As I’ve been reading Hell Hath No Fury: True Stories of Women at War from Antiquity to Iraq (information overload! pick it up and get ready to LEARN!), the question of language has arisen time and time again; specifically why we call things what they are. Prior to reading this book, I was under the impression that words like “aviator” and “ambassador” were gender-neutral. In fact, according to the dictionary an aviator is a pilot and an ambassador is a diplomat. So why, oh why, did the authors keep referring to women within these pages as an “aviatrix” or an “ambassadress” (they are real words and mean a female pilot and a female ambassadress respectively)? Why, when -man isn’t a part of the word, is it necessary to create a separate title for women doing the exact same job? On a related note, why are “serious” actresses now demanding to be called “actors” instead of “actresses”?
At first glance, it makes sense to have a separate title for women- to make it easier to differentiate. But why is it necessary to differentiate in the first place; if two people are doing the same job, shouldn’t they be called the same thing? Two police officers investigating a crime, for instance–does it really matter if one is a policeman and the other is a policewoman because the same goal and the same methods for achieving it will be employed, so why bother with the lengthy and unnecessary titles? If we call men and women different titles, we, consciously or not, immediately establish a barrier or a boundary that then creates separate expectations: one for men and one for women. How many times do we have to read the headline: “The Top Five Female ______ Dish About Their Lives On the Job!” Not the top 5 ______, but the the top 5 FEMALE _______. Headlines and stories like these belittle women’s achievements because it invites the reader to appreciate the achievements of women as women, not as engineers or teachers or whatever they are. Stories like these are probably written because women still face obstacles and bias in the workplace and are woefully underrepresented in the upper echelons of most professions and so most profiles of the top 5 _____ are usually men. But why not write a story about professional women without pointing out that they are women? Why not write about women as professionals first?
From my perspective, sitting here typing at my laptop this evening, it seems that gendering seemingly neutral titles, in the military and in civilian workplaces, only furthers the difference. It only serves to shine a spotlight on the fact that a woman is doing it, and that can have a very negative consequence. It’s all very: “look, a FEMALE is doing this! what a freak of nature! come look!” It certainly may encourage other women to enter a certain profession if they see that there are others like them in that field, but I think those benefits pale in comparison.
Which brings me back to the actor/actress problem. If we have separate, gendered titles for things, will there be an eventual backlash? If masculinity and male performance is still held up as the ideal, won’t women one day want to be associated with “the best” in their field? ie: actors. “Serious” actresses today are now demanding to be called actors because the term “actress” is apparently pejorative; or should I say too feminine and closely associated with femaleness (read: not as good as a male). Until we, culturally and beyond, value the sexes equally, and honestly start believing that women and men are equally capable of performing equal work, we are going to be having conundrums such as these.
Thought vomit! Hooah!
What say you? Do you have a gendered job title? Do you wish you did? Do you like it? Would you change it?
What say you about the following terms:
ward vs. wardress (pretty sure this one was made up); concubator (also made up?) vs. concubine?
Have you encountered any other gendered terms that strike you as…odd?