“Mankind”: Placing Men Foremost in our Minds

Women, we are a part of the brotherhood of mankind. We are man. We are men.

Sounds odder than usual when you put it that way. Yet women can still be expected to live with the notion that we are “men” in our daily lives.

Man, mankind, brotherhood, fellowship. The generic “he,” as in Will Rogers declaration, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” With women it’s a different story?

I heard women called men during William and Kate’s nuptials (yep, I watched the royal wedding). The egalitarian Unitarian congregation I attend calls itself a “fellowship.” And I found it especially strange when Hillary Rodham Clinton stated in a campaign speech, “Kitchen table issues … are ones the next president can actually do something about if he actually cares about it.” He? She had little expectation of winning?

Some say it’s just generic. No one interprets all this as meaning men, in particular.

But how does this sound: “Problems arise when a player runs onto the field and his cleats catch the Astroturf and she falls on her face.” My husband asked, “Who are they talking about, a man or a woman?” Anyone still think “he/his/him” are understood as gender-neutral?

When I was a kid I heard that dogs were man’s best friend, and wondered why men like dogs so much.

Turns out, this manner of speaking has psychological effects.

Drake University sociologists asked college students to bring in pictures to illustrate chapters in a textbook. One group was given titles like “Culture,” “Family,” and “Urban Life.” The other group’s titles included, “Urban Man,” “Political Man,” and “Social Man.” Two thirds of those asked for “man” titles brought in male-only pictures. But only half of the students assigned generic labels did.

Another study found that men and women who used more male pronouns in their term papers drew more male than female images when asked to draw pictures illustrating sentences.

Even women’s interest in job positions is affected by male terms. So “mailman” has been changed to “mail carrier.”

With all the “he/him/his” and “man/mankind/brotherhood” still bandied about is it any wonder that when a group of students were asked to think of a typical person, most thought of a male?

As a result, men are seen as people, but women are seen as women.

That has all sorts of other effects, in turn. Medical and other research are more often geared toward men because they are people. Women are only half the population – a little more than half, actually! On the human scale, women fall a bit lower, and it becomes easier to see them as objects or property. (Or sex objects. Language will strike again when we’ll look at the difference in how women and men are portrayed sexually.)

And that affects how women are treated and what they will accept. More on all that later.

The way to break out of this problem is to consciously see what is currently below consciousness – and make change, including gender-inclusive language.

Georgia Platts

Related Posts on BroadBlogs

Words: Sticks and Stones? Or Shaping How We See Ourselves?
Boob: A Breast? Or a Fool?
“Bitches and Dudes,” a.k.a. “Women and Men” on College Campuses


About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on May 6, 2011, in feminism, gender, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Exactly! And did you notice that when describing gender, we always say “male and female” vs “female and male”, we do the same with “man and woman”, and “boys and girls”. The only instance in which women are referred to first is when saying “ladies and gentlemen.” Even then, it’s because the word lady is in there and, well, “ladies first.”

    Also, I never understood why we’re called woMEN, and feMALES. It’s everywhere. It’s been around for so long, a lot of people have internalized it.

    As for “mankind”, I agree that we’re putting men foremost in our brains. There’s no way anyone would try to change this and find a better suiting word that includes all genders. It’s always been this way and I highly doubt it will change anytime soon.

  2. The manner of speaking which refers to the women as a man has been taking place in our daily life. The saying “men are seen as people, but women are seen as women,” describes this situation exactly. We can see it in commercials when the advertiser ignore from the woman except if he try to sell cleaning products, cosmetic or products for kids. What a creative way to increase the stereotype that the women responsibility is to clean the house, make food, take care of the children and won’t forget to be handsome and attractive in this time. This issue is sad example that in our life and even in twentieth century when the women are taken for granted. It’s interesting to see how all the men will be angry if the reference to them will be in feminine manner, and how sad to see that women get the reference to the masculine gender for granted.

  3. I think it is impossible to blame society today for the fact that in modern language, the male pronouns are the normative pronouns. I completely agree that society does not represent men and women as equal but at this particular point I time, I do not think anything can be done about it concerning language. It is going to be impossible to change words like “female” and “woman” but it is possible take away from their meaning. If less people think so much about the fact that language is centred around males then is has less power over people, it changes peoples way of thinking.

    • Actually, as studies point out, you have it exactly wrong.

      1) The less people are aware of language, calling women “men,” the more effect it has, since there’s no way to critique it, and no way to change it. The unconscious has a much greater effect because you just let it go and it stays embedded in the mind. It has effects whether we are aware or not. When you become aware you can critique your mindset and both think and act differently.

      1a) Racism is an example of this. When people lived in the South in the 1940s it was taken-for-granted that Blacks were inferior. There was no critique. You needed a critique both to be able to change mindsets and behavior. Changes in behavior, in turn, changed mindsets even more. Do you think no one should have said anything about racism because it has a bigger effect if you are aware of it?

      2) Language can, and has, changed. It’s much more gender neutral now than it was 50 years ago. Once again, awareness and critique makes a difference.

  4. Kristina Mardinian

    The phrase “We are men” has been consistently used throughout the years to refer to all of Earth’s individuals, both men and women. Not only is this unjust to characterize women as “men” but it also takes away our individuality and instead puts us in the same pile as everyone else. Everything in our society has been based on “mankind”, even the word “female” contains the word “male” inside, none of these generic terms that we use everyday capture the essence of us women. It has been recognized that women are consistently underrepresented in our society and men are valued more in many different aspects. It shows how our society views women as being placed under men and how they hold less of an importance in the world.

  5. In the context of daily lives, Mankind generally refers to all of us: Men and Women. I just think that women are unrespresented because we value men more in a patriarchal society which, for the most part, is the reality in the United States and cross-culturally. It was noted in the blog that, “But how does this sound: ‘Problems arise when a player runs onto the field and his cleats catch the Astroturf and she falls on her face.’ My husband asked, ‘Who are they talking about, a man or a woman?'” There is definitely an unjust tendency that we normally refer to man dominantly as men and women just fall secondary by default. This trangresses how women are unfortunately below men. In the political realm, women make for less that 30% in our representatives even though women make up a little more than half our population. In religious context, Man are put higher than women which makes it no surprise that when we identify what Mankind really is, we come to realize that we identify with men first, and women second.

  6. Sarai Villarreal

    Whether we like it or not we live in a patriarchal society. Especially here in the U.S. where we start with our founding FATHERS. The efforts and collaborations made by women are censored. Some might say its because women are inadequate for certain jobs, but really do women even get the chance to try? Women are deprived of so many opportunities simply because they are women. It’s difficult for men to understand this issue because they have always been at the top. Therefore, as women we need to fight to educate other women to not allow themselves to be subjected to being placed under men, and educate men on the injustices happening to their mothers, sisters, wives, etc. It is hard to solve this because it is a deeply rooted issue, but it isn’t impossible. We need to get back everything that has been taken from us as women.

  7. I agree with this view here. Mankind is not necessarily seen as representing both men and women. In fact, I find it unfair to categorize both men and women with merely “men” or “mankind”. Also, just by looking at the word “women/woman” and “female”, there is a “men/man” and “male” in it. Therefore, not only the generic terms “men” and “mankind” are over-generalized when covering women, the words that represent women are named unfairly. On the other hand, what word would be appropriate in representing the two sexes? Another word to remember?

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