Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I have a soapbox and today it is called Feminism

First let me say, I am a feminist. This is not a dirty word. It doesn’t mean I hate men. It simply means that I believe there should be equality between the sexes. I think the patriarchal foundation of our society needs to be questioned and rocked. We should not all be sheep who simply go along with everything that is fed to us everyday by society through the media and bureaucracies and institutions that mold us into contributing members of society. I don’t think men should be pushed down so that woman can get ahead. Neither of us should be oppressed. Oppressing men so women can succeed, is still oppression and wrong. And when I say I think there needs to be equality between the sexes, I mean the good and the bad. If men have to register for the draft, then so should women, etc etc. Yes, I shave my armpits and legs (though I did struggle with this for a long time). I like to wear make-up and feel pretty. I like to feel feminine. But I don’t think my femaleness should somehow make me less than.

The other day at work I was called a girl.

This irritated me more than I probably should have let it, but whatever.

I am not a girl. While I may look like I am barely 16, I am a full fledged adult. I am a woman.

It sounds silly when I say that, but I AM a woman. I am not an old woman or even a middle aged woman. I am a young woman, although I can see 30 from where I sit. I can legally vote and drink. I am buying my first home. I pay all my bills. I am self sufficient. I am NOT a girl.

While the woman who referred to me as a girl meant no malice or insult, I still found it insulting. Yes, she is older than I am and may even have children who are close to me in age. But I am not her child and in the work place I am her co-worker and peer. In fact I am a higher classification than she is and I have more seniority. I am not trying to sound bitchy, it is just so frustrating.

There is no way to bring attention to this issue without it coming off as my being a whiny kid. Which is exactly what I am trying to NOT be perceived as.

Too often we throw out language and don’t think about the connotation of the word we chose or how the recipient will interpret it.

1 a: a female child from birth to adulthood b: DAUGHTER c: a young unmarried woman dsometimes offensive : a single or married woman of any age
2 a: SWEETHEART bsometimes offensive : a female servant or employee

I know you may be reading these definitions and be thinking well, you could be a girl. Except we no longer live in society where young women are expected to get married or marriage somehow makes a person more of an adult. Does being married a 28 make someone less of girl than myself who is not married at 28? No.

I also cringe when I am referred to as a guy or a group of women are referred to as guys. I am not a guy. Guy is a masculine term and I am not male. By referring to me as a guy or a group of woman as guys, it erases our gender, our femaleness. It singles us out as “others” we are not the norm, which is male. How would a group of men feel if someone walked up to them and said, “Hey gals!” And I hate when people are referred to as guys and girls.

The terms guys and girls are not equitable. Guys and gals, boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen, men and women, these are the correct pairings. By calling people guys and girls there is a subconscious inferiority of females inferred.

I don’t think people are deliberately offensive or trying to create inferiority. I try to believe people generally mean well. But language is so important and people just don’t pay attention. The issue is not whether someone intended an insult, but whether or not an insult was perceived. Ignorance is not an excuse. People need to be aware of the impact of their words.

Think of all the degrading names for men or people who show weakness:
Pansy Ass
Acting like a little girl
Throw like a girl
Scream like a girl

All of these have a negative connotation with being female in some capacity and that being feminine is not to be desired. What is wrong with being female? We make up more than 50% of the world’s population! Did you know that all fetuses start out as female and begin to develop as female in the first few weeks? (ok, that is a simplification and technically the sex is determined at conception with the melding of XX or XY chromosomes, but prior to the influence of testosterone the fetus goes along as female) That is why men have nipples, the body was preparing to be female and starting the process of creating mammaries. But the XY combination releases hormones early on to stimulate male development. (Of course there is a lot more to it and I don’t have all day to explain)

I am also a fluent Spanish speaker so I am aware that English is not the only sexist language. Most of the “romance” languages are extremely sexist. A whole gaggle of people could be hanging out together and there is only one male in the whole group and the rest are female, but when referring to the group the masculine form is used. I get that. But it doesn’t make it okay or right or any less oppressive.

If you made it all the way to the bottom of this and don’t want to send me hate mail…Yea for you! I am now stepping off of my soapbox and going back to work :)


snickie said...

This was an awesome read, you put into words what I so often have tried and failed at. Thanks!

I've been called a girl (what woman hasn't?) and it irks me to no end, but I couldn't quite put my finger one WHY. You sure hit the nail on the head with this one.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I felt like I was reading something I would write. So many time the word "feminist" has negative relations to it. I am a feminist. I'm not going to run out the street and burn my bra (somethings gotta keep these girls up!) but I want equality. It was interesting to hear about what you hear in Spanish as well. Sorry that that happened to you at work. Your post was full of honesty and that makes for some great writing. Rock on sister!

a dude said...

I’m a guy, so admittedly I maybe don’t have the background required to fully understand your point of view. But it sounds to me like you want to be offended. You admit that you don’t believe any insult was intended by calling you a girl, yet you choose to perceive it as such. Like so much in language, context is everything. If a male superior called you a girl, I could understand your annoyance. But an older, female co-worker calling you the same thing? Depending on how she said it, it could be taken as an insult, but you already said that she didn’t mean it that way. So why do you want to take it that way?

Guys: 1. Informal. A man or boy; fellow: He’s a nice guy.
2. Usually, guys. Informal. Persons of either sex; people: Could one of you guys help me with this?

Even the dictionary considers “guys” to be acceptable when referring to both genders. Again, it seems like you’re going out of your way to try and be offended. What word would you rather be used to address a group of mixed gender? People? “Hey you people, look at me!”. Sounds a little weird. Or how about, “Hey you group of equal, yet sexually varied humans, look at me!” What if there is a group of females of all ages? Can you say, “Look at all the girls over there”, or is that offensive to the older females? Do you have to say, “Look at all the girls and women over there”? “Look at all those people lacking Y chromosomes over there”? Don’t you agree that at some point, being so politically correct becomes linguistically awkward?

Anyway, sorry if I came across as a dick (a masculine-based degrading name, and yet I am not offended as a male). It isn't my intention. I do think there is an interesting discussion to be had.

E said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
E said...

A Dude:

1. I find it interesting that you chose to be anonymous in your comment.

2. The fact that the dictionary says that a 'male' term is acceptable when addressing a group of mixed sex individuals shows that we live in a patriarchal society where maleness is the norm and femaleness is the other. Groups of people can be referred to as 'folks'. Yes it does sound odd but the more we use the more comfortable we will become with it.

3. Of course there are also masculine based degrading names, but dick doesn't imply a weakness. It implies jerkiness. It doesn't impinge your masculinity in anyway. It just implies someone being a jerk. The insults I referenced are used to emasculate men and to do that they must be feminized and that being feminine is something negative and undesirable.

4. No I don't think this woman meant to be insulting. But I was still irked. I also did not jump down her throat for it. I let it go. And chose to voice my frustrations in my blog.

5. And lastly, my point is that people should be aware of the language they chose to use. And maybe pause for a minute and not perpetuate oppressing language.

E said...

P.S. I also was not angry or upset when I wrote this (I was told I sounded angry in my post). I was just frustrated. I am over it and have moved on.

a dude said...

Why do you find it interesting that I posted anonymously? Is your real name E Perkster?

Give the dictionary some credit. It’s always evolving and it’s pretty good about acknowledging when a term is potentially offensive. It even indicates that the word ‘girl’ is offensive in certain contexts, so it's on your side there.

So you don’t understand why a boy wouldn’t want to be told he’s “acting like a girl”? It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with seeing females as somehow lesser beings. As a woman who likes to wear makeup and feel pretty, would you like it if you were referred to as “manly”? I’m guessing you wouldn’t, but not because there’s anything inherently wrong about being a man. Rather, you wouldn’t like it because you’re being referred to as something that you are not. By definition, men are supposed to be masculine, and women are supposed to be feminine. That’s what “masculine” and “feminine” mean. Of course it’s insulting to say to a boy that he is behaving femininely, just as it would be insulting to say to a girl that she is acting masculinely.

Generally speaking, I think people want to not insult the people they encounter in their lives. Obviously since I wasn’t there, I can only speculate as to the motivation of your co-worker calling you a girl. I suspect there was no motivation at all, and it was just a figure of speech. Maybe like when an old man refers to a young man as “son”. If she had had time to think longer about what she was going to say, she probably would have said the same thing. You can’t expect people to not use oppressing language when they don’t even realize that you consider what they’re saying to be oppressive in the first place (this reminds me of a sketch that was on SNL a while back. I can’t find a video of it, but there’s a transcript here: And if the majority of people don’t consider the language to be oppressive, but you do, does that say more about you or more about them?

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