Women, We Are Men

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?

The egalitarian Unitarian congregation I attend calls itself a “fellowship.” I heard women called men during William and Kate’s nuptials (yep, I watched the royal wedding). And four years ago when Hillary was running as the first serious woman candidate, I found it strange when she 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 thought Obama would win?

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.

And that creates all sorts of other effects. 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.)

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.

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 September 7, 2012, in feminism, gender, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. I agree. Man as default, woman as ‘other’ feeds into everything, from language, movies, careers etc. And it starts young! I read about an experiment where a large group of school children were asked to draw ‘a person’. Among the girls, half drew boys and half drew girls. Not a single boy drew a girl. Not one.

  2. Wow…you know, I never gave any of this much thought. You are absolutely right. It also reminded me that the female Chief on the tv show’Castle’ prefers to be referred to as Sir. I didn’t think much of it. Now, I wonder. Or in Nora Roberts’ “In Death” series that she writes under J. D. Robb, the heroine, Eve Dallas is also referred to as Sir. Curious.

    • When we use terms like “men” to describe people, men seem more like people. Could help explain the preferences you point to. Also authority is associated more with men, likely another reason for wanting to be called “sir.”

      • I’ve noticed the “authority” piece as well. I have been called “sir” before at work, especially when I am breaking up a fight or telling someone something that is hard to hear. I wonder sometimes if that is the only way I can be seen as a true authority figure in their eyes, by referring to me as a “sir.”

        Granted, sometimes it is sarcastic. This is even more upsetting to me though because it is flirting with the same principle. When I am perceived as “bossy” I am a sir. Since assertiveness is not a female characteristic and all…

  3. Ah, yes, good old BOMFOG (Brotherhood of Man/Fatherhood of God). I remember studying this in women’s history classes and, sadly, it is still a relevant topic now.

    I’ve heard the old “men includes women” argument, but I don’t buy it. “Men Only” certainly does NOT include women and I’m quite certain that no one, male or female, thinks the “Men” sign on a public restroom door means that women should feel free to enter.

    The common sense solution to the “generic he” would be to officially recognize what people have been doing for hundreds of years — to make they and their singular as well as plural (as the word “you” is) to refer to a person when sex is unknown or unspecified. It’s more accurate than the generic he and it’s not awkward like “he or she” and the abomination, “s/he”. English is an ever-evolving language — just ask Chaucer — and such a change in the rules of grammar would follow a well-established pattern used by people of all educational levels.

    But, you would be surprised (or maybe not) at how some people fight this common sense change tooth and nail, as if the singular they would be the end of civilization as we know it. Of course, if “misogyny” = “civilization”, then maybe they have a point.

  4. Out of curiosity, how many gender neutral languages are there?

  5. Because they got a complex and they also don’t understand the basics of military customs and courtesies?

    I have never talked or met one of these officers but my mom cousin said that he did work for one back when he was in the Army. She insisted that he called her ‘Sir’ and showed her the same respect as the male officers. Apparently she felt that ‘Ma’am’ was an inferior title. He complied and always answered her “Yes Sir, Ma’am”.

  6. melissaprice2010

    A classic example of this is the portrayal of ‘God’. In a majority of the scripture you read or lecture you hear regarding ‘God’, ‘God’ is referred to as ‘He’, and with a capital ‘H’. There is talk about ‘God’ being our mother and father, our brother and sister, and that each and every one of us, man and woman, are created in the image and likeness of ‘God’. But what you typically are told is, “we are created in ‘HIS’ image and likeness”. I was brought up in Christianity hearing examples of this my entire religious upbringing.

  7. An interesting note: The term “man” DID used to refer to all of humankind. I went to a lecture on language given at my college years ago. The speaker explained that in previous times, “man” by itself meant anyone who was homo sapien. To specify a female, you used the term “woman”. To specify a male, you used the term “wereman” or “werman”. (Hence, the werewolf of myth.) It was only later that people stopped using “werman” altogether…but obviously it has caused contention many ages afterwards!

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