Thursday, February 7, 2008

Gendered Language...

So I'm reading a book by Rosalind Hursthouse for my class Confucian Virtue Ethics entitled, "On Virtue Ethics." The book is fairly new (1999), so it doesn't surprise me that Hursthouse doesn't just use masculine language. I was caught off guard, however, finding myself 170 pages into the book and realizing she never uses masculine language at all. Every thought experiment, every example she gives, and every person she refers to in the hypothetical are all "she" and "her." I have a mixed reaction to this.

I hate the fact that the English language is gender specific. If it's not, it's grammatically incorrect most of the time. In that way, I can understand how a female author chooses to always write from the feminine perspective. The problem is that I find myself thinking, "Women and men are different, so I feel somewhat alienated that my particularity of the human race is not present in this book." My thought immediately after that was, "I guess this is how women feel a majority of the time."

Still, I don't think Hursthouse is off the hook. If a man in academia were to write from an entirely masculine perspective, he would be considered politically incorrect and would have to go back and revise his book to include feminine language. Why is it okay for a woman to write entirely from a single-gendered perspective? Does she not fall into the same category as a man simply because her gender has faced oppression for so long?

Part of me really is sympathetic, but there is a large part of me that thinks equal rights should mean equal treatment. If we don't want patriarchy, we shouldn't endorse the sorts of practices that keep this process in motion. On the other side of the coin, we shouldn't enforce the sorts of practices which may engender matriarchy either. Showing gender bias in one way or another, whether it be towards men or women, isn't right. We're different but equal creatures.

A lot of my feminist friends on campus would now rebut me by saying something to this effect, "Men have had the power for so long! It's time the pendulum swung in the other direction and gave women the authority to balance out the injustices that have been done towards women for hundreds of years." This is not feminism. It's simply chauvinism from the feminine perspective. So to say that Hursthouse's gender specific language is warranted to balance out the years of masculine-only writing is ignorant and not truly in favor of equality.

I'm done ranting now. I just wanted to get that off of my chest in a place where I can get responses.


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

I believe that sort of female chauvinism, as you called it, is an unfortunate reaction to the "pendulum" being swung towards the patriarchy.

I think your criticism is correct, but I feel a sense of frustration because really, how can you make up for years of oppression and repression of women's voices? Equality now is a good step, but is it enough?

It's hard to be a politically correct peace don't sell books or make a name for yourself that way, at least that's how I interpret our culture.

Also I think it's difficult to be a man who is sensitive to these sorts of gender issues (as I know you are and I appreciate that), because if you stand up for yourself or take a pro-male perspective you're (like you said) bigoted.

But, believe it or not, there is a Men's Studies association-
One of the professors in the department is a part of that association and hopefully *fingers crossed* he will teach a seminar on gender and religion before I graduate.

So yeah...that might have been a bit rambly, but that's how I really feel.

Chris said...

As a writer, it drives me nuts to have to keep track of it all. Typically, I alternate. Sometimes I say she, sometimes he. I never use s/he, it's stylistically distracting. And I don't reword everything to get around the use of those words either. So I'm stuck trying to be sure that I've "balanced" it all right.

We need a word that is gender inclusive that is not s/he, so that I don't have to concern myself with all the balancing anymore.

I never noticed with Hursthouse, by the way, but that stuff doesn't stick out to me much to start.

PeterAtLarge said...

I choose to be cheerfully incorrect, except when it seems particularly discriminatory or unfair. We're all a bit oversensitized, I think. Cheers, P

Rhea said...

Good for people to know.