The recent post about gendered language and the common defaulting to male got on quite a tangent. I’d like to raise a few points to maybe clarify, or expand on, what I was saying.
My annoyance at being defaulted to male, like when a customer sends a letter to me, a female, addressed to “Sirs,” is based less on historical context or its relevance to current societal problems or legal issues, and more to do with what the words or phrases mean in modern society.
No, discontinuing the official use of gendered language is not stopping women from “facing legal penalty for being raped in misogynistic cultures,” but it is holding onto, and perpetuating, the idea that women are not equal to men. Whether the person who writes the letter or defaults to male pronouns in speech realizes it or not, or whether or not s/he is actively sexist.
I readily acknowledge the fact that meanings of words have changed with time, and the root of any one word may mean something completely different in a different time than its modified version does now. I agree that gendered language is slowly evolving and becoming more inclusive. I’m also not denying that, 50 years ago, when the same elderly person that called me a sir in their letter to me wrote their first letter to her bank, it was 100% expected that a man would receive that letter and handle the person’s problem. Maybe more women were accepting of that then, and they aren’t now. Times have changed, and I understand that.
My post was, ultimately, touching on a small annoyance that I, as a female, have to deal with in my professional life. Defaulting to male when addressing or describing people is now outdated and, because of the fact that women occupy nearly all positions in the corporate world, sexist, whether intended or not.
Gendered language does, however, grow into larger problems. The little boy who learns that it is expected to assume everyone is male when addressing an audience, a letter, or telling a story, will grow accustomed to the idea that he is the default, and therefore, the most important or most valuable. The little girl that learns the same thing will grow accustomed to believing that she is an afterthought, or not as important, and that she will always have to struggle to be recognized– more so than her male counterparts.
The subliminal messages (whether intended or not) that we get and process as a result of gendered language can, in fact, be problematic on a larger scale. Maybe, if the 20-year old college guy hadn’t been assuming that everyone defaults to male, therefore not realizing that he sees himself as more valuable than women, or sees women as a people who exist for him, he would have listened when the girl that went to the frat party he threw said no, because he would see her as a peer, someone who had the same ability to make decisions for herself as he had.
That’s a bit of an out-there example, but I think it fits. Acquaintance/date rape is a huge problem, and the victims are more often women than men, and gendered language that defaults to men is only aiding in the mindset that that’s expected, or acceptable behavior. Like it’s just another part of being a female that we have to live with, comparable to our periods.
That’s not how it actually is, and that’s not the idea that we should perpetuate with something so easily changed and modified as our language.