I said “I feel like these characters should be guys.” She said, “Why?”
January 8, 2015 6:02 AM   Subscribe

 
That was a great article, and the ending was sublime.

A TOASTER. The character is a toaster.
posted by 256 at 6:26 AM on January 8, 2015 [19 favorites]


Short piece, easy read -- with a good point: "the default is male. The baseline is male."
I love the story (which I read on Wikipedia) that when the director of The Brave Little Toaster cast a woman to play the toaster, one of the guys on the crew was so mad he stormed out of the room. Because he thought the toaster was a man. A TOASTER. The character is a toaster.

I try to think about that when writing new characters— is there anything inherently gendered about what this character is doing? Or is it a toaster?
And when I think of the very most elemental joke I know ("Guy walks into a bar, says "Ow."), the only person is a guy because…I don't know? But I do it, too!
posted by wenestvedt at 6:27 AM on January 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


Jinx, dammit. Double-jinx! Buy me a Coke!
posted by wenestvedt at 6:28 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


This isn't exclusive to comedy. In fiction in general the default gender is male in most modes and genres, with a few exceptions. Gender is one of the subjects in the novel I just finished. It had bugged me about my first novel that I didn't give more thought to gender issues. One way to keep that in my mind was that I decided that I would make female the default gender for every character, and wouldn't change it unless I had some reason. It was quite enlightening because it got me thinking about my own gender from the outside. I also realized quite quickly that, narratively, there was almost never a reason to make a character one particular gender.

I made a few characters male, and every time there was a reason for it, which ranged from giving a heterosexual female character a male sexual partner, to letting a police interview scene flow quicker by having the two police officers be of different gender, thereby letting the point of view character refer to them as he or she.

I don't know whether I'll continue making character female by default, but this has definitely broken me out of the habit of thinking about females in fiction as somehow more particular than males.

This has also opened my eyes to how underrepresented women are in fiction, and how differently they are often depicted from male characters. Sometimes all women disappear for hundreds of pages, and sometimes barely feature in a book at all. And very often, male characters are not gendered in any particular way, while female characters are overdescribed in terms of their gender. It's quite galling once you become aware of it.
posted by Kattullus at 6:32 AM on January 8, 2015 [84 favorites]


Funny - I had a similar, but not the same thought about The LEGO movie. I wasn't as annoyed that Emmet was male (though I'd like to see more schlubby female characters have good looking, hyper competent people be attracted to them for no particular reason), but I was so annoyed that the kid character was also male. Wasn't it enough that the main character and the main villain/father were male? there is absolutely no gender to the kid, the function of the character is to be "kid". Especially given the current climate (so different from the 70s/80s), it just seemed to reinforce that LEGO is supposedly a "boy's toy".

I've actually been ranting about the default character = male for a while now. It's not just true in comedy; it's equally true in drama, action, whatever. Geena Davis's Institute has done all sorts of good research on this.
posted by jb at 6:36 AM on January 8, 2015 [17 favorites]


Toasters? A panini press, OK, there's room for argument. But toasters are obviously female and you surely don't need me to explain why.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:39 AM on January 8, 2015 [28 favorites]


"Guy walks into a bar, says "Ow."

Girl walks into a bar, says, "Ow."

I think that changes the joke, subtly, moving the focus from the pun, back to the gender of the character. Of course she says, "Ow." Women in jokes don't enter drinking establishments.

A person walks into a bar, says, "Ow."
posted by notyou at 6:39 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


This reminds me of John Scalzi's book "Lock In," where he never mentions the gender of the main character. When I first read it, I read it as a male character, because, like a lot of people, that's my default. After I saw his blog post about not fixing a gender for the character, I reread the book and it works just as well with a female protagonist, and in fact, is a more interesting book in some ways.

It's interesting, our biases. Infuriating at times, really, when I realize that the biases I think I'm fighting against are hardwired into my brain just as much.
posted by xingcat at 6:45 AM on January 8, 2015 [14 favorites]


Story about the Brave Little Toaster:

I love that movie. My brother and I watched it a lot as kids. At some point my brother was old enough to realize that the toaster had a girl voice and went into full crisis mode. "Wait the toaster is a giiiiirl??? Noooo whyyyyy??? Cry cry cry."

My mom's response was something like "of course the toaster has to be a girl. Do you think the other characters would be able to make it on their own? No, they would have gotten lost in the forest and died day one if they didn't have a woman there to tell them what to do."

Brother also used to throw fits if he got the Webby cup at dinner so my dad used to devise ways to trick him into drinking out of it at least once a week.
posted by phunniemee at 6:51 AM on January 8, 2015 [45 favorites]


That was delightful. Thank you!
posted by rtha at 6:54 AM on January 8, 2015


Ann Leckie's SF novel 'Ancillary Justice' plays a nice trick with this assumption. It's only after a few chapters that the reader finds out that the protagonist is from a culture where gender distinctions aren't really made, and so characters that have so far been referred to as 'she' are as likely to be male as female.
posted by pipeski at 6:54 AM on January 8, 2015 [18 favorites]


Why are almost all of the muppets dudes, except for Miss Piggy, who’s a parody of femininity?

From a lot of what I've read, it had to do with Jim Henson's qualifications for a voice actor/actress.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:55 AM on January 8, 2015


"I think that changes the joke, subtly, moving the focus from the pun, back to the gender of the character. "

is this a joke i'm just not getting? why would changing from guy to gal move the focus to gender (except in the way this thread is about - that men are unmarked)?
posted by nadawi at 6:55 AM on January 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


Beyond that, Ancillary Justice and the second book, Ancillary Sword, are damn good. Go get'em, you won't be disappointed.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:56 AM on January 8, 2015 [13 favorites]


I reread the book and it works just as well with a female protagonist, and in fact, is a more interesting book in some way

I've been doing that lately while re-reading H.P. Lovecraft, who, for so many reasons, was not big on female characters. A lot of his works are written 1st person, so unless the narrator says "and then my penis saved me from the unsettling color from the cosmic void," you as the reader can pretty freely assign any gender you want to the "I" of the story, if you ignore questions like "what's a lady doing on an arctic expedition in the early 1900s".
posted by acanthous at 6:59 AM on January 8, 2015 [22 favorites]


notyou: "I think that changes the joke, subtly, moving the focus from the pun, back to the gender of the character."

That's...kinda the entire point of the article we're discussing.
posted by Bugbread at 7:02 AM on January 8, 2015 [34 favorites]


"and then my penis saved me from the unsettling color from the cosmic void,"

Lovecraft would never have written such a thing. Nothing can save you from the unsettling colour from the cosmic void.
posted by Mr. Excellent at 7:10 AM on January 8, 2015 [27 favorites]


I've been reading some fantasy novels by Melissa Scott (Point of Hopes, Point of Dreams, etc - don't let the incredibly cheesy covers put you off) and her very interesting verbal strategy is to refer to all groups by default as "women", "ladies", "landdames" "ladies of the judiciary", etc, although all these groups are mixed gender. I'd encountered some books where "she" is the default pronoun (ie, Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand) and some books where gender neutral pronouns are the default, but I had never encountered a book did the equivalent of saying "hey girls" to refer to a mixed gender group (as we say "hey guys" and assume that "guys" is naturally gender-neutral) or used "women" as the default when talking about things like "The Rights of Women" or used "chairwoman" the way we might still use "chairman", to refer to all chairs regardless of gender.

They're really interesting books - one of the most novel treatments of gender in fantasy I've ever read, and very effectively integrated into the worldbuilding.

The "all mixed groups are described as women" thing is surprisingly effective in estranging the world and in resetting reader expectations. I would be interested to see other things where there's a default not to gender-neutral but actively to female.
posted by Frowner at 7:10 AM on January 8, 2015 [20 favorites]


I've run into this before myself - inanimate objects or animals defaulting to male in my mind. (I'm female, myself.) I gave all of my houseplants male names - Maurice, Robert, Joshua. I was bringing a plant to the office and almost immediately instinctively was going to give it a male name. I realized what I was doing with horror and made a specific point of deciding that she's a Henrietta.

And, huh...regarding The Brave Little Toaster: In the book Toaster is explicitly without gender, in films Toaster is referred to as "he"/"him" but director Jerry Rees and Toaster's own voice actress, Deanna Oliver, refer to Toaster as "she" and "her" here starting at 53:30. (TVTropes)
posted by capricorn at 7:16 AM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


inanimate objects or animals defaulting to male in my mind

I wonder if this is an English language phenomenon, as we do not have gendered nouns. Do native-speakers of other languages default to a mental image of masculinity for inanimate objects despite them being "feminine" in that language? Toaster is female in Spanish, I believe; male in French, for example.
posted by tempestuoso at 7:22 AM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I grew up with "he" as a genderless pronoun: "On the player's next roll, he must roll doubles to escape jail." When I got to high school, my English teacher explained that it was considered deleterious to use "he" everywhere and presented the alternatives: saying "he or she", or alternating between "she" and "he" throughout the piece.

It all seemed bogus to me. "He" had always been this genderless utterance, and it bothered me to think of it as male. My brain processed the new entities I encountered in language as featureless little plastic placeholders on the screen of my attention, like the knobby little "men" on the game board. Attaching maleness to the word "he" when writing has never worked for me, it feels like a glitch; I've made the adjustment mechanically as a matter of grammatical form.
posted by ssr_of_V at 7:25 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of John Scalzi's book "Lock In," where he never mentions the gender of the main character.

Well, damn.

Up until I just read this comment, I would have sworn blind that the protagonist was a man, and that this was explicitly stated in the book.

Now it turns out that it isn't referenced at all and my mind just did that, all by itself.

I do not like to think of myself as someone who thinks in these patterns. Colour me chastised, our culture fucks us all up in ways we don't even realise, I guess.
posted by Dext at 7:25 AM on January 8, 2015 [45 favorites]


I find myself doing this while writing, though I like to think I've gotten better at catching it. I find flipping the gender of characters at outline stage to see how it works quite useful.

"and then my penis saved me from the unsettling color from the cosmic void,"

Nothing is going to save you, Lovecraftian Protagonist, nothing.

(My default assumption regarding HPL protags is that they are thinly veiled versions of HPL, but this works too)
posted by Artw at 7:32 AM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Did anyone here grow up speaking a language that forces you to assign gender to everything? Do you think it changes your perception of inanimate objects, or fictional characters whose gender is unidentified?

asking for a friend
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:36 AM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


(My default assumption regarding HPL protags is that they are thinly veiled versions of HPL, but this works too)

I don't wish to contemplate a thinly-veiled HPL, with or without a penis wreathed in unsettling colors from the cosmic void.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:39 AM on January 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


It all seemed bogus to me. "He" had always been this genderless utterance, and it bothered me to think of it as male.

but do you see that to just around 50% of the population by defaulting to man for everything is implicitly saying "not you"? i guess it makes sense this issue wouldn't upset a lot of men, and how they might think it means nothing, it's unmarked - but to not-men it's very much marked.
posted by nadawi at 7:39 AM on January 8, 2015 [63 favorites]


A person walks into a bar, says, "Ow."

This sort of illuminates the underlying issue because for me, and I suspect for a lot of people, this "person" is still going to be male. Because male is what people are unless otherwise specified. Just look at Dext's reaction to Scalzi's book, there is some deep-set underlying default maleness applied to more or less everything not explicitly female and I don't know if this is a result of a social conditioning or some deeper biological reason.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:42 AM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I used to be mistaken as female occasionally, when I had long hair, and when the mistake was noticed it seemed like people just assumed I would be offended and apologized even though I didn't correct them or say anything about it. I even had people I was with say stuff like, "Oh, she just didn't see you, you don't look like a woman."

Also, my students would sometimes ask me why I had long hair, and tell me that I looked like a girl (they're 6 and 7, so some of them will pretty much say anything). My stock answer was, "There's nothing wrong with looking like a girl," but it was usually obvious they weren't convinced.

They would sometimes even make fun of some male character in a movie or something who had long hair while looking me right in the face. It's just an automatic response to someone who doesn't conform to the male ideal they've been taught, they didn't even think about it. I swear to god, I've even had boys with fairly long hair say the same things about other boys with slightly longer hair.
posted by Huck500 at 7:42 AM on January 8, 2015 [18 favorites]


The comments about Lock In remind me of when I was reading On The Steel Breeze by Alastair Reynolds. Second in a series, interesting story, and it wasn't until about 3/4 of the way through the book that I realized: all the protagonists are female. This is simply not a big deal in the book, not even any deal at all. Also,they're not preoccupied with stereotypically "feminine" issues, it's just a cool sci-fi story. I like my gender-norm-upendings subtle like that.
posted by Bunny Boneyology at 7:42 AM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


Frowner: The "all mixed groups are described as women" thing is surprisingly effective in estranging the world and in resetting reader expectations.

Well, isn't this simply the opposite of Spanish, where:
An all-male group is referred to as male;
a mixed-gender group is referred to as male;
and an all-female group is referred to as female?
That should be a pretty mild change for Spanish speakers, but a big shake-up for English speakers!
posted by wenestvedt at 7:44 AM on January 8, 2015


A girl walks into a bar, because women are stupid right?

A Mexican walks into a bar, because Mexicans amiright?

Gender flipping jokes seems really iffy to me. I'm not saying it can't be done but it needs to be a joke that doesn't highlight some sort of failing in the subject, otherwise it's just feels like it's punching down.
posted by M Edward at 7:45 AM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


nadawi: "is this a joke i'm just not getting? why would changing from guy to gal move the focus to gender (except in the way this thread is about - that men are unmarked)?"

[pardon me while I dissect this frog]

Speaking only for myself - if I were told the joke:
'A woman walks into a bar. She says "ouch!"'
I would immediately think, "Okay, 99.9% of the time that joke starts out with 'a guy walks into a bar' but this time it was 'a woman walks into a bar' so why is that? How does this change the punchline? Is the person telling me the joke implying that the woman walked into the bar because she's stupid and by implication all women are stupid? Is there a third (and somehow gendered) meaning for 'bar' that I'm not thinking of that makes this a meta-joke?"

So to answer your question: changing the gender in the joke shouldn't change the focus of the joke from protagonist action to gender, but for many audiences it would, whether or not that's the joke-teller's intention. Breaking the joke's default format leaves the listener with the feeling that they've missed the real joke buried in there somewhere, even if that's not true.

[and to clarify, I'm not defending the use of a default male gender in jokes, and for many other longer jokes it would be easy to switch or redefine genders. This one's a different case, though. There's a whole genre of abbreviated jokes, or jokes told wrongly, or jokes that flip assumptions, and when you see them you have to analyze every word for content. To elaborate, the standard joke is: "Guy walks into a bar [and the listener is supposed to assume 'bar' is a reference to a drinking establishment, and they do make that assumption, and the joke continues] and the bartender says ..." Okay, so that's the original. Then you flip it by changing the meaning of one little word, and now it's "Guy walks into a bar [and the listener assumes drinking establishment] and says "ow"" and now the listener realizes the joke is over and has to backtrack, find the joke that they missed, and hopefully there's this delightful revelation of Oh! Joke!

So to take that condensed / subtle / hidden joke format and flip a word unnecessarily kind of breaks it, you know? You get to the end of the joke and are looking for the punchline that you missed and you gotta check every word, and then there's this unnecessary false trail that leads to no punchline, or even worse, obscures the punchline so much that by the time you come back to it it's not really funny.

And I'm sure there is a way to make the protagonist's gender a subtle punchline in the right way, but "Woman walks into a bar, she says "ow!"" isn't it.]

posted by komara at 7:47 AM on January 8, 2015 [12 favorites]


I'm trying to work on this with assuming all unknown un-sex-differentiated animals are male. It's been easyish to switch to "she" for social insects where it's always going to be the case, but I still tend to assume any dog or toad or snake or lizard or dragonfly or horse I see is male (cats tend to default to female for me). I've noticed that this assumption creates a worldview in which male creatures are out doing things and female creatures are absent.
posted by jaguar at 7:48 AM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


i don't understand how "a woman walks into a bar and says ow" is in any way punching down or resting the joke on "women are stupid, amiright??" unless the audience you're telling it to wants to read "women are stupid" into the joke. the resistance to that tiny change in an inconsequential joke does show just how ingrained "man=unmarked" thing is, though...
posted by nadawi at 7:49 AM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


A couple of examples from Spanish:

Female: stove, spoon, giraffe, panther, hyena.

Male: toaster, fork, elephant, tiger, cocodile.

Spanish has the same problem of defaulting to male, it is even encoded in the rules. In the particular case of the Croc wearing Crocs, making the crocodile a she does add complexity to the gag, as would do making a giraffe a he.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 7:51 AM on January 8, 2015


I admit that I haven't read Lock In yet, but I've read quite a few reviews of the book and it's interesting to me that people talk about reading the main character as male or female, but very few people save for the original Tor discussion approach the book with the idea that Chris is, at least outwardly and possibly inwardly, agender. Not just that we assign male gender as default, but that we assign gender at all is pretty interesting to me.

I have two dogs that have been fixed, and to me their gender or sex doesn't really matter. I don't read their behavior as male or female but rather as "Dog 1 behavior" and "Dog 2 behavior." However, from interactions at the dog park, their birth sex really, really matters to some people.
posted by muddgirl at 7:55 AM on January 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


And I'm sure there is a way to make the protagonist's gender a subtle punchline in the right way

but that's the whole point - the gender isn't the punchline. "ow" is still the punchline. if changing the gender makes you think the entire joke is now about the gender...well, again, that's what this whole thread is about, that women don't get to ever be unmarked - if a woman is mentioned it's because the gender is important. and that's bullshit and we should work on being better.
posted by nadawi at 7:58 AM on January 8, 2015 [32 favorites]


If you enjoy mental experiments with gender, another good book to read is Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (actually, there's a sequel as well, Ancillary Sword). The books are really great, and all characters are referred to with female pronouns regardless of actual gender. It's very rare that you discover the sex of a character (when someone from another society interacts with them, for instance) and it's interesting to notice what gender you mentally assign to the various characters based on their behavior. And then to consider what that says about you. And then to reverse the genders you've picked and see how it changes your view of the story.

On the foreign language front, in Dutch:
hij = he
zij = she
zij = they

But I'm not a native Dutch speaker so I don't know how it feels, really, to grow up referring to groups of people by default with the same pronoun that's used for "she".
posted by antinomia at 8:00 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wasn't it enough that the main character and the main villain/father were male? there is absolutely no gender to the kid, the function of the character is to be "kid".

I also found myself thinking about that with the Lego Movie, but - SPOILERS FOLLOW - I think it's a weird case where the relationships between those four characters kind of necessitate them all being the same gender. If you establish Emmett as male (which: there's no actual reason to do that, he could have just as easily been female, as you and the OP rightly point out), the other three main characters have to be the same gender or the relationships in the narrative change significantly. The kid (who's creating the whole Lego story/world) is Emmett, and the dad is Lord Business, so given the paucity of cross-gender character identification among cishet kids in our culture (an assertion that could certainly be questioned, but which I'm basing on my interactions with cishet kids in our cishet-oriented culture), the kid is likely to imagine both Emmett and Lord Business as the same gender that he and his father are.

One could switch Lord Business (and thus also the parent) to female, but I think that would set up an uncomfortable dynamic of Emmett=good=male vs Business=evil=female that would play out as seeming even more weirdly anti-woman. It also throws a wrench into what I think the subtext of the movie is: that the son and the father are the same person at different stages of their lives, the father having lost something that he rediscovers through the son. It drastically alters their relationship in the narrative, in the same way that it would alter the relationship between Chell and GladOS if you flipped one of the two characters' genders.

I think you could only really change the gender of the characters in the Lego Movie by making all four female, rather than one or two or three of them. That said, the movie definitely could have made any of the other male characters female without drastically changing the narrative; Vitruvius could be a lady, the pirate could be a lady, Good Cop/Bad Cop could be a lady, etc. I thought it was kind of irritating that besides the wish-fulfillment-y love interest, the only major character marked as female was the pink kitty from the Lego Friends line, who was specifically coded as "woman" in the same over-the-top way that Miss Piggy is (a male perspective of femaleness as being all Sweet Helpfulness with a breaking point of Crazy Bitch)

Oddly, when I was watching the movie and remembering my own Lego story-spinning as a child, I realized two things about the gendering of my characters in my own little personal epic:

- the majority of the characters were male (which I attribute to watching cartoons where the main characters would be 90 percent males with one or two token females)

- the protagonists were a brother/sister set of twins, and the "Vitruvius figure" was female (the former of which I attribute to having a sister growing up, but the latter of which I think may have more likely to been influenced by the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull being a lady)

Thinking about those genderings of my personal-play characters really drives home to me the degree to which my childhood ideas about gender were influenced by media in my culture, and the importance of trying to shift kids' media such that cishet kids might be more likely to fluidly identify with characters across gender lines, rather than thinking of them as two oppositional identities separated by a chasm.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:12 AM on January 8, 2015 [10 favorites]


So your argument is basically that the kid can't be female because it would be weird? Sorry, not buying this as a legitimate reason to reinforce the stereotype of Legos being for boys.
posted by Librarypt at 8:17 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


given the paucity of cross-gender character identification among cishet kids in our culture

No. There's a paucity of boys identifying with girls. Most of the protagonists are boys; it is very common for girls to identify with boys, which is what would have been happening if kid had been a girl.

I liked the Lego Movie a lot, but it was really annoying on that front.
posted by jeather at 8:17 AM on January 8, 2015 [35 favorites]


That's...kinda the entire point of the article we're discussing.

Yeah, it is. I thought wenestvedt's joke was a tidy little example and wanted to see how it worked with the gender switch. I'm not familiar with Bojack Horseman nor The Brave Little Toaster.

why would changing from guy to gal move the focus to gender (except in the way this thread is about - that men are unmarked)

For the reasons noted in the FPP. I don't know if I agree that men are "unmarked." They have their own collection of gender roles to perform and expectations to fulfill ("patriarchy harms men, too"), even in bar jokes. In the original, the unexpected thing is the pun (because men walking into bars is the natural state). In the update, it's the gender of the character, because it's the added thing the audience notes.

From the FPP:
The thinking comes from a place that the cleanest version of a joke has as few pieces as possible. For the dog joke, you have the thing where the tongue slobbers all over the businessperson, but if you also have a thing where both of them ladies, then that’s an additional thing and it muddies up the joke. The audience will think, “Why are those characters female? Is that part of the joke?” The underlying assumption there is that the default mode for any character is male, so to make the characters female is an additional detail on top of that.
This is true for all sorts of things -- gender, ethnicity, political persuasion, geography, the weather. Audiences and artists carry around piles of assumptions and default expectations. A lot of art turns on tweaking those expectations and highlighting them. Some art fails because those audience expectations aren't recognized or respected by the artist.* Gender's a special case, though. It's a fundamental category -- why wouldn't it be?

Are there other kinds of joke-tropes that feature women (or non-default male) characters (and aren't dumb blonde jokes or racist)? If there are, would you get the same effect by switching in Default Dude?
Dumb guy and and girlfriend go to the movies.
Dumb guy: Can I have two tickets please?
Clerk: For Romeo and Juliet?
Dumb guy: No, for my girlfriend and me.
That works about as well as the original with the blonde -- which is to say, not very well.

---------------------------
* Long ago in a fiction workshop I presented a story set in Southern California in August -- when the monsoon season arrives ( SoCal actually has a monsoon season, according to the weather service. So do Nevada and Arizona.). The workshop just would not accept it -- monsoons happen in India or the South Pacific, not in Los Angeles, which is where smog and "it's a desert" happen -- and it was "pulling them out of the story ." That story failed in lots of other ways, too.
posted by notyou at 8:20 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


So your argument is basically that the kid can't be female because it would be weird?

I think it would be weird to make the kid female if Emmett is male. That said, I could be wrong, and acknowledge that my perspective as male blinds me to the experience of growing up female, and defer to jeather's comment.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:20 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]



But I'm not a native Dutch speaker so I don't know how it feels, really, to grow up referring to groups of people by default with the same pronoun that's used for "she".

You don't see it as the same pronoun. It's more like a homonym.
posted by blub at 8:20 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you asked straight male truck owner to name his truck, you are almost always going to get a feminine name right? A bro who calls his truck John is certainly going to get mocked by his buddies.

Yet this same group of people is also the market for truck testicles. I wonder if a guy who puts testicles on his truck then refers to it as a "he"? Trucks don't come with testicles from the factory, so was it born a male or female or asexual? So many questions. Anyone who owns a female-gendered truck with aftermarket male external genitalia must have a very nuanced view of gender and sex.
posted by mullacc at 8:23 AM on January 8, 2015 [41 favorites]


That said, I could be wrong, and acknowledge that my perspective as male blinds me to the experience of growing up female, and defer to jeather's comment.

Yeah, as a lady person I definitely agree with jeather. As a kid I would say I probably identified with male characters/toys just as much as female. (And noticed the male-as-default at a very young age, and was very bothered by it).
posted by Librarypt at 8:24 AM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think it's interesting he's had the same conversation about feeling like a character is male several times with his colleagues.
First, I like that he admitted it. Second, i think it shows how hard it is to unlearn the assumption, even when open to learning new ways to think about gender.
posted by chapps at 8:24 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


nadawi: "but that's the whole point - the gender isn't the punchline. "ow" is still the punchline."

I am in full agreement that 'ow' is still supposed to be the punchline. My example was just meant to demonstrate (or confirm, as in many of the examples in this thread) how the default gender is assumed to be male and how in one small genre of jokes it can be problematic to change a word just because any word change implies hidden joke meaning.

"if changing the gender makes you think the entire joke is now about the gender...well, again, that's what this whole thread is about, that women don't get to ever be unmarked - if a woman is mentioned it's because the gender is important. and that's bullshit and we should work on being better."

I am in full agreement with this as well, and confident that this change will come around organically and eventually, and we're all headed in the right direction, especially thanks to conversations like this one.
posted by komara at 8:25 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


i disagree that it will change organically - if that were true we wouldn't be in the year 2015 and still struggling with accepting the humanity of 50% of the human race.
posted by nadawi at 8:27 AM on January 8, 2015 [14 favorites]


One could switch Lord Business (and thus also the parent) to female, but I think that would set up an uncomfortable dynamic of Emmett=good=male vs Business=evil=female that would play out as seeming even more weirdly anti-woman. It also throws a wrench into what I think the subtext of the movie is: that the son and the father are the same person at different stages of their lives, the father having lost something that he rediscovers through the son.

Nah, it could have worked with the parent and child being different genders i.e. male parent/female kid or the opposite. There's little reason why a parent wouldn't see a bit of themselves in their kid.

Lord Business was evil, but parent wasn't, just had their head stuck up their own ass a bit, trying to be a parent. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of opposite genders for parent and child. It sets up a different dynamic from what we'd normally see.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:28 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


When we visualize a character whose gender is unmarked, which gender should we imagine it as? I don't think "No gender" is an option when we're talking about actively imagining what a character actually looks like.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 8:29 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


in a perfect world i think we'd imagine them as sometimes male, sometimes female - sometimes cis or trans or genderqueer or agender. we'd imagine them with a variety of sexual orientations, ethnicities, and nationalities if all of that was unmarked as well. in short, we'd imagine the world as it is, stuffed with all sorts of people and not just cishet white dudes.
posted by nadawi at 8:31 AM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


"Indeed, if woman had no existence save in the fiction written by men, one would imagine her a person of the utmost importance; very various; heroic and mean; splendid and sordid; infinitely beautiful and hideous in the extreme; as great as a man, some think even greater. But this is woman in fiction. In fact, as Professor Trevelyan points out, she was locked up, beaten and flung about the room." -- Virginia Woolf
posted by blucevalo at 8:33 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't know enough about other gendered languages to say if it's generalized, but in French the gendering of ALL words makes the male defaulting even more galling, and makes neutrality near impossible.

Take this sentence, for example, "LA table, LA chaise et LA bibliothèque sont joliES et faitES en bois" ("The table, the chair and the bookshelf are pretty and made of wood", with "female" elements capitalized). You have a group of female words, and all pronouns, verbs and adjectives that attach to that group are conjugated the female way (often by adding a silent E to them). But the minute even ONE male word enters the group, the whole set is now default male and all "feminization" of related words stops. "La table, la chaise et le lit sont jolis et faits en bois."

The most common way to palliate this effect when talking about people is to parenthesize the female version. You end up with heavy awkward sentences like "Les étudiant(e)s étaient prêt(e)s à se révolter" which would be spoken like "Les étudiants et étudiantes étaient prêts et prêtes à se révolter." Exhausting, and still sets the feminine apart as an irregular other. How I long for your singular "they".
posted by Freyja at 8:34 AM on January 8, 2015 [12 favorites]


Do native-speakers of other languages default to a mental image of masculinity for inanimate objects despite them being "feminine" in that language
I know very little about the subject, but Lera Boroditsky has done what looks like really interesting interesting work on the topic. (Also, a more general discussion and an entertaining public talk (follow the audio-only link on the page to find it).
posted by eotvos at 8:35 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Korean technically doesn't have third-person pronouns, that is, nothing that translates directly to "he" or "she". There is "geu" which is gender neutral but has increasingly come to stand for "he" due to the influence of foreign languages. Back in high school Korean class I was taught that geunnyeo (그녀, "that woman") was constructed to be used in translations of foreign literature as there was no word for "her" previously in Korean.

Now whether the lack of gendered pronouns has had any effect on sexism in Korea, that is another story.
posted by needled at 8:35 AM on January 8, 2015


I grew up with "he" as a genderless pronoun

Yeah, me, too. It didn't bother me, and I was always a feminist little girl. My teachers always explained it as just a matter of expediency - "we've only got two, so we had to arbitrarily pick one for neutral or unknown situations."

But later in life, I've gotten used to the singular "they," or the slightly less graceful "he or she," and I've decided that expediency isn't always all it's cracked up to be.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:35 AM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is true for all sorts of things -- gender, ethnicity, political persuasion, geography, the weather. Audiences and artists carry around piles of assumptions and default expectations.

We carry them around because we've been taught those assumptions - we collectively make the culture that creates and reinforces those defaults, and we can (and do) change it all the time. There's no law like gravity is a law that says that "men walking into a bar" is a natural state (and therefore women walking into a bar is somehow not "natural").
posted by rtha at 8:37 AM on January 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


Yes, I should have put the scare quotes around "natural," as you've done, rtha, to indicate the malleability of culture.

Audiences and their assumptions!
posted by notyou at 8:43 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Joe in Australia: Did anyone here grow up speaking a language that forces you to assign gender to everything? Do you think it changes your perception of inanimate objects, or fictional characters whose gender is unidentified?

Many years ago I was watching a panel discussion at a literary festival in Iceland. The topic was about the relationship writers have with the languages they write in. At one point a French writer made the point that in French nouns were either masculine or feminine, that there was no neuter gender like in German or Icelandic, that for instance the sun was masculine in French and the moon feminine and therefore he only had these two genders, but not a third one. An Icelandic writer got really angry at hearing this, and started shouting, asking how could the French make such a basic error, since it was clear that the sun was the life-giving mother to all life, therefore feminine as the Icelandic language has it, and that moon, that quiet, benign observer, was like a father, and masculine in Icelandic. It was one of the weirdest things I have ever heard said at a literary festival (and that's saying something). The point is, people can get really emotional about the assigned gender of objects. Though as the end of the article linked in this post demonstrates, that's also true of English-speakers.

Also, I feel like I should add that there are two words for moon in Icelandic, one of which is masculine and the other neuter and that the neuter one is much more common.
posted by Kattullus at 8:45 AM on January 8, 2015 [33 favorites]


Well, saying "A girl walks into a bar" has the same tossaway quality as "a guy..." and I think doesn't hurt the joke any. Having to make it "A woman..." does subtly color the generic nature of the joke, because using "woman" is colloquially more specific, just like saying "A gentleman walks into a bar." Even "a man walks into a bar" doesn't quite feel generic enough, though with the right tossaway inflection you can get away with it. Having to use "girl" is problematic because of the whole girl =/= woman thing, but you can't have everything. (cf. Q: How many Barnard girls does it take to screw in a light bulb? A: It's women, and it's not funny.)

I run into this from time to time in my writing, and one thing that helped immensely was Ellen Degeneres's Dory in Finding Nemo. There is zero reason for that character to be a girl; she is Everyfish and she rocks it. It helps that Degeneres is one of the few comics (Seinfeld is another, maybe Demitri Martin as well? It's a short list) whose whole comic sensibility and delivery is generally fairly asexual - the jokes are about the jokes. So if I have a character or punchline and my instinct is it "feels like it should be" a guy, is to imagine Ellen-as-Dory delivering it. Easily 3 times out of 4, it turns out to work just as well as a female. And when it doesn't, it often has to do with physical comedy + cultural baggage that may be worth working past: that it's a harder joke to laugh at when a woman's getting hurt, messy, or humiliated (in which case my other go-to imaginary stand-in is the utterly fearlessly wonderful Carol Burnett).
posted by Mchelly at 8:45 AM on January 8, 2015 [11 favorites]


I've been doing that lately while re-reading H.P. Lovecraft, who, for so many reasons, was not big on female characters.

Y'know, that works especially well with Lovecraft, because most of his characters are seemingly asexual, as well. (Or, at least, their potential sexuality is never referenced in the writing.)

In low-budget theater, one of the first things we do in the production meeting is look at the script and say, "OK, how many of these male characters actually HAVE to be male?" because there are so few good female roles for the local talent pool. Even musicals and operettas are fair game; that's why the good Lord invented transposing.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:46 AM on January 8, 2015 [10 favorites]


For years I've been reading a lot of non-fiction, especially prehistory, and ancient/classical history. Recently I was referring to something I'd read in The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, and automatically referred to the author as "she."

As in "Well, she points out that the Indo-Europeans certainly had chariot technology by this time..."

Later I double-checked myself and found that the author is named David W. Anthony, so probably male, but I had read the entire book "hearing" a woman's voice as narrator. I was very happy to discover that the default non-fiction voice in my head is now a woman's voice.

Thank you Edith Hall, Connie Willis, and Bettany Hughes!
posted by General Tonic at 8:54 AM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I liked the Lego Movie a lot, but it was really annoying on that front.

I liked the LEGO movie a lot, but experienced heavy fan whiplash when I read an article (linked from MetaFilter?) pointing out that Lucy's current boyfriend gives her permission to date another person. It's a good movie, but because that was the first time I had the wrong-headedness of that notion pointed out I no longer really want to watch it. Also I'm totes over Chris Pratt playing the Chris Pratt character.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:57 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


It seems to be that there are two issues being discussed here. The first is that, for a lot of people, "he" is the default gender, and therefore genderless until it is explicitly gendered, and that's how they were raised to see the world, and so it doesn't seem odd to them, whereas when you make a character a female your explicitly gendering them, and so that changes everything. And, yes, that is the status quo. That's how I was raised as well.

The second discussion is that this represents a world in which women are constantly, relentlessly reminded that they are not the default. That their gender will always color things in a way that the male gender won't. That the fact that they are women means that whenever they do something, they are doing so as a woman in a way that men aren't.

I can understand how this might be irritating. More than that, I can understand how this might support a historically patriarchal system that presumes the world is male, that men are, by default, the main characters in history and in everyday life, so much so that their gender has stopped even being a gender, but just become the thing that people are until we find out otherwise, and then they are something else.

Lately, in my own writing, when it is not important what the gender is, I have tried to write it as female, or cast the role as female. When it is not important what the race is, I have tried to go with non-white. When it is not important what something is, I have tried to go with something other than the default.

And that's only a partial solution. The fact is, people do have their own specific histories, and it is important that we not simple make neutral characters into something non-status quo, but that we also tell stories about people whose stories are typically not represented.

But that's a third issue. The issue that regendering, etc., addresses is the idea that neutral is male, white, Christian, etc.
posted by maxsparber at 8:58 AM on January 8, 2015 [10 favorites]


"Yet this same group of people is also the market for truck testicles. I wonder if a guy who puts testicles on his truck then refers to it as a "he"? Trucks don't come with testicles from the factory, so was it born a male or female or asexual? So many questions. Anyone who owns a female-gendered truck with aftermarket male external genitalia must have a very nuanced view of gender and sex."

I never thought truck testicles were about the gender of the truck... I always figured they were prosthetic balls for the dick behind the wheel. :)
posted by which_chick at 8:59 AM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


in a perfect world i think we'd imagine them as sometimes male, sometimes female - sometimes cis or trans or genderqueer or agender.

I don't want to do that. Gender is not the most interesting thing about characters!
posted by ssr_of_V at 9:00 AM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I always hear that girls have just magically learned to identify with boys, but I never did that very well, to tell you the truth. Certainly when I was playing, I did not make up stories from a male perspective, unless my friend was playing the protagonist and I was a male villain or something. Even in fiction, I got bored much more quickly with boy-protagonist stories, helped along by the fact that whatever girls were in them were usually dull/stupid/helpless/irritating, so that I literally had no one to identify with.

Books with an omniscient third-person narrator were better, because even if it was focused on the male protagonist, I wasn't being asked to identify with him directly. Stories where I was inside the head of a male were harder for me to like, and I tended to avoid them, unless they were really well-written or hysterically funny (in which case, it was probably mocking the male protagonist to some degree).

I think it would be safe to say my enjoyment of the Lego movie was lessened by the lack of girl characters.
posted by emjaybee at 9:04 AM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


I just want everyone to know I'm very upset about Ghostbusters.
posted by Swandive at 9:07 AM on January 8, 2015


I don't want to do that.

then don't - but just defaulting everything to male isn't actually avoiding it.
posted by nadawi at 9:07 AM on January 8, 2015 [11 favorites]


I'd like to see more schlubby female characters have good looking, hyper competent people be attracted to them for no particular reason

jb, I saw what you did there.
posted by elizilla at 9:16 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


"we've only got two, so we had to arbitrarily pick one for neutral or unknown situations."

I read somewhere -- linked from here? from the Toast? Facebook? -- that actually English used to use singular they, then wrote a law requiring the use of he. It was I think a pdf of an academic article. In any case, we didn't arbitrarily pick one.

"he" is the default gender, and therefore genderless until it is explicitly gendered,

I don't think the second part of this follows from the first. See, for instance, Jessamyn's related comment about the non-genderlessness of "guys".
posted by jeather at 9:20 AM on January 8, 2015


I think you could only really change the gender of the characters in the Lego Movie by making all four female, rather than one or two or three of them.
And then remove the romantic subplot? At best you could make it a lesbian subplot and ride out the "Adam and Eve, not Emma and Lucy!" protestors. They would be insignificant compared to the size of the "Not Emma and Lucas!" protest.

Imagine it. The Lego Movie is instead about a female clumsy, uncreative, empty-headed, incompetent schlub who's obsessed with following rules, being socially accepted, and making people cooperate more. She pines after a cool, hypercompetent, independent male who constantly has to rescue her. Their relationship gets off to a rocky start when she's too distracted by his clothes and hair to pay attention when he's mansplaining the plot, making him rightfully pissed. Near the end she sacrifices herself in the fridge vortex and he uses her loss as a source of inspiration. Even after her recovery, her new-found creativity isn't nearly enough to defeat her foe, so she wins by getting her foe to empathize with her.

Would the extra female protagonist be a huge feminist victory? Or was the male protagonist the best bullet dodged since Finding Nemo turned out to be about an overbearing father instead of an overbearing mother?
posted by roystgnr at 9:20 AM on January 8, 2015 [11 favorites]


Wasn't it enough that the main character and the main villain/father were male? there is absolutely no gender to the kid, the function of the character is to be "kid".

I thought it was because Will Ferrell has sons the approximate age of Finn. I don't remember where I heard that and it could totally not be true.
posted by schroedinger at 9:20 AM on January 8, 2015


Oooh I love this kind of thing.

Another cool game you can play regarding how you interact with a gendered world:

Start to observe how quickly your brain assigns new people into a gendered category, even at extreme physical distances. Ask yourself what you did to make the choice, and how frequently you end up revising it.

Try to force yourself to mutiny against your brain's first choice routinely. It's fun.
posted by odinsdream at 9:29 AM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


Try to force yourself to mutiny against your brain's first choice routinely. It's fun.

I do this a lot. Then I mutiny against the second and third choices as well, and it becomes an endless cycle of indecision. It's far from fun; I probably need anxiety medication.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 9:36 AM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


> Well, saying "A girl walks into a bar" has the same tossaway quality as "a guy..." and I think doesn't hurt the joke any. Having to make it "A woman..." does subtly color the generic nature of the joke, because using "woman" is colloquially more specific, just like saying "A gentleman walks into a bar." Even "a man walks into a bar" doesn't quite feel generic enough, though with the right tossaway inflection you can get away with it. Having to use "girl" is problematic because of the whole girl =/= woman thing, but you can't have everything. (cf. Q: How many Barnard girls does it take to screw in a light bulb? A: It's women, and it's not funny.)

But "lady" would be the female analogue to "gentleman." Our vocabulary around this is like a misbuttoned shirt -- we don't have an informal female term that is neutral for age and class the way "guy" is.
posted by desuetude at 9:45 AM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I always hear that girls have just magically learned to identify with boys, but I never did that very well, to tell you the truth.

This is true; not all girls learned to identify with boys. Many have, but not all.

I would have preferred that the other Lego characters -- the pirate, the astronaut -- have been female, because I think that the kid was a boy wasn't as big a deal (we also did get to hear his little sister).

I will admit: I had totally remembered that The Brave Little Toaster was male. Ooops.
posted by jeather at 9:49 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I always hear that girls have just magically learned to identify with boys, but I never did that very well, to tell you the truth.

I had to, because my big sister always called dibs on The Female Character in whatever we were playing.

(I've got to say, though, I was a damn good Colonel Klink.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:52 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've noticed the kids books thing mentioned in the article. In this book, for example, all the animals are "he". Now when I read it, I alternate the genders (although you have to get the order right because the lion is clearly a male - the other animals have no gender-defining characteristics).

In Ancillary Justice, I started assuming all the characters were female (because they're all referred to as she) before I reached the part explaining that their culture's language didn't differentiate and "she" was just the "English" translation of their generic pronoun. Then after that I tried to decide if I wanted each character to be male or female, but it was too hard to remember (the names are all ambiguous, or surnames, or future names that have no current-day association with a gender) so I just decided that all the main characters happen to be female.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:58 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I would have preferred that the other Lego characters -- the pirate, the astronaut -- have been female, because I think that the kid was a boy wasn't as big a deal

And it really wouldn't have been that hard.
posted by blurker at 9:58 AM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


Our vocabulary around this is like a misbuttoned shirt -- we don't have an informal female term that is neutral for age and class the way "guy" is.

People of a certain age could get away with saying "gal" and not have it seem hilariously outdated.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:00 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


In my perception of characters I have a strong feeling of there being a nebulous person-thing present, and of descriptors being hung on that person like ornaments on a Christmas tree. I don't "default everything to male". Do you? Does everybody else?

It's hard for me to sit still for assertions that there's no way of reading other than perceiving gender first. You can say that it's the most important way to read (I'd disagree) or that it's the common way to read (I'm not convinced, but maybe it is) or that it's your preferred way (go, you!) but c'mon.
posted by ssr_of_V at 10:04 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just listened to the latest "Writing Excuses" podcast, where their book of the week is... "Lock In," and Mary Robinette Kowal makes a point about the genderless main character.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:05 AM on January 8, 2015


This is another issue that I'm aware of but didn't really think about. Thanks for the article and discussion.

I don't write much, but I've never written a female narrator and in my mind it's because I have Big Doubts I'd be "getting it right". Which I can see is problematic in-and-of itself for the vast majority of what people do as narrators.

Interesting how much baggage we're given before we're old enough to consent to spending a lifetime carrying it.
posted by maxwelton at 10:07 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


The most mind blowing thing about these comments for me has been the fact that I've learned I never understood the oft quoted "bar" joke before. Yes I got that the protagonist runs into something, but I still understood it as a alcohol bar, like he or she walks into a place where alcohol is served, and runs into the usually wood part behind which the alcohol server stands, which, if you've ever done it, does hurt! Hurts the knees!

But yeah, it makes way more sense if it's a bar as in something completely different and just like a bar out in the wild somewhere, like a metal bar hanging maybe in a jungle gym? TIL indeed.

But otherwise I agree completely with how default male gendering is not at all a good thing for a society to continue to perpetuate. One thing I'll add to the convo is how useful I find the contraction "y'all" for avoiding "you guys." Thank you the south.
posted by wyndham at 10:07 AM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


In Ancillary Justice, I started assuming all the characters were female

Ancillary Sword threw me a bit because I had decided that all the characters (except Seivarden) were female in Ancillary Justice (and indeed all the characters in Ancillary Sword except Seivarden) and then you'd see people using "he" for Anaander Mianaai and it sounded so wrong.
posted by jeather at 10:08 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, kids' media is really rife with this as a problem. My biggest beef is with the (otherwise completely awesome) Amazing Cows book - Sandra Boynton clearly knows that these are cows, she uses the word cows when she could say bulls, they all have freakin' udders, every last one of them, and yet she still felt the need (editorial pressure? this whole comedy is funnier with guys thing we're talking about?) to make half of them male. WTF?
posted by Mchelly at 10:10 AM on January 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


They're transgender cows.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 10:19 AM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


I don't "default everything to male".

you said that you've always seen he as a genderless pronoun - that's what we're talking about, that man is unmarked - but the fact of the matter is that he isn't a genderless pronoun no matter how you've perceived it and keeping he as the constant stand in for "everyman" creates situation after situation where a woman can only exist if she is doing something that relates to her gender while men get to just go out and do anything at all while remaining just a vessel to hold traits like ornaments, they aren't burdened by their gender in the way that women are often seen to be. if it were just a few stories, or a few songs, or just a weird quirk of literature, fine, whatever. except - it's kids shows, and toys, and cereal, and books, and movies, and plays, and pretty much everything that surrounds us. men are "normal" and women are women.
posted by nadawi at 10:24 AM on January 8, 2015 [36 favorites]


Count me as one of those people who read Lock In without questioning that the narrator was male. I also assumed s/he was white until about halfway through when s/he mentioned that his/her father was African-American (his/her mother was white). Mea culpa.
posted by matildaben at 10:27 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


On Scalzi's blog he made a reasonably big deal about having the book available with two different narrators -- Amber Benson and Wil Wheaton. So I knew there was some reason for this, and started checking for pronouns very early into the book.
posted by jeather at 10:30 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


And even if your brain does do a brief flash of "oh, that's a woman when I would normally expect a guy", it's fine! Your brain can process more than one thing at once! You're not an idiot! Be a non-caveman comedy person! Take in jokes without expecting every single little element to work predictably and lead you by the hand into laughter!
posted by naju at 10:34 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Myth by Muriel Rukeyser

Long afterward, Oedipus, old and blinded, walked the roads. He smelled a familiar smell. It was the Sphinx. Oedipus said, "I want to ask one question. Why didn't I recognize my mother?" "You gave the wrong answer," said the Sphinx. "But that was what made everything possible," said Oedipus. "No," she said. "When I asked, What walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening, you answered, Man. You didn't say anything about woman." "When you say Man," said Oedipus, "you include women too. Everyone knows that." She said, "That's what you think."
posted by kittydelsol at 10:35 AM on January 8, 2015 [40 favorites]


nadawi said:

you said that you've always seen he as a genderless pronoun - that's what we're talking about, that man is unmarked - but the fact of the matter is that he isn't a genderless pronoun no matter how you've perceived it and keeping he as the constant stand in for "everyman" creates situation after situation where a woman can only exist if she is doing something that relates to her gender while men get to just go out and do anything at all while remaining just a vessel to hold traits like ornaments, they aren't burdened by their gender in the way that women are often seen to be. if it were just a few stories, or a few songs, or just a weird quirk of literature, fine, whatever. except - it's kids shows, and toys, and cereal, and books, and movies, and plays, and pretty much everything that surrounds us. men are "normal" and women are women.


This is so perfectly said that I would like to steal it and use it every time I am having one of these discussions (which seems to happen quite a lot recently).
posted by blurker at 10:45 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Maybe "guy" will be the word that takes up the genderless mantle in English. I already use the plural in a genderless fashion - I would say "What are you guys doing tonight?" to a group of of men, women or a mix of genders, and have never have anyone question the usage. The singular "guy" is not quite there, the question "who is that guy" implies a male in a way that "who is that person" doesn't. Although saying that "she is the bad guy" doesn't seem to have any frisson at all.
posted by rtimmel at 10:55 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't care what y'all say, Anaander Mianaai is female.
posted by odinsdream at 11:16 AM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've been trying to get my kids, (1 boy and 2 girls) out of the 'default male' way of thinking. It breaks my heart a little to see my 4-year-old daughter making all of her toys boys, so I do what I can to balance it by naming various items and characters with clearly female names.

My 9-year-old daughter is another case entirely; she wants a good mix of male and female so that she can breed things.
posted by Mister_A at 11:18 AM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


A few notes:

the only major character marked as female was the pink kitty from the Lego Friends line

Did you mean only major character other than WyldStyle? Princess Unikitty was created for The Lego Movie and is not in any Lego Friends sets.

stereotype of Legos being for boys

This isn't so much a stereotype as an unfortunate truth of the toy market. Not that Lego wants to be only for boys, but that the primary consumers of Lego are boys. Boys generally tend to be pushed toward construction toys, while girls aren't. Retailers put most of the Lego sets in the blue aisle. It's an issue that's endemic to the toy market in general.

And it really wouldn't have been that hard.

It's a funny comic, but the victory over Lego product designers is complete fantasy. The Friends sets have been very successful.

Lego isn't trying to capture girls who already like Lego. They're trying to get a piece of the very, very large Barbie pie. If that leads some girls to the revelation that they like building and construction and things of that nature, that seems like a good thing to me.
posted by Fleebnork at 11:20 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


One little victory though - she is mad about dragons, and Tiamat (actually a fusion of mythological and D&D concepts of Tiamat) is her current favorite!
posted by Mister_A at 11:20 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


One of the many, many reasons I love Adventure Time is how they handle BMO, a robot character that is expressly genderless. Male characters use male pronouns for him/her, and female characters use female pronouns. BMO him/herself has been shown pretending to be human when Finn and Jake are away, and in one episode while doing so refers to himself as a "real human boy", and in another refers to herself as an "actual baby girl".
posted by Itaxpica at 11:27 AM on January 8, 2015 [12 favorites]


I remember as a kid I thought that the original cast of Sliders was very diverse. It wasn't until I started rewatching it recently that I realized that while it could have been worse, it mostly showed my naive biases to consider a cast of black, woman, old, and regular as diverse.

It turns out that all people are many things, and regular isn't a thing. Who knew? Not young me, that's for sure.
posted by ckape at 11:28 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Boys generally tend to be pushed toward construction toys, while girls aren't.

i was explicitly told that i couldn't have an erector set because it was a boy toy. i loved my barbies and ponies, but building she-ra a ferris wheel also sounded like fun (my brothers also threw a fit when i'd use battlecat as a barbie mount).
posted by nadawi at 11:30 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


it mostly showed my naive biases to consider a cast of black, woman, old, and regular as diverse.

Still more diverse than many shows on TV now.

I grew up at the end of the era where "he" was the default pronoun, and I never accepted it as genderless. The default usage always bothered me and made me feel explicitly excluded.

And if any teacher had ever tried to insist to me that "he" was perfectly fine and genderless and we just have no idea how that happened, I would've thought of that teacher as a lying liar who lies.
posted by Squeak Attack at 11:36 AM on January 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


here is a fascinating comment by jessamyn (in a very contentious meta thread) about the supposed genderless nature of the default he.
posted by nadawi at 11:45 AM on January 8, 2015


Many years ago I was watching a panel discussion at a literary festival in Iceland. The topic was about the relationship writers have with the languages they write in. At one point a French writer made the point that in French nouns were either masculine or feminine, that there was no neuter gender like in German or Icelandic, that for instance the sun was masculine in French and the moon feminine and therefore he only had these two genders, but not a third one. An Icelandic writer got really angry at hearing this, and started shouting, asking how could the French make such a basic error, since it was clear that the sun was the life-giving mother to all life, therefore feminine as the Icelandic language has it, and that moon, that quiet, benign observer, was like a father, and masculine in Icelandic.

To give it another layer, in the myths of Iceland (and likely most of Scandinavia, and possibly Germanic regions as well) Sunna, a female figure is the sun and Mani, a male figure, is the moon. The distinction is literally religious. I find it an interesting counterpoint to the Celts, where the genders were reversed (the Romans the gender was reversed as well).

Gender in Neopaganism is a weird thing because of Wicca being so highly gendered; there's no indication that either the Celts nor the Germanic Tribes, nor the Norse were particularly gendered and a decent amount of information that women had significant rights within their cultures, but Wicca is highly gendered and focuses on sexualized pairings of men and women (the God and the Goddess) and it's spread out through a lot of neopaganism.

----

I actually tend to assume people online are "she" because the first two places I hung out online were dominated by women; it was weird to hit the wider web and be assumed to be a guy because my name is weird. I'm fairly certain I've received a lot less abuse because of it, despite usually explicitly gendering myself in text. The only place I got sexualize hostility was on a forum with gendered sprites where I was the moderator.

----

I grew up able to identify with boys, but that became annoying around my teens when I realized all of my heroines were male. Then I got female heroines but a lot of them are sexualized (Major Kusinagi!!! waaaaah!). The last ten years or so have been awesome from a growing bevy of kick-ass female heroines in books (Seanan McGuire, I love you!!! Mercedes Lackey I love you!!!) and I have high hopes of some of them making it to the big screen.

Weirdly, I have difficulty playing male characters in video games. I am always female on my main avatar in a given context (though I'll sometimes have male gendered alts).

One of the episodes I love on Rachel and Miles Xplain the Xmen is about how one of the current comic book authors, male, identified with Kitty Pryde as a teenager because she was Jewish and so was he - and it was one of the first times I heard a man talk about identifying with a woman (the inverse is relatively common). Gender on that podcast is an interesting sub-topic because Rachel explicitly identifies with Cyclops, and Rachel/Miles identify with the Cyclops/Jean Grey relationship, and they are inverted on a lot of the characteristics from the "usual" (Miles is the more emotional and emotionally-savvy of the two, tends to be the looser and more playful, etc... while Rachel is very dry and unemotional in presentation and has talked about her difficulties with interacting with others; I don't know if she's ever said, but her description of herself sounds neuro-atypical).

----

I also feel the need to note here that "they" as a single, third person pronoun dates back to CHAUCER!!! I had known it dated back to Shakespeare for a while; I had no idea it predated modern English. I use it without guilt.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:48 AM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


In regard to the "genderless" he:

I ran across some research about 18 years ago (which I don't have time to dig for now) which showed that women in college classes remember lectures better if instructors switch between "he" and "she" or use "he or she" in their anecdotes and illustrations. I've been intentionally doing that for a long while now, and while I haven't tried to quantify it, I think doing so has made a surprisingly big difference in setting a tone that "this class is welcoming and inclusive to everyone" and helping students perform well. It's a subtle thing that only one student has ever explicitly commented on, but it's important to do.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:30 PM on January 8, 2015 [10 favorites]


my brothers also threw a fit when i'd use battlecat as a barbie mount

It's sort of awesome how Barbie towers over your run of the mill Transformer and GI Joe. Attack of the 50 foot Woman and her giant Corvette.

The size discrepancy can result in a mighty internal struggle for a young boy. Do I want to play with the giant pink corvette or don't I? I mean, it is a giant Corvette. Yet it is pink.
posted by device55 at 12:34 PM on January 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


I always thought I identified "he" as a genderless pronoun and was perfectly comfortable with "The Rights of Man", "when the candidate is confronted with ten potions, he must...." and so on. It was only when I started reading some science fiction that used different defaults that I realized how I had been creating a kind of "genderless man" in my head. He wasn't quite a regular man - the "Rights of Man" guy didn't do guy stuff, so much as he was endowed with stereotypical "male" qualities, had no stereotypical female qualities and lived in my head as a vague, shadowy, short-haired figure with pants. He wasn't a guy the way Mr. Darcy is a guy, but he sure could never be read as a woman.

Even recently, when I was reading the Melissa Scott books I mentioned upthread (where the default "gender" of a group is always female - "The Rights of Women", etc), it made me realize that "neutral" characterizations in my head were mostly like the Rights of Man guy, not truly neutral and also never female.
posted by Frowner at 12:39 PM on January 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


In a middle school English class, I had teacher explain the concept of the genderless "he." In my next writing assignment, I managed to work in this sentence:

"A child going through puberty may notice his voice dropping or breasts growing out."
posted by picklenickle at 12:42 PM on January 8, 2015 [53 favorites]


This subject is dear to my heart and it's great to see this essay - and way to go Lisa Hanawalt, kick some ass for us out there in Hollywood.
The thinking comes from a place that the cleanest version of a joke has as few pieces as possible. [...] if you also have a thing where both [characters in a joke are] ladies, then that’s an additional thing and it muddies up the joke. [...] The underlying assumption there is that the default mode for any character is male, so to make the characters female is an additional detail on top of that.
This is well said, and shows exactly how non-sexist people, aiming only for the best in their art, end up reinforcing sexist status quos. Ditto for other "marked" statuses, like non-white race, physical differences, etc. As Frowner says, genderless but basically a man. (Is this character a regular person, or does he need to be female for some reason?)

My favorite way to think of this is with anatomy books -- how many of us would pause for a moment at a diagram illustrating eg kidney function that used a female abdomen "for no reason"? It's just distracting to include all that extra stuff female bodies have; better to stick to the regular body.

It is a deep, deep assumption that supposedly "gender-neutral" things are male, and that eg uterus or breasts are additions to the base model. But the population's 50/50, there's no reason for male to be the base model. Take female as the base model. Men have a couple of additions to the base model, but they're missing some important parts of it, so on the whole, we can treat them as a special case, and have only regular (female) bodies throughout our anatomy books -- but of course we'll include a special section devoted to "men's health" that talks about special issues they may face with their peculiar bits.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:52 PM on January 8, 2015 [22 favorites]


It's sort of awesome how Barbie towers over your run of the mill Transformer and GI Joe. Attack of the 50 foot Woman and her giant Corvette.

I didn't have a Ken doll, so I used my Jem doll (even bigger than Barbie!) as the "boyfriend" doll.
posted by jillithd at 12:59 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


In my experience, the vast majority of animals, unless they are actually male, like a cock or bull, are female in French, like ships are female in English. I wonder if this would make it less unusual to have female animal characters if Bojack Horseman was French instead of American.
posted by snofoam at 1:04 PM on January 8, 2015


Surprised it hasn't been linked yet, but William Satire's A Person Paper on Purity in Language seems as apt as ever. (Written by Doug Hofstadter in the _80s_.)
posted by kmz at 1:10 PM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


Do native-speakers of other languages default to a mental image of masculinity for inanimate objects despite them being "feminine" in that language? Toaster is female in Spanish, I believe; male in French, for example.

I recall reading a report of a study where they showed a photograph to a bridge to a group of bilingual Spanish speakers (in whose language a bridge is masculine) and German speakers (in whose language it is feminine) and asked them, in English, to write some adjectives describing the photograph. The Spanish speakers came up with ones like “strong” and “tall”, whereas the German speakers leaned towards ones like “elegant” and “slender”. So, yes.
posted by acb at 1:20 PM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


So, I am a lady. And I work at the intersection of two historically very male industries (manufacturing and software), in a corporate cube-dweller job. I have a colleague, totally a good guy, not as far as I can tell a sexist jerk in practice. But whereas I might walk by some colleagues, and jokingly say "Hey, nerds!" he uses "ladies" instead, which is intended to be Insult Humor. "Good morning, ladies!"

He does this to all-male and mixed-gendered groups both; I know he thinks of me collegially because I'm frequently included.

I say, "Romulus [not his real name], I am an actual lady! Don't you think it's weird that you keep calling me a lady as an insulting joke when I am an actual lady?"

And he's like er wha? Hrm anyway, blah blah factories computers. I don't think it has ever sunk in how weird this is. I don't think it's born out of a deep personal misogyny (apart from you know entire culture) but I also don't think it's intended to be ironic sexism. Maybe I underestimate the irony.

I totally like him and hope to work with him for a long time, but I kind of wish he'd quit calling me ladies.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:24 PM on January 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


Here's a fun one: I was complaining to a friend a while back about Guardians of the Galaxy having all-male protagonists aside from Gamora, and she smiled at me and asked, "Why are you assuming Groot is male? Groot is a freakin' tree."

That stopped me in my tracks. Sure, the characters refer to Groot with "he/him" pronouns, but how do we know they're right?

Now, whenever I rewatch it (and yeah, I've seen it multiple times; haven't you?), I randomly decide what gender Groot is at the beginning and watch it with that assumption in mind. Several moments feel completely different if you're assuming Groot isn't male. Try it.
posted by webmutant at 1:37 PM on January 8, 2015 [11 favorites]


That stopped me in my tracks. Sure, the characters refer to Groot with "he/him" pronouns, but how do we know they're right?

I think this is an awesome exercise and I'm glad it made the movie more fun for you to watch!

That said, in the actual film Groot is gendered as male. So I am still really irritated with the film and the filmmakers.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:48 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Groot is female in my headcanon, and people just don't recognize her secondary sex characteristics, like the awesome floating, glowy things.
posted by Deoridhe at 1:56 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Groot self pollinates.
posted by Artw at 2:00 PM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


I still insist that Puppycat (from the web animation series Bee and Puppycat) is agender, even though another character called Puppycat "he" and Puppycat wears swim trunks to the beach. This character is an alien that looks like a cat and smells like a dog, for goodness' sake.
posted by matildaben at 2:06 PM on January 8, 2015


desuetude: "we don't have an informal female term that is neutral for age and class the way "guy" is."

I think guy is maybe drifting into being a true gender-neutral term? My four-year-old (boy) came home from preschool one day and asked me, perplexed, "Mom, why are some guys girls and some guys boys?" I have noticed since then that both of my kids use "guy" to refer to a person generically ("my guy" on the video game who is an alien made of pixels or a train; "that guy" in the store, who is a lady), as do a lot of their friends. I'm curious to see how long that persists and how it evolves, whether it's a linguistic shift occurring in the wild that I happened to be observing.

(My 3-year-old also assumes the characters on Frozen are "brothers" because he identifies with them as being like him and his brother, which leads to him freely mixing pronouns and gendered nouns, like, "He is falling on her brother!" where Anna falls on Elsa.)

Mchelly: "Yeah, kids' media is really rife with this as a problem."

Even on kids' shows that are self-consciously evenhanded with gender, such as on PBS, the female characters are somehow differentiated. Like on Dinosaur Train, where the characters are FREAKING DINOSAURS, Buddy, Don, and the dad are drawn as normal, while Tiny, Shiny, and the mom HAVE EYELASHES. When Buddy meets other Tyrannosauruses, the female ones, like Dolores Tyrannosaurus, HAVE EYELASHES.

This is absolutely epidemic in animation of animals, and I don't really understand why "eyelashes" make a drawing read as female, but it apparently does and is apparently an unbreakable rule of animal drawing. Even the craft services crocodile in the OP has eyelashes because it's a lady croc.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:08 PM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


A man walks into a bar, says, "Ow." Because he wasn't looking where he was going, probably staring at some girl, amirite?

it mostly showed my naive biases to consider a cast of black, woman, old, and regular as diverse.
It was Jerry O'Connell, who I never considered "regular", rather "goofy guy".

I kind of wish he'd quit calling me ladies.
In a recent gender-based discussion I didn't get a chance to put in my 2¢ about "lads", "guys" and "dudes" being used as gender neutral group terms, since there are SEVERAL other options: "folks", "gang", "pals", "sibs"(short for "siblings" like "bros" for "brothers"), and of course, "PEOPLE". (My default group reference is "folks", with "friends" saved for people I really like AND who don't resemble the sitcom cast, but I'd really like to popularize "sibs").
Of course, it must be noted that "gentlemen" can also be a somewhat demeaning way to refer to colleagues, depending on the amount of sarcasm with which is is said (and I suspect chesty's colleague could do the sarcasm).

As for gender among animated characters, I grew up on Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons, where longtime voice actress June Foray did her "little boy voice" for Rocket J. Squirrel. And knowing the person behind the voice, I was actually able to separate the character from gender. After all, Rocky & Bullwinkle's main enemies were Boris & Natasha, a man/woman team, and the writing actually did avoid addressing Rocky as "he" whenever it could substitute something like "the plucky squirrel" (see "Squirrel Girl"). And Rocky or Rocket isn't automatically a boy's name, sorry Mr. Raccoon. I could get deeper into the matter, but in summary, to me, Rocky the Flying Squirrel should be a model for heroic women.

I do also have issues with "girl" being a rather infantizing term for a woman, just as "boy" is for a man, just more common. (I accept Squirrel Girl only because it rhymes) And everybody SHOULD know that "GAL" is the feminine form of "guy".

Other stuff: Groot is not animal, Groot is vegetable, and I was taught that 'most' plants have both the male and female components, so Groot is Groot. And Puppycat, considering our cultural tendency to look at dogs as male and cats as female (Feline, you know?), and considering the character's strong attitude, I'd say less agender than bi-gender (if that word is usable).

So, I'll leave you folks, sibs, guys-and-gals, MeFite friends to discuss this all further.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:14 PM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


True and annoying (and eponysterical, Eyebrows), but I have to say that I prefer eyelashes to makeup or jewelry or worse yet a dress, which is how animators used to do it.
posted by Mchelly at 2:15 PM on January 8, 2015


inanimate objects or animals defaulting to male in my mind

Surely the worst is that animated movie Barnyard staring Kevin James as "Otis the Cow."
posted by straight at 2:19 PM on January 8, 2015


The most mind blowing thing about these comments for me has been the fact that I've learned I never understood the oft quoted "bar" joke before.

It's a really terrible and not-that-funny joke, is why. Like, god, it's such a bad joke. I hate that fucking joke so much.

I recall reading a report of a study where they showed a photograph to a bridge to a group of bilingual Spanish speakers (in whose language a bridge is masculine) and German speakers (in whose language it is feminine) and asked them, in English, to write some adjectives describing the photograph. The Spanish speakers came up with ones like “strong” and “tall”, whereas the German speakers leaned towards ones like “elegant” and “slender”. So, yes.

4.6, Grammatical Gender and Object Descriptions. (PDF) "German speakers described keys as hard, heavy, jagged, metal, serrated and useful, while Spanish speakers said they were golden, intricate, little, lovely, shiny and tiny." TOTALLY FASCINATING.

Toasters? A panini press, OK, there's room for argument. But toasters are obviously female and you surely don't need me to explain why.

Female and woman are not really the same! This kind of conflation of genitalia and gender is terrible for a lot of people! I don't think it would kill the mechanics and electrical engineers of the world to come up with a different terminology for plugs and outlets than this stupid gender binary locked system! It sucks!
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:29 PM on January 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


I saw a video recently about how Yogi Bear's collar was a trick used by the animators so they could animate him talking without having to redraw his body all the time, and I realized as a side effect it also explicitly gendered him as male (instead of being male by default). I kept hoping for the person doing the video to acknowledge this, but it never came up.

Of course, the animators still ended up putty Cindy in a skirt and keeping Yogi pantsless, so whatever.
posted by ckape at 2:31 PM on January 8, 2015


Yes, but the 'skirts' worn by Cindy Bear, and Minnie Mouse and other female-gendered cartoon characters of the 'old days' did not provide any modesty, they were more like ballet dancers' tutus, purely for gender designation.

The collar-and-tie was another signifier for Yogi. His sidekick BooBoo wore a bow tie (as did many other Hanna Barbera characters of the era) but the long tie was to show that Yogi was 'boss bear' and an equal to the tie-wearing Ranger Smith.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:39 PM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


ask yourself: what gender is a stick figure?

I can't imagine a more default human image, but it still has a gender.
posted by jb at 3:01 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Heh. A stick figure is genderless! (But if you want to turn it into a female, you add a skirt, and if you want to turn it into a male, you do nothing.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:08 PM on January 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


A stick figure is Groot.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 3:12 PM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]




Clickhole blogger obviously has never seen Sailor Moon.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:18 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


The problem with calling it "gender neutral he" is that it's not actually gender neutral and probably never has been. The term is inaccurate, and that's why linguists tend to refer to it as "generic he" or "default gender he" instead.

There is experimental evidence that it's not interpreted as gender neutral (one study). There is also evidence from speaker judgements of sentences where "he" is paired with hypothetical persons suggested to be female through other means, .e.g. "everyone should have the right to an abortion if he desires one." There may be some speakers who wouldn't blink at that, but it is not generally considered to be well-formed.

But, frustratingly, people still use the fact that it's called "gender neutral he" to be evidence that it's gender neutral.

(The term "default gender he" really makes the connection explicit, doesn't it? Linguistic anthropologists have spilled much ink on this question. It's probably not random chance that languages with "default gender she" are thin on the ground.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:01 PM on January 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


I didn't have a Ken doll, so I used my Jem doll (even bigger than Barbie!) as the "boyfriend" doll.

We tended to have the hollow plastic Barbie clone dolls. The nice thing about them was that their hair fell out easily, so once they were bald, you could push their breasts in and make them into boy dolls.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:30 PM on January 8, 2015


I didn't have enough Ken dolls to go around so I just cut half my Barbies' hair short and dressed them in Ken clothes and paired them off with the long-haired Barbies. It wasn't until many years later that I understood why my parents found this so amusing.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:58 PM on January 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


I don't know if I noticed this myself or if someone pointed it out to me, but I recently became aware of this issue in library storytime. I usually do little rhymes with the kids along the lines of "5 Little Whatsits" and I make cute little felt Whatsits to put on the feltboard. I look for these rhymes online, and find that they often default male. I've started writing my own, or editing others to include females. Today I did "5 Little Monsters" and I referred to all of them as "she." It's a start.
posted by Biblio at 5:50 PM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


I just did the same thing Bibilo, I recently found myself singing "Where is Thumbkin?" with a group of preschoolers and actually stopped in the middle when I realized that there was no reason all the fingers had to be "sir".

I've been trying to switch gendered pronouns every verse on most songs, and do some songs as all female.
posted by Gygesringtone at 6:16 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


My little guy loved "Goodnight Goodnight Constuction Site," and there is no earthly reason why all the trucks are male, se we gender switch every other one. Or sometimes all of them. My kid will eventually start correcting me, I'm sure, but for now it amuses me and makes me feel better about owning so many truck-themed books.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:27 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Spoilers ahead:
I randomly decide what gender Groot is at the beginning and watch it with that assumption in mind. Several moments feel completely different if you're assuming Groot isn't male. Try it.
Huh. On the one hand, Groot is voiced by Vin Diesel. On the other hand, Groot had a baby. The latter bit of evidence trumps, doesn't it? How stupid must my subconscious have been to remain stuck on "male" without updating to "hermaphrodite"?

...

We are updating to "hermaphrodite", right? I'm more comfortable with the "self-pollenation" theory that entered this thread than with the "recently spent a lot of time brushing up against surfaces that would look like a Jackson Pollock painting under a black light" theory that won't get out of my head. Baby Groot does seem to love dancing, don't you think? Wonder where that came from...
posted by roystgnr at 6:44 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Did Groot have a baby? I thought the comics established that it was actually Groot Grootself regenerating. But that's second hand; I haven't read the comics myself.
posted by Itaxpica at 7:00 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't wanna blow anyone's mind here, but maybe Groot is a sentient tree alien and as such has neither human gender nor mammalian sex.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:20 PM on January 8, 2015 [13 favorites]


Didn't baby Groot come from the twig that Rocket is shown cradling? Not that I have the botany knowledge to have a handle on how plausible that is, but I took it to be a cloning/regenerating kind of situation (new plant grown from a bit of the tissue of the old), not a sexual reproduction one (eg, new plant grown from a seed).

(Somebody on one of the GotG threads pointed out that when Groot hands the little girl a flower, it's like handing her a sex organ. So, plenty of squick to go round re: Groot and sex.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:20 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


But they're such PRETTY sex organs.

*eyes her wax plant suspiciously*
posted by Deoridhe at 8:16 PM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


My dad had a whole coded system for editing all of our fairy tale books to swap in some heroines for the heroes.* I didn't even know he'd done it until I borrowed Grimm's while babysitting and discovered this web of amazing annotations. All of my favorite fairy tales from childhood had awesome ladies at their center (or okay talking animals) and I couldn't tell you, even now, what gender they all started with.

I wrote my first fairy tale in first grade, starring a princess taking on the glass mountain with a stranded dude on the other side. There are male characters I emphasize with and consider as favorites, but I will always, always be grateful for having had some of the best nights of kindergarten surrounded by the sketches of girls like me. And now I can be grateful to artists and writers like Lisa Hanawalt for continuing to argue for and to create worlds that contain multitudes...even if they have to argue for them again and again.


*also which ones were too hilariously bloody, fairy tales, so great!
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:43 PM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


Surely the worst is that animated movie Barnyard staring Kevin James as "Otis the Cow."

We also don't have a gender-neutral word for cows, btw.
posted by aubilenon at 9:05 PM on January 8, 2015


I do research on a very obscure dialect of English where gendered pronouns are completely optional and interchangeable. So you can call a man "she" or a woman "he", and you can call anyone "it". I spent ages trying to find something cultural or in the speakers' world view that you could even tangentially claim might be connected to this and there just really isn't. Certainly it didn't make them any less rigid about the relationship between people's gender and the roles they could play in society.

Now I wish I had gotten people to tell me whether they thought pictures of anthropomorphised animals were male or female. Next time.
posted by lollusc at 9:09 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


We also don't have a gender-neutral word for cows, btw.

We have the sex-neutral plural of "cattle." And I grew up in rural New Zealand where it was pretty normal to hear people refer to a single one as a "cattle beast". I haven't really heard that anywhere since, though, but I don't know if that's because I've lived in different countries, or no longer in rural areas.
posted by lollusc at 9:11 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


When I worked in agriculture and vet science curriculum development, the gender-neutral term used for a single member of the cattle family was a "bovine."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:16 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


We also don't have a gender-neutral word for cows, btw.

Beeves.
posted by Lexica at 9:19 PM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


I do research on a very obscure dialect of English where gendered pronouns are completely optional and interchangeable.

Wow, what dialect is that? It sounds fascinating.
posted by Itaxpica at 9:40 PM on January 8, 2015


"A child going through puberty may notice his voice dropping or breasts growing out"

The reference is gender male only, either a normal characteristic male, or a male with (abnormal) female development, thanks to the limiting pronoun.

Change this to "A child going through puberty may notice their voice dropping or breasts growing out." Changing the pronoun can really mess with our heads.

The default reading for "a child" is subtly going to be male, because patriarchy. There's still a relativity high possibility of being female until we get to "voice dropping", when it becomes more indicative for male. Until we hit the phrase "breasts growing out" and then the child is certainly female, or something's amiss. Perhaps we're reading a paper on Atypical Secondary Sexual Characteristic Development in Pubescent Males.

Just assigning one characteristic constricts us. Assigning two starts to box us in. We want clarity and simplicity dammit.

Within the context of that sentence the majority of us think:

voice change at puberty = probably masculine
voice change, no breasts = much stronger for masculine; slight chance (atypical) feminine
no voice change, no breasts = hard to make any assumption, but the default is male
no voice change, breasts = normal female; read improbable for male or abnormal
breasts = strongly feminine; impossible for male or abnormal

Snips and snails and puppy dog's tails, broad shoulders, facial hair, less body fat, larger larynx

Sugar and spice, everything nice, narrow waist and broad hips, smaller hands and feet, shorter, rounder face

We have certain expectations regarding secondary sexual characteristics and gender.

But in the real world, a boy's voice may or may not drop significantly, and girl's voices can also drop (mine did, from soprano to alto.) Some girls have little or no breast development. Some boys have more breast development than girls. There's quite a continuum of "normal" physiological characteristics we can accept without question or confusion.

But how often do most of us see anything but penis and vagina? It's got to be one or the other. There's an in and an out, a male and a female, and doesn't it just make sense to be one or the other?
Oh.
Snap.

Things get pretty muddy when we try to conceptualize and name the world around us. We love our gender and our sexual dichotomy, and we're confused (and anxious) when things aren't in the right boxes. We like things simple: a child is either male or female. The world is so complex: a child is either, both, neither, all of the above?

Try to force yourself to mutiny against your brain's first choice routinely. It's fun.

I do this a lot. Then I mutiny against the second and third choices as well, and it becomes an endless cycle of indecision. It's far from fun; I probably need anxiety medication.
I-Write-Essays just thought (insert a gender pronoun) was being funny, but it's true!

Our pesky human desire to categorize (and label) gets us in trouble. Surely gender...categories should be clearly defined, mutually exclusive... Yet, gender... categories are graded (they tend to be fuzzy at their boundaries) and inconsistent in the status of their constituent members.



"Guy walks into a bar, says "Ow."

Girl walks into a bar, says, "Ow."

I think that changes the joke, subtly, moving the focus from the pun, back to the gender of the character. Of course she says, "Ow." Women in jokes don't enter drinking establishments.

A person walks into a bar, says, "Ow."


Aren't jokes supposed to be funny depending on the focus, changing expectations, and levels or depth of meaning?

Is the focus the bar? There's ambiguity--a drinking establishment, a long rod or rigid object, the actual serving counter. Or Dog help us, a pun--grizzly b'ar? Can bars of any kind be inherently funny? (I find it amusing that people will pay ten bucks for house wine when they could get a nice bottle for that amount. Drunks in general are funny.)

Is the focus gender? Is gender inherently funny? Not as often, but certainly, women do go into bars in real life and in jokes, sometimes as the object or butt of the humor, and sometimes as as the subject and instigator. Perhaps there's an expectation of humor because women are less likely to go into a bar alone?

Some of the focus is on what's being said. "I'll have a Gin and Tonic." isn't funny. Asking for "a Double Entendre" is. But "Ow" is funny because you're supposed to ask for a drink. Or maybe because guys wimps if they admit to pain or guys are just generally klutzy and natural slapsticks. Or because women don't pay attention and can't drive, either. Or maybe misogynists are amused to see women get hurt.

If the default formula is Man walks into a bar (and *) then ANY variation on the joke generates a change in expectations and should be funny.

MeFite walks into a bar and says, "I'll have a plate of beans."
*crickets*

There are various theories why humor works. It's all beyond me.

... people refer to a single one as a "cattle beast"
coo beastie!
posted by BlueHorse at 9:49 PM on January 8, 2015


> I think guy is maybe drifting into being a true gender-neutral term? My four-year-old (boy) came home from preschool one day and asked me, perplexed, "Mom, why are some guys girls and some guys boys?" I have noticed since then that both of my kids use "guy" to refer to a person generically ("my guy" on the video game who is an alien made of pixels or a train; "that guy" in the store, who is a lady), as do a lot of their friends. I'm curious to see how long that persists and how it evolves, whether it's a linguistic shift occurring in the wild that I happened to be observing.

Ehhh, I hear ya, and I think that this demonstrates the need for a truly neutral term. But the use of "guy" as gender-neutral is problematic in the same sense of "man is the default."

Contrast with the fact that all feminine terms, if used for men, are either insulting or camp.
posted by desuetude at 11:19 PM on January 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


For years I've been campaigning to get people to accept a mondegreen as reality (probably sprung from a college legend about a group of students who had a number of theses about how unplanned group behavior could alter reality - the typical example given was that if 3/4th of a class did not do an assignment, but not because they intentionally did not but through just random, variable chance, then the assignment never existed) - namely the line in 'Fuck and Run' which is 'all that stupid old shit / letters and sodas' which I did not know for over a decade wasn't 'all that stupid old shit / fetters and sodas'. I also was so terribly impressed about how caustic that line was, so much so that when I found out I was wrong, it disappointed me enough that I don't really like the song anymore.

I don't think it's sensible to argue that we constantly shift our perceptions of a single character in terms of gender (or race, if we're reading) unless of course that sort of instability is a coded into the authorial intent (the movie Suture is probably the best example I can think of here), but I don't think that was what was being specifically advocated.

When you get into the fuzzier areas of how to 'present' gender or conceive it it when consuming works of art, it gets into odd conundrums about intent. What if we were to argue that Joey from Friends was (is?) trans? If the creators of the show never intentionally considered that he was a cis male, could you argue that in a Schrodinger's Cat sort of way, it is then impossible to conclude that he definitively is (since the show is over and there is won't be the chance to retcon his character to establish it absolutely). There may be textual evidence more specifically in an episode, but barring that, it could be considered an unresolved possibility.

It's sort of like the weird outing for the Elizabeth Rohm ADA on L&O -- a kind of glib grab for social inclusion without doing the hard work. But I think it's it might be a neat 101 sort of trick to give people a framework for some of the personal and social issues at play when you don't actively consider the framing of gender.
posted by 99_ at 11:25 PM on January 8, 2015


desuetude: "But the use of "guy" as gender-neutral is problematic in the same sense of "man is the default.""

It's only problematic as long as it is not truly gender-neutral. The problem with "man" as default isn't that it's gender neutral, it's that it's used as both a gender neutral and as a gender specific word. So you can say "That person is a man", which is clearly gendered, but you can also say "Man is the only animal that has been to the moon", which is ungendered. The gender-specific word is doing double-duty as a gender-neutral word because "man is the default".

I dunno the state of "guy", but if it reaches truly gender-neutral status, then the problem is gone. There are few who would find the word "writer" sexist because it assumes that man is the default, in comparison to "writress". The "er" suffix has become completely gender-neutral in words that don't already have established histories of distinction (like "actor/actress" or "waiter/waitress").

That history is the real issue, though. If I say "waiters", referring to a group of men and women, that's sexist. If I say "pushers", referring to a group of men and women, that's not. This is because that established history of "waiter/waitress" still casts its shadow. If "guys" becomes mostly gender-neutral, but not completely gender-neutral (i.e. if it continues to do double duty), then its use will be problematic. If, however, it throws it off its gendered meaning completely, then it won't be problematic, except to time travelers and time travelresses.
posted by Bugbread at 11:49 PM on January 8, 2015


> When we visualize a character whose gender is unmarked, which gender should we imagine it as? I don't think "No gender" is an option when we're talking about actively imagining what a character actually looks like.

I don't see why not. I've met plenty of people that I could not easily assign a gender to, even while talking to them. I find it easy enough to imagine someone who does not clearly read as female or male to me. Try it some time, it might work for you as well.

This quote was handcrafted for your convenience, because the mefiquote bookmarklet still doesn't work with the new site style for me.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:27 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I had never heard of "Guys" not being inclusive of both genders before Metafilter. I wonder if it's a regional or class thing.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:02 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


> I had never heard of "Guys" not being inclusive of both genders before Metafilter. I wonder if it's a regional or class thing.

It is common to use the plural as inclusive of genders. The singular form is typically male.
posted by desuetude at 8:21 AM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have two dogs that have been fixed, and to me their gender or sex doesn't really matter. I don't read their behavior as male or female but rather as "Dog 1 behavior" and "Dog 2 behavior." However, from interactions at the dog park, their birth sex really, really matters to some people.

Our rescue pup came pre-named as Casey and we liked it well enough so we kept his name. Little did we know it would be a never-ending rorschach test when talking to people. There's the vaguely interesting question of whether, for them, it's a male or female name. Far more interesting - though tiresome - is how worked up people get about misgendering him.

Overall I just ignore it; it's just a pronoun and he doesn't care. But every once in a while it'll be pertinent or as we go on in conversation I'll say "he." At which point some people get extremely apologetic. I usually respond "it's okay, he's secure in his masculinity" and just go on. Every once in a while there will be even more explanation and it's hard to tell whether people are bothered by their own "mistake" or if they have dealt with enough of the people who seem to get really torqued if you misgender their dog.
posted by phearlez at 8:40 AM on January 9, 2015 [5 favorites]




Junie B. Jones uses singular "guy" as a gender-neutral term, but I'm not sure I'd take Junie B's creative use of language as a model to follow except when quoting her. I love that guy!
posted by asperity at 9:21 AM on January 9, 2015


This discussion has me wondering when "dude" became gender-neutral. Or if this is this just a mefi thing—I've never heard this in real life.

(For which I am thankful because "dude" in anything other than "dude ranch" grates on my last nerve.)
posted by she's not there at 9:29 AM on January 9, 2015



I wouldn't say it's common but I find myself using dude gender neutrally. It's very informal and only with familiar people. It also as a humorous edge, like when someone does something stupid but funny and it's "Duuuude," lol " I can't believe you did that." It's a friendly jibe.

This likely means I picked it up from somewhere though I have no idea where. Lots of people use 'bud' around here gender neutrally so I'm thinking that may be where my use of 'dude' this way comes from. I'm from the other coast where the use of dude has been much more common. 'Bud' feels odd to me so I may just be transposing the word.
posted by Jalliah at 9:38 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


weird how no words that originally identified women have crossed over into gender neutral descriptors...
posted by nadawi at 9:40 AM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Jalliah, "Dude" used ironically or humorously I'm totally OK with.

Geez, I guess I came off as rather stuffy in my previous comment.

I'm sorry, guys.
posted by she's not there at 9:45 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Really, you should only use guys to refer to a group of people who have previously or are currently attempting to blow up parliament.
posted by ckape at 9:47 AM on January 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Really, you should only use guys to refer to a group of people who have previously or are currently attempting to blow up parliament.

I call them foxes. Have I been using the wrong word?
posted by maxsparber at 9:49 AM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


weird how no words that originally identified women have crossed over into gender neutral descriptors...

I agree. I'm aware of what is happening when I use dude or more frequently 'guys' this way but I don't have awareness of when or why it started happening. I didn't always use them this way. I even remember thinking that it's really odd that the word 'guys' is coming out of my mouth.

I've tried to change guys to a truly more gender neutral term because of where it comes from. I haven't found something that feels comfortable for me though. 'Folks' is one I could be okay with but unfortunately it's use was completely ruined by a group of awful people (long story) that I had to deal with for over 5 years and every time it comes out of my mouth I get the heebies and feel stressed. The way they used it became on of the signifiers of the group and people getting sucked into it. Kinda like a cult in a way.
posted by Jalliah at 9:52 AM on January 9, 2015


Fwiw, I use "folks" all the time and get grief from folks who think it only means "parents".
posted by she's not there at 9:55 AM on January 9, 2015


Geez, I guess I came off as rather stuffy in my previous comment.


Not at all!
posted by Jalliah at 9:55 AM on January 9, 2015


Hey I just remembered something.

I wonder if this theme some and show had anything to do with 'guys' working it's way to a gender neutral form.

Electric Company
posted by Jalliah at 10:01 AM on January 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


being southern gives me an easy out, i suppose.
posted by nadawi at 10:04 AM on January 9, 2015


I think you can claim to use "guys" as a gender-neutral term only if you use it in the singular as well. If you say "Who's that guy over there?" when you want to know who the woman on the other side of the room is, or "That guy's really cute!" when you seen an attractive woman, or "I really want the coat that guy is wearing" when you're coveting a woman's outerwear, for examples.

(And I say this as someone who often uses "guys" in mixed-gender situations, because I grew up with it and it sounds "normal" to me, but I'm trying to stop.)
posted by jaguar at 10:19 AM on January 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Here's some research on how "dude" is used:
Indeed, the data presented here confirm that dude is an address term that is used mostly by young men to address other young men; however, its use has expanded so that it is now used as a general address term for a group (same or mixed gender), and by and to women. Dude is developing into a discourse marker that need not identify an addressee, but more generally encodes the speaker’s stance to his or her current addressee(s). The term is used mainly in situations in which a speaker takes a stance of solidarity or camaraderie, but crucially in a nonchalant, not-too-enthusiastic manner. Dude indexes a stance of effortlessness (or laziness, depending on the perspective of the hearer), largely because of its origins in the “surfer” and “druggie” subcultures in which such stances are valued. The reason young men use this term is precisely that dude indexes this stance of cool solidarity. Such a stance is especially valuable for young men as they navigate cultural Discourses of young masculinity, which simultaneously demand masculine solidarity, strict heterosexuality, and non-conformity.
And on how its use is affected by the gender(s) of the speaker and listener(s):
In addition to the overwhelming predominance of male-male uses of dude in these data, it is important to note that the second most common speaker-addressee gender type is female-female, while in mixed-gender interactions there were relatively fewer uses of dude. This correlational result suggests that dude indexes a solidary [sic] stance separate from its probable indexing of masculinity, unless for some reason women are are apt to be more masculine (and men, less masculine) when speaking to women.

More clues to the solidarity component of dude’s indexicality can be found in the actual tokens used by women speakers to women addressees, however. The all-women tokens were not used in simple greetings, but mostly in situations where camaraderie was salient: only 1 of the 82 woman-woman tokens (1.2%) was a simple greeting (Hey dude or What’s up, dude), as opposed to 7.6% (25/329) of the men’s tokens. The women tended to use dude (1) when they were commiserating about something bad or being in an unfortunate position, (2) when they were in confrontational situations, or (3) when they were issuing a directive to their addressee. In these last two uses by women, dude seems to function to ameliorate the confrontational and/or hierarchical stance of the rest of the utterance.
posted by Lexica at 10:20 AM on January 9, 2015 [6 favorites]



Interesting Lexica,

I spent over ten years working in the snowboarding industry and 5 years before that on ski hills in the early days of snowboarding. That's definitely where I picked up the use of 'dude' from as it took a lot of cultural queues from surfing and skateboarding as it became more and more popular. At one time I even tried to stop using it and don't use it as much any more.

It just slips out at times and here it really, really stands out when I use it. People tell me it's one of the quirks they like about me thank goodness.
posted by Jalliah at 10:29 AM on January 9, 2015


The women tended to use dude (1) when they were commiserating about something bad or being in an unfortunate position,

I have seen this, done this, and had this done to me. E.g.:

Me: Goddamn it, the car got broken into again and there wasn't even anything in it!

Female friend: Dude! That sucks!
posted by rtha at 10:59 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I like "someone walks into a bar" better than "a person walks into a bar".
posted by aubilenon at 11:22 AM on January 9, 2015


weird how no words that originally identified women have crossed over into gender neutral descriptors...

Well, backstage in musical theater, we do tend to say, "Ladies!" a lot when addressing the entire cast, but it's definitely done in a campy manner.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:35 AM on January 9, 2015


Groot has no gender.

Evidence: during the fight towards the beginning, when Groot is first introduced, Rocket tells him to "grab him" (or something like that - he uses the pronoun "him") and Groot grabs Saldana's character instead of Pratt's, and Rocket says disgustedly, "learn to gender."
posted by joannemerriam at 11:52 AM on January 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Groot has no gender, but he's assigned male by the cast and most people talking about him. She is not assigned female by the cast nor most of the people talking about her, and if I persisted in using the completely gender neutral (rilly) she and her with Groot, people would call me on it.

This is one of those "water isn't wet to a fish" sorts of things, like doing a movie about Bees where all the characters are male and no one bats an eyelash. Inverting it brings up all kinds of interesting things - I can remember gender inverting Gawain and the Green Knight in college (we were all women, and puns were involved - I REGRET NOTHING!) and the first time I wrote, "For she is a strong woman!" and how strange that felt in my mouth.

Implicit sexism is about what scans as unremarkable and normal to us. The process of reaching actual equality requires discomfort because one is pushing against the normal.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:04 PM on January 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


Just realized that even in my comment I misgendered Groot. (I should have said "it" instead of "him" I suppose - that seems appropriate for a tree right?)
posted by joannemerriam at 1:28 PM on January 9, 2015


Female friend: Dude! That sucks!

When I do this (and I certainly do it) I'm not actually calling my friend "Dude." It's more of an interjection, like "God, that sucks!" In which case I'm not calling my friend "God" either. I wonder if there's some way to tease out those differences.
posted by jaguar at 1:50 PM on January 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Is this the thread where I turn in my feminist card because I, too, thought the protagonist of Lock In was a guy? Really? That was just my reading of it? Crap.

My copy's gone back to the library, but I might need to get it back and re-read it and feel bad about myself. (And also re-read it just because it's a good book.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:06 PM on January 9, 2015


It's more of an interjection, like "God, that sucks!"

This is how I use "dude" also! It did not serve me well during my teenage years ("Stop calling me 'dude;' I am your father!")
posted by naoko at 2:16 PM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


To me, Groot has nurturing qualities and violent tendencies and is basically all over the place, and I kinda like not really knowing what gender, if any, Groot is. I know Groot is voiced by a man, but for all we know Groot, having learned only three words of our language (well, four by movie's end) , may just be mimicking the one who taught Groot the language, Rocket, who is male and thus has a somewhat deeper voice than say Gamora does. So Groot speaks with a deeper voice.

I also think, being the last of the Groots, Groot may be the only one who truly knows Groot's orientation, so the other characters referring to Groot as he is more about them putting their own interpretation on Groot, the way we have, and assuming male as default. Let's face it, Rocket indicates Groot is a male, but Rocket is extremely free in his "translation" of what Groot is saying, anyway: "So what, 'it's better than 11 percent'?! What the hell does that have to do with anything?!"

--
Deoridhe, I'm confused about you saying the singular they comes from Chaucer's time? I thought it dated back to the 16th century, and looking it up in the OED backs that conclusion up.

Since Chaucer is fourteenth century, I am thinking you either have another source or may be misinformed?

This is not intended as a gotcha or anything, just wondered where you picked that idea up, because your info may be more up-to-date than mine and I am genuinely curious.
posted by misha at 2:20 PM on January 9, 2015


This is how I use "dude" also!

Oh, good. I worried after posting that that I was just extremely odd.
posted by jaguar at 2:24 PM on January 9, 2015


I think you can claim to use "guys" as a gender-neutral term only if you use it in the singular as well.

Hmm, I do this IRL sometimes?

I say, "I don't want to be that guy, you know?" when I am referring to myself and, "Hey, guy!" To female friends and acquaintances.
posted by misha at 2:31 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sorry to serially post, but I also just really loved this question and answer from the "other questions" link and wanted to share it with everyone in case anybody missed it:
pickleswithketchup asked: Does Bradley Hitler-Smith have any relation to that other guy named Hitler?

Bradley Hitler-Smith was named by one of our animators, aaron-long. He was storyboarding the “Horsin’ Around” title sequence and said, What do you want me to name this guy? I said, I don’t know, let me think about it over the weekend, put in whatever for now. I came back on Monday with a list of funny names, saw he had named the character Bradley Hitler-Smith and immediately threw my list away.

I really love the backstory the name conjures. He had two parents, one with the last name Smith and one with the last name Hitler, and they decided, together, sure we could jettison one of these last names now that we’re married and have a kid, but, hey, let’s be egalitarian about this.
posted by misha at 2:36 PM on January 9, 2015


> It's more of an interjection, like "God, that sucks!"

The Dude Abides.
posted by rtha at 2:45 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


>: "Deoridhe, I'm confused about you saying the singular they comes from Chaucer's time? I thought it dated back to the 16th century, and looking it up in the OED backs that conclusion up.

Since Chaucer is fourteenth century, I am thinking you either have another source or may be misinformed?
"

I'm at work and my Compact OED is at home, but Wikipedia has this citation:
"And whoso fyndeth hym out of swich blame,

They wol come up . . ."
—Chaucer, The Pardoner's Prologue (c. 1395);[16] quoted by Jespersen and thence in Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage
This discusses that quote in a bit more detail.
posted by Lexica at 3:04 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, hey, cool. Thanks, Lexica!
posted by misha at 3:45 PM on January 9, 2015


Wow, what dialect is that? It sounds fascinating

Sorry, mentioning its name in a comment here will link my professional work to my metafilter username, which I really don't want to do. (I'm the only one working on this dialect so just about everything about it online is written by me).

But if you are really curious memail me and I'd be happy to tell you.
posted by lollusc at 3:49 PM on January 9, 2015


Lexica found my source! OMG!
posted by Deoridhe at 5:57 PM on January 9, 2015


Cross-posting from the "under-appreciated MeFi comments" thread:
Metroid Baby on using gender- and species-neutral "guys".
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:35 AM on January 11, 2015


We also don't have a gender-neutral word for cows, btw.

Bovine, cattle

But also:

burling
steer
calf

for bovines of different ages and purposes. I don't have my notes; steers may always be gelded male cattle, but I think burlings include male or female cattle of certain age - at least in the 17th century.
posted by jb at 9:02 AM on January 11, 2015


I love the fact that there are so many words for domestic animals. All these words were necessary, of course, because people's lives depended not only on distinguishing males and females but also fertile and infertile animals, old ones and young ones, and even ones with particular personalities (e.g., "bellwethers").
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:30 AM on January 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


So I read "Lock In" with an eye to gender; the main character's name is Chris Shane, and relatively early, someone else calls them Shane. I can see how someone could get tripped up on that.
posted by Pronoiac at 2:34 PM on January 31, 2015


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