. It implies nothing but THAT particular computer programmer is a male. Now, a term like "PoliceMAN" or "MailMAN" implies that it's not acceptable for a female to be in that profession. In those cases "Mail Carrier" or "Police Officer" (to me) are the preferred terms. I'll agree with you on that. But I will tell you, I'd be HIGHLY offended if you referred to me as a "Him/her" or "it".
I think RedYoshi's example is meant for cases where THAT computer programmer's gender is unknown or irrelevant to the conversation. Why must this be specified if it irrelevant? Currently, our language practically forces you to do so.

Granted, it's not as bad as some languages where pretty much -everything- is given a gender. But I still see it as a problem.

Offline Avan

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #10 on: January 11, 2011, 01:27:44 pm »
My views on the matter?
Considering that society is flawed to begin with...

You can only put so many bandaids on something. You can heal the surface, but if its based on a faulty foundation... , well, good luck with that.

But I'm all for gender equality and gender irrelevance. Society-created labels are unimportant. The only things that matters is how the individual feels what they themselves are, and considering that its so arbitrary, language should not even bother with it, unless in the rare case you have an oligosynthetic language that can actually handle it all (without causing massive amounts of bloating).
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Offline Yip

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #11 on: January 11, 2011, 01:43:41 pm »
No offence to these people, but as I [am a] straight male, I feel cheated if I'm looking at what I think is an attractive woman and find out it's a guy.
So what if you do? Why should other people be forced to change how they present themselves in order to make you happy? And unless your intention is to start a romantic or sexual relationship with this person, it's an irrelevant bit of information anyway.

Offline Avan

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #12 on: January 11, 2011, 01:47:46 pm »
No offence to these people, but as I [am a] straight male, I feel cheated if I'm looking at what I think is an attractive woman and find out it's a guy.
So what if you do? Why should other people be forced to change how they present themselves in order to make you happy? And unless your intention is to start a romantic or sexual relationship with this person, it's an irrelevant bit of information anyway.
And Narei, you're looking for their sex and sexual orientation, not their gender.

... And the only other place where one's sex is important (and is in fact much more so there than here IMO) in relevant biological and medical contexts.
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Offline Fenny the Fox

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #13 on: January 11, 2011, 02:44:39 pm »
I think the best general rule of thumb is to used the assumed role (male or female, 'he' or 'she', respectively) until otherwise known. If used first and afterwards corrected by the person, then one can use the 'correct' pronoun and construct for that individual.
This eliminates the problem having to say "Hello, person" to everyone you are not accustomed to.

I feel gender typically only opens for stereotype and oppression of certain individuals. And that people should not worry about the gender roles expected by the current society but should do as they feel is natural to them. As it is, each culture and each time period can be noted as haaving a different "norm" for gender and gender roles.

As it is, I view gender as an unnecessary social construct. And fail to see a purpose in it, or the roles it entails. I don't claim to have any "gender", I am simply me, whatever things that might entail.
But I don't get offended (or even correct) those who call me 'sir', or refer to me as 'he'. I see no reason to correct unless I am specifically asked. Nor would I correct if someone calls me 'ma'am' or refers to me as 'she' - though I admit that hasn't happened since I was in elementary school.
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Offline Narei Mooncatt

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #14 on: January 11, 2011, 03:49:00 pm »
... but I like to be able to distiguish between talking about a male, female, etc. It's the same as identifying someone as white, black, or asian.
And do you think language should force you to say if someone is white, black, or asian?

I'm not saying we need to do away with the ability to identify male and female, but rather that we need to make it something that the language does not force you to do. It may be a useful piece of information when you are trying to identify someone, but you can always specifically specify such things when it's necessary. Essentially what I'm saying is that male/female should be the same as white, black, short, tall, heavyset, and so on; you can specify them as necessary but they are not an integral part of talking about someone.

Could you imagine if the language forced you to identify people as fat or thin the way it does with male/female?  "Tim met thin mother at the store. Thin invited fat to dinner on Thursday."

The problem with that example is A) You're either saing that Tim has more than one mom, meaning you would need some other way to be more specific than saying "mother". Though, you'd most likely know their names and should use those instead. B) The second sentence is treating "thin" and "fat" as nouns, when they are not. You couldn't even use he or she because it still wouldn't make sense and leave the listener wondering "who's inviting who to dinner?" You would still need something more descriptive like "Tim's mom invited Becky to dinner". That's assuming we're still talking about Tim's mom. So yeah, I can't imagine those kinds of things being used to identify a person during normal conversation.

No offence to these people, but as I [am a] straight male, I feel cheated if I'm looking at what I think is an attractive woman and find out it's a guy.
So what if you do? Why should other people be forced to change how they present themselves in order to make you happy? And unless your intention is to start a romantic or sexual relationship with this person, it's an irrelevant bit of information anyway.
And Narei, you're looking for their sex and sexual orientation, not their gender.

... And the only other place where one's sex is important (and is in fact much more so there than here IMO) in relevant biological and medical contexts.
I think you guys are reading too much in to what I said. First off, I didn't say anyone has to change how they present themselves to make me happy. There's a difference between tolerance and acceptance. I can tolerate something, but that doesn't mean I have to agree with it. If people in this thread can have the opinion that they don't like having gender specific qualities, I can have the opinion that I like people that do. Trying to call me out on that, I think, says more about you than it does about me.

Yes, human nature attracts us to what we find pleasing. For the vast majority of people, that is likely to come down to how they look, even if it's not the only thing someone is attracted to another for. There's nothing wrong with that. It's not ok to down right oogle someone, male or female, if they don't want that attention, but I'm sure most people at some time or another will see someone and think "Oh he/she is cute" off handedly. If they turn out to be something other than they presented, like my aforementioned feminine male example, it does shock your brain. It doesn't even have to be a sexual thing. I used to work customer service and if I were to see someone that looks like a woman or man, I'd address them as such. It comes back to my original point. It's s sign of respect to address someone as ma'am and sir and I would use them, not "Is there anything I can help you with, person?"
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Offline Yip

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #15 on: January 11, 2011, 04:32:06 pm »
Could you imagine if the language forced you to identify people as fat or thin the way it does with male/female?  "Tim met thin mother at the store. Thin invited fat to dinner on Thursday."
The problem with that example is ..... [irrelevant stuff]
You are totally not getting what my example was about. I was specifically using thin and fat in place of pronouns to illustrate a point. Complaining that it's not grammatically correct is absurd since our language doesn't have grammatically correct versions of the words the way I needed for the illustration. (in case you still don't get it, compare my example to: "Tim met his mother at the store. He invited her to dinner on Thursday."

Quote
I think you guys are reading too much in to what I said. First off, I didn't say anyone has to change how they present themselves to make me happy.
Actually, given the context of the thread, you did. Either that or your statement is completely irrelevant. The entire point of the thread, is that people should not be forced to specify male and female. Our language as it currently is does this. In that context, I took your statement to be a comparison with physical male and female and how you dislike that it's not always forced into male and female categories there. If that's not what you meant, then I fail to see where your post has any relevance what so ever.

Quote
It comes back to my original point. It's s sign of respect to address someone as ma'am and sir and I would use them, not "Is there anything I can help you with, person?"
And why can't you address someone with this same respect without referring to whether they are male or female? Yes it may seem weird to say something along the lines of "Is there anything I can help you with, respected person?", but that's the very problem I'm describing: the fact that you can't say such things without it coming across as odd or disrespectful. And in the majority of cases whether someone is male or female should be irrelevant so you shouldn't be forced to specify.

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #16 on: January 11, 2011, 04:33:50 pm »
I just wanted to point out that this makes no sense as the subject in that sentence is a specific, unnamed computer programmer.
If it was the programers computer i dont see an issue with calling it his computer / workstation. Just as if he was using the workstation of a female coworker. he turned on her computer.

Nothing wrong with having a gender tied to them and normally its a usefull bit of information to have added to the sentence.
I hope you realize that makes zero sense. It implies nothing but THAT particular computer programmer is a male.

Yeah, sorry about that.  I *meant* to say something along the lines of "A computer programmer is likely to install a strong firewall on his computer.".  This refers to a nonspecific individual of a general type as I had originally intended.  I agree that the sentence I made in my previous post (if used to refer to a specific individual) is not inappropriate; in that case, the gender conveyed by the pronoun is intended and appropriate (the referenced computer programmer happens to be male).

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Offline Kaloth

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #17 on: January 11, 2011, 04:49:33 pm »
I remember reading in one of my RPG books that the word "he" is used in literary terms to reference people about whom their gender is unknown. In the case the book brought up, it would reference "The fighter" as a he. For example, When a fighter obtains fifth level he gains an additional feat. While it is unknown whether or not the fighter is a he or a she, as far as the book knows at least, it still references that way.

*Note: The book used She instead, but had a brief note  explaining that it is technically correct to use he where it uses She, but why follow the rules. Or at least it was something to that effect.

I am trying to find something on this in another source but it escapes me at the moment.

Also I can't remember which book, and I have literally hundreds to look for... if I come across it again I'll add it.

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #18 on: January 11, 2011, 07:12:40 pm »
Quote
The entire point of the thread, is that people should not be forced to specify male and female.

Exactly where the hell did you get this notion from?  :o Did someone tell it to you, or did you read it somewhere? Nobody is FORCING anybody to say "He" or "She".

Quote
i dont really see a problem with having certian things being gender specific. I also dont see a problem with words like He or She.

Seconded. I really don't get why you're letting something like this bother you so much, Vararam.
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Offline Shabbernigdo

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #19 on: January 11, 2011, 07:55:32 pm »
Quote
It comes back to my original point. It's s sign of respect to address someone as ma'am and sir and I would use them, not "Is there anything I can help you with, person?"
And why can't you address someone with this same respect without referring to whether they are male or female? Yes it may seem weird to say something along the lines of "Is there anything I can help you with, respected person?", but that's the very problem I'm describing: the fact that you can't say such things without it coming across as odd or disrespectful. And in the majority of cases whether someone is male or female should be irrelevant so you shouldn't be forced to specify.

Ide imagine most people either dont care or would like to adressed as Sir / Mam.
If some one wants to identify some one with out specifying if there a guy or girl mabey use there name?
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Offline Yip

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #20 on: January 11, 2011, 09:40:13 pm »
Exactly where the hell did you get this notion from?  :o Did someone tell it to you, or did you read it somewhere? Nobody is FORCING anybody to say "He" or "She".
In that nobody is forcing anybody to speak, yes. But don't get so hung up on the word "force". I am using it only to try to clarify what many seemed to misunderstand. That I'm not saying we should do away with the ability to specify if someone is male or female during everyday speech, but that we should also have the option of not specifying male or female without drawing attention to the fact that we are not specifying male or female. And currently, it's impossible to do that. And that's what I mean by "forcing". There is no way to avoid words like HE and SHE without is coming off as odd or disrespectful. And it should not be that way since whether someone is male or female is in most cases irrelevant.

For example, if I want to tell you about something that happened when I was buying things at the store, I shouldn't need to specify if the person at the checkout counter was male or female. That's irrelevant, but our language is such that it doesn't flow naturally if I don't include it. That may seem like it's not a big deal, but it does help to create an atmosphere where whether a person is male or female is given an artificial importance. And in doing this stands as an obstacle towards achieving true equality. This is especially true for people that don't fit "normal" male/female definitions.

Seconded. I really don't get why you're letting something like this bother you so much, Vararam.
And some people don't get why someone would be bothered by terms like mailman or policeman.  I'm not saying the world will come to an end if this doesn't change, or something silly like that. Only that achieving true equality would be far easier if it wasn't for obstacles such as this.

Offline Sk Skunk

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #21 on: January 11, 2011, 10:53:18 pm »
We're dealing with a root language, sociological issue. The fact that gender is not as simple as male/female is something that we all must deal with. Gender rolls have been enshrined for a very long time. With a few exceptions, basically forever. Another issue is most see no need to be gender fluid, or even neutral. Common gender phrases will be around for a long time to come. Linguistic and ideological changes like this are probably beyond generational, possibly even beyond millennial.

One problem for me is, saying "respected person" however correct, is just too cumbersome. Even snooty or contrived. Calling someone by their job title could lead to even more problems, unless it's Officer or Doctor. Gender is just the easiest way to quickly address a stranger, unless your in the furry community.  ;)  I'll continue to use Sir/Ma'am with older people, or those that show an obvious preference to a particular gender. If a person is not gender apparent, they simply won't get any added flourishes. They will have to settle for a generic excuse me, or have a nice day and a smile. In a way it is sad that in trying to be polite, it is becoming disrespectful.

I also thought it was LOL silly when I was once chastised for using the term "Manhole" for opening up a sewer. A large town in Washington state tried to convert to the term "Sewer Access point" It didn't last long.
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Offline DeltaFur

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #22 on: January 13, 2011, 01:47:50 am »

Granted, it's not as bad as some languages where pretty much -everything- is given a gender. But I still see it as a problem.

In Russian, as I've been led to understand, every verb has a gender variant.
For example, there exist "...reached up and grabbed the lever." (male form) and "...reached up and grabbed the lever." (female form). That's right, each verb, though they are the same tense and root, has a gender-based variant.

In Spanish and other Romance languages, different nouns are appropriated genders and pronouns based on those genders.

I can't imagine how much more difficult it would be to rework languages such as *those* to lower the significance of gender in society.
I totally agree that the words we use to represent something represent our conception of that idea.
Separating gender linguistically leads to separating it mentally and epistemologically.
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Offline Arbutus

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #23 on: January 13, 2011, 08:11:54 am »
In Russian, as I've been led to understand, every verb has a gender variant.
For example, there exist "...reached up and grabbed the lever." (male form) and "...reached up and grabbed the lever." (female form). That's right, each verb, though they are the same tense and root, has a gender-based variant.

True, but only in the past tense. You conjugate Russian verbs in the present tense the same way you do in Spanish (I, you, he/she/it, we...), but in the past tense, you conjugate based on gender and number (masculine, feminine, neuter, plural).

Offline Serra Belvoule

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Re: Gender in society.
« Reply #24 on: January 20, 2011, 07:55:03 pm »
I think gender in language is a very overlooked issue. And I mean issue since the masculinization of the language -i think- demerits the homogeneity of cultural exchange.
Also, the lock up in roles and actions for each gender, and the need to assign a gender identity as soon as possible has always vexed me.
Hopefully I'll get involved in research on these subjects :3
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