Sunday, July 11, 2010

Overdue musings about the "feminine"

Okay. A few months back a topic came up at work and I wrote it down, thinking I was going to "blog" about it. I've had a sticky note by my computer since then with the topic--you know, to remind me to actually write about it and not forget that it happened. But blogging is scary and I've put it off, but I've put it off long enough.

What happened:
I'm sitting at work (who knows what I was doing at the time) and a co-worker of mine is talking (perhaps not even to me, but to someone in the office) about words like "actress" and how they're so ridiculous and should just be eliminated. Female actors should just be called "actors", because the "ess" just makes it silly.

This conversation reminded me of a lecture for a class I T.Aed for (in the Fall of '09). The Prof was talking about language and how the feminine forms of things are perceived to devalue the things that they describe. He said, "It's not like I'd want to go to a Doctoress, if I had the choice." Really? But why not?! Assuming there was such a word, why is the "ess" so ridiculous?!

I am conflicted here for two reasons. I like things to be ungendered. Why must we assign a gender through our language? For example: I like words like "partner" or "spouse" or "significant other". I don't think it's necessary for me to signal my sexual preferences based on the words I use to describe my spouse. But on the other hand, I think the dislike or aversion to words that end in "ess" stem from a larger problem. Should feminine words be eliminated, or should they just be revalued? Is it even possible to begin to change the way we interpret language? I suppose what really defeats the mission are people who go around talking about how "silly" the feminine words are. Unless it's these people who make other people want to go rant about it all on their blogs.