Bart Simpson (to his new babysitter Ashley Grant) “So, you’re one of those ‘Don’t call me a chick’ chicks, huh?
I know I referenced that episode in my blog about How Shows Like The Simpsons Can Increase Make Your Children Smarter but it is such a great episode with many brilliant references to our modern society. But this is not about the Simpsons. It is about what you label yourself as your gender specific “title.”
“When I was 17” (another Simpsons reference), I was working in retail. I was filling in on the checkout during the lead-up to Christmas and a mother approached my counter and told her child to “give the money to the man.” Man? Are you serious? This skinny kid standing before you, you’re calling a man? Wow.
Needless to say I was taken aback by this. I really hadn’t thought of myself as being a man. The store manager; he was a man. My dad and all my friends’ fathers; they were all men. The male teachers at my school; they were all men. But me; at 17? Not even close. I thought of myself as an “older boy” at best.
Even throughout my twenties I was never really comfortable with that tag. I think it is because along with the title of being a man came responsibility, and until I had children, I don’t think I wanted to have that.
Still now, even though I am 39 and a father, the title of man does not sit right with me. Sure to an outsider, if pointing me out from a crowd of people, if within earshot I heard them say “that’s the man who….” I wouldn’t be offended because, yes, I am a man for all definition. But if I am describing myself, a more fitting gender title that I would bestow upon me is ‘guy’. Because dear reader, I’m the sort of guy that likes calling myself a guy.
I paraphrased this blog up to now verbally to my wife this morning and asked her how she would define herself. Surprisingly she came back with “chick.” From my opening line, and even though I quoted Bart’s comment to her, she was not abashed in calling herself a chick. But I know that many women would be offended by that gender-specific pronoun.
Recently I engaged in an online discussion about how feminism is drifting off course and was possibly the only male active within this debate. After posting my initial comments I had one of the commentators (going by the pseudonym TDMJ) comment in response to mine;
“You do make some really good points Darrell, and your comment is a valuable one in this discussion, but even the type of language you use speaks volumes …
As Anon-Woman has indicated above, along with referring in several instances to ‘girls’ and men’. I have no doubt at all that you haven’t done this deliberately or consciously, but you must this ‘juvenile’-isation of women is prolific and is widely understood to be a big part of the problem …”
The fact of the matter was (as you could read in detail) I used ‘girls’ in the correct context as I was actually talking about juveniles rather than women. The girls that I was referring to were between the age of about 15 and (maybe) 21 at most. I don’t think females in that age bracket would mind being called girls, right?
It sort of grates on me when my brother’s wife says “lady or ladies” in reference to woman around our own age. I have known her since I was 25 and I can remember in the early days when she would say “I saw one of the ladies that is friends with your wife” full on expecting her to be referring to someone who is old enough to have late teen or adult kids, not a woman who is not even 30. Even now in our late thirties the goal posts have moved for me (knowing friends the same age as me who have late teen or young adult children), I didn’t think of these woman as ladies. To me, “ladies” to describe a less-than-forty year old woman seems dated or archaic.
Looking at a thesaurus to get synonyms for female, woman or girl I had this list come back over several sub-returns; dame, lady, female, gal, matron, miss, woman, chick, girl, girlfriend, Ms./Miss/Mrs., damsel, maiden, lass, lassie, young girl, young woman, broad, babe, doll, skirt, little woman, mama, mare, matron, missus, old lady, old woman, petticoat, princess, squaw. I have removed many words from that combined list that are definitely archaic terms or overtly derogatory to the “fairer of the species.” I am sure there are some that I have left in that would fit into that category, but I have kept some in just to bolster the list.
As far as the male counterparts, I would include man, boy, guy, dude (that’s definitely one a mate of mine uses as in “check out what that dude is wearing”), bloke, chap, feller, fellow, fella (sic), gentleman, gent and lad. Searching for ‘man’ gives to broad a return as it includes all the non-gender-specific pronouns and nouns for our species; human and its synonyms to be more specific.
Overall I think that the male list including those that I have included and some non-direct ones that I omitted is less likely to be deemed as offensive by my gender. Of course some of these seem to apply more to specific types of men; I wouldn’t necessarily say “me and the lads” but I know my ex-pat English friends and family would use that phrase.
Often times I will see on Facebook or other social media friends, both male and female post photos with the caption “night out with the boys (or girls)” respectively and they are far from ‘juvenile’-isationing (thank you TDMJ for that term) themselves or their friends. Who doesn’t love going on a boys night out or girls night out with “just the boys” or “just the girls” correspondingly.
So what is your preferred gender specific pronoun?