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    Thread: "Male" as the standard gender

    1. #1
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      "Male" as the standard gender

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      You see the point, right? When one gives a random example of something, it's always a he, him, or his, but it's usually not she or her. It's only a female if that particular story calls for a female, like "she got pregnant", or "she broke up with her boyfriend".

      I wouldn't go so far as to say "men are dominating the world and suppressing women, it's evident in the language" or anything close to that. But I do find it strange and sometimes it's almost irritating.

      I think there are 2 general ways in which this can be discussed.
      1) Why did it become this way? We could talk about evolution, our ancestral environment, more recent human history, biology of females vs males. My guess would be that because men are physically stronger and were usually out hunting and gathering recources, while the women stayed at home watching the kids and preparing food. And I don't know if this is the case, maybe men were hunting animals while women were plucking berries and fruits and veggies, and doing similar useful things that required less physical strength. I also think that men more often than women are doing something that attracts attention (purposefully or as a side-effect), like inventing stuff, starting fights/wars/conflicts, invading territory, boasting about themselves, telling impressive sounding stories, attracting females (yes, females also like to attract males, but it seems to me that men go out of their way far more often than women do). Maybe because events more often revolve around men than women, it became natural to have the standard gender in a story/speech/sayings be male. Does this make sense?

      2) How do you feel about this? Do you think it's somehow unfair? If you could wave a magic wand to make everybody refer to both females and males perfectly equally, would you do it? People would use "she and he" as often as "he and she", "male and female" as often as "female and male", or people would use female and male words equally often but not always using both he and she, because that would be tedious.

      Steven Pinker & Elizabeth Spelke debate - The Science of Gender & Science" Here is a debate about gender differences, Steven argues that there are significant differences and Elizabeth argues that there are not. They talk about child development (the effects of sterotyping and parenting), IQ, social constructs, why there are more men in maths and physics, and probably more things that I don't remember right now. I thought that both sides made valid points, but my irrelevant ignorant opinion mainly justified by my gut feeling is that Steven was right, males and females do have significant differences.
      Last edited by Ginsan; 09-07-2015 at 10:43 PM.

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      Oh, oh, hang on! I need to get something!

      There we go.



      What Steven Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke are talking about comes down to gender essentialism (Pinker) and gender artifactualism / social constructionism (Spelke).

      Some activists, like Julia Serano, argue for a more "holistic" model, and I tend to agree with them:

      From Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive:

      As they are most commonly practiced, both gender artifactualism and determinism are homogenizing models, in that they attempt to explain why the majority of people tend to gravitate toward typical genders and sexualities: Gender determinists claim that we are all biologically programmed to be heterosexual and cisgender [that is, not transgender], whereas gender artifactualists claim that we live under a hegemonic gender system that socializes and coerces us into becoming heterosexual and cisgender.
      This is why I believe that it is so important to embrace a holistic (rather than homogenizing) model of gender and sexuality, one that attempts to accommodate difference rather than focusing narrowly on sameness. The holistic model that I am forwarding here begins with the recognition that while we may be biologically similar to one another in many ways, we are also the products of biological variation— nobody shares our unique genetic and physiological makeup. And while we may share the same culture, or may be subjected to the same social expectations and norms, we are also each uniquely socially situated— nobody shares our specific set of life experiences or environment. Therefore, while our shared biology and culture may create certain trends (e.g., a preponderance of typical genders and sexualities), we should also expect the variation in our biology and life experiences to help generate diversity in our genders and sexualities (just as there is a great deal of diversity in our bodies, personalities, interests, and abilities more generally).
      If you're not familiar with social constructionism (what Spelke was arguing for in your example,) this Open Yale course has a pretty great summary of Foucault and Butler, who kind of kicked off the whole concept of whether we "perform" gender as opposed to being rooted in it biologically.

      Social constructionism has been great for convincing people that women don't need to be excluded from certain jobs, and that our lives should revolve more around our choices than who we were born as. Unfortunately, it's also been used in some pretty terrible ways to exclude and demean transgender people, especially by "gender artifactualist" feminists, who believe that gender should be dismantled entirely, and therefore being transgender is anti-feminist. I don't believe that, and I posted an excerpt of Serano's work because I think that she has come up with a much better balance.
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      I usually use "they/them/their" rather than "he/him/his" when talking about people in general. Most people I know well do this also. In formal writing, the grammatically correct way is to say he or she/him or her, including both genders, although this is a bit tedious in most cases.
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      I think that these may be the norm, because while we live in a progressive society, it hasn't been that way for long. If you don't have to look that far back to see a time when there was a very clear divide between the sexes. Some old television commercials, like from the 1950's will have the tagline "It's so easy a woman can do it!". And while gender equality has been advancing in leaps and bounds, there are still wage gaps and gender biases in the workplace even today.

      Inevitably there is runoff from this more gender-biased time, even rooted into our language. (As you mentioned). It's good that there are people out there who are willing to stir up a little controversy from time to time. Some may say that things like this don't matter, but I think they do.

      Quote Originally Posted by vincefeild
      I usually use "they/them/their" rather than "he/him/his" when talking about people in general. Most people I know well do this also. In formal writing, the grammatically correct way is to say he or she/him or her, including both genders, although this is a bit tedious in most cases.
      True, this can be a little awkward, but perhaps as more and more people begin speaking with this mannerism, we will become more used to it. I'm going to pay more attention to my usage of it now.
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      Quote Originally Posted by JadeGreen View Post
      to stir up a little controversy from time to time.
      Yesss... Yes. I like that phrase
      xD

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      Well stuff like mankind shouldn't really be taken as a masculine word. Mankind and even man used in that context is basically a word for a person. Which also goes for like a Frenchman, is a French person, not a French male person. Though language is always changing and after time people started to associate man as being just men and not just meaning 'a human person'. That brings up an interesting question though, why do people associate mankind with men, even though that isn't how the word was originally used?

      As for the other examples, that is a much different story, since she and he have clear genders. I do not think that is always true that everyone speaks like that though. A lot of people just use them or they, and I have noticed people also some times mix it randomly, some times using she and some times using he. In fact, that seems kind of common in written articles or books, when examples are given they switch back and forth, changing genders as they go to a new example.

      I think if you find yourself constantly only referring to men all he time, then that shows you have some bias in your thinking. Biases are very invasive in society, and everyone is regularly picking up biases and bad habits like this all the time. Most times you don't even realize it. I think conversations like these help though, because after you think about it, it is fairly easy to correct. You just change your habits until they become your new habit, and then from then on you are using gender neutral terms or mixing them randomly or what not.

      I think at this point, most people are aware that there is a general bias in society towards men. Some times it can even be a negative one, but often good, some times only a small one, some times it is much larger and clear. It is obviously there. So stuff like this shouldn't be shocking to anyone.

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      I'll offer this as well: Male gaze. It's a deep subject but basically, the concept of male gaze contends that the male point of view is the "default" point of view because historically, writers, painters, poets, and filmmakers have been mostly male (or, at least, among those who are published). Language evolves through usage, so the people who use it most prominently tend to shape the conventions.

      That's sort of the agreed premise of male gaze. Opinions on what implications is has for media, society, and study are considerably more diverse.
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      Quote Originally Posted by sisyphus View Post
      I'll offer this as well: Male gaze. It's a deep subject but basically, the concept of male gaze contends that the male point of view is the "default" point of view because historically, writers, painters, poets, and filmmakers have been mostly male (or, at least, among those who are published). Language evolves through usage, so the people who use it most prominently tend to shape the conventions.

      That's sort of the agreed premise of male gaze. Opinions on what implications is has for media, society, and study are considerably more diverse.
      I hate to go off on a tangent with this one, so I'll keep it short. I agree with some of the male gaze, but it totally lost me here:
      Quote Originally Posted by Wikipedia
      From the male perspective, a man possesses the gaze because he is a man, whereas a woman has the gaze only when she assumes the male gazer role — when she objectifies others by gazing at them like a man. Eva-Maria Jacobsson supports Paul's description of the "female gaze" as "a mere cross-identification with masculinity", yet evidence of women's objectification of men — the discrete existence of a female gaze — can be found in the "boy toy" ads published in teen magazines, for example, despite Mulvey's contention that the gaze is property of one gender. Whether or not this is an example of female gaze or rather an internalized male gaze is up for debate, along with the other ideas on this subject.
      There is no way to take that seriously. It's so hypocritical you can't even joke about it.

      As far as why males are the standard gender, it most likely boils down to religion and to a degree, the government/law of the land. I hesitate to say culture because religion and the government/law are more the root of the cause, which simply influences culture. I'm not implying that the religious are necessarily any more inclined to have skewed views on sexual equality, but rather that religion historically is what influenced our societies today.

    9. #9
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      The thing to remember about Wikipedia is that its articles are a synthesis of available information, put together by volunteers. Plus there are usually a lot of politics going on behind the scenes when it comes to the more contentious articles. That paragraph was probably written by someone with a fairly similar opinion on the subject as you have.

      My understanding of the male gaze comes down to the fact that most, but not all, visual storytelling in our culture is made to appeal to a straight male viewer. The male gaze is mostly about an assumption about the viewer of an action movie or a superhero movie, or any other type of movie that's coded as "masculine" but doesn't have anything to do with sex. (This assumption is false about half the time, since about 50% of moviegoers are women. Not exactly shocking to anyone.)

      That this trend exists is fact. From there, we can argue about what it means.

      First off, I'd say that the assumption that most movies make about the male viewer isn't very flattering. Rather than focus on the story or the action, a movie will try to hold our attention by presenting the bodies of the female actors for us to consume.

      Second, feminist scholars argue that filmmakers present female bodies to us in such a way that the female characters come across as an object, or a thing to be owned/consumed/obtained, rather than allowing us to focus on them as characters in their own right.

      I think that the main problem with the "male gaze," as it were, is its ubiquitousness in our culture. If we got more variety, it wouldn't be as much of a problem, but movies are filmed the same way over and over and over... and it's subtle enough that most of us don't notice it.

      When a movie or TV show rejects these tropes, it's news, and you hear about it. Mad Max: Fury Road is actually a great example for explaining how some of these tropes work, specifically because it rejects them. Here's a video explaining how the movie's centre framing works, and another post explaining how Fury Road's centre framing differs from Avengers: Age of Ultron.

      The Outlander TV series (based on a series of romance novels) actually is an example of the female gaze (it exists!) Here's a summary of how that works, but the main thing is that it doesn't happen very often.

      The male gaze is big ugly topic, for sure, and it's not very accessible to people who are hearing about it for the first time. But scratch the surface, and it's mostly an argument that most movies are filmed for men, even though men only make up half of movies' viewership. You'll also find that most of those sources mentioned in the Wikipedia article are going to be arguing that while men appear shirtless and such in movies, it's usually to show how muscular and therefore powerful they are, whereas women aren't presented as powerful in the same way when they're sexualized. If more movies were filmed with women in mind, it wouldn't be as much of a problem.

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      Just an interesting thing to throw out there: In some new philosophy textbooks, it's becoming a bit of a practice to use feminine pronouns.

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      Yeah, one guy said that in his book about writing (a style manual) he alternated between male and female pronouns each chapter and said he was lucky to have an even number of chapters

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      Thinking about it now, I'm willing to bet that the practice is rooted in archaic English grammar or something to do with the fact that men mostly made up medieval and early age militaries and men mostly populated the taverns that existed, so they set the standard for giving orders or story telling (lol, idk really, I'm grasping at straws here). I haven't looked any of this up, so I could definitely be wrong, but even though it seems easy to assume the reasons are sexist in nature (or at least it kind of sounds that way just talking about it), it could just as easily be for benign reasons that elude us because of our modern perspectives/not really being able to view anything outside of a modern lens.

      Just to reiterate, I really have no idea. Even though male appears to be the "standard" when it comes to pronouns, when I think of things in nature I typically think of female as the standard sex. Not exactly sure why, I guess because when there isn't a binary set of sexes for a species, then it's either all females or hermaphrodites (when we're talking about species that can even be said to be a sex, I mean). If not female as the standard, then really it's neither. I suppose in this case it's really totally up to somebody's preferred stance.
      Last edited by snoop; 08-23-2016 at 02:35 PM.
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      Also, him and he is simply easier to pronounce than her and she, right? Perhaps it simply boils down to facts of human anatomy and thus physics. Maybe we could see whether this is correct by checking languages where the equivalent of her and she are easier to pronounce and him and he. But I don't feel like doing this..
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      Quote Originally Posted by Ginsan View Post
      Also, him and he is simply easier to pronounce than her and she, right? Perhaps it simply boils down to facts of human anatomy and thus physics. Maybe we could see whether this is correct by checking languages where the equivalent of her and she are easier to pronounce and him and he. But I don't feel like doing this..
      You know, that's a good idea. It's actually pretty common (apparently, I haven't actually fact checked this) that babies who have English speaking parents say Dada before Mama. It's theorized that, at least in part, the difficulty of producing an M sound over a D sound is significant enough to make a difference. Then again, I doubt a baby is really thinking about what's easier to say... then again again, if they have enough difficulty saying mama, we might simply not recognize that they've even made an attempt to say it. Certainly though you'd think mothers would have an advantage in a typical child rearing scenario, being someone they rely on more heavily and who likely exposes them to the word "mama" more than the word "dada" (not that they don't try and get babies to say both, but obviously if you're a mom you are going to try and get them to say mama first). It kind of lends a bit more credence to the idea.

      When it comes to functioning adults, they can definitely choose to say what's easier. Something like this could even possibly be as simple as a verbal trend that started and overtook old practices where they could've easily referred to women as the default gender. However, just thinking about it, at least in English, saying they was not only incorrect (until more recently) in any sense but plural, but it's so much simpler to refer to someone as a he than a they in a hypothetical situation where gender is ambiguous. She isn't that much more effort, but you never know. Before literacy was really a thing, people started taking shortcuts when speaking. Knife, knight, etc. were all pronounced with a "kuh" sound in the past, and out of sheer laziness the "kuh" sound was dropped, but the spelling of it was retained anyway. There a lot of examples of this type of thing out there, so I say you had a pretty good idea there. I'm definitely too lazy and don't care enough to actually do any cross examinations with other cultures and languages though, too, lol.
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      Quote Originally Posted by snoop View Post
      so I say you had a pretty good idea there. I'm definitely too lazy and don't care enough to actually do any cross examinations with other cultures and languages though, too, lol.
      Thanks man And lol yeah We should hope we remember this idea when we meet a linguist.

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