Since a language is a code of communication, one may wonder what do the genital organs inform us about. How does person's sex reveal or tell us anything about her/him.
Au-delà du fait que la bicatégorisation sexuelle est remise en question depuis des années par les scientifiques travaillant sur cette question (voir la définition d’intersexuation), il est intéressant de se demander pourquoi l’information du sexe a été transposée en genre dans la langue. Pourquoi transposer une information soi-disant biologique, « naturelle », en un « genre » linguistique qu’il serait indispensable d’attribuer, de révéler, de supposer chaque fois que l’on parle d’une personne, ou que l’on parle à une personne ?
The fact is that no one, ever, offered a satisfactory answer for this question.
This is mind-blowing. After all, the division man-woman is one of the most basic pillars of any language. It is also, and by far, the most fundamental element to shape our identity. Before we identify ourselves as a part of a culture, nation, ethnicity, family, etc' we form our gender identity.
This is so deeply engraved on our psyche that we cannot even imagine our language without this clear distinction between man-woman. In other words, we perceive it as a part of the objective reality, an un-refutable fact, like space of time. Yet, if you challenge yourself and would try to define it you would end up banging your head against the wall.
It is curious to note that these terms don't have any clear sense. Furthermore, gender doesn't provide us with any relevant information.
My argument may seem perversive, conspirational and fanatic. If that so, don't take my word on this, challenge it. Actually,it's extremely simple to refute it trash this article in the oblivion - just provide one, not even two, one attribute that is common to all men and/or all women.
*Before you raise the genital form or the reproduction argument, just ensure that you can prove that these physical attributes are fundamental to our personality.
Slightly amusing, the category we use the most to describe others and ourselves doesn't help us to perceive better the other, to gain an essential information about them.
Let's examine some motivations at the base this sentimental senseless.
a- distimction between gender. and sex.
argue, abandoning orthodox biology-based understandings of “woman,” “man,” “girl” and “boy” deprives language-users with immensely valuable tools to analyse and explain the material and social world.
The term personality has been defined in many ways, but as a psychological concept two main meanings have evolved. The first pertains to the consistent differences that exist between people ...It should be emphasized, however, that no definition of personality has found universal acceptance within the field.... many of the same functions and processes, such as attention, thinking, or motivation, the personologist places emphasis on how these different processes fit together and become integrated so as to give each person a distinctive identity, or personality.
A language is a structured system of communication. Communication (from Latin: communicare, meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is usually defined as the transmission of information. Merriam-Webster defines it as: "The process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behaviour". Communication to use a thin, consensual definition, is the act o transmitting or exchanging information from one side to another, through the use of sufficiently mutually understood signs and semiotic.
So what is than the information we pass when we describe a person as a man or a woman ?
The World Health Organisation summarises the difference between sex and gender in the following way:
Sex refers to “the different biological and physiological characteristics of males and females, such as reproductive organs, chromosomes, hormones, etc.”
Gender refers to "the socially constructed characteristics of women and men – such as norms, roles and relationships of and between groups of women and men. It varies from society to society and can be changed. While most people are born either male or female, they are taught appropriate norms and behaviours – including how they should interact with others of the same or opposite sex within households, communities and work places. 17.”
While gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, expressions and identities of girls, women, boys, men, and gender diverse people, sex refers to a set of biological attributes in humans and animals. Physical and physiological features including chromosomes, hormone levels and function, and reproductive/sexual anatomy.
Define thus man-woman by their genetic organ, only tells us what is her/his sex, rather than his/her gender. Gender answer the question what are the person characteristics, her/his personality.
One will never claim for example that the height/nose's shape/hair colour etc' can tell us something substantive about the person. Why thus, genital organs are different? What is the information they transmit about the person?
to understand the last question, it might be helpful to clarify what is a person. Or more precisely, how do we define a person.
Definition means the act an act of determining, a statement of the meaning of a word, expressing the essential nature of something, its distinctness.
Stating the essential nature of a person is not something we can do, or at least agree upon. As the answer is based on our values, aesthetic - sort of criterion we cannot grade objectively. One may say its the person's nature/nationality/ethnicity/work, etc' and these are judgement calls they aren't quantifiable.
We can however observe how we do dedine other human being around us. How do we deine our driends, colleagues. That is how we distinguish between one driend/colleague and another? What is that 'thing' that we use to describe their distinctiveness. How to we specify them in the crowd ?
Our language has a very specific word for this action of defining a person - it is called a personality. Meriam-Webster derines personality as the quality or state of being a person. A set of distinctive traits and characteristics of a particular person specifically.
That is the particular actions that distinguish a person. Accordingly, one might say this person is nice/lazy/confused/annoying/dedicated/loyal/ect'. The personality attributes is what we use to specify how we value the person.
When we describe an individual's 'essential nature' we refer to their characteristics, personality and not to their biology or physiognomy.
We do acknowledge of course that this person has a tilted nose/brown hair/dark skin/small breast/152 cm/etc'. Yet never claim that a given physical attribute actually define this person. We never suppose that all people with a given height are the same.
We of course describe people appearance, we might even attach a high importance to it. This however inform us about an attraction we have towards the person, or repulsion. This doesn't tell us anything about that person, but about the level od intimicay we wish to have with her.
finally theretheretheretherethere case of rejection of other by a physical attribute, ex: skin colour, origin. Yet, even in this unfortunate and sick case, human are still not described by their physicality. The racist, the one that stigmatizes others by a physical attributes, actually exclude them from the human community. He doesn't consider the 'other' to be human, but rather a member of an inferior race. When the discriminator would describe other people from his own supremacist group, he would value them by their personality and not by the shape of their hips.
If that so, how did we end up there? Why dis start use this category?
no, show studies
I can of course cannot answer this question. Currently there is not evidence that the masculine dominance existed before the agricultural revolution. While it might be the case, it also might not. Historians struggle to decide if gender hierarchy existed before. Accordingly, we can only state that the categorisation of humans according to the form of their genitals appeared after the agricultural revolution 12K yeas ago.
"With the move to permanent villages the population began to grow... Woman were able to give birth every year... The extra hands were soarely needed in the fields...but the extra mouth quickly wiped out the food surplus... child mortality soared. At least one child out of three died before reaching twenty" (Sapiens) This reality excluded women from be part of the political life while men occupied this vacuum. Kings-dictators came to power, representing themselves as God's messengers. While it is hard to state these were the clear cause of gender bi-caterozation, it does portrays a background and factors that support this vision. It is also a fact that gender bi-caterozation existed since then.
Linguistically wise It is safe to say that this bi-caterozation helped to distinguish between those who were restricted to domestic tasks and those we were entitled to participate in the spiritual life (ex: politics, arts). While occasionally history witnessed queens and female artists, those were the rare exceptions not the rule.
Setting aside any moral consideration, this definition was linguistically justified. It provided substantive information about the world. It helped to clearly distinguish between those who are human, and those who seems like human but were actually slaves, an inferior type. Besides the phenomenological specification, this definition had a very important psychological value, it legitimated any abuse towards the female. The same as master and slaves, white and blacks, royals and the common people, rich and poor - woman cannot complain as their abuse was according to the rules of the game.
In the last 150 years or so, mankind witnesses a singular event - and the most important socio-geo-political event in the last 12K yeas - a transition from a patriarchal society towards a human society. For the first time since the agricultural revolution, woman are allowed (slowly) to be part of the human society and participate in non-domestic activities.
The assumption, axiomatic in all cultures almost up to our the last 2-3 generations, was that spiritual matters pertain to men and not to humankind at large. Even cultures which assigns women a very high status (much higher than they had in Classical Greece, for example) and holds their functions in the home and within the family in the highest esteem, do not grant women equal partnership in sustaining spiritual life. This is common to religions as well as modern secular culture. Only in the nineteenth century were secondary schools for girls established in the enlightened Western world, and until the end of the nineteenth century women did not set foot in the academic milieu. Even suffrage was not granted to European and American women until after World War II (In Switzerland only in 1971), that is, no more than two generations ago! This is of course reflected by our language.
When people say the masculine language actually flatters women, when the minister of education states that inclusive language isn't necessary, when the French Academy finds it pointless, they basically tell us more about how actually the language was applied than about how it should be applied. It is not coincidence that many of the regulations in this connection are introduced by the words: "it does not the serve the interest of women to…" or "It does not reflect favourably upon a woman…". This however, is merely the way that it was, not how it should be.
The discussion about gender biased language is often charged with strong emotional and high tones. Currently, there is a strong opposition to gender free language. The divers motivations would be addressed in a separate article. For the current topic, those motivations aren't of importance. Even if the are valid, which they are not, it still doesn't provide an answer to the question what is the information is communicate through the word woman/men.
While the word woman is still used as it was 200 years ago, it describe a different entity. Woman aren't any more second class citizen. They are equal before the law and first class citizens, at least as our laws and human rights treaties declare.
That means that women are entitled to have a self identify and are encouraged to do so. They aren't defined anymore by the others, by men.
Yet, when a woman says "I am a woman", what does it really say? In which sense she is a woman like any other woman who says the same thing? What do they have in common?
All women, most of them at least, can share a cultural heritage of discrimination, abuse, being second best, being inferior to men. I have no intention to argue with this. Intuitively, I support this argument as it seems sound.
Nevertheless, this doesn't create an identity. It merely concerns the fact that all women were defined by men in a certain way. It isn't the way woman identify herself. Sharing a prison cell, or an office, with other people, offer a common experience, a similar view, familiar situations but it doesn't create an identify. Else, our identify is defined the the average of the people who are living with us in the same building.
This is a curious observation, rather than a logical argument.
Feminism set serious obstacles before most of our social institutions. Religions, language academies, States who prefer to preserve the old social structure, etc'. Those institutions have a clear motivation and sufficient economical and political means to show that women are at least different, that they are not like men.
Yet, none of those institutions ever manage show it. Moreover, none of them even tried to tackle this issue seriously.
There are also social media 'like hunters' who would say whatever it takes to be under the spotlight.
Yet, no one, ever, managed to define what does it show any attribute that is inherently, systematically belong to a person just because this person is a male or a female.
It is rather curios that our language is conditioned by a category that doesn't provide any clear meaning. One of languages main role after all, is communication - the transmission of a clear message. Placing vague terms at the center of the communication only makes a difficult task much harder. It is like placing a noise generator at max volume in a quiet room where two people try to dialogue.
Comment on this article (sign in first or confirm by name and email below)