Dear Sirs,

by cacophonies

I work for a department in a bank that deals with a lot of written customer correspondence. I sometimes receive letters that start:

“Dear Sirs,”

This infuriates me every time, without fail.

I hate this because it implies one of two things: 1. only men work at banks or, 2. only men should work at banks.

What do you think about gendered language? Specifically, the American tradition of defaulting everything to male? “He” and “man” are supposed to be the general descriptors; do you think this is sexist, right on, or irrelevant?

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37 responses to “Dear Sirs,

  1. In the context you are speaking in, it is sexist and wrong. Sirs is actually one step away from the ‘he’ and ‘man’ issue, which I could go either way on. If we wanted to develop better neuter language that wouldn’t bother me, but the word for man originally meant all men, which included wombed-men. Linguistically we were once Man and wombed-man. But obviously with the male dominance of most human societies man came to mean so much more. Certain jobs were for men, others for women. Community labor was always divided that way. Most likely you are dealing with old people who really do think that banks are full of white men in suits. When these women die, it will likely stop.

    • While I appreciate the various nuances and histories of language, I’m no expert, so maybe there’s an obvious answer to this that I’m not aware of, but:

      but the word man originally meant all men, which included wo-men.

      To use a random example, the phrase “first man on the moon” says, to the majority of people that are familiar with the event, that a human being finally went to the moon, and this person was the first one to do it. The person also happened to be male.

      “Man” means “person,” and man means “male.” “Woman” means “woman,” and “man” still means “male.”

      No one would say “first man on the moon” if it was Lisa Anderson instead of Neil Armstrong. It would be described as either 1. amazing and abnormal, because it was a woman, or 2. it wouldn’t actually be anything to blink at, women are equally as capable of going to the moon as men, but no one would have ever said that she was the first man on the moon. Man is everything, and himself, a woman is only herself. She is separate and less powerful, with that language.

      What I’m getting at is that the language is gendered intentionally, and whether it meant that “back in the day,” when everyone knows women weren’t equal to men, legally or socially, or whether it means that there were good intentions, it’s still sexist, regardless, and therefore problematic and inaccurate.

      • Also, if it’s man, wo-man, and womb-man, it’s still based on the word “man,” which a male uses as his primary identifier. “Man,”or “male,” is the default. Woman is still based on the primary identifier of one other portion of humans. Like females were an afterthought.

      • What I’m getting at is that the language is gendered intentionally,

        What I mean to say is that current language is intentionally gendered. Whether consciously or not.

      • Indeed, the modern manifestations of Man and Woman do necessarily connote Ordinate and Subordinate. However, in looking back further into the past, this connotation only blurries the true origin of the distinction, which is that first there was a symbolism of “man” which we can call simply ‘human’ or to bring full circle: a being as commonly distinct from all other animalia. This would be the idea behind the expression. From there, more sophistacated forms of expression converged with more sophistacated speech ability that the following idea formed a new word: That while all human are commonly distinct from animalia, some human are further distinct from other human. There we have the evolution of “othering” in its most innocent form.

        Oh, and the birth of logic. –> Ex(Mx&Wx) where x = human and E equals all. So it is not necessarily ‘sexist’ that Man is the root of the prefixed Wo-man (or WYF/WIF-man), but sheerly the byproduct of the evolution of human intellect.

    • In consideration of language use, however, I think rather than calling it ‘wrong’ I mean to say needless and out dated for our time.

      I certainly would assert that it would be notable if an 18 year old wrote into the bank with the address of Dear Sirs, since nobody really thinks Sir is a neuter.

  2. …Linguistically we were once Man and Wo-man, or wombed-man…

    No, “Woman” was originally “wifman” = woman-person. (A man was a “werman” – man-person.) “Wif” likely comes from “weip” meaning to twist. A woman/wife then is a person who spins yarn or kneads bread.

    • Hmm, I am actually referring to the first instance of a symbolically distinctive word or picture for a man (which was gender neutral before germanization, so, any person recognized as non-animal) who carries life inside it. Man, wombed-man, death and birth are four of only a few words from greek/hebrew writings that can be traced to a prior word from which it was derived. These vocal expressions were formed before any evidence of agriculture so there would not be yarn or bread to kneed and spin. That lineage comes from the development of societies which formed after vocal language was a standard human trait. So when I say that man and wombed-man are the origin of the distinctive linguistic expression, I am referring then to languages that are derived from primitive evolutionary-symbolic languages which are no longer used in the modern world, but from which they all were born.

      So to be less obfuscating about the whole thing:

      “Man” as we hear the word is the newly gender-ized expression of an idea that had been made vocally distinct by the recognition that only some men additionally carried a new man within them until they were born. A distinction that relied only on physical examination of anatomical differences that correlated 100% of the time for its proof.

      Without any evidence whatsoever of when humans first achieved speech we can not extrapolate any further on when we achieved language without pure speculation and unsolvable hypotheses. Therefore, the derivative of the symbolic expression of man that could be known by more than one human at any time could not have been post-agricultural since that linguistic distinction would exist an unknown length of time before agriculture.

      • Man, wombed-man, death and birth are four of only a few words from greek/hebrew writings that can be traced to a prior word from which it was derived.

        What do you mean by this precisely? My Hebrew’s a little rusty, but I know for sure the word for woman does not mean “wombed man,” nor does it sound anything like the English “woman,” so I’m kind of confused.

      • Lauren, thanks for your comment/question. I have cleaned up my original response to aid with the general confusion of me tending to under explain using too many words. Here I am pointing to one of the oldest texts translated from greek and hebrew from other more primitive languages. In the old Testament of the Bible (only referenced for it’s wealth of cultural information and language), there are numerous references to man versus wombed-man. Bearing in mind, however, that high academic study of the translations of the bible have exposed the litterings of lenient meaning selection for words that had more than one, or even many. Such as birth, death and life. Death, I believe, had 10 linguistic nuances to choose from marking differences in things such as manner of death and wealth or status, all the way to forms of death that were ambiguous as to whether or not they were permanent.

        So here, when I say that linguistically we were once man and wombed-man, I do not mean that the modern word “woman” came directly from wombed-man in any other sense than in its symbolism. So, being that there are instances in the Old Testament of words meaning what we mean as “woman” derived from wombed-man somewhere in its parenting lineages, I was quick to say that woman once meant wombed-man (as though it were an A to B translation process), when what I meant was that the CONCEPT of a man and wombed-man expressed primitively through art or vocalization, is what led to our current concepts of man and woman expressed presently.

  3. I try to use they/them/their/theirs as singular pronouns for a person of unspecified gender.

    I hate this because it implies one of two things: 1. only men work at banks or, 2. only men should work at banks.

    I understood “Dear sirs” to be addressed to the bosses of the bank, hence the plural.

  4. I try to use they/them/their/theirs as singular pronouns for a person of unspecified gender.

    Me too. Is the reason that you do this because you find something problematic with a masculine/male default?

    I understood “Dear sirs” to be addressed to the bosses of the bank, hence the plural.

    That is exactly the problem– the assumption that the person (or people) in charge will always be male. People “in charge” of a corporation usually are male, currently, but do we believe that that’s because men are the only ones capable of being in charge of a business? Not many of us are willing to admit that that’s the case. So what is it, then, that makes us keep perpetuating the idea that that is, or should be, the truth?

    • Me too. Is the reason that you do this because you find something problematic with a masculine/male default?

      And with a feminine/female default.

      …the assumption that the person (or people) in charge will always be male. People “in charge” of a corporation usually are male, currently, but do we believe that that’s because men are the only ones capable of being in charge of a business? Not many of us are willing to admit that that’s the case. So what is it, then, that makes us keep perpetuating the idea that that is, or should be, the truth?

      There are two kinds of defaulting – conceptual and representational. I can illustrate this with an example from UK (yes!) law. Several years ago Parliament passed a new Sexual Offenses Act for England and Wales. In common with all UK acts, masculine pronouns were used thoughout to refer to persons of indeterminate sex. This is representational defaulting. Both offenders (conceptually male by defaut) and victims (conceptually female by default) were referred to as “he”. They manage to avoid such constructs as “in his mouth, anus or vagina”.

      Defaulting is at its most problematic when conceptual and representational defaults coincide. This post discusses a visual example. “Civilan” defaults to women-and-children even where over 90% of them are men.

      Just as civilians default to women and children, so women and children default to men. An example of this can be found in the following transcript of an interview with a Doctor in a Palestian hosptital during the recent Israeli incursion:

      We know among all the hundreds we have seen so far, we have seen two fighters. The statistics are clear:

      Among the 2500 injured, 45% are women and children… And then there are also all the civilian men, so the large majority of the injured, the victims are women, men and chilren civilian. Among the killed, 25% of the killed are children and women, and among the children today this morning it was 801 children either killed or injured. 101 children have been killed.

      Dr. Mads Gilbert, interviewed for BBC News. Notice how the word “civilian” appears only in conjunction to a reference to “men”. Women and children are civilians by default so he doesn’t need to identify them as such.

      In a war zone, whether you are viewed as a non-combatant or a combatant can be a matter of life and death. Do you understand why I say that non-combatancy is a female privilege?

      • Among the 2500 injured, 45% are women and children

        Then let’s also discuss how many men and women were involved (your statistics wouldn’t hold up very well if men and women weren’t equally involved) and how many of the people injured were injured by men, and how many were injured by women. Also worth researching would be the percentage (or actual numbers of instances of) of opposite-sex violence; were injured women primarily injured by other women, or mostly men? Were injured men primarily injured by other men, or mostly women?

      • I easily see how men are disadvantaged in terms of how it is dangerous for him when people could have the perception that he is a combatant, even if he is a civilian.

        The larger issue, though, is that the type of thinking that pits men against women, men=combatant, women=noncombatant (or victims) is a direct result of the partriarchal structure, which benefits men more than women in a general sense.

        …Now, that’s not to say that individual mens’ lives should be disregarded while we wait for the generalized ideal, where we’re all actually viewed equally, but instead to realize the root of the problem in order to fix it.

      • And, that’s an absolutely insane-sounding law. Wow. But it sounds like what they’re doing is trying to (in an odd way) counteract the assumption that all victims are women by reinforcing the men-as-default. Using an outdated method for enhancing progressive society.

        Also, I skipped this part before:

        Dr. Mads Gilbert, interviewed for BBC News. Notice how the word “civilian” appears only in conjunction to a reference to “men”.

        While it would be inaccurate to assume that all women are civilians and all combatants are men, it’s easily (and more than likely accurately) assumed that the majority of the combatants are actually male, and only a small percentage actually are female. The generalization is probably not far off.

        You raise a good point, though, as I was earlier arguing that just because the majority of bank CEOs or VPs are male, doesn’t mean that that’s the way it should be, or that we should assume that that’s how it always will be. Although I’d say wartime is markedly different than job promotions.

      • Me:

        …so women and children default to men…

        Typo. As I’m sure you realised, I meant “so women and children default to civilian”.

      • Links underscored to make them visible.

        Among the 2500 injured, 45% are women and children

        To be clear, I quoted that solely in support of the proposition that women and children, but not men, default to civilian. I wasn’t here making a point about the numbers. Had I intended to do so, I would have cited more reliable figures:

        A total of 1,434 Palestinians were killed, of whom 235 were combatants. Some 960 civilians reportedly lost their lives, including 288 children and 121 women; 239 police officers were also killed, 235 in air strikes carried out on the first day. A total of 5,303 Palestinians were injured, including 1,606 children and 828 women.

        (Hat tip)

        But I’m glad you noticed. All too often the substantial if not overwhelming excess of male casualties just sits there, unremarked on, like an elephant in the living room.

        Adult men, according to these figures account for 57.4% of the civilian fatalities, compared to 12.6% women. But wait, police officers were excluded from the “civilian” figures even though, under the Geneva Conventions, that is what they are. If these, probably-all-male fatalities are included, the figure for civilian men and women are 65.9% and 10.1% respectively.

        Then let’s also discuss how many men and women were involved (your statistics wouldn’t hold up very well if men and women weren’t equally involved)

        All of the men and women were involved.

        When a community is under that level of stress, every man, woman, and toddling child is active in the resistance because there is no distinction between resistance and survival.

        How they are involved, is, of course, strongly influenced by gender roles. Men tend to be forced into roles which result in their suffering death and injury in much greater numbers.

        and how many of the people injured were injured by men, and how many were injured by women. Also worth researching would be the percentage (or actual numbers of instances of) of opposite-sex violence; were injured women primarily injured by other women, or mostly men? Were injured men primarily injured by other men, or mostly women?

        The point you seem to have taken from my earlier comment is that vastly more men than women were killed and injured. As remarked on above, that wasn’t the point I actually intended, but given that this appears to be in response to it, I have to ask, why is the sex of the perpetrators relevant?

        I ask because their is a discernible tendency among feminists to be reluctant to view men as victims of gendered violence. And there are several discoursive strategies used to deflect discussion away from that topic. Refocussing upon men as perpetrators is one of them.

      • I easily see how men are disadvantaged in terms of how it is dangerous for him when people could have that perception.

        http://www.feministcritics.org/blog/2006/06/02/privilege-and-disadvantage-as-sexist-framing-devices/

        In fact, it’s a double whammy for men living in a war zone. They’re much more likely to get forced into “combatant” roles, and to get treated as “combatants” regardless of their actual role.

        The larger issue, though, is that the type of thinking that pits men against women, men=combatant, women=noncombatant (or victims) is a direct result of the partriarchal structure, which benefits men more than women in a general sense.

        How do you know that the gender system “benefits” men more than women in a general sense? How could you know such a thing? How could anyone?

        To reach such a conclusion, you would have to total up all the benefits and harms accruing world-wide to men and women respectively and compare the two figures. When have feminists, or anyone else, ever undertaken such a monumental task? And just how do you compare benefits and harms of a different kind? How many raped women equal one murdered man?

        The idea that men “benefit” and that women are “oppressed” in general, is an illusion created by 1. Endless repetition, 2. Male victim invisibility in the media (to which feminism is a significant contributor), and 3. various rhetorical devices used to feminists to exclude male victimisation from discussion.

        …Now, that’s not to say that individual mens’ lives should be disregarded while we wait for the generalized ideal, where we’re all actually viewed equally, but instead to realize the root of the problem in order to fix it.

        Men in war do not die individually, they die en mass. They dies as a result of systems of gender-oppression. Feminists cannot get to the root of the problem while they remain in denial about this.

      • And, that’s an absolutely insane-sounding law. Wow.

        It’s not that bad a piece of legislation, though it certainly has its faults. It’s a lot better than the draft bill which preceded it.

        But it sounds like what they’re doing is trying to (in an odd way) counteract the assumption that all victims are women by reinforcing the men-as-default. Using an outdated method for enhancing progressive society.

        I don’t think they were trying to do anything except adhere to the standard practice for drafting legislation. Anyone is a ‘he’ unless she’s very specifically a ‘she’.

        That it has the effect of reinforcing the default in respect of offenders, and counteracting it in respect of victims is an unintended consequence.

        Rather more egregious is its construction of rape. A male who inserts his genitals into the mouth of his non-consenting victim is guilty of rape and is liable to life-imprisonment. A female who does the same is guilty of sexual assault and faces a maximum of ten years (on conviction on indictment) or just six months (on summary conviction). See sections 1 and 3 of the act. Note in particular that the female’s action would not fall under section 2, nor would it fall under section 4(4).

        There are more subtle problems with the taxonomy. A female who forced a male to penetrate her vagina with his penis would be liable under section 4(4) to life imprisonment, but her act would not be designated rape, and so might be omitted from official statistics concerning rape.

        While it would be inaccurate to assume that all women are civilians and all combatants are men, it’s easily (and more than likely accurately) assumed that the majority of the combatants are actually male, and only a small percentage actually are female. The generalization is probably not far off.

        Combatancy is a social-construct, which is why I use scare quotes. The reason Gilbert wanted emphasise that the victims were civilian is that those deemed to be “combatants” are regarded by society as legitimate targets, even if the only reason they are “combatants” is that they picked up a gun to defend themselves, their families and their community from attack. Bill Hicks’ “Shane” pastiche is applicable:

        We’re like Jack Palance in the movie Shane, throwing the pistol at the sheep herder’s feet: “Pick it up.”

        “I don’t wanna pick it up mister, you’ll shoot me.”

        “Pick up the gun.”

        “Mister, I don’t want no trouble, huh. I just came down town here to get some hard rock candy for my kids, some gingham for my wife… I ain’t looking for no trouble, mister.”

        “Pick up the gun.”

        Boom, boom.

        “You all saw him. He had a gun.”

      • I ask because their is a discernible tendency among feminists to be reluctant to view men as victims of gendered violence. And there are several discoursive strategies used to deflect discussion away from that topic. Refocussing upon men as perpetrators is one of them.

        No feminist that I currently know, and no feminist whose blog I read or stumble across, are reluctant to admit that males are also victims of gendered violence. Feminists are generally of the mindset that most men who are victims, and aren’t able to seek help, or who aren’t treated fairly in a trial, or who aren’t taken seriously/believed, or who are afraid to admit that it’s happened to them, should be better able to do so, and that male gendered violence victims are unfairly stigmatized.

        What makes women angry is when men try to act like gendered violence against women isn’t “as bad” as we always whine about, and say that no one is paying any attention to their problems, while women are just trying to have a discussion about how to keep themselves safe, since women are much more likely to become victims, themselves, and no one else (like the likely abusers’ male counterparts) seems to care all that much.

        The above is referring to domestic violence, mostly, but it still applies, also to rape, and both are examples of gendered violence.

        why is the sex of the perpetrators relevant?

        Because your statistics were alarmingly surprising, upon first glance. After realizing that a whole lot more determining factors could affect what those numbers really meant, I wanted to know if that was the case.

        Hypothetically: If there is a war, there are 100 soldiers toal, 20 of whom are female, all enter one specific “battle.” 75% of the soldiers who became wounded were male, and you only report the statistics that say that 75% of the victims were male, your reader is imagining 50 men and 50 women. It looked intentionally deceptive, especially because most wars, civil or otherwise, are fought (primarily) with men at the forefront. If men are more likely to be combatants than a women, then it makes logical sense why women would be in less danger. I understand that this is a way that women have a privilege over men. But this is what feminism tries to end.

        No one is fighting to only protect women and not men, but it’s impossible to fight a patriarchal system (where men are forced to be protectors and fighters, and women are forced to be submissive and mothers– in any number of contexts) when half the people being oppressed are supportive of that very system.

        It seems like you’re arguing the side that men’s and women’s equalities (all) are completely, 100% equal, and that women are just over-reacting about dealing with what you consider to be as exactly the same thing that men go through. Feminists aren’t trying to turn people’s eyes away from male victims, but instead trying to stop people from saying that there isn’t actually a huge problem with domestic violence (where women are serious victims, for extended amounts of time) and rape (which I bring up because it’s another frequently debated issue on a number of levels, but with the same tone coming from both feminists and non-feminist men alike).

        …but we’ve quite a bit away from the main topic, which was decidedly more light-hearted than what this has turned into.

        Perhaps a new post topic is in order.

      • Rather more egregious is its construction of rape. A male who inserts his genitals into the mouth of his non-consenting victim is guilty of rape and is liable to life-imprisonment. A female who does the same is guilty of sexual assault and faces a maximum of ten years (on conviction on indictment) or just six months (on summary conviction).

        I wasn’t aware of that part of the law, and that’s certainly not fair. I concede that potential battle. That’s really f’d up, among other things.

        Men* who have been raped aren’t accurately reported in statistics because of laws like this, and because fewer men report rape because of the shame he is supposed to face for being raped. This is an extremely clear example of misogyny (I’m working with the assumption that you are in agreement about the fact that, statistics or lack thereof aside, women are raped in far greater frequency than men):

        Women who are raped, while they often feel ashamed or any number of other feelings, still go to police more often than men who are raped do. I lack statistics off hand but I imagine this in terms of percentage, since we’re already established that more men rape women than vice-versa.** It’s not seen as a bas thing for a woman to admit she’s been raped; it’s only bad that the rape happened (this is obviously good). For a man to admit he was raped would be to admit that he showed “weakness” in not being able to defend himself, or any number of other incorrect and malicious things that are based on his gender.

        It’s ok for women to be weak, because it’s expected of them, but men who shows “feminine” traits like weakness are ridiculed and thought to be inferior.

        When (if) she is treated justly when she is the victim of rape, that is a privilege. When that idea holds true in most other aspects of her life, it is an example of how she is oppressed.

        This got long and I hope it makes sense.

        *Adult males

        **I do not have any idea about same-sex rape, which I will look into, because that’s a very important part of this entire debate or issue, period.

      • I wasn’t aware of that part of the law, and that’s certainly not fair. I concede that potential battle. That’s really f’d up, among other things.

        Even more f’d up is how that came about. Compare sections 1 and 2. Notice how they’re almost identical. They could easily be combined with identical practical effect if paragraph 1(a) was written as:

        he intentionally penetrates the vagina or anus of another person (B) with any part of his body or anything else, or B’s mouth with his penis.

        So why two sections and not one? The answer is that during the consultation which lead to the act, women’s groups advocated for the definition of “rape” to be a crime that can only be committed by a man with his penis. The two sections are needed to ensure that acts now falling under section 2 aren’t called “rape”.

        Unfortunately, I can’t prove this, as the consultation response is no longer posted on the Home Office website. But it was something I noticed when I was involved in the consultation at the time.

        Men* who have been raped aren’t accurately reported in statistics because of laws like this, and because fewer men report rape because of the shame he is supposed to face for being raped.

        Both male and female rape are likely to be underreported for a variety of reasons.

        This is an extremely clear example of misogyny

        I’m always puzzled about how feminists manage to construe prejudial attitudes towards men a “misogyny”.

        (I’m working with the assumption that you are in agreement about the fact that, statistics or lack thereof aside, women are raped in far greater frequency than men):

        That’s really hard to answer. To save me from another wide digression, let’s agree ad arguendum that this is true.

        When (if) she is treated justly when she is the victim of rape, that is a privilege.

        Yes. I have considered creating a female victim checklist to point out some of the privileges female victims enjoy over male victims (though not over non-victims, of course) that they may not be aware of. For example:

        “When a service advertises itself as “for rape victims”, I don’t have to worry about whether they mean me.”

        “When a service advertises itself as “for all rape victims”, I don’t have to worry about whether they mean me.”

        When that idea holds true in most other aspects of her life, it is an example of how she is oppressed.

        I’m not following.

        **I do not have any idea about same-sex rape, which I will look into, because that’s a very important part of this entire debate or issue, period.

        There seems to be a sector of the feminist movement that views men and women as two teams. “Male violence against women” is a crime committed by team-men against team-women. The important fact about female on male violence is that there’s so much less of it, and it’s usually provoked or otherwise justified (according to them). Female on female violence is a bit embarrassing so we don’t talk about it, and as for male on male violence… Who cares what they do to themselves?

        Not all feminists think this way, probably only a minority, but it is a discernible discourse within feminism.

      • No feminist that I currently know, and no feminist whose blog I read or stumble across, are reluctant to admit that males are also victims of gendered violence.

        A Google search on “Gender Violence” turns up This World Health Organisation document which explicitly equates “Gender-based violence” and “violence against women”. They are, according to WHO, one and the same thing. More generally almost all of the results you get from that search seem to regard “gender violence” as synonimous with “violence against women”.

        You might object that WHO is not feminist. To that I reply that the framing is most definitely feminist inspired. and it’s not hard to find explicitly feminist texts which make this equation.

        Excluded from this construction of “Gender Violence” is, for example, the common practice in warfare of capturing a city, separating the women from the men, and executing the latter, every single one of them, bullet-in-the-back-of-the-head style.

        Even ordinary garden-variety street-violence is highly gendered. Have you ever been walking or standing in the crowded street, minding your own business, and have someone come up to you completely out of the blue and try to rearrange your face? I have. I’ve had similar experiences on several other occasions, and I’ve heard similar accounts from other men. But none from women. I’ve heard accounts of harassment and creepy, scary behaviour, but never the punch-in-the-face that comes from out of the blue.

        The plural of “anecdote” is not “data”, but statistics back up my experience. This kind of assault is mostly perpetrated against males.

        Feminists are generally of the mindset that most men who are victims, and aren’t able to seek help, or who aren’t treated fairly in a trial, or who aren’t taken seriously/believed, or who are afraid to admit that it’s happened to them, should be better able to do so, and that male gendered violence victims are unfairly stigmatized.

        Victims of what? You appear to operating under the same construction of “gender violence” I’m criticising, i.e, “the kinds of violence that are most often directed at women because they’re women” and which excludes “the kinds of violence that are most often directed at men because they’re men”.

        What makes women angry is when men try to act like gendered violence against women isn’t “as bad” as we always whine about, and say that no one is paying any attention to their problems, while women are just trying to have a discussion about how to keep themselves safe, since women are much more likely to become victims, themselves, and no one else (like the likely abusers’ male counterparts) seems to care all that much.

        Feminists are often pretty quick to deploy the w-word themselves. The Oppression Olympics are detestable, but it’s feminists who fire the starting pistol whenever they declare that “it’s worse for women” baselessly, or in such a way as to minimise the harms to men. Declaring universal “male privilege” does the same thing.

        In respect of “keeping yourself safe” there is a tendency among feminists to regard the concept as invalid. Women shouldn’t have to do anything to keep themselves safe, it’s men’s responsibility not to rape, etc.

        Well it’s everybody’s responsiblity not to rape, and most people of both sexes discharge that responsibility. Those who don’t we call “rapists”. What kind of “keeping yourself safe” policy is it to rely on rapists not raping?

        I’ll respond to the rest of your comments separetely, perhaps in another thread if you open it.

      • I’d still like to reply to the “war victims” part of your comment, but I acknowledge that this is a derailment of the original thread, and recognise that you’ve expressed some displeasure at this. Are you OK with me doing so here anyway?

        Because your statistics were alarmingly surprising, upon first glance. After realizing that a whole lot more determining factors could affect what those numbers really meant, I wanted to know if that was the case.

        Before I do, I’d really like to know what it was about the figures you found surprising.

      • Before I do, I’d really like to know what it was about the figures you found surprising.

        I would assume that more victims are women and children. There are likely more of them, total, than men, anyway. That, too, would make me assume that more men are the perpetrators/combatants.

        I get ya.

        Oh, I wasn’t intentionally ignoring this comment, I just got sidetracked all weekend and didn’t post or read much.

      • Whoops, borked most of the links. The paragraph should read as follows:

        Your assumption is incorrect. In every single war and conflict I have been able to find data on, without exception, adult men were the majority of casualties. That’s true if we look at injuries or just those killed. It’s true if all casualties are considered, or just civilians. It’s true for conflicts from Central Africa to Northern Ireland.

        Moreover, the most reliable methods – exhaustive enumeration of victims, and body counts (both cold ones in morgues and warm ones in hospital beds) – give the highest proportion of men, typically in the 80-95% range. Gaza is the outlier here, in that the proportion of children and women killed is anomalously high. (I’m pretty certain that if the entire conflict was considered, and not just the winter offensive, then the ratio would be much higher, but I’ve never looked for the data to confirm that belief.) Random-sample surveys tend to show a lower proportion of male to female death, (but still a majority of men). Given the difficulty in conducting proper surveys in warzones, and possible biases in people’s willingness to report, this method is less reliable than body counts.

        As a feminist, your specialist subject is gender and how it affects the lives of men and women. So how come you did not know this?

        That, too, would make me assume that more men are the perpetrators/combatants.

        I don’t see how you would get to this from your (mistaken) assumptions about the gender of the victims.

        “Combatant” is not the same as “perpetrator”. As I’ve already pointed out, the distinction between combatant and non-combatant is a gendered social construct, and a highly prejudicial one at that. If a village with 50 men and 50 is attacked, and 40 men and 5 women are killed, is it really fair to exclude from consideration the 20 men who picked up a weapon to defend themselves and their community, simply because “you all saw him, he had a gun”?

  5. This is similar to the brief thread about American privilege. I default to “Midwestern city” instead of “United States,” or even “Midwest United States,” because I have a lot of unacknowledged American privilege. Just as many people would default to “male” because they are privileged as a male and don’t think about it, or it doesn’t occur to them because of the privilege.

  6. I fucking hate this kind of sexist language. I always start business-type letters with “Dear Madam or Sir.” The Madam comes pointedly before the Sir.

    • The only way I’ve been able to get away with any kind of recourse is to edit my return letter to them with my (obviously feminine) first name in all-caps, which looks tacky, but I feel subtly gets the point across.

      I (semi-jokingly) asked one of my male supervisors if I could deliberately address my return letter to whatever the “opposite”of their perceived gender’s pronoun was, and he told me that no, unfortunately, “[our department] is not a vehicle for third-wave feminism.”

      Sigh.

      Oh, how I wish I could send that letter. I’d love to get the follow-up, confused phone call a week later.

  7. In response to the original post, not anyone’s comment:

    I assume the writer used “Dear Sirs” because they learned that as a formal convention. I appreciate that this sort of subtle but systemic dogma can be detrimental to a woman, especially perhaps in her more formative years. I think most assumptions imposed on an individual by society are.

    What I feel has been possibly lost in the discussion is the actual attitudes and beliefs of the writer. Does this person believe that women are not capable of running banks? Can we tell determine this from this person’s usage of the formal “Dear Sirs”. Aren’t those core attitudes and conviction what we are concerned with ultimately?

    Quasi-academic and masturbatory exchange isn’t keeping women from facing legal penalty for being raped in misogynistic cultures. Social conventions follow attitudes not the other way around.

    • I assume the writer used “Dear Sirs” because they learned that as a formal convention.

      I agree. Like imnotme said earlier (before we won the derail award of the year), the majority of people who say that are old women who will likely die soon.

      Quasi-academic and masturbatory exchange isn’t keeping women from facing legal penalty for being raped in misogynistic cultures.

      Not directly, no. But that’s a topic that requires a lot more thought for a detailed response than I am prepared to give tonight.

      Social conventions follow attitudes not the other way around.

      You could say that attitudes follow social conventions and still make sense, too.

      I think I’ll use this comment as a jump-off point for a new post, sort of a follow-up.

    • I love a good quasi-academic discussion. The more the better if you ask me. I also think that the more people talk about social issues the more common awareness can be established. I feel this way because I am partial to concepts, argument and definition. High academia is too bureaucratic and sub academia lacks valuable input. Keep it in the middle and let people either dismount their horses or rise to the occasion.

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