Sexist Language [Red-blooded American Sexist, Part 3]

For those just tuning in, this is Part 3 of my series on a small blurb that Joseph Lisner wrote for Wizard’s “How to Draw” series (found here [JPG]).

The language Lisner uses throughout the blurb Others, dehumanizes, and ultimately objectifies the women that he’s talking about — both drawn and real. The chart below compares the language he uses to describe women versus the language he uses to describe men. In terms of variation of terms it was equal (4 on 4), but the distribution of those terms reinforces the general message being sent in the blurb — men as people, women as objects.

Term # of Uses Term # of Uses
Women 2 Men 4
Female 4 Male 1
Girls 1 Guy 2
Ladies 1 Gentlemen 1

Lisner uses “female” the most to describe women and “men” the most to describe men. In fact, the one use of “male” is a correct usage of the term, while most of the way he uses “female” are inappropriate outside of a nature documentary or science lab. Before I get into the nitty gritty, however, let me first explain the differences between “female”/”male” and “woman”/”man”.

I. Adjectives Versus Nouns

“Male”/”female” are most commonly used as adjectives used to list characteristics or otherwise modify nouns. In the former case, since the nouns being modified are inherently gender neutral, it can be useful to specify a gender if one wants to address that section as a whole. Some examples include “female gamer,” “male doctor,” “female teacher”, and “male artist”. There are also times when the noun is implied, rather than stated. When you say, “I am female,” you are stating a characteristic like saying, “I am tall.”

These terms can be used as nouns, but this is typically confined to scientific settings. In nature documentaries, for example, you will see this employed to talk about the animals (“the male sleeps peacefully,” or “the female leads her pack on the hunt”). For reasons I will get into below, however, this use of the term is, if not incorrect, then certainly sexist outside of a scientific setting.

The terms women, girls, men, boys are all nouns used to describe types of humans. You use them when you want to specifically address one kind of human: “Girls and boys go to school,” or “Let’s join that group of men over there.” Using nouns is the typical way to distinguish between genders.

II. Why It Matters

You wouldn’t typicaly say “I am a female,” (you are a female what? person? bat? fruitfly?) but rather “I am a woman,” and not just because it’s grammatically ambiguous. There’s a reason why, outside of a scientific arena, we don’t commonly refer to people as “the male” or “the female” — it’s dehumanizing. Because the most common usage of “female” and “male” are as adjectives, using them as nouns serves to remove the human element (ala. “the gay”, “the black”, “the transsexual”). With “male” and “female”, this is further reinforced by the setting we do see the words used as nouns in, which is to say in reference to animals.

III. The Terms In Action

Lisner illustrates this dehumanization process perfectly. Men, to him, are clearly people and so his most common reference to them is as “men” (or “guys”, which is also a noun). The one instance in which he uses male, he uses it as an adjective describing himself (“heterosexual male”).

Let’s contrast this to the way that he described women.

Anyone attracted to the female must ask themselves, “What turns me on? What about the opposite sex hits me like lightning and instantly shatters my self control?”

His language here is reminicent of a documentary, “The wild males of the flock are attracted to the female, but which one shall be her mate?” So, already, we have the animal connotations. It’s also important that the concept of woman is important here only in terms of facilitating men’s lust: “the female” is the vehicle in which men are turned on, important because some effusive quality of this concept of “the female” is so powerful that it “instantly shatters [men’s] self control.” The actual woman here is non-existent, and ultimately not important.

Many is the time I have been out with a girlfriend and some female would walk by and totally blow my mind.

Again, here we have the use of female as a noun. This is dehumanizing on two levels.

First, the use of “some”. We use “some person” to mark the information as unimportant (A: “Who was at the door?” B: “Oh, it was just some guy.”)– it wasn’t a person, it was some person. Not always, but often, its used with negative connotations: “Jeez, some guy just ran the red!” or “Some person’s cell phone went off in the middle of the movie!” or “Some woman was yelling so loud I could hear her in my room.” Writing this, I am also struck by the way that “some man” doesn’t seem natural to me. “Some boy,” sure. “Some guy,” okay. “Some dude,” even. But “some man” hasn’t, in my experience, been a phrase that has gotten a lot of play. I’m not entirely sure why.

Anyway, the second way that it’s dehumanizing is in the same way “the female” above is dehumanizing: it reduces the woman in question to an object of Lisner’s lust. He reinforces this opinion when, later on in the exchange, he excuses his rude behaviour (obviously checking out another woman while he’s out with his girlfriend) by implying that the woman he checked out had such an impressive breast/butt/pair of legs that he couldn’t help himself.

IV. Conclusion

You can argue with me over the technicality of the issue — “male” is listed as a noun to mean “man or boy” in the dictonary, just as “female” is listed as a noun to mean “woman or girl.” But definitions are only as good as their context; when the most common usage is to refer to animals and in the rare instances its used to refer to people it’s almost always “female” and used in a dehumanizing context, can you honestly say that calling a woman “a female” or “the female” or “some female” isn’t insulting? I personally don’t think so, and I’m not the only woman who feels the same way.

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This entry was posted in Gender issues, Privilege, Red-blooded American Sexist, The Evil -ism's. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Sexist Language [Red-blooded American Sexist, Part 3]

  1. Sailorman says:

    Hmm. I’m not entirely convinced, mostly because the recent trend is to use the two interchangeably. “Woman doctor”, “Woman architect”, “woman ___” is a common usage. I don’t like it myself ans ude the terms correctly, but nonetheless they are often switched.

    I also think you are making too big a jump with your textual analysis. It’s sort of an a priori argument: If you assume he’s sexist and look for a sexist interpretation of his words, then–surprise!–you can find one.

    That said, I’m not questioning the overall conclusion that he’s sexist. I’m merely noting that this particular PIECE of “proof” that he’s sexist may be a bit of a stretch

  2. tekanji says:

    Except that using woman as an adjective (you rarely see it the other way around, excepting the modern trend of masculating words) is generally accepted as sexist language:

    A second mode of entry for sexual stereotypes has been through the labeling of some roles as predominantly male or female. To assume that all lawyers or epistemologists are male deletes the female segment of the profession and reinforces the assumption that only males are “proper” professionals. Moreover, to assume that homemaking and child rearing tasks are the primary concern of all and only women excludes males from these roles, even as it ignores women’s other concerns.

    That can also be applied to “male” and “female” (as in “male nurse”), but I’ve found that general usage tends to be that “male” and “female” are used to reference a specific person, whereas “woman [profession]” has a long history of being used in a way that highlights that it’s a “woman” doing the job, because the job was traditionally male.

  3. steve says:

    The criticism is fair however getting a change will require a lot of effort. One way is to encourage more women to make more of an impact on the lives of men like these. It is a circle. Those women who don’t mind this re-enforce this bias while those who object draw away which leaves him clueless. Interact, positivly and often wherever possible.

    Is it tiring and frustrating? Sure. But how else can we effect change.

  4. tekanji says:

    One way is to encourage more women to make more of an impact on the lives of men like these.

    The only problem with that is that privilege is something that we’re taught to hold onto so tightly that “postively” interacting is nigh impossible — the options I’ve been faced with personally are argue or shut up.

    The former, no matter how nicely I try to do it, and no matter how much I try to listen to and engage with the specific arguments of the person, I’ve found that guys — and we’re talking good guys, not misogynists — dismiss my words, refuse to take me as a credible source (but expect me to accept their experience as a man as more credible than my experience as a woman and a feminist versed in these issues — regarding women’s issues, I might add), and become very angry at me. I’ve had a few experiences in which the guy in question would not let me get a word in edgewise, and became belligerent when I pointed out that he was interrupting me (because to tell him that, of course, I had to interrupt him, and that gave him the “right” to complain that I had interrupted him).

    The latter I’ve also tried because I wanted to keep these people as friends. But having to put up with that crap silently hurts and for what? To keep a friendship in which my words aren’t valued and I can’t even try to make a postive impact because these guys want to feel that they’re “good guys” so badly they can’t take hearing when I tell them that x or y thing they’ve said is sexist? Even when I don’t use the dreaded “s” word, but instead frame it in terms of how I feel hearing it?

    There are men out there ready and willing to engage in self-critique, but it’s not my responsibility to stick around and try to be a “positive” influence on the ones who aren’t. Especially since neither my arguments nor my silence make any sort of impact except to drain my self esteem.

  5. steve says:

    Then I revise my thoughts and say we need more women artists and in the buisnesses who can choose not to do business with those who do not follow guidelines. I do question how you can call men who won’t make small adjustments ” Good Guys “. I am not a liberal & have been accused of severe racial insensitivity (properly) and racism (improperly) because I don’t agree with the politics. But dehumanizing an individual is not acceptable unless it is intentional. I will dehumanize someone has so offended me that I will no longer acknowledge them. But That is rare.

  6. tekanji says:

    Sailorman: I’ve collected some more information regarding “female”/”male” as a noun and “woman” as an adjective.

    Garbl’s Writing Center’s Style Manual: female, male:

    Best used as adjectives, if necessary to refer to the sex of a person or occupational title. For nouns, use woman, man, girl and boy instead. Female and male are OK as nouns when writing about animals, when it's not known if a person is an adult or a child, and when writing about a group that includes both adults and children.

    Garbl’s Writing Center’s Style Manual: sex, sexism:

    Avoid using man or woman as a suffix or prefix in job titles: Substitute business
    executive, business leader
    or businessperson for businessman; worker, laborer or employee for workman; camera operator, videographer or cinematographer for cameraman; firefighter for fireman; letter carrier, mail carrier or postal worker for mailman; and sales representative, agent or clerk for salesman. Use generic titles or descriptions for both men and women. Avoid writing about woman managers, male secretaries, men's work, women's interests such as recipe swapping, sewing and fashion.

    The American Heritage® Book of English Usage doesn’t deal specifically with potential offenses, but does specify when/how not to use the terms:

    When used to refer to persons, male and female should be used in parallel and only when relevant: Male and female guards were assigned to the rest rooms. Often people use female and male in a way that draws attention to something perceived as unusual without realizing they are doing this. When the sex of the person performing a job is irrelevant, phrases like a female police officer and a male nurse are viewed by many as offensive, since the gender marking is gratuitous and carries the implication that the norm in certain professions, such as police work, is to be a man and that the norm in other professions, such as nursing, is to be a woman.

    As nouns, male and female are generally used in technical, medical, or scientific writing, often to refer to groups of subjects in an experiment, whether humans or other animals: The control group consisted of twelve females and eleven males. Since male and female are used so much in zoology to designate animals, their application to people can sometimes have comical overtones. Nevertheless, they represent a convenient way to avoid repeating phrases like a boy or a man and girls and women: This disease usually affects females.

    “Female” as a noun is also on totse.com’s List of Offensive Words That Should be Avoided:

    Do not use instead of woman (the noun). Do not use woman as an adjective in phrases such as a “woman firefighter,” use “female firefighter.” Do not identify by gender unless it is pertinent.

    There is also a thread about this on the Girl-Wonder.org forums. It starts about halfway down the page with the very long entry.

    Other links include: University of Technology Syndey: Language, Sex and Gender and The Law Society of British Columbia: Gender Neutral Policy.

    So, I’d argue that I am not, in fact, making “too big a jump” because this issue is not new and is, in fact, part of a standard of modern English usage.

  7. tekanji says:

    steve said:

    I do question how you can call men who won’t make small adjustments ” Good Guys “…. But dehumanizing an individual is not acceptable unless it is intentional. I will dehumanize someone has so offended me that I will no longer acknowledge them. But That is rare.

    Well, I suppose it’s more apt to say that they want to be “good guys” and believe that they are. And except for one thing — two times where this one guy and I were in an argument over something and he used an unrealated personal issue that I had sought his advice on earlier specifically with the intent of hurting me — I believe that these guys have the best of intentions. Until a mutual friend called out one guy on his treatment of me (what I mentioned above, as well as the behaviour described my previous comment) he honestly didn’t believe he was doing what I said he was doing — he kept whining that he couldn’t be condescending because it wasn’t his intention to be so.

    And that’s the problem, really. Not so much the crazy misogynist woman-haters (though they can do their own unique brand of damage), but the sheer force that is the “Good Guy” Brigade. These guys if asked would say that they absolutely support equality of men and women, that women should be able to make their own choices and that women are just as capable as men. And yet the moment their privilege — or sometimes even just the status quo — is called into question, suddenly all bets are off.

    My current best friend is a total sweetheart — he is always available to give advice, and he always tries to treat me with respect and caring, and he obviously tries very hard to make sure there’s peace between us (not just with me, but with everyone in his life). However, we got on the subject of why catcalls are threatening behaviour, but I couldn’t get him to step outside of his own personal experience (which, as a rather tall man is not the same as me, an average height not very strong woman) and realize that the power dynamic was different.

    It’s also frustrating because people who haven’t been exposed to feminist thought tend to pull up the same frustration-inducing arguments: being catcalled isn’t threatening, women wear what they wear to turn men on, calling a woman a girl is a compliment, etc. Half the time they don’t even understand how they’re coming across and what kinds of things their rhetoric is used to uphold. And when I try to talk to them, they fall back on privileging their own experience over mine, and when I get angry about it they focus on that instead. They don’t even hear me when I try to explain why certain arguments push my buttons so badly.

  8. Revena says:

    Hey, I think you did a great breakdown in this series of articles. Too often, I see people reacting to feminist critiques of comics by claiming that the “stylized”, “idealized” art is a-ok, because the women being depicted as boobs, legs, and butt are so -strong-! But it goes way deeper than the art, doesn’t it? And breaking down the language used by professionals helps to show that.

  9. Sailorman says:

    Tejanki,

    That is interesting. My memory is that the tendency to use “woman” instead of ‘female” became much more prevalent in the late 80s and early 90s. I remember this, actually, because I argued with some feminists about it back when it was becoming a trend. For some reason I do not recall (though I remember the FACT of the debate, I don’t remember the content), they thought “woman doctor” was less offensive than “female doctor”. This was also at the time when “womyn” was not quite at the apex of its use; I don’t know if was on the way in or out.

    So counter to what you have told me, my own PERSONAL experience has been that “woman” is considered to be enlightened by those who use it, as opposed to offensive. Certainly I’d be cautious before assuming those with poor grammar are secretly sexist.

    Anecdotally, in my personal life, the majority of the time I hear “woman” as an adjective it is coming from a woman. (the offensive term men use is not “woman doctor.” It’s “lady doctor.”)

    Also, FWIW, I don’t accept your quoted authorities, with the exception of the AH link. That a site like Garbl thinks something is outdated and/or offensive doesn’t mean it really IS offensive in an objective sense. There’s nothing wrong with liberal views, of course; I’m liberal, and I assume you are as well. But I depend more on neutral sites in an “appeal to experts” situation. Otherwise it’s a bit like linking to IBTP for proof there’s no “female privilege,” if you know what I mean.

  10. bellatrys says:

    Tekanji, doesn’t it seem like we’re still back in ancient Athens, when Aristotle was erroneously declaring the biological primacy of the male animal, and that females were just strangely-consistent, strangely-necessary birth defects?

    But as you note, the gods forbid you point out that a) we’re being Othered, and b) this is really not very nice thing to do to us! OMG you’re such a castrating bitch!!1! is the instant reaction, as if our words really were bloody knife-blades…

  11. tekanji says:

    Sailorman: Growing up in the early 80s and being well versed in feminist literature, as well as a feminist myself, I’ve never heard anything but that saying “woman [profession]” is sexist (as is “lady [profession]”). While your personal experience is different than mine, any style guide that addresses gender neutral language says not to gender a profession, or to use “female” if one does (although some style guides object to the use of “female [profession]” as well because it can still be sexual stereotyping). Furthermore, it’s rather absurd to be arguing the “woman [profession]” thing in regards to whether or not my assertion is accurate because that’s one instance in which Lisner, wanting to directly address potential female readers, used the term female correctly!

    And, by the way, throwing out any other source except for AH is elitest and ignores the fact that we’re talking common standards here and that I listed two academic institutions that adhere to these guidelines. Not to mention the personal experience of many women who feel the same way.

    I’m frankly sick of you privileging your own experience and that of other privileged people (Ellison, Lisner) while assuming that they are right and that I and my bloggers — who have spent countless hours engaging with these issues, not to mention that some of us are women who have to live with this language imbalance — are “reading too much into it” or otherwise don’t know what we’re talking about. Yet you come on here with your holier than thou, I’m going to tell you you’re wrong without even bothering to ask you to elaborate or why you came to that conclusion. Check your privilege. Seriously.

    If you continue to dismiss the words and evidence of the bloggers here and act like we have something to prove to you, you will no longer be welcome. Please re-read #10 (on dismissal) and #12 (on condescension) of the discussion rules because your recent posts have toed the line, if not outright broken them. I’ve given you leeway because you’re polite, but it’s gotten to the point where I feel that actual discussion is being hampered by the way you approach the subject.

    A few suggestions: Approach the posts with an open mind. Both here and in the Ellison post, you’ve taken on this attitude that you are the authority on this and obviously we don’t know what we’re talking about. You’ve given the privileged groups the benefit of the doubt, while concurrently assuming that those of us criticizing the person’s actions were coming from a position of ignorance. That’s, frankly, insulting. One way to avoid that is to ask for sources, or for more information on why we’ve drawn the conclusions we have. Give us the benefit of the doubt, at least insofar that maybe because we’ve spent time engaging with these subject that, you know, we might have the evidence and the experience to back up what we say further.

  12. jfpbookworm says:

    That a site like Garbl thinks something is outdated and/or offensive doesn’t mean it really IS offensive in an objective sense.

    I’m not trying to pile on you, Sailorman, because you’re certainly not the only person I’ve seen express this idea, but the idea of “offensive in an objective sense” just seems bewildering to me; doesn’t offense by its very nature require a subject? In other words, if something offends, isn’t it by definition offensive?

  13. BetaCandy says:

    Steve:

    I do question how you can call men who won’t make small adjustments ” Good Guys “.

    By default, unfortunately. Where I grew up (and this is 20 years ago), for example, I refused to tolerate guys who wouldn’t make small adjustments and self-critique. Result? No guys in my life at all whatsoever. That culture was so mired in the tradition of natural male superiority that it was asking a lot for men – particularly young ones – to recognize how many cultural advantages helped to prop up this myth. Hell, most women didn’t get it either, and it took me a while to realize how much I couldn’t depend on them for understanding, either.

    I think and hope it’s changed a little since then. I meet a lot of young men now who seem more open to the possibility that no group is naturally superior to any other – that it’s all down to individual abilities.

    Tekanji, you’ve got me thinking. I use “males” and “females” on Hathor a lot, because I want to include all ages in the point I’m making, and saying “women and girls” and “men and boys” several times in one article gets unwieldy. But I just realized: without even thinking about it, I do it equally every time. I use “males” once for every time I use “females”. This, to me, is the crux of your argument. If this guy used the terms incorrectly but equally, you’d only have a grammar issue. But his more frequent use of “females” does generalize and therefore dismiss women and girls – in a way he apparently feels would be unfair to “men”. That says a lot.

  14. BetaCandy says:

    Just one addition: to me, the phrases “female doctor” or “woman doctor” are equally offensive. Also equally offensive would be the term “black doctor”, or even “African-American doctor”. Because rarely does anyone feel the need to distinguish “male doctor” or “man doctor” or “white doctor”. This further – and very subtly – establishes his status as the default to whom the rest of us are variants.

  15. yocibox says:

    This is somewhat dissapointing from linsner, who amongst the more cheesecake obsessed artists has a refreshing tendancy to allow room in torsos for internal organs, and to aknowledge that fat distribution on a woman is not completely concentrated in the bust. I would even go so far as to say his general point is somewhat valid, ie, if one is trying to draw an attractive person, it makes sense to start from from what one finds attractive, but couching this opinion in sexist language and justifications is a rather aggrevating distraction. (I am generally a fan of Linsner’s work in narrative format, and am admittedly susceptible to a bit of cheesecake now and again so the temptation to say “but this… but… but…” as a knee jerk reaction is rather strong. Actually a more in depth discussion about Linsner’s attempted relationship to the feminist narrative would be very interesting as he seems to be trying very hard to reconcile his belief that women are people with his desire to draw traditionally ‘sexy’ depictions of them and whatever ingrained sexism he’s picked up growing up in the patriarchy). In the end, the only thing that surprised me is that you chose to breakdown Linsner’s chapter “Women”, instead of Michael Turner’s “Sex Appeal” which then doesn’t even mention the existence of the male form. (as a footnote, I can only speculate, but i suspect your reason for not bothering with mr. turner’s rather egregious piece of writing is that it would be far too simple to rend into tiny pieces).

  16. Sewere says:

    Sailorman:

    “So counter to what you have told me, my own PERSONAL experience has been that “woman” is considered to be enlightened by those who use it, as opposed to offensive. Certainly I’d be cautious before assuming those with poor grammar are secretly sexist.”

    No dude it isn’t about you. Really, it’s about the [documented] experiences of women being slighted by the use of the prefix female/woman/lady [profession]. The difference is intent and action, we may not know what a particular person intends to do when that type of statement is made but quite too often, when that statement is made, it is often backed up by sexist acts.

    “Anecdotally, in my personal life, the majority of the time I hear “woman” as an adjective it is coming from a woman. (the offensive term men use is not “woman doctor.” It’s “lady doctor.”)”

    Yes it was true in your case but that is only the known distracting strategy of – it happened to me so it’s probably reflective of other situations. This is one in quite a few situations that cannot be weighed against the experiences of many, many women. Oh yeah, even if a woman says it doesn’t still make it ok.

    “Also, FWIW, I don’t accept your quoted authorities, with the exception of the AH link. That a site like Garbl thinks something is outdated and/or offensive doesn’t mean it really IS offensive in an objective sense”.

    How can one be objective when one is on the business end of sexism, racism, homophobia… That’s akin to asking me to consider the perspective of the person denying me the right to exist?? I mean how do we come to a “reasonable objective” assessment of an offense when you’re not only the one being offended, you’re the one perpetrating the act (or the “neutral party” refusing to acknowledge but benefiting from the act) in the first place???

    Tekanji,
    Keeping talking because we’re listening..

    peace and blessings

  17. tekanji says:

    BetaCandy: Unfortunately, I’m beginning to have the same problems, although I’m hoping a lot of that is small pond syndrome because my school is tiny. But, really, I think a larger part is due to the fact that I have much higher standards for friends than I used to (and they were considered “high” even when I was younger!). But I’ve aired enough of my dirty laundry on this thread already… ^^;

    But I just realized: without even thinking about it, I do it equally every time. I use “males” once for every time I use “females”.

    That’s once instance in which the “rules” can be bent — sometimes, as you said, specifying “women and girls” and “men and boys” just is too unwieldy, so using “males” and “females” is fine. It’s just making sure that your language equally applies to avoid the kind of gender imbalance that Lisner set up here.

    Just one addition: to me, the phrases “female doctor” or “woman doctor” are equally offensive.

    In most contexts, I agree with you. But there are times in which emphasising the gender is important — contrasting females in the profession versus males, or when I look for a gynocologist I specify that I want a female doctor… that sort of thing.

    I suppose the difference is that I don’t think “woman [profession]” can ever be used inoffensively (possibly because it’s bad grammar and I’m a teeny bit of a grammar snob), whereas “female [profession]” has a limited scope in which its useful, so I only find it offensive when it’s being used to contrast “normal [professionals]” (ie. male) against “other [professionals]” (ie. female).

  18. tekanji says:

    yocibox said:

    In the end, the only thing that surprised me is that you chose to breakdown Linsner’s chapter “Women”, instead of Michael Turner’s “Sex Appeal” which then doesn’t even mention the existence of the male form. (as a footnote, I can only speculate, but i suspect your reason for not bothering with mr. turner’s rather egregious piece of writing is that it would be far too simple to rend into tiny pieces).

    Ah, the answer is actually more simple than that. Lisner’s article was short and infuriating. I thought, “An excellent subject for a short and snarky post!” Hah. I forget that “short” is impossible when I try to deconstruct things, even if the original text is nothing more than a long blurb.

  19. tekanji says:

    Sewere said:

    The difference is intent and action, we may not know what a particular person intends to do when that type of statement is made but quite too often, when that statement is made, it is often backed up by sexist acts.

    That’s what I was driving at with this series, actually. I don’t know anything about Lisner outside of this blurb and the art of his that I’ve seen. Given the context of the series as a whole, it’s possible that he had the best of intentions but felt that he had to perform in the same way as the other guys writing — which is to play sexist pig. He could be a great guy who just doesn’t get it.

    But, really? None of that matters when it comes time to discuss his finished product. What matters is that his language is consistently sexist — not just in the way he reinforced a male-normative mindset, but in the subject matter (or, at least, the way the subject matter was presented), right down to the words that he chose for women versus those he chose for men. Everything about this article reinforces the treatment of women as objects, and in that context I don’t think anything I’ve said here has been unreasonable.

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  21. Sailorman says:

    You know, just last night I was reading my business law ABA section magazine. I wasn’t looking for this, but it popped out at me. In the back on a full page ad is a letter (written by a woman) which is in essence soliciting women for a women-only business law group (run by a woman) that focuses on womens’ issues. It’s not “Feminist Law Professors” but still….

    “woman lawyer” is the term they use. Along with “women professional” I think. In any case, “woman” is used as an adjective throughout.

    Now, this is improper usage. But either you have to start lumping women like that into your “sexist” category, or you have to acknowledge that really, a LOT OF PEOPLE who use “woman” as an adjective are doing so because they have bad grammar skills, not because they are implicitly sexist.

    So then I thought (as I was writing this) Hey, maybe even THAT is too personal, ya know? not about me, and all that.

    So I searched NYT for “woman lawyer” (just that, you understand, which is by no means all of the instances involving “woman” as an adjective).
    Here are the results:
    http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?query=%22woman+lawyer%22&srchst=nyt
    On the first page, there’s only one obviously “male” name, though Jan or Robin could go either way. The users are almost all women. I didn’t bother looking past the first page as this is a pretty random test.

    Then, just for the hell of it, I searched “female lawyer” on the same NYT site.
    Here are the results:
    http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?query=%22female+lawyer%22&srchst=nyt
    They are mostly male, though it’s closer to even.

    In any case, I think a simple literature search would show you that “woman” as an adjective is far from proof of sexism; it’s common usage.

    I’m not disagreeing because I’m “privileged”. I’m disagreeing because I think you’re wrong.

  22. Mickle says:

    Sailorman

    First:

    The language Lisner uses throughout the blurb Others, dehumanizes, and ultimately objectifies the women that he’s talking about — both drawn and real.

    What matters is that his language is consistently sexist…

    -tekanji

    (emphasis mine)

    The discussion is about behaviour, not whether Lisner is a good person or not – no matter how much you try to turn into the latter. This, in fact, has been said repeatedly from beginning to end.

    Second:

    Yes, shockingly enough, I consider the ABA’s use of “woman lawyer” to be sexist. I seriously doubt I’m the only one. I also think the term “co-ed” is sexist when used to refer to people and not a school or program, and it’s prevalant (mis)use at many colleges was one of the many factors that went into choosing my alma mater.

    And you know what else? I also thought it was sexist of me and my feminist friends to assume that the unnamed teacher in the story we read was female. That was rather the point of making this particular psychology test a standard part of the curriculum, because being good and just – even towards ourselves – is all something we have to work at daily.

    Do I think they – or we are sexist? Better question: do I care? Is that really the topic put forth in the post? Once again, the important issue, and the topic of the post, is the consequences of behavior, not the relative worth or goodness of various individuals.

    Third:

    You wanna know who I really conside sexist, and not just someone behaving in sexist ways? People who constantly try to steer the conversation away from things like how language affects us or the consequences of how we treat each other. Especially people who try to turn it into a discussion about really dumb stuff like their unwarranted assumption that another debater who is critiqueing a specific behavior is doing so in order to make judgements about the overall worth of people who behave this way, or even just how such people consciously value other people. Not only have I seen little else that is more counterproductive to such debates, but it reeks of self-absorption, privilege, and lack of introspection.

    It’s one thing to make mistakes or pick up bad behaviours because our culture teaches them – or even to argue that such behaviors aren’t really harmful. It’s quite another to refuse to try to change just because you don’t feel like it or it’s to hard – or even to rush the defense of someone who isn’t actually being trashed in the first place – just because someone dares to use their bad behavior as an example of how not to act.

  23. Mickle says:

    (sorry for the long-winded, rapid fire posts)

    I’d also like to clarify that my distinction about sexist behavior verses sexist people, again, isn’t really about the goodness of particular individuals – mainly it’s just another attempt at being precise because being clear helps.

    At one end of the spectrum are people who engage in sexist behaviors without wanting to or even knowing that they are doing so, despite attempts to educate themsleves. Even the best of feminists rarely reach this end of the spectrum. At the other end you have people who treat women horribly because they really are misogynists.

    Somewhere in between you have people who engage in sexist behavior – even after the consequences of such behavior have been pointed out – out of nothing more than refusal to acknowledges one’s mistakes. I consider such people sexist because behaving in sexist ways is something they have willingly chosen to do, even if their reasons are not malicious, and in fact are often born out of guilt, pride, or sheer stubborness.

    To me, repeatedly confusing the difference between sexist behavior and sexist people, for no other apparent reason than to rush to the unneeded defense of people behaving in sexist ways, falls under “refusing to acknowledge mistakes” – even if mistake in question is someone else’s.

    I’ll also clarify (because I have a feeling this will be misread as well) that simply arguing that “woman lawyer” isn’t sexist may not, necessarily, be sexist behavior. We just remain unconvinced and stand by our arguements. I, personally, am also slightly skeptical of how open-minded you were about everyone else’s arguments considering that you read tekanji as saying that Lisner was sexist, even though she never made a single comment about Lisner as a person in the original post. It’s not that I think you secretly hate women, it’s that your behaviour strongly suggests that you are bringing certain unspoken assumptions to the discussion.

  24. Sailorman says:

    I, personally, am also slightly skeptical of how open-minded you were about everyone else’s arguments considering that you read tekanji as saying that Lisner was sexist, even though she never made a single comment about Lisner as a person in the original post. It’s not that I think you secretly hate women, it’s that your behaviour strongly suggests that you are bringing certain unspoken assumptions to the discussion.

    Ah. Perhaps this is it.

    I agree that when someone says “what ___ says is ___ist” then I, acting on the concept that we generally “own” our voluntary conduct, assume they are saying that the speaker is ___ist. IOW I tend to operate on the assumption that people who are NOT sexist don’t say sexist things. And to be honest I always thought tekanji was trying to raise this as well. Are you so sure she’s not?

  25. tekanji says:

    Sailorman said:

    IOW I tend to operate on the assumption that people who are NOT sexist don’t say sexist things. And to be honest I always thought tekanji was trying to raise this as well. Are you so sure she’s not?

    Personally, I generally think whether or not a person is sexist is irrelevant when discussing sexist things that they have said. I don’t know Lisner, I’m not very familiar with his work, and I know nothing of his personality outside of this one blurb. I can’t say whether or not he, as a person, is sexist, nor was I trying to.

    But, that said, the persona that he projects in this blurb is that of a misogynist. Whether it’s his true feelings, or his trying to go along with the whole “theme” of Wizard’s “How to Draw” series, or he thought it was funny, or didn’t realize just how offensive it is to his female readers, or whatever… it doesn’t matter.

    What matters is his sexist language and what that says to an audience who views Wizard and those who write for it as an authority on the comic book industry. And what it says isn’t pretty.

    I’d also just like to make one point about your previous comment where you said:

    I’m not disagreeing because I’m “privileged”. I’m disagreeing because I think you’re wrong.

    The two are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, disagreeing from a position of privilege is still disagreeing because you think we’re wrong. It just means that you’re doing it in in a way that ignores and/or diminishes the valid experiences of people on the receiving end of this kind of thing.

    And your comment also misses the point — it’s not that you are disagreeing, it is how you disagree. As a regular commenter, I’ve given you a lot of leeway in the hopes of you just needing some time to get adjusted to the discussion rules here. But you’ve been here long enough to know what is, and is not, acceptable, and I (and others) have made things pretty clear on this thread.

    You’re welcome to post here for as long as you want, but I’m letting you know that any further comments that break any of the discussion rules will not be published. If you type a comment and it doesn’t go through, I suggest that you re-read what I’ve said on this thread about your behaviour as well as what I say in the discussion rules and try to understand why it was inappropriate in a discussion here.

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