Oct 28 2005

Something Else

I’ll be away from my desk today, so I leave you with a needling little example of the patriarchal tendency to use language to cognitively separate women from the default (male) population. It comes in the form of a news story circulating in the UK and India about workers’ unhappiness with their wages:

"Nearly half of British employees think they are not paid enough, and women are even more dissatisfied with their wages, according to a survey on Thursday." [financialexpress.com]

At least eight different news outlets used this remarkable sentence to express the precept that "British employees" are male, whereas "women" are something else (and are, naturally, dissatisfied).


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  1. MsKate

    A lot easier to be dissatisfied with your wages when you know they are automatically lower than others who do the exact same job simply because you are seen to lack something between the legs!

  2. norbizness

    Here’s another weird example of exclusionary language… well, not weird, considering the source:

    “I want the President to look across the country and find the best man, woman, or minority that he can find.” — Trent Lott, speaking on the replacement search for the open Supreme Court slot.

  3. norbizness

    Sorry, but national politics keeps putting weird headlines and quotes out there; from the New York Times: “Bush Is Not Expected to Feel Need to Pick Woman Again” [insert joke here]

  4. laughingmuse

    It seems that we have (and by “we” of course I mean “people who drive me nuts”, “the patriarchy”, “the ‘other'”) (oh, OK, me too) become so lazy with language that people don’t even realize that they are saying.

    Aside from these absolutely ridiculous examples of pathetic comments, demonstrating that the speaker or writer has some nutty whacko perspective on what is “normal” and what is “abnormal” (hello, all non white males!), other examples of lack of thought have bugged me. And not just my own strung-together, over parenthetized sentences.

    I refer to “webspeak” or whatever that crap is that some of my students in the past have used in e-mails to me. It inspires a deep, quiet rage in me.

    Similar, although a different flavor of rage as these “everyone aside from white men are weird!” headlines and comments.

  5. wordgirl

    PGA or LPGA

    Professional Golf Association or Ladies Professional Golf Association.

    Real golf….or golf lite.

    It’s only one of many examples out there that just chap my ass.

    Even with high school teams. Panthers and Pantherettes or Lady Panthers. People, people people! Even the local zoo doesn’t refer to the real female animal as a lady panther. There is, in fact, a college that has a Bull as its mascot. And the women’s teams are called…get this…Lady Bulls. Is that to avoid calling them Cows?

    And please…someone tell my mother to stop saying “lady lawyer”. I’m begging you.

  6. zz

    “And the women’s teams are called…get this…Lady Bulls. Is that to avoid calling them Cows?”

    Lady Bulls? You’ve got to be kidding. (Why do I get the feeling that they get called “cows” anyway?)

  7. wordgirl

    There are Lady Bulls in Hereford High School.
    Also, the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association features Lady Bulls. They offer Lady Trojans, Lady Panthers, Lady Tigers, Lady Eagles, Lady Broncos, Lady Rams, Lady Bulldogs, Lady Vikings, and Lady Falcons.

    The list goes on, but I’m feeling nauseus. I’ll take a swig of Pepto and stick another pin in my Patriachal VooDoo doll.

  8. wordgirl

    Sorry….Patriarchal. My editor has the day off.

  9. peacebug

    I read the comments differently. I read the women as a subgroup of the full sample of “nearly half of all Brit employees.”

    which is not to say that women as a subgroup aren’t paid less (we know we are), but that more women than men are dissatisfied with their low wages because they’re even lower than the low wages the men earn.

    the sadder and more intransigent problem the item points out is that fewer of them say anything about it – that’s the patriarchy blaming bit for me. women have been screwed on the wages front for time immemorial but STILL we’re not able effectively as a demographic to stand up and holler about it.

  10. AndiF

    Brings back memories of my youth when the idea of equal opportunity for women was starting to reach public consciousness. Public pronouncements would have “and women, too” tacked on to them in ways that made it clear just how insincere the addition was — “We are an equal opportunity employer who welcomes all qualified applicants, and women, too.”

  11. Sam

    I’m torn. I studied linguistics and there is one example from a sociolinguistics class that pops out in conversations like these.

    Kindergarten kids were asked to draw cavemen, and they drew cavemen. When asked to draw cavepeople they drew cavemen, cavewomen, and cavechildren. The smallest word changes matter immensely.

    Adding women into the verbal mix may succeed in drawing attention to women as a class of people more than not specifically mentioning the word women because the default is still heavily skewed towards men. Feminists may naturally include women in our consciousness when we hear the word ‘people’ but for most people gender neutral words still conjure male images.

    Still, Othering happens. Pulling women out as separate from men makes them separate from men. I’m just not sure if we as a patriarchal people can yet assume women are mentally included when gender neutral terms (or not so neutral ones like ‘guys’ and ‘mankind’) are used.

  12. degan

    Unbelievable, all of it! Lady bulls? That is just depressing.

  13. wordgirl

    When the Preamble was written, it stated that “all men are created equal”. It really meant that all wealthy white men were created equal and there was a sliding scale for everyone else. Even though we kinda/sorta understand that the term MEN is supposed to apply to everyone in that particular scenario, reagardless of gender or race, it’s not really practiced that way. And certainly, there’s been no attempt to change the verbiage of the Preamble an–to date–we’ve still be unable to pass the ERA.

    So it’s hard to rebuild the lexicon when people still view women as inferior and the feminization of ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING automatically weakens its impact. If people still wince at the notion of being a female writer, it’s most likely due to the fact that the patriarcy uses that label in order to brand that person’s work as below par…or simply something that can only be enjoyed by other like-minded “feebs”.

    Running “like a girl”…or doing anything like a girl, for that matter, is damning. Until that changes, you’ll mostly see women lobbying for gender neutral wording.

  14. Finn

    Maybe I’m missing something, but the text doesn’t seem exclusionary, to me. It simply gets more specific as the sentence progresses. Reading between the lines, it seems to me that the writer was trying to further bring attention to wage disparity, not make it seem like women were not part of the whole.

    How could it have been written better?

    Seriously, I’m asking.

  15. PrissyNot

    WHY do we have to be gender neutral to be equal? I LIKE being a woman; I’d probably HATE being a man . . . except for the “they’re better than women” part . . . I just want our children to grow up not having to “envy” the other sex because of what they have or have not between their little legs.

  16. syfr

    I lucked out. My all-girls high school had the Tigers, and my college calls both the male and female teams the Bulls.

  17. Sylvanite

    Heh. At my junior high the boys’ teams were the Colts, and the girls’ the Fillies. Good so far, as they are equivalent terms for young male and female horses, but in high school they became the Broncos and the Fillies. I may be wrong, but I’m not sure that broncos are automatically male. If they’re not, then there probably shouldn’t have been a gender distinction made. Though “Fillies” is not anywhere near as asinine as “Lady Bulls.”

  18. AndiF

    How could it have been written better?

    Nearly half of British employees think they are not paid enough, according to recently conducted survey. When broken down by gender, the survey showed that women are more likely to be dissatisfied with their wages than men.

  19. Cathy


    “Women are even more dissatisfied” means women aren’t part of “employees”–they’re a separate group being compared to employees. The sentence could say instead, “Nearly half of British employees think they are not paid enough, with women the most dissatisfied.”

  20. ae

    This, exactly, is why I love Twisty. Damn right.

    You’re looking at a former Lady Viking (HS). I shit you not. Thankfully, in college we had no bs “Lady” anything that I am aware.

    Wordgirl, I see your “lady lawyer,” and I raise you a “woman doctor.”

    Laughingmuse, u r kewl. =)

  21. MsKate

    Lady Viking? Why not Valkyries?

    Lady Bull? What kind of dioxin laced feed are they providing there? Anybody who ever got on the wrong side of a milking cow would not be concerned about having one as a tough mascot!

    Lady Volunteers is the most asinine I can think of. Why any distinction at all?

  22. MsKate

    Oh yeah, at MIT even the men were beavers.

  23. MT

    Pshah. That’s just the pithiness imperative. In news you’ll do anything to save a word.

  24. Ron Sullivan

    In news you’ll do anything to save a word.

    “Nearly half of British employees think they are not paid enough, and women are even more dissatisfied with their wages, according to a survey on Thursday.”

    Nearly half of British employees think they are not paid enough, and women are more dissatisfied than men…

    Nearly half of British employees, especially women, think they are not paid enough, …

    Nearly half of British employees think they are not paid enough, with women more dissatisfied than men with their wages…

    I didn’t even have to think hard to come up with those, and they have the advantage of saying what (I guess) the original meant but failed to say. Damn, I am underpaid.

  25. Grace

    Sylvanite, the Fillies should be glad – the Broncos might or might not have been castrated! A bronc, as far as I know, can be stallion OR gelding – dunno whether it applies to a mare. OTOH, the older women should be Mares, but somehow “Fight, Mares, Fight” sounds … odd. For that, I blame the patriarchy.

  26. Twisty

    A bronco is any horse around the flanks of which a leather strap is tightened to the point of irritation, causing the horse to buck in an effort to rid itself of this strap and, concommitantly, the “cowboy” sitting on top of it, who is digging his spurs into the horse’s flesh to egg it on. The animal’s sexual orientation is irrelevant to its bucking proclivities.

  27. Nancy

    I’m as pissed as anybody about language sexism – and why do so many women, even feminists, cheerfully use the term “having balls” to mean having courage, and “being a pussy” to mean being a coward? If that isn’t as clear-cut an example of language sexism in existence – male genitals represents good, female genitals represent bad – I don’t know what the hell is.

    But in this case, I think it could easily be a case of bad writing rather than sexism.

  28. laughingmuse

    Ae, I *heart* you too. :)

  29. Micheal Moorman

    “Nearly half of British employees think they are not paid enough, and women are even more dissatisfied with their wages”

    Hi, M. Moorman here, professional devil’s advocate at large, wouldn’t the use of the word “wages” automatically indicate that women were employees and therefore factored into the previous statistic? That was the first reading that struck me. In fact, I thought it made an indirect point about wage inequity against women. Seems more like poor phrasing than anything else.

    By the way, “Woman Doctor” that is just harsh. You have my permission to slap anyone who says that to you who is under the age of 65.

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