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Gender-Inclusive Language and "Man"

Date: Thu, 21 Sep 2000 11:34:58 -0400
From: Amelia Carr <acarr @ ALLEGHENY.EDU>
Subject: Re: generic "man"
In teaching intro to WS, I have tried to make the point in the beginning
(and Ginny Sapiro's text includes some good examples of how use of generic
"man" obscures women's role in history), and then spend the rest of the
semester trying to model a different kind of language use in the class.

In speaking, clarify every time how you are using the  generic "man."  When
a student uses it, interrupt to ask them to specify, for the sake of the
class, whether they mean "generic man" or males.  Use the term "woman" and
specify every time that you mean "generic woman" which includes males.  If
you are working with more archaic texts, the uses of "generic man" really
start to stand out.

One thing I have noticed about these conversations with students is that
they are really more abstract than practical.  Students don't tend to use
"generic man" themselves, certainly not in speaking.  The problem comes up
more frequently in writing, and often in the complex structures like "when
one has a problem, he..."  which are also inherently awkward for students,
and present all kinds of problems anyway.  Sometimes you can point out that
the "bad grammar" "will everyone pick up their pencils?" is in fact a very
natural way to avoid the generic gender issue, and a usage which students
are in fact quite comfortable with.  I think students mostly get it, but
don't admit it.

I find that by the end of the class, students have come to understand the
problem in a very practical way and will argue with you less about
nit-picking.  I think it helps when they see that it really matters in
every day things.

Amelia Carr
Allegheny College
acarr  @
Date: Fri, 22 Sep 2000 07:56:48 +0300
From: naomi graetz <graetz @ BGUMAIL.BGU.AC.IL>
Subject: Hebrew: generic "man"
I haven't been paying attention to this thread so forgive me if it is
repetition. The hebrew Ish (man, is also used generically); but the Hebrew
Adam is understood as both male and female in the beginning, until the
woman is created. The word for woman according to the etiology in
Genesis 2:23: "This one shall be called Woman (Isha), For from man
(Ish)was she taken." In that respect it is similar to wifmon.

Naomi Graetz
Date: Fri, 22 Sep 2000 10:07:47 -0700
From: Barbara Watson <mbwatson @ MAIL.SDSU.EDU>
Subject: generic "man"
A text much used was Casey Miller and Kate Swift,. 1977. Words and Women.
It is still relevant. That the impact of  the generic"man" is still
mitigated by some, certainly speaks volumes. barbara watson
Maria-Barbara Watson-Franke, Ph.D.
Department of Women's Studies
San Diego State University
San Diego, CA 92182
mbwatson  @
Date: Fri, 22 Sep 2000 20:40:29 -0400
From: MichaelSKimmel <MichaelSKimmel @ COMPUSERVE.COM>
Subject: generic "man"
This is an issue I have tried to address in several places, and most
recently by offering an anecdote about how the "generic" conceals

Below, the story I use to illustrate it, both in terms of gender, and then
about email.  (It has a slightly different introduction, but makes the same
point).  (It's published in THE GENDERED SOCIETY (Oxford UP, 2000).

        Let me tell you a story about that invisibility, that generic,
universal, one that will also reveal the ways that invisibility is
political.  In the early 1980s, I participated in a small discussion group
on feminism.   In one meeting, in a discussion between two women, I first
confronted this invisibility of gender to men.  A white woman and a black
woman were discussing whether all women were, by definition, "sisters,"
because they all had essentially the same experiences and because all women
faced a common oppression by men.  The white woman asserted that the fact

that they were both women bonded them, in spite of racial differences.  The
black woman disagreed.
        "When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, what do
you see?" she asked.
        "I see a woman," replied the white woman.
        "That's precisely the problem," responded the black woman.  "I see
a black woman.  To me, race is visible every day, because race is how I am
not privileged in our culture.  Race is invisible to you, because it's how
you are privileged.  It's why there will always be differences in our
        As I witnessed this exchange, I was startled, and groaned -- more
audibly, perhaps, than I had intended.  Being the only man in the room,
someone asked what my response had meant.  

        "Well," I said, "when I look in the mirror, I see a human being. 

I'm universally generalizable.  As a middle class white man, I have no
class, no race no gender.  I'm the generic person!"

        Sometimes, I like to think that it was on that day that I became a
middle class white man.  Sure, I had been all those before, but they had
not meant much to me.  Since then, I've begun to understand that race,
class, and gender didn't refer only to other people, who were marginalized
by race, class or gender privilege.  Those terms also described me.  I
enjoyed the privilege of invisibility.  The very processes that confer
privilege to one group and not another group are often invisible to those
upon whom that privilege is conferred.  What makes us marginal or powerless
are the processes we see, partly because others keep reminding us of them

  Invisibility is a privilege in a double sense -- describing both the
power relations that are kept in place by the very dynamics of
invisibility, and in the sense of privilege as luxury.  It is a luxury that
only white people have in our society not to think about race every minute
of their lives.  It is a luxury that only men have in our society to
pretend that gender does not matter.  

        Let me give you another example of how power is so often invisible
to those who have it.  Email.  Many of you have email addresses, and you
write email messages to people all over the world.  You've probably noticed
that there is one big difference between email addresses in the United
States and email addresses of people in other countries:  their addresses
have "country codes" at the end of the address.  So, for example, if you
were writing to someone in South Africa, you'd put "za" at the end, or "jp"
for Japan, or "uk" for England (United Kingdom) or "de" for Germany
(Deutschland).  But when you write to people in the United States, the
email address ends with "edu" for an educational institution, "org" for an
organization, "gov" for a federal government office, or "com" or "net" for
commercial internet providers.  Why is it that the United States doesn't
have a country code?  

        It is because when you are the dominant power in the world,
everyone else needs to be named.  When you are "in power," you needn't draw
attention to yourself as a specific entity, but, rather, you can pretend to
be the generic, the universal, the generalizable.  From the point of view
of the United States, all other countries are "other" and thus need to be
named, marked, noted.  Once again, privilege is invisible.  In the world of
the Internet, as Michael Jackson sang, "we are the world."  

There are consequences to this invisibility: privilege, as well as gender,
remains invisible.  


I hope this is herlpful to those working on the "man" equals generic

Michael Kimmel
Date: Sat, 23 Sep 2000 11:13:16 +0100
From: Sue McPherson <sue @ MCPHERSONS.FREESERVE.CO.UK>
Subject: Re: On Generic "Man" (fwd)
Michael Kimmel wrote:
>        "When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, what do
>you see?" she asked.
>        "I see a woman," replied the white woman.
 >      "That's precisely the problem," responded the black woman.  "I see
>a black woman.  To me, race is visible every day, because race is how I am
>not privileged in our culture.  Race is invisible to you, because it's how
>you are privileged.  It's why there will always be differences in our

I agree that there are differences in our experiences, as
women, and as human beings, but there is is some tension
in this quote, and in another one, below, concerning race and
gender.  I have been wondering if the excerpt, below, is
actually misleading, in substituting 'white' for 'man' in order
to draw attention to the inappropriate use of 'man'.  And why
doesn't the black woman, above, see herself disdvantaged as a
woman as well as due to her race?

I question the usefuness of bringing race in, in this instance.
According to the logic in one of the examples, below, the
equivalent of calling women 'you guys' would be calling black
people 'you whiteys'.  But there is something very different
beween these two phrases.  And perhaps it depends on the
context in which they are used, and understanding the history
of gender relations.

Calling girls 'you guys' can* be a form of acceptance, when the
girls are doing things that at one time only boys would do -
such as playing soccer.  Just one of the guys.  But in what
circumstances would it be flattering for black people to be
called 'you whiteys'?  Since this is about colour, it would have
to be when their colour is on the verge of being white.  Or is it
about behaviour.  Is it about black people acting like white
people and disregarding their blackness?

There are similarities in the ways that black people and women
are oppressed, but there are also differences.  Black people can
grow up never seeing white people (maybe not so much
nowadays).  And if that were the case they would not experience
oppression on the basis of their colour, or race.  And some white
people may not develop any knowledge of racial difference if they
grew up in a place where there were no people of colour.  But
gender (sex) is fundamental to our world, no matter where people
live.  If it weren't, it wouldn't be too long before there were no
black people, or white people.

The original notion of patriarchy was based on 'rule of the father',
and while other forms of oppression may at times take priority in
people's lives and need also to be considered, male domination and
the assumption of male superiority and the use of generic 'man'
have been a part of our history for a long time, and continue to be
an influence on our lives in gender relations.

Sue McPherson
sue  @
Date: Sun, 24 Sep 2000 18:31:46 -0400
From: holzman <holzmr01 @>
Subject: Re: Michael Kimmel's post
At 07:26 PM 9/24/2000 -0400, Rosa Maria Pegueros wrote:
>I started college thirty-two years ago, a Jesuit college that had just
gone co-ed (when was the last time you heard THAT word?)

The word "co-ed" is an interesting example of the phenomenon of the generic
"man" that the list has been discussing. In the 40's and 50's, and maybe
earlier, but I'm not old enough to know from personal experience, a "co-ed"
was always female. Males who attended co-educational colleges were just
generic students.

Clare Holzman
330 West 58th Street, 404
New York, NY 10019
phone 212 245 7282
fax 718 721 9313

holzmr01  @
Date: Mon, 25 Sep 2000 12:37:24 -0800
From: Diana Blaine <dblaine @ USC.EDU>
Subject: generic "man"
My two examples:  I use Hamlet's "What a piece of work is man" speech in

which he relates men to angels, gods, etc.  He then adds that "man
delight not me, nor not woman neither."  (paraphrased--sorry Will).  I
point out that the monologue makes the difference between generic "man"
and marked "woman" explicit and that the characteristics associated with

masculinity are those most valued--"like a god" seems pretty high praise

after all.  (Because he also goes on to define man further as "this
of dust," I  discuss the "problem" of the body that Hamlet refers to and
how it's generally resolved by associating the body with woman, slaves,
animals, people of color, the differently abled, the poor, in order to
create the unmarked category of "man.")  Which brings me to my next

I use the ten commandments, looking at their language (King James
version).  I ask them who the audience is for the  "Covet not your
neighbor's wife, ox, manservant, maidservant," etc. commandment.
Though often the women in the class may at first say "us,"  the
is demonstrably addressed to males, and property holding males at that,
which brings in the equally crucial issue of class.

I've never found a student who could argue against either example.

Diana York Blaine
Visiting Assistant Professor of English and Writing
University of Southern California
dblaine  @
Date: Tue, 26 Sep 2000 16:51:17 +0800
From: Tamarah Cohen <tamarahc @ KHC.KANSAI-GAIDAI-U.AC.JP>
Subject: Re: generic "man"
Perspectives Series), Longman, 1999.
Tamarah Cohen
e-mail: tamarahc  @
Date: Tue, 26 Sep 2000 14:10:29 -0400
From: Martha Charlene Ball <wsimcb @ PANTHER.GSU.EDU>
Subject: Generic man
Here is a message that a friend of mine asked me to send to the
WMST-L list.  She tried to respond to Sherry Kleinman's address, but
the message didn't go through.  It has some relevance to the recent thread
on "generic man" and related words.

I read your interesting post on a listserve from Georgia State Univ.

        I wondered how old you are because women I know have another
altogether at restaurants.  Starting in my 40s, the waiters began to
my partner and me or any women at all with me as "Ladies."  Not just once,
not twice, not even 3-4 times, but over and over and over during a meal,
like a nervous tick.  It DRIVES ME UP THE WALL.  It may be a worse problem
in the South; I do not know.
        They do not address the men as "Gentlemen."
        I hate this "Ladies" business so much that when I am addressed
as "guys" or "you guys," I PREFER IT.  Mostly I hear that when I go north.
        I agree with you that it is internalized sexism.  I have been a
feminist since 1969 and am also a lesbian-feminist, and I still prefer
"guys" to
"Ladies."  I do not understand why we have to be called anything at all in
restaurants.  How about "This way please."  "May I bring you something to
drink?"  "Are you ready to order?"  "A little more iced tea?"  "Are you
for the check?"
        Have you had any feedback on this problem?  I live in Atlanta.

Elizabeth     KnowltonEW  @

M. Charlene Ball, Administrative Coordinator
Women's Studies Institute
Georgia State University
Atlanta, Georgia  30303-3083
404/651-1398 fax
wsimcb  @
Date: Wed, 27 Sep 2000 00:42:04 +0100
From: Pippa <purplestar @ UKONLINE.CO.UK>
Subject: Re: Generic man
> began to address my partner and me or any women at all with me as
> "Ladies."  Not just once, not twice, not even 3-4 times, but over and
> over and over during a meal, like a nervous tick.  It DRIVES ME UP THE
> WALL.  It may be a worse problem in the South; I do not know.
>         They do not address the men as "Gentlemen."
>         I hate this "Ladies" business so much

I just wanted to add to this. I'm in the UK and am regularly referred
to as "lady" and I hate it  - e.g. in a shop "I'm just serving this
lady", in a pub, "What would you ladies like to drink?", etc.
It is somehow seemed rude to replace that with "woman" although
I, and many other women I know, would prefer this.
So I don't know about how this is geographically in the States, but
certainly over the Atlantic over here we have the same problem as
you :-(
Pippa purplestar  @
Date: Tue, 26 Sep 2000 21:47:59 -0700
From: ldeutschmann @ CARIBOO.BC.CA
Subject: Re: Generic
A criminological note:

In women's prisons, the inmates are almost always called "ladies"(but the
female guards  (ooops, Correctional Officers) are not. It is my
impression that this bothers the middle class inmates more than the
others, but the overall effect is
condescending, demeaning ....

Linda Deutschmann
Date: Wed, 27 Sep 2000 10:14:58 -0700
From: Betty Glass <glass @ UNR.EDU>
Subject: Re: generic "man"
The Fall 1998 issue of "Women and Language" has an article on this

"Tak[e] the helm," man the ship...and I forgot my bikini! Unraveling why
woman is not considered a verb.
Women and Language; Urbana; Fall 1998; Catherine Helen Palczewski;

Volume:  21, Issue:  2
pages:  1-8
ISSN:  87554550
Subject Terms:  Linguistics

Palczewski examines the source of male-derived verbs such as "man," "lord"
and "master," considering the lack of women-based words with such
empowered meanings. This kind of sexism in language works to perpetuate an
atmosphere of patriarchal oppression.
Check with your campus library to see if you have access to the
full-text, online version of the journal via any of these databases:

Proquest; WilsonSelect; Lexis-Nexis
Betty Glass, Humanities Bibliographer
Getchell Library/322
1664 N. Virginia St.
University of Nevada, Reno
Reno, NV  89557-0044

 email: glass  @

office: (775) 784-6500  ext. 303
   FAX: (775) 784-1751

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