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Gender neutral
In a recent post over at the Egypt conversation David ELISHA said "I react like a man, not a politician." (post) In response, Jeanne Vanessa de St-Blanquat (great name by the way) agreed to his sentiments but said "My only comment: 'I react like a man' should read 'I react like a person' - but in heated debates, these very minor flubs need to be overlooked! LOL.  Personally, I totally agree with you, for what it is worth." (post)

I find this curious. Should it have been written "I react like a person"? I'm not sure one way or the other. At first it seems alright. Yeah, you reacted just like everyone else reacted, not for men specifically. Your response was as a human being and so you do not need to make it gender specific.

BUT

All indication is that David is in fact a man and his only way of reacting is as such. He can not react as a woman because at no time in his existence has he been one. (Forgiving myself the fact that for a brief time every fetus is first a female--but arguably gender doesn't exist until after the split occurs and in any case I'm off the point). So should David be sorry that he specified his reaction was as a man?

Well, of course he shouldn't apologize. But Jeanne's point is still valid. If we wanted to read into David's comment it might seem to us that he is suggesting his opinions on the matter are prime example of how men should think. (Again, let me reiterate that I am currently only toying with the rhetoric to attempt and reach a larger point and that the comments Mr. ELISHA made certainly do not reflect the sentiment I just posed.) Therefore, the danger of using such a term as 'man' to describe his own truth is that it continues a tradition of ingrouping certain qualities even as it excludes people who might represent those same qualities. For instance, Ms. St-Blanquat might just have easily said "I react like a woman, not a politician" and Mr. ELISHA might have pointed us to the exclusion of men.

So, in this case, because both men and women are clearly able (and do) share the same sentiments, to replace "man" with "a person" seems viable.

However, I am weary of this de-gendering political rhetoric. I think there is a danger to political correctness and I think it is very well that we should highlight differences and respect them as equals rather than pretend they don't exist. The fact is that in the English language men and women are not created equal as they are in some other languages. We have distinct words to differentiate one another a la this post and also this one: post.

David's reaction was factually one made by a man. He could have also said 'a person' and it wouldn't have changed much. Or maybe it would of, maybe it would have lent itself to a future tense where gender plays less of a role in the way we talk and the way we think.

Part of the problem I think is history. When David says Man he calls to mind an entire tradition of what that word means. It's not his fault. It's just a matter of fact and teleology. We might want to use a word disregarding it's cultural implications, but we can't. So when I say I act like a man, I am somehow saying more than that, I am saying I act like everything man has ever been. And that makes me uneasy. I am intrinsically acting in a way independent of that history, and yet I can't escape it.

So how do we navigate these waters? Am I to reject an identity that was preordained for me and regard myself as 'a person'? If I don't do that then I risk creating an outsider/insider bubble that shouldn't have to exist because the matters at hand encompass both parties. But if I do reject it then I am forfeiting myself from the language I use everyday. I am removing myself from a word that is more than a word, it is an identity.

I think this problem extends beyond gender to issues of identity across the board. How do we as a society invite both difference and acceptance inside the same spaces? The way we talk is key, it's the most common space there is. I don't think the answer is necessarily that we should stop using words that are by their nature exclusive, but I also understand Jeanne's point that exclusion is still exclusion.

It's a tricky topic and it's times like these I am most cognizant of my existence as a white privileged male.
I don't think this is so complicated. 

When I was growing up in the 50s, "man," we were told, included women. Supposedly it was a generic term. That was a lie. "Man" actually did mean "man" because only men's activities were deemed worthy of discussion--their history, their art, their philosophies, their activities. Women were so peripheral as to be negligible. And the attempt was to mollify us and quiet any female unease with this convenient lie. As a girl, I knew damn well that "man" and the omnipresent "he" for "human" shoved me off the screen.


The women's movement vociferously pointed out this bias in our language and challenged the use of "men" when we meant "person." We've had a good deal of success in that effort. 


Now when one refers to "man" s/he bloody well ought to mean "a male person." If by "man" David meant human being, not a male person, then that's what he should have said. Otherwise he implies that women would presumably act differently.

In response to Paula James
I agree with you regarding the 'man' appellation, except I don't believe Mr. Elisha meant to exclude women from the statement.  Yes, people need to be more specific, but for me, in this case, the sentiment definitely took precedence over semantics.  My response was not as serious as it might suggest and I'm a little bothered that it somehow side-tracked the discussion.

Sometimes I wonder if the acceptance of someone's exclusionary action is not the real exclusion, by which I mean, if I accept someone telling me I'm excluded, instead of just going right ahead with whatever I want and/or feeling that I do not have to ask...
Andy, keep your shirt on (talk about gender specific remarks!) - my comment was tongue-in-cheek, BUT:   it is true, to a certain extent (YES, pseudo-political correctness can be taken tooo far [because I think it denies certain aspects of one's individuality, but am not totally sure about that]) and I DO believe there are certain instances that call forth gender neutral human responses and we (me definitely included) have a tendency to respond as we've heard since birth, i.e., sometimes not thinking precisely - knee-jerk reactions, as most of my diatribe was (a little red-faced at re-reading it! but I do stand by the sentiments).  Trying to clarify: 

I cannot but agree with your response, though I think it has nothing to do with being male or female.  Mr. Elisha used a figure of speech derived from either an old all-encompassing thought process, as in 'Les Droits de l'Homme,' or from society/peer pressure.  I do believe some reactions are the same in men and women, regardless of where we come from and how we are brought up.  Other responses are totally different, thank God or whoever!

Summing up:  Yes, I think there are times when man and woman are appropriate, others when person is appropriate.  We try being specific with so many concrete areas, science, math, language, but we become somewhat more vague on abstract notions, feelings...  Does that make sense?   What I really find unpardonable with extreme political correctness is the lack of sense of humor, or the sense of 'ridiculous.' 
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Latest Post: February 23, 2011 at 1:16 PM
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