What a good wife you would be

Is it some kind of rule that every “Oldies” or otherwise “Songs You Grew Up With, If You’re Middle-Aged” station is required to play “Brandy” at least once every day, if not twelve times? It certainly seems that way.

But I digress. The thing I actually want to mention is how nice it is to suddenly notice that while lecturing, my professor’s default pronouns are invariably female. Female! Never have I encountered this before. I have had a couple of professors who seemed to go back and forth about equally, and I’ve also had other library school professors who use gendered pronouns in very specific (and kind of sexist) ways–principals are men, librarians are women–but never before have I been taught by someone who always says she or her unless referring to a specific man.

I realized this two classes after a man in the class expressed some relief about not being the only guy present. Sorry, but I have real trouble mustering any sympathy for him.

So I ask you, dear readers–have you been in settings where someone used female pronouns as the default? I’m not talking about sex-segregated settings, where the speaker knows she’s only talking about women–I mean gender-neutral situations where the speaker is referring to some nebulous, non-existent, invisible person. You know, someone.

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6 Responses to What a good wife you would be

  1. yunjin says:

    An innovative way of affirmative action. I always try to avoid the “he or she” consciously, such as replacing it with “person” or “one.” I don’t think we need to specify gender when speaking about an anonymous person. Maybe when European language evolves, it will get rid of this unnecessary factor.

  2. pandanose says:

    I hadn’t thought of it as linguistic affirmative action, but I suppose that is one way to think about it. The problem with “person” and “one” is that they come off as overly stiff in most settings. I’ve noticed “they” is replacing gender-specific pronouns, but that always bothers me from a grammatical standpoint (subject-verb agreement and all).

    The real problem with specifying gender when speaking about anonymous people is that it tends to be fueled by (or perhaps even adds to) our perceptions of certain roles and professions as properly male or female. Professors who still use male pronouns exclusively in academic settings are doing a disservice to their female students. And men and women who cross traditional gender lines in their professional choices have a hard enough time without having to battle the pronoun game.

  3. yunjin says:

    When we consider that language form idea as well as vise versa, that fear is valid. Whether consciously or unconsciously we seem to develop that stereo-type by randomizing the anonymous person into a male or female. I sometimes feel startled when I find myself assuming that the writer of an article is male. In my unconscious, male seems to be the rule, and female the exception.

  4. pandanose says:

    Of course, the anonymous person in speech is rarely without context. While it’s still an issue when “he” is the default stand-in for “consumer” or “airline traveler” or “person walking on sidewalk,” it’s a different kind of issue if “he” is consistently standing in for “businessperson” or “scientist” or “athlete.” One implies that the default for humanity is man (which it is, in the language!), while the other implies that the default for successful or important humanity is man.

  5. icantellbyyoureyes says:

    I actually had a technical writing class where we were instructed to always use a feminine pronoun in ambiguous situations. My male professor told us that using the female was now the new standard.

  6. yunjin says:

    “My male professor told us that using the female was now the new standard.”

    Um… I wouldn’t go as far as that. That’s counter-discriminative.

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