Clue this dude in.


I often label myself as a feminist. I have a strong distaste for the patriarchy, and the gender roles today’s society has in place, and I hate all the myriad ways that those gender roles hurt men and women. I’d like to think I’m pretty savvy when it comes to gender issues, and that my approach to achieving egalitarianism is the most rational and achievable course of action — that being, recognizing privilege, owning up to it, and working to break it down and replace it with a better and more equal system.

So with my self-perceptions being what they are, am I wrong in thinking the use of the word “lady” at the end of a suggestion or angry comment has less to do with the gender of the recipient, and more to do with the lack of familiarity between them?

The specific example I’m talking about is where Greg Laden titled a blog post “Get a clue, lady” in reference to the sign debacle I covered Monday. In point of fact, Greg used the word “lady” in a potentially sexist manner twice — once in the title, once in the name of his sign picture, being “fuckedupwhitelady.jpg”. We won’t go over the specifics of what got him upset, as I think I’ve said my piece on Monday and would rather see the sign specifics discussed there. I lament that every bloody conversation about the sign has devolved in a hurry to a conversation about Greg’s word choice, so this is an attempt to separate the two.

Now, a number of people have taken him to task about how sexist both of those instances were. Ibis in particular has defended her having interpreted it like this:

“Don’t be so emotional, lady”
“Learn to drive, lady”
“Suck it up, lady”
“Get me a sandwich, woman”
“What’s wrong with you, woman?”
“Give me twenty push-ups, ladies” (said to boys to denigrate them)
“Quiet, ladies” (said to a group of men to make silence for an authority figure to speak)

Sounds to me just like
“Get a clue, lady”
and
“fuckedupwhitelady”

Not remotely sexist. Yeah, right.

I happen to see this as a compelling argument. But it’s not an argument about the word lady devoid of the context, not even when misapplied to the wrong gender, to shame men for being like women as though there was something wrong with that. The word lady itself does not appear to me to directly shame ladies for being ladies unless the thing they’re being shamed for in the other part of the sentence is somehow a slur against women — like that they can’t drive, or that they’re emotional, or that their place is in the kitchen. Women are not particularly known for being less clueful than men, no matter what certain slimepit denizens might try to say.

So the “get a clue, lady” when applied to a total stranger whose name you don’t know is equivalent to me to “get a clue, dude” applied to a total stranger you don’t know. Sure, “dude” has aspects of camaraderie when used one dude to another, but in the context of strangers, it’s the equivalent of calling them “hey Jack” or “hey buddy” or “hey asshole” (minus the derogatory context).

That said, it’s been explained to me that just by being on the male side of the privilege imbalance, any reference to the gender of the unprivileged is pretty much sexist by default — e.g. telling a woman that it looks like rain, per Becca’s comment, is mansplaining where a woman telling a man it looks like rain is perfectly acceptable. So referring to her gender while telling her that she’s sans clue, suggests that she’s sans clue because of her gender (though, again, I don’t know that that rises to the level of slur in context).

And I see lots of uses of the word lady in a neutral context. And a number in laudatory contexts — my nickname around the blogosphere for Stephanie Zvan has been “Our Lady of Perpetual Win” for about as long as I’ve known her. Ladies whom I love dearly, I actually call “dear lady” completely unironically. (Though my own speech patterns are peculiar — I also picked up “thank you kindly” despite it being terrible grammar.) If someone visits work and I have to get someone’s attention, I say that “there’s a lady waiting at reception”. Hell, the President’s wife is called the First Lady — bringing to mind the question, what would the President’s husband be called, since the only appropriate term I can think is “gentleman”?

So, knowing how much nuance I can “get” despite my own privileges, why have I got this one thing so desperately wrong? Why am I reading Greg as using the word “lady” as a pronoun for “unnamed protester” (though we know now that her name is Sarah Pond), and why should his stated intention to not slur women in general be completely ignored in this in order to keep vilifying him for his word choice in a moment of anger and frustration? And considering his given example of now-well-known dogwhistles of both racist and sexist varieties, why does “get a clue lady” rise to the level of slur against all ladies, rather than a criticism of this one lady?

Comments

  1. says

    I’m going to take a stab at this, will probably get some of it wrong, but I have faith in the Internet that many, many people will follow who can do a much better job. First, though:

    “So, knowing how much nuance I can “get” despite my own privileges, why have I got this one thing so desperately wrong?”

    Because nobody is perfect, we are all completely steeped in cultural flotsam and jetsam, and battling prejudice and acknowledging privilege is hard work and nobody gets it right all the time, but I think you get that.

    I feel like becca got it right (and, seriously, does she have a blog? Because after seeing her comments here and there over the last couple of years, I would totally read it, probably all the time). Gendered language, because of the existing inequalities, are a minefield. When you live in a culture where simply being a woman is considered “less”, any time someone points out that you’re a woman has the potential to magnify anything else that goes along with it. It’s a loaded term, made more tricky by the fact that it depends a lot on the surrounding context.

    So when you’re using it in certain contexts, as a compliment, an acknowledgement of “class” (…erm….I’m not gonna get into the historical part of the term Lady, ’cause I’m not an expert by any means), or praise it can be a good thing (but are you sure you’re not being condescending?).

    But if you’re criticising, or pairing it with words that can be equally loaded (“fucked up”…does that mean crazy? Are we calling this woman who dared to write a sign and got it wrong crazy?), it links the criticism to her gender, which is just wrong.

    I mean, in my experience, MOST gendered terms we use for women have some sort of baggae attached to them, simply because there’s an implicit understanding in our culture that men are better than women, so when you draw attention to a woman’s gender, you -could- be reinforcing that understanding.

    But as for getting it, you’ll probably have to just take the arguments, weigh them, and decide for yourself. My default in these kind of situations is to side with the person who’s the expert on being a woman, which isn’t me.

  2. julian says

    Hmmm

    In the Marine Corp they always taught us when greeting a group of women to say ‘Good morning, ladies’ and ‘Good morning, gentlemen’ when addressing men.

    Personally I’ve always defaulted to the ranks of the women I do see in uniform because I can’t say ladies as respectfully as I would say gentlemen. (Even though I have no problem saying ma’am, ms, madame or even just the singular of ladies, lady.)

    But that’s me. I’ve seen lady used in mostly innocuous and respectful ways or as a way of signalling a stranger (similar ‘Hey, man!’) you want their attention for whatever reason.

    The second and third examples given (and I freely acknowledge that I’m a guy who may very well be missing how this comes across to women) sound like mostly innocuous use of the word. It’s there simply to signal out the target whereas ‘Get me a sandwhich, woman’ sounds like the reason for saying woman is to remind them they are a woman and that’s what women are for.

    Anyway, I’ll shut up and see what everyone has to say on this.

  3. besomyka says

    Honestly, I think you’re close to answering your own question. For me, I did see it as a put-down, but as you note the term ‘lady’ alone… I don’t see it as a negative.

    Thing is, I don’t know that it’d have mattered what word he put there. The context and the content indicated that he intended it as an insult. That he chose to insult her gender is sexist.

    I don’t know that he was being consciously sexist. I think he was upset at her politics and wanted to criticize her, and in our society that sort of thing comes all to easily to mind. But if not that, he may have used some other physical feature, “Get a clue, shorty.” “Get a clue, ginger”. “Get a clue, white man.”

    See, for me, even saying ‘white man’ in this instance is an insult. The context and phrasing communicates that intent.

    Part of it for me is also that highlighting the gender of someone in a situation in which it otherwise shouldn’t matter (is her being a woman affecting her politics?), then you’re appealing to the societal assumptions associated very generally with the term. You’re filling the subject of your communication with those subconscious biases, and it’ll color everything else you say about the subject.

    So to say ‘get a clue, lady’ strikes me as an overt insult, and a sexist one at that.

  4. says

    I’m going to repost the other comments I made in trying to explain to you the nuances involved. (Your statement “And I see lots of uses of the word lady in a neutral context. And a number in laudatory contexts” was directly already addressed by me, for example.) Some of what I explain is meant to highlight the use of “lady” itself in the context in which it was used by Greg, but I’m also trying to show how a word (like ‘lady’) which is neutral or complimentary in some contexts can be used as pejoratives in other contexts.

    The first post was meant to be read step by step. Actually think about what I’ve said for a bit before moving on.

    Okay, first, let’s try some analysis.

    [step 1]
    Which sounds more derogatory to the person being addressed:

    a. Get a clue.
    b. Get a clue, lady.

    [step 2]
    If you replaced the word “lady” with some non-gendered, neutral word how would that sound:

    c. Get a clue, Canadian.

    [step 3]
    Now imagine that Canadians were not generally viewed with positive attributes, but rather were constantly insulted and mistreated and objectified. Would that make the usage okay because instead of some more obvious slur, it is a word commonly used in neutral contexts as well?

    [step 4]
    Compare

    a. fuckedupfaggot
    b. fuckeduphomosexual

    In the context, does the second seem much less homophobic than the first?

    [step 5]
    Finally, what do you think would be an adequate non-gendered replacement for the word “lady” in the title of the post to denote the same level of derision?

    Get a clue, _____.

    As to your general knowledge, I submit that this pejorative usage just not something that you’re aware of or pay attention to. I encounter it all the time. As I said in my first comment on the subject, there was a commercial on Saturday night during HNIC, wherein the term ‘lady’ is used as a slur (up until that moment, I thought the commercial was amusing, and then it hurt). Ovechkin goes up onto a roof (via a transdimensional portal) to retrieve a football two boys were playing with. He hands the ball over to them saying “Here you go, ladies.”

    When it comes at the end of a sentence: “Blah blah blah, lady.” it’s almost invariably meant derisively (I’m superior, so you better take special heed of what I’m telling you). Just watch for it. You’ll see what I mean.

    Jason wrote:

    Ibis does for comparing “fuckedupwhitelady” with “fuckedupfaggot”

    I was comparing them, yes, but I wasn’t saying they’re equivalent. I was trying to get across that the distinction between saying “fuckedupwhitelady” and, say, “fuckedupwhitebitch” is comparable (not equivalent) to the distinction between saying “fuckeduphomosexual” and “fuckedupfaggot” — i.e. yes, bitch and faggot are obvious slurs and never used positively except in an ironic or “own the slur” kind of way (e.g. Godless Bitches), but using lady or homosexual, more [generally] neutral terms, doesn’t really improve things very much. In fact, the word homosexual has nearly lost its neutrality except in clinical usage because of its derisive usage in other contexts. By the same token, I know that some feminists don’t like the term “lady” in any context.

    “Get a clue, dude” and “Get a clue, lady” are not equivalent at all. “Dude” when used to address someone is most often a term of camaraderie.* You’re identifying the person as an ally (cf. bro, friend etc.), but admonishing them gently. It actually serves to soften the blow of the “get a clue” part of the statement.

    When “lady”** is used as a term of address***, there are very, very few instances of neutrality (e.g. Hey, lady, you dropped something), and none of camaraderie that I can think of. The “lady” serves to intensify the blow of “get a clue”.

    Greg’s post was so insulting to Susan, from the title to the contents, to the picture caption, it’s rather difficult for me to believe that he was so nasty to her but happened to use “lady” in anything other than a derisive manner. Especially when it’s so seldom used neutrally in that construction.


    *The only time “dude” is clearly used as a deliberate slur (that I can think of) is as in your example “dudebro” — which is obviously a pejorative directed at a group of men (the MRAs) who are pictured as showing their camaraderie by calling each other “dude” or “bro”.

    ** “Ladies” in the plural has more neutral and even positive usage as a term of address, but even then, it is often used derisively, usually directed at men and boys to put them down (cf. “girls” which is also used in the same manner).

    *** It is used positively or neutrally or even complimentarily in other ways, for example often as a descriptive noun (“pretty lady” “elderly lady” “classy lady”) which may be confusing you.

  5. Captain Mike says

    … e.g. telling a woman that it looks like rain, per Becca’s comment, is mansplaining where a woman telling a man it looks like rain is perfectly acceptable.

    That is, quite frankly, one of the stupidest fucking things I’ve ever heard. The word “mansplaining” is also, in and of itself, utterly awful. If someone decides to judge speech based not on its content, but on the contents of the speaker’s underpants, then they are the one with the problem, not the speaker.

  6. Erin says

    This is something that I was considering addressing in a round about way (as a lesson learned on why not to read comments) since I had started – and quit – reading the comments on the sign entries.

    How I see it is you can use the term lady when talking about someone. So I could say, “I am a lady,” and that would be a correct usage and would even be true if I behaved in a more ladylike manner. Or you can use it as a title such as Lady Catherine de Bourgh, or the First Lady (it is, after all, a title).

    If, however, you were addressing me and you called me lady, I would break your nose (even if we are friends). That’s because ‘lady’ as a singular form of address has been replaced by ‘madam’ or ‘ma’am’ depending on where you are. It is still acceptable to use ‘ladies’ to address multiple women, though.

    Now, switch out the word ‘lady’ and replace it with say, ‘atheist.’ I can say, “Jason is an atheist,” and be fairly certain you won’t be offended (especially because you say so yourself). On the other hand, it would be quite rude of me to say to him while passing each other on the street, “Hey atheist!”

    Also, let’s not forget that – as always – it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. Even though the use of the term ‘ladies’ is acceptable, it can be said in such a way as to come across as derogatory. This is where Greg’s naming of the picture comes in. He could have called it “Lady with a sign” and it would have been fine. But his choice of words indicates that he was angry when he wrote it, automatically making the tone behind the words (let alone the choice of the phrase itself) an offensive one.

    I hope that helps to clear it up for you at least a little bit.

    BTW, I added the link to the wiki entry for Lady because it gave some of the background that I wanted to explain but didn’t feel like typing out.

  7. says

    Listen, man, if you think calling that dude a lady is a problem, fine. But the ACTUAL reason that anyone is complaining about my use of a particular word is this: They come from ERV. I will not use any of the words that come to mind when I think that.

    Other than Becca, perhaps. She’s just a …. oh, never mind.

  8. says

    And for the record, what I said directly to or about Greg on this was: “your use of “lady” in your title sounds rather sexist to me. Sure, you’re not calling her a nasty name, but in that phrase, it’s said with obvious derision, as though being a lady is something people just don’t want to be called.” and that he was “coming off like a sexist jerk”.

    In other words, “This is the impression you’re giving off. Time to examine your words if you don’t want to sound like a sexist asshole.” The only response of his that I’ve seen is that ‘“Get a clue, lady” is not even remotely sexist, by the way.’ So yeah.

  9. says

    Oh, and now this winner:

    But the ACTUAL reason that anyone is complaining about my use of a particular word is this: They come from ERV.

    I’ve never been on ERV in my life (at least as far as I can recall, and certainly not since the Elevator Incident). On the other hand, I spent hours during that fiasco arguing and trying to explain to the mansplainers and the clueless what the big deal was on Greg Laden’s blog.

  10. says

    I seriously doubt Ibis comes from the slimepit, Greg. Or julian, or Erin (coz I know Erin in meatspace, and she’s awesome by the way, and that threat that she would break your nose is probably valid, but I might sarcastically try it sometime just to see if I can dodge her punch).

    That said, yes, there’s an obvious element from the slimepit trying to divide and conquer here. They’re not being particularly clueful.

    Take Captain Mike, who fails to recognize that, because of the patriarchy we live in, the concern that any reference to gender with a woman is almost certainly a slur against the woman is a valid one, even when the vast majority of the time the reference to gender is superficial and a throwaway fact. The simple fact that you’ve said multiple times that you did not see it as sexist leads me to believe that you were not using it as a slur, no matter your construction or how it parallels other constructions that do make it about gender.

    Per Erin, the construction of using a label to address someone is a little problematic, even if you’re doing it in good faith (“Hey guy with the brown shirt!” != “Hey Nazi!”). Though in those cases, I’d be tempted to substitute “ma’am” or “madam”, but I can see how, in your irritation, you wouldn’t want to give her an actual honorific that implies a level of class.

    And about class, my first thought on “get a clue lady” is actually a slur against her class. Considering that you also railed on her heteronormativity, your title included “white” to imply some impression that she has privilege, and your assessment that she’s a middle class mother which is probably true for a number of reasons, her “othering” of the “non-norms” notwithstanding, I saw it all as an attack on her being far more privileged than the people she’s “NOT”.

    Am I making any sense? Why am I addressing Greg though? Hmm. Questions to ponder!

  11. Erin says

    At this rate it’ll be a long time before I’m back in NS…children are expensive. I do, however expect to meet your better half and go out for garlic fingers when next we meet.

    Now explain to me what Greg means by ERV. I’m assuming it has nothing to do with ventilation AND that he means to be insulting, but I’ve got no bloody clue what he’s referring to.

  12. says

    Ohhh, “better half!” How terribly sexist! ;) Yes, garlic fingers would be most epic. And I’d love to see Firebrand 2.0 in real life!

    Backstory on ERV: Abbie Smith, excellent science blogger at scienceblogs.com/erv, who got involved in the Elevatorgate nonsense mostly only to denigrate Rebecca Watson. She put up a famous thread that she’s since called her “monument to everything she believes in”, where because of her views on free speech, thousands upon thousands of comments piled in about how stupid Rebecca Watson is, including a number of choice slurs like “Rebeccunt Twatson”. Basically, she provided a forum for some very unsavoury MRA-types. And they’ve been launching little raiding parties over to FreethoughtBlogs for some months now, before I moved in.

  13. Juniper Shoemaker says

    She put up a famous thread that she’s since called her “monument to everything she believes in”, where because of her views on free speech, thousands upon thousands of comments piled in about how stupid Rebecca Watson is, including a number of choice slurs like “Rebeccunt Twatson”.

    Jason, didn’t you approve of this?

  14. Juniper Shoemaker says

    But the ACTUAL reason that anyone is complaining about my use of a particular word is this: They come from ERV.

    This is not true of myself.

  15. says

    I said “one of the chief reasons I like Abbie is that she swings for the fences, even when I disagree with her”. Or something along those lines. I don’t approve of the slur, not by a longshot. And I think everyone involved in the coordinated attack against Watson is fucking ridiculous (and I’ve tried to make that point a dozen different ways in my Problem with Privilege series).

    As time drags on, the fact that Abbie is doing absolutely nothing to distance herself from the shitty tactics and shitty attitudes that are being fostered with her blog as a headquarters, well, my respect for her work is slowly becoming insufficient to override my respect for her character, as it erodes.

    (But who the hell am I anyway?)

  16. says

    Sorry Erin: I should unpack “MRA” too. “Male rights activist”. People who think feminists are evil and are trying to replace a patriarchy with a matriarchy. They’re nasty. They’re who I’m referring to with “slimepit”.

    Just had a brief conversation with Jodi about this nonsense. Very brief, because unpacking all this in the timeframes she has for blogospherics at the moment makes it rather difficult to get nuance. However, I suspect my use of “lady” and “dude” as a “you’re a stranger and I need you to do something and I’m annoyed” is cultural, because Jodi evidently does the same thing. When she needs to yell to someone to get their car out of the way of her harvester or tractor (she drives heavy machinery at a vineyard), she would yell “hey lady, get your car out of the way”. Or “hey dude”. Exactly the same construction I would use. She also caveats this with “I’d never yell ‘hey woman’ though, because that’s incredibly sexist.”

  17. Juniper Shoemaker says

    I was wondering. Fair enough.

    For the record, I took care to avoid the discussions of Rebecca Watson held on most blogs, including ERV’s. I’ve lurked in the atheist/skeptic/science blogosphere for almost five years. I’ve read it all before. Additionally, I work in a lab where the majority of my colleagues have chauvinist ideas about women and girls (i.e., boys are more desirable children than girls, women are “naturally” more protective as parents than men– tell that to DuWayne Brayton!– men can’t help commenting on the sexual attractiveness of every woman they encounter even in professional settings, male scientists are the real geniuses, male scientists of genius can’t help yelling at their colleagues and calling them idiots every time they get frustrated, female scientists shouldn’t yell at their colleagues because it’s “unprofessional”, no woman in our lab should ever expect to be as smart or successful as our male PI and his male postdoc) that they express daily. So I didn’t have the stomach for the malice and the willful misunderstanding. It’s not a game to me.

  18. says

    However, I suspect my use of “lady” and “dude” as a “you’re a stranger and I need you to do something and I’m annoyed” is cultural,

    I don’t think it is. My culture (Ontario) and yours (Maritimes I believe?) may be different in some ways, but I don’t think this is one of them. I think it’s more a matter of awareness than anything else.

    If Jodi called out to me “Hey lady, get your car out of the way.” I’d interpret that as at least potentially sexist (though perhaps not deliberately so, especially since she’s a woman herself; if you said the same thing, I’d think it more likely it was deliberately sexist). Not as sexist as “Hey bitch, get your car out of the way” or “Hey lady, you don’t belong behind the wheel” (consider there’s that whole “women drivers are bad drivers” meme out there), but still sexist.

    There’s no clear cut distinction here. You use a gendered word when you’re annoyed at or insulting someone, especially a woman, and it’s likely going to come across as sexist, moreso when the word is often used in a pejorative or derisive fashion with the same construction in other contexts. You can always use non-gendered words to demonstrate your annoyance or your derision and not come across like a sexist jerk. Still a jerk, maybe, but not a sexist one.

    P.S. Not to derail this thread too…. but I don’t think “ridiculous” (something worthy of being made fun of and laughed at) is the best word choice to describe the people who are threatening and abusing Rebecca.

  19. says

    I said “there’s no clear cut distinction here,” meaning to refer to your example. It becomes much more obvious when the other part of the statement is something women are often derided for: e.g lack of intelligence, hypersensitivity, poor mechanical ability, being emotional, being irrational, being promiscuous, being frigid, being a nag, being ugly etc.

    Greg’s “get a clue” fell right into that class of insults.

  20. says

    There are parallels. Ladies and gentlemen, men and women, boys and girls, lads and lasses, Sir and Ma’am. This gives you a quick test. If you wouldn’t use “gentleman” in that context, then you also shouldn’t use “lady”.

    I admit it’s tricky when you get to more casual uses. There are few good casual terms for women that aren’t derogatory. Chicks and dolls and babes and such, ew, even worse.

    And then, lady has a history of being used as diminishing. For the delicate and retiring and conservative and subservient and not at all like those nasty feminist wimminz. “Ladies Against Women” was a very clear spoof of antifeminist women like Phyllis Schlafly.

  21. Michael Fisher says

    My own male, middle-aged & British perspective:

    It’s unacceptable for a man to use “lady” in a sentence that is derisory or critical ~ it multiplies the insult. In work when a manager is discussing a workers performance there is no need to use any sex/gender terms ~ it actually obscures the major point which is – performance.

    Outside of certain rare circumstances, there is always a better word than “lady”:- e.g. her actual name/ her/ she/ girl/ woman/ etc.

    You get a certain kind of ’70s medallion man who uses “lady” in a creepy way – on the road to making the person… an object. That’s where the sickness bag & the vomiting begins. Wonder Woman? Cat Woman? Those are fine & I would hate to see “Lady” used there. I can’t imagine coining “Our Lady of Perpetual Win” myself ~ it makes me wince & I don’t know any women under 65 who would be pleased to be called that. It would mean a visit to a plastic surgeon for me. :)

  22. Juniper Shoemaker says

    where because of her views on free speech

    I dread saying this aloud, but I can’t suppress it any longer: With this characterization of ERV’s post, are you not suggesting that critics of ERV’s response to Rebecca Watson want to deny ERV’s right to publish whatever arguments she wants to make on her own blog? Are you equating feminists with authoritarians, when the truth is that some are and some aren’t? You’re inadvertently equating criticism of speech with censorship of speech, and you’re reminding me of those who disingenuously portray “political correctness” as an effort to induce the government to outlaw the use of slurs against women and brown people. And, as someone who has been an unwavering free speech absolutist since childhood, I resent this.

  23. Juniper Shoemaker says

    in order to keep vilifying him for his word choice in a moment of anger and frustration?

    On topic: I doubt Greg Laden is a sexist. I think “Get a clue, lady” was a sexist statement, given its context, that he made out of anger. Afterward, he refused to admit that he’d used “lady” as an insult and pretended that he only ever makes ironic use of slurs instead. That’s dishonest. And, though I still love you and your blog, it’s at best misguided and at worst dishonest of you to characterize people’s calling him out on it as “vilification”.

    Oh, and whether or not “lady” is a sexist epithet is completely dependent on its context. That isn’t true of all slurs, but it is of slurs of this category. One can discern this with the same faculties that one uses for reading comprehension. This isn’t an easy argument to make, however.

    Christ. Now I really have to quit blogging.

  24. says

    The problem with “XXX, lady” is that, because of patriarchy and sexism, it has an implicit “because”.
    Learn how to drive, (you suck at it because you’re a) lady.
    So, “get a clue, lady” has some implicit conotations of her being wrong because she has two X chromosomes.
    It may not be intended to sound like this by Greg, but you can’t get rid of thousands of years of patriarchal baggage because you are different.
    Think of it, no good sentence directed at a woman ever started or ended with “young lady”.
    But still those words have a neutral meaning as well, like “Alice is the young lady over there”, but as usually, context is everything.
    That’s why I disagree with the idea that a man saying “it’s going to rain” is sexist per se.
    It can be mansplaining, it can be information, it can be meaningless smalltalk. To my knowledge men say such things to each other, too, especially strangers when doing smalltalk:
    -Looks like it’s going to rain
    -yeah, awefully wet weather this week
    -Sure, it’s the middle of October

  25. says

    Erin: Good luck, I live in Halifax and I can’t get Jason to come out and visit, nor have I met Jodi yet, which is dissapointing because she sounds like all kinds of awesome.
    Jason: *hint*hint*

    As for the use of the word lady. Go to any grocery store and ask any female cashier if they like being called “the nice lady”, the reaction will be almost entirely negative. I know I hated it. I’ve also noticed a trend amongst a lot of my friends, they hate being alled “ma’am”.

    I think the problem with using the word lady as it was used for the purpose of this argument is that it is said in anger or frustration, thus making it a negative word whether it was intended that way or not.

  26. tarian says

    I usually read Greg’s blog. The title of this particular post was… jarring. Not in an extreme way; I didn’t stop and think “well, crap, somebody whose words I enjoyed reading is actually a raging misogynist, guess I better cross one off the list”; but I skipped the post. Thing is, the word “lady” can be uttered in different tones of voice to convey concepts both sexist and not. In person, there’s a world of difference between someone who needed a noun and found this one useful, and someone who intends to convey contempt for women as a class. Without the verbal cues you’re left with just the context; here it’s being used as part of a general expression of disapproval for a person, and so the mental tone that comes with the word is negative. I tend to try to remove gendered language from criticism precisely because I do not want to have the things I say perceived as an indictment of the entire gender; this leads to some odd word choices from time to time (“Get a clue, human!”) but at least taking that route causes people to think more carefully about the language.

  27. Erin says

    Sorry Jason, I didn’t mean to short-change Jodi like that. I’m sure she’s more like your better 3/4. :P

    Okay, Miranda, here’s the plan: Abby and I will have to coordinate a visit and we’ll all team up on him until he caves. I’ll bring both mini-Reds (the littler of whom has been defending his personal space by smacking people in the face if they get too close) and you can bring your little guy so we can see him.

  28. says

    Greg @7: “But the ACTUAL reason that anyone is complaining about my use of a particular word is this: They come from ERV”

    Not true of me, either. The ACTUAL reason is that you said something that could be interpreted in its given context as sexist, and people felt compelled to point that out to you, probably because in the past you’ve been receptive to such criticism. This time maybe not so much, but nobody is perfect.

  29. karmakin says

    I think one of the things that makes this even trickier is that at least to me “Lady” or the male counterpart “Gentleman” is a signifier of class. As the original sign was kind of an indicator that the woman considered herself of a higher class than the rest of the protestors, this may not be entirely appropriate. (Gentleman, of course is usually just shortened down to ‘Man, I think)

    But even that doesn’t work, because we definitely see Lady used in that fashion more than Gentleman.

    But I definitely think that the usage of “Lady” in that context was more about class than gender, however I entirely understand why it triggers huge warning bells.

  30. says

    With this characterization of ERV’s post, are you not suggesting that critics of ERV’s response to Rebecca Watson want to deny ERV’s right to publish whatever arguments she wants to make on her own blog?

    I am not. Thank you for asking, so I could clarify. She expressly cites her commitment to free speech as why she considers it a monument to all she holds dear. That, and from what I can tell, no small amount of direct resentment of Watson herself, leads to her calling a slimepit full of slimy slimeness a “monument”. I fully agree that this is disturbing, not because one should be a censoring authoritarian fascist or whatever reductio ad absurdum the other side suggests feminists are, but because free speech is free because everyone can say their piece — including criticisms of others’ free speech.

    While you’re free to speak as you wish, you should be mindful to hurt one another as little as possible with the words you choose. If you don’t, then others are free to tell you what a dumbass sexist you’re being. So I can see why people attack Greg’s words because he inadvertently hurt women who are sensitized to those kinds of dogwhistles with them.

    What I really don’t get — and this is the nub of what I’m having trouble with, honestly — is why, if in all these arguments intent to slur is the important part of how you insult someone advertently or inadvertently in a generic non-specific way that includes a gendered word, the simple clarification that you’re not using it in a gendered manner is not enough to take you back from it being a slur. Our language has one major problem, pointed out by tarian @31, in that pronouns are gendered unless you start using the equally problematic “human”, or, say, “they” or “you”. I think we need non-gendered ways of referring to anonymous people.

    Though I’m starting to warm up to “puny human”.

  31. karmakin says

    Yeah, that’s a huge problem with English in that the options for non-gendered pronouns are almost non-existent.

    Then I look at French and it makes me weep.

  32. says

    I propose the Pharyngula all-times favourite “cupcake”
    “Get a clue, cupcake” is a totally gender-neutral.

    Jason

    What I really don’t get — and this is the nub of what I’m having trouble with, honestly — is why, if in all these arguments intent to slur is the important part of how you insult someone advertently or inadvertently in a generic non-specific way that includes a gendered word, the simple clarification that you’re not using it in a gendered manner is not enough to take you back from it being a slur.

    Because the connection is too strong. I don’t think we can easily break it. All the other instances of XXXXX, lady! are present.

  33. says

    Funny, around these parts, “muffin” is used in the exact same construction as “cupcake”. Which is the same thing — cake — minus the frosting on top. And considered a breakfast food, even though it’s a lump of cake in a crinkly piece of paper.

    Another question: is the problem the WORD “lady”, or is it the gender of the word? Would any gendered pronoun be acceptable? What about if you’re, say, yelling to someone to move their car or be run over by the harvester you’re driving, and there’s more than one person present — isn’t “lady” a good way to indicate you’re talking to the woman rather than the man standing off to one side? Or at that point do you have to say “person in the brown shirt”?

  34. says

    Jason
    Well, take it as an instance of “things are complicated.
    The main problem is that in “Get a clue, lady”, the “lady” is in the position where you would put the insult. “Get a clue, asshole”. And since there’s a long tradition of using female words as insults, it carries that value, as opposed to “dude”, which was also mentioned.
    I suppose that in life or death situations people will hardly mind, anyway. But sure, I’d say the word itself doesn’t carry the load that bitch or cunt carry.
    As I said “Alice is the young lady over there” is perfectly fine in my book, even if “young woman” would work as well.

    karmakin
    Interesting. Is it only directed ar women where you live?
    But I stay by the fact that the word itself is by definition gender-neutral. You don’t insult the femaleness.

  35. tarian says

    Another variant of gender-neutral identification of subject (possibly only useful in a particular age range of geeks): “program”. But then I use “Greetings, program!” in normal daily speech, so it’s not quite as unexpected coming from me.

  36. says

    I’ve always been ticked off by gendered languages. WTF is a pencil “feminine” and a pen “masculine”*. And I would LOVE if non-gendered pronouns were generally accepted. Though I must admit that the options that are commonly used by the queer community (that I’ve been exposed to (ze, hir)) are somewhat jarring to my ears. I’m sure this is a case of familiarity on my part. Of course, I also insist on saying “an history”, so I may be something of a linguistic throwback.

    Somewhat more on topic, seeing anything followed by “, lady” always brings to mind a burly New York truck driver shouting at a woman to move her car. Or something to that effect. I avoid genedered pronouns altogether when I’m shouting at someone in traffic. I stick to something related to their behaviour, like, “Hey, moron, what part of “Right Turn Only” can you not understand?!”. Of course this becomes quite embarrassing when the “moron” in question is a non-english speaker. So I typically don’t shout anything at people in traffic anymore.

    * It’s been years since I’ve taken French. And I never could get the genders straight for nouns. So just pretend that my example is accurate. La crayon, le stylo? Or something.

  37. says

    Thanx for the links, although the article about the cupcakes leaves a positive image: three cheers for self-empowered women who do what they like (even if it’s pink)*
    So, ok, no more cupcakes *sigh*

    Cyber Lizard
    Both are male
    le crayon, le stylo
    Coming from a language that has gendered articles, I find the opposite to be true: The fact that every object is given a mostly arbitrary gender makes the whole thing much less important.
    I remember when I suggested that, if people didn’t wnat to use he/she, why they didn’t just use “it” as a neutral and people freaked out.

    *I disagree that Guinness is the most manly beer.

  38. savage.spheniscus. says

    Captain Mike, I do agree with you about ‘mansplaining’ not my favourite term either. I understand the meaning and why it’s come about, but it’s not one that I personally choose to use.

    Jason, I think several people have already done a good job of explaining how “Get a clue, lady” is an insult. I would like to add that having worked in a small town in a rural area that traditionally has been full of blue collar jobs held by men, that there are many ways one can be insulting using non-slur/swear words such as lady, woman, and female.

    To relate an experience and term that may be regional, around here the word “fem” but pronounced “feem” (I’m not sure what spelling one should use, as I’ve not seen it spelled, just said) from “female” is often used by young men in the same derogatory fashion that “woman” can be used. As in “I don’t listen to no fems!” “Who cares she’s just a fem”, “whatever, fem”

    Having been on the receiving end of the use of lady, woman and the aforementioned “fem” on more occasions than I’d like to tally, I personally find that the worst part is not the actual word, but the tone so often used to speak it. To hear someone spit out a word associated with the gender with which you identify with such venom, such distaste and such disrespect is demoralizing. It doesn’t matter that it’s not a “swear” which is often the issue in my workplace, it’s the way it’s used it’s the way it’s said, it’s the way it’s meant.

  39. says

    Giliel, people freak out when I referred to my as-yet-unborn child as “it”. At the time it was perfectly true, but people seem to feel that “it” is dehumanizing. I dunno, it worked for us.

  40. Juniper Shoemaker says

    Captain Mike, I do agree with you about ‘mansplaining’ not my favourite term either. I understand the meaning and why it’s come about, but it’s not one that I personally choose to use.

    It’s important to focus on ideas instead of anatomy. I think the term is a rhetorical device coined to refer exclusively to sexist arguments made against women by men, but it’s important to realize that it’s entirely possible for women to “mansplain” as well. That’s because women can harbor ideas that are sexist against women. (Most of the colleagues I spoke of in #20 are women.) The transmission of ideas is cultural, not biological, and no one lives in a cultural vacuum. I continue to be as astonished by the number of anti-feminists and men’s rights activists who assume that women can’t be sexist against women as I am by the number of feminists who assume the same thing.

    I’m also frustrated by the inability of many in the atheist/skeptic/science blogosphere to realize that bigotry manifests itself in subtle as well as cartoonishly overt ways due to the nature of human communication. I also work with and for people who don’t get this at all. It’s not as simple as “I, the Bearer of the Torch, am gonna sweep in here and school all you liberals in not applying double-standards!” But I used to make the same mistake, and that’s a discussion for another day.

  41. JohnnieCanuck says

    I think the term is a rhetorical device coined to refer exclusively to sexist arguments made against women by men

    That was not the understanding I got from the various feminist blogs where I first came across the term, which is that it’s the condescending way men tend to assume that no matter how simple or obvious some subject may be, the woman they are conversing with needs to hear it explained, possibly in excruciating detail. All because women have to be ignorant of all things mechanical, scientific or professional sports. Well, everything except sewing, cooking and babies, really.

    I watched my younger sister first pick up on the idea that she should pretend not to understand things when I knew she did. It annoyed me then that she was being dishonest. It annoyed me more when I figured out that she was just accepting/being forced into the patriarchy’s role that had been prepared for her.

  42. Juniper Shoemaker says

    @53: Oh, I explained the term that way because I was trying to be as straightforward as possible and because Captain Mike apparently thinks that the term “mansplaining” was coined as a misandrist slur instead of a rhetorical device meant to show how many men still blithely assume that women need to have science, math, engineering, sports, economics, business and politics condescendingly explained to them in excruciating detail because they’re female. Now, many feminists put emphasis on “men” in this definition. I would prefer to exchange “men” for “people”. For example, I’m acquainted with several women in math and science who smugly assume that other women can’t hack math and science because they’re female; they also deride women in the liberal arts for their “feminine” intellectual interests. These women harbor the same sexism against women that men with similar attitudes do. I’d like for more people to be aware of the degree to which patriarchal attitudes are internalized by many members of our society, regardless of sex.

    These points notwithstanding, I disagree that the term “mansplaining” is used by people deciding to “to judge speech based not on its content, but on the contents of the speaker’s underpants”. I disfavor the term, but I understand what it really means. By definition, a rhetorical device is meant to persuade an audience to understand an issue from the author’s point of view. It isn’t an endorsement of bigotry. I think it’s fair to understand “mansplaining” this way because of the context in which it originated and is usually employed. And that’s all I was driving at.

    By the way, I’m tempted to blame postmodernism for this widespread failure of the blogosphere to understand important literary devices such as “tone”, “atmosphere” and “rhetorical device”, which are staples of standard English. I grew up reading 19th and early 20th century British, Canadian and American literature and taking English classes of the old school. With the exception of the Victorians’ penchant for oblique discussions of sex and violence, the focus there was on clear communication.

    Nowadays, the postmodernists confuse their audiences by refusing to explicitly define their terms and use standard English while the reactionaries respond by calling every attempt to develop a rational understanding of the different connotations of individual terms a disingenuous effort to justify bigotry. Bad, garbled writing and speech are a disgrace to any cause, while denying the existence of nuance in language is as nonsensical as denying that there’s such a thing as reading comprehension. It drives me nuts.

  43. says

    Cyberlizard @46: I saw it, but I don’t specifically remember the “cupcake” reference. Was that the “hook” Kirk and those security goons used in the bar and later on the ship? Seems the most logical place for the phrase to have been.

    The impression I’m getting is that tone is everything. Tone is really hard to get exactly right on the internet in plaintext, though certainly not impossible. The fact that Greg used “fuckedup” in the image title doesn’t help the impression of his tone, nor the rest of his annoyance. But I still don’t see him using a particularly sexist remark, except in the sense that he’s addressing a woman. If he was trying to aim at class, but set off all your dogwhistles that he was aiming at gender, then that sucks. It means it’s that much more difficult to talk about someone having middle class privilege when being upset about the middle class coopting rather than merely joining a movement.

    I fully agree that a lot of word usage is completely screwed up by those damned postmodernists, Juniper. And I’d posit that slimy assholes have screwed up gendered words to the point where even referring to a person as a generic address with reference to class is now a sexist comment. Again, we need pronouns that are not gendered, that work in the heat of the moment to refer to someone being privileged, that are not tainted by all the slimepit uses.

    Given the word choices available to Greg, it seems “lady” was the best choice. That or leaving it off entirely, losing the nuance he was evidently going for with attacking her class. I’m sorry if my saying that means I’m still not “getting it”. If you folks (non-gendered plural!) think that makes me less respectable in any way, I am saddened by that fact, but I’ll try to make up for it by being great about everything else.

  44. says

    All because women have to be ignorant of all things mechanical, scientific or professional sports. Well, everything except sewing, cooking and babies, really.

    Which is funny, because sewing, cooking and babies require quite some skills in mechanics and science (not so much profesional sports)

    mansplaining
    I’ll go back to the thing about communication and how men and women are raised to speak differently.
    The woman side is a lot of use of indirect speech and subtle clues. We’re not supposed to be demanding.
    The man side of this is talking in facts, even if they’re not.
    But we all know, you can’t argue facts.
    So what men often, and often subconsciously do is to present their opinion as a fact, thereby devaluing the woman, making her seem unreasonable and plain wrong.
    I’ll give you an example that recently got my husband into trouble (count him as one of the good but often clueless guys who’s perpetuation the subtle forms of sexism and privilege).
    We were shopping together (a rare occurence) and we’d agreed to make pasta-gratin for dinner. The supermarket had Italian macaroni on offer so I grabed a bag.
    He has no clue about cooking.
    He never ever made pasta-gratin (if you want the recipe, just say so).
    He was wondering why I bought a different type of pasta than usual.
    What he said was: “You (generic you, German has a different word for that, so no ambivalence possible) don’t make pasta-gratin with macaroni.”
    And then he wondered why I was angry.

    Jason
    Well, how about just: Get a clue!
    If the structure has a spot reserved for an insult, almost everything you put there becomes one.

  45. says

    The example you gave of your husband using a non-specific generic “you” to expound upon something he didn’t actually know, Giliell, gives me the distinct impression that the “get a clue” sans pronoun would be equally offensive. Because it was directed at a woman. Please tell me that’s not how I should take this stuff.

  46. says

    savage @48, your example of people using “feme” (that’s how I’d spell it, like meme) is grossly sexist — a contraction of “female” separate from the word itself is obviously intended as a new slur.

    On “mansplaining”, I agree with Juniper @54 that the word is a rhetorical device to describe a situation that’s mostly done by men to women. But if a woman can do it too, then is it such a good idea to call it “mansplaining” any more? Doesn’t that basically slur men as being the only gender that feels the need to overexplain things to people? I’ve had women explain things to me that I probably understand better than them (e.g., on calls with IT folk who express an understanding of networking that seems, honestly, like they’d just got out of school). And while it irritated me, I patiently waited through the explanation in hopes that some new knowledge might be imparted on me. Seems to me that I got “mansplained” then. Why’s it “man” at all? Is that really fair? Yes, yes, I know, we’re in a patriarchy, and men seem to think they know science and math and whatnot so much better than women, but shouldn’t we have a gender-neutral word for that too?

  47. JRB says

    The main problem is that in “Get a clue, lady”, the “lady” is in the position where you would put the insult. “Get a clue, asshole”.

    Sorry, while I think there have been some compelling arguments made, I’m not buying this one. While “Get a clue, asshole” is one way that phrase is used, I don’t think anyone would argue that it would be unusual to see “Get a clue, Greg” or “Get a clue, Thibuaelt” used instead.

    Unless you want to argue that a person’s proper name is being used as an insult in those cases, I don’t think you can make the case that just because an insult could be used as part of a construction that any noun used in the same place automatically becomes an insult.

  48. Juniper Shoemaker says

    I’ve had women explain things to me that I probably understand better than them (e.g., on calls with IT folk who express an understanding of networking that seems, honestly, like they’d just got out of school). And while it irritated me, I patiently waited through the explanation in hopes that some new knowledge might be imparted on me. Seems to me that I got “mansplained” then.

    This sounds obnoxious. I’m sorry. However, were these women explaining networking principles that you already understood because you’re male? That is key. If they were treating you that way for a reason other than your sex, then this is rude because they didn’t bother to ask you what you already knew. It doesn’t fall into the “mansplaining” category.

    Mind, I’m not assuming that these women weren’t unnecessarily explaining IT to you because you’re male*. That’s because there are multiple possible motivations for subtle manifestations of bigotry, which makes them difficult to talk about. For example, one reason why I dislike working in my lab right now is because I dread using the confocal microscope. Recently, the technician in charge of the confocal microscope responded condescendingly to a question I didn’t want to ask him and was pressed to ask by other people. This is the same white male technician born in 1957 who couldn’t settle for sticking to business during the three days of the confocal microscopy safety training that I had to endure last semester. Instead, he made supercilious asides and insinuations the whole time. He assumed that I and the other female trainee present sucked at math because we’re biologists. He insinuated that I was nervous not because I’d never used a confocal microscope before but because I didn’t have any natural aptitude for its use. He incorrectly explained my own histological slides to me. Worst, he concluded by putting his hand on my arm without invitation, leaning into my face and smirking, “Sweetheart, biology is a lot harder than you think it is.”

    I almost responded to that with “Which one of us went to Berkeley, asshole?” I wish I had. But I didn’t. I did what I was trained to do in the white Republican military communities from which I hail and smiled placatingly like a good little girl instead. Consequently, I’m still so angry at that jerk that I no longer care who from my university reads this and tries to ruin my life because I wrote something impolitic about him online. Almost everyone else detests him anyway.

    Did the technician treat me this way because I’m female? Personally, I think he treated me this way without provocation for multiple reasons: 1) I’m female; 2) I’m half-black; 3) he’s jealous of my Rising Star of a brilliant PI and is taking it out on me; 4) he hates his job; 5) he wishes he had earned a PhD and started his own lab; 6) he wishes he had majored in physics or engineering instead of biology and doesn’t realize that this is his problem, not mine; 7) I’m not my PI’s male postdoc, who is suffering from Big Fish in a Little Pond Syndrome because this technician, my PI and a number of my labmates don’t understand that I’m a new grad student who doesn’t feel compelled either to kowtow to men or compete with anyone of either sex who has twelve years of molecular biology on me, for the same reason that I wouldn’t compete in an essay contest against one class of eighth graders and then ludicrously point to my victory as conclusive proof that I’m the greatest writer in the world and none of them will ever win the Pulitzer Prize and 8) I graduated from a top-tier college and he didn’t. That he was rude to me for multiple reasons, however, would not prevent me from calling his treatment of me “mansplaining” if I used that word in the first place. Would he have called me “sweetheart” and put his hand on my arm if I were male? I doubt it!

    Why’s it “man” at all? Is that really fair? Yes, yes, I know, we’re in a patriarchy, and men seem to think they know science and math and whatnot so much better than women, but shouldn’t we have a gender-neutral word for that too?

    Short answer: No, it’s not fair. Yes, we should use a gender-neutral word.

    Long answer: No, it’s not fair. Yes, we should use a gender-neutral word whenever we can. However, as in all cases, we shouldn’t forget the objective of the argument in which “mansplaining” is used. Women with backgrounds similar to mine, for example, have had numerous painful experiences in which people, mostly men, and often our own fathers, assumed that our pink ladybrains couldn’t handle math, science, engineering, politics, sports, business and economics and “explained” those subjects accordingly.

    Moreover, a lot of us suppressed our deep anger over this phenomenon until adulthood because we were taught not to argue. When we write or speak about sexism against women, we’d like to compel our audience to genuinely try to understand our perspective. Many rhetorical devices can be employed in service of that objective. Different individuals have different styles. Organic, unaffected styles are the most effective.

    *Every red-blooded American covered with flag-shaped lapel pins and sporting red, white and blue underwear such as myself knows you Canadians live in a pinko-commie-fascist-European-Islamoatheist-Hitler-Robespierrian sissy-tundra where women wear the pants and the government forces you to pay 85% of your income in taxes so it can buy condoms, abortions and arugula for illegal immigrants and Occupy Wall Street activists. I’m not in the least bit surprised that Canadian women dare to talk to men that way in such a land. I feel sorry for you Canadians.

  49. says

    I’m sorry.

    No! I’m Canadian, don’t say that, you’ll set off a chain reaction of I’m Sorry’s! I mean, I’m sorry but it’ll just happen without any prior war–OH SHIT.

    Worst, he concluded by putting his hand on my arm without invitation, leaning into my face and smirking, “Sweetheart, biology is a lot harder than you think it is.”

    On the very off chance I ever do a Sam Beckett impersonation and start Quantum Leaping into people’s lives to right wrongs, there’s a very good chance I’d pop this guy in the face, no matter WHAT Al and Ziggy say.

    If you’re not the only one being damaged by this guy, I think his issues run deeper than mere bigotry, though that’s definitely a factor. I don’t doubt he does this to men, women, blacks, whites, and probably inanimate objects if he thinks he can deflate their egos sufficiently to inflate his own. He’s a bully who’s failed in his own lifetime and needs to think better of himself by making everyone else think worse about themselves. It highlights the fact that we need a word for this kind of assholery that’s gender-neutral, though. To be modified after the fact, with an appropriate adjective, to indicate that he’s also a sexist fuck.

    I propose “douchesplain.”

    Before anyone says “douche is inherently gendered”, a) any orifice can be douched, b) it’s a largely useless product, mostly created by men, marketed mostly to women, under false pretenses, and c) very likely damages the users needlessly out of some enculturated and grossly damaging ideas about what’s clean and what isn’t.

    Anyway, your guy was a sexist douchesplainer. My IT lady was an egotistical douchesplainer (which is a far less grievous crime, but annoying as fuck nonetheless). I doubt she did it because she thought as a man I’m less network-savvy, but rather because she thought she knew it all, having just graduated, and that I (having admitted I’m autodidact in all things, including computers) must not know anything about my field. Never mind that it’s been my field for over a decade.

    How’s that for organic, unaffected style?

    Every red-blooded American covered with flag-shaped lapel pins and sporting red, white and blue underwear such as myself knows you Canadians live in a pinko-commie-fascist-European-Islamoatheist-Hitler-Robespierrian sissy-tundra where women wear the pants and the government forces you to pay 85% of your income in taxes so it can buy condoms, abortions and arugula for illegal immigrants and Occupy Wall Street activists. I’m not in the least bit surprised that Canadian women dare to talk to men that way in such a land. I feel sorry for you Canadians.

    I am squinting so hard at you right now. I hope you can feel it over the internet.

  50. martha says

    Jason @56
    I said I was done posting. I lied, I have to answer this.

    Greg’s using her class as a slur IS a problem. The middle class is a big, blurry group that people move in and out of, even, I dare say, hippies. It’s members vary widely in income, security, power and whatever else you want to define as privilege. More women wind up at the lower end. Why? Largely because we raise children, take care of old people and do a lot of the unpaid and underpaid labor that keeps families and community groups going. And for some reason people who evince no interest in seeing that our labor is valued are very keen on telling us how to do it, right down to the colors of our children’s hats . So if a middle class man starts lecturing a middle class woman about her privileges, there is a good chance he is doing this as the, in fact, more privileged party.

    Then there is the fact that people move in and out of the middle class, at least if you define it by income. When I worked as baker, I did not have a computer, a car, or money to donate, things that make it so comfortable and easy to be talking with you lovely people, considering going to your conventions and so on. Now I do. I can get into the conversation but, horrors, now I am also middle class and if I say the wrong thing, I may be called “fucked up white lady” and so forth and assigned responsibility for ‘making’ this world we are all in. You see the problem?

    I don’t think this is an issue of ‘tone’ so much as it is of thinking out carefully what you want to say. In aid of which, I will now offer what I dub The Holy Hand Grenade Rule:

    Before thou lobbest thy Holy Hand Grenade, check thou thy target area, lest thou sprayeth shrapnel upon bystanders and they do fall upon thee crying, “Foul Fiend.”

    In other words, define the thing you want to criticize narrowly. Is it language, intention, person, subgroup or group entire? If you absolutely must attack a group you belong to, don’t exempt yourself, and make sure you’re willing to abide by whatever critique or prescription you’re offering. If Greg had said, “Durn us middle class white people, when will we learn not to talk like this? I am going to the next demonstration and my sign is going to say… (what Stephanie said http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2011/10/16/just-a-punk-hippy-freak/),” would anyone have jumped on him?

  51. says

    Here’s my take, FWIW: people nowadays call a woman “lady” when addressing a woman who is — or seems to act like she is — in a position of some superiority, such as a boss, a client, or someone else of higher social, economic or other rank, or (as in the case of Greg’s insulting usage in the other post), a woman who seems to think she’s smart and allegedly needs to be taken down a peg, and given a dose of common sense, by a more practical-minded man. i.e., “Lady, I been driving this cab for ten years, and I’m telling you, this is the quickest route there is to your destination.” Or “Lady, it’s the lunch rush — we can’t do special orders. This ain’t the Ritz!” It’s not always disrespectful, though it can be. And it’s not “sexist” in itself, it’s just an acknowledgement that the person you’re talking to is female. (Who wants to be addressed as “person [none of whose attributes I wish to acknowledge]?”)

    OTOH, calling someone “woman” is normally used to demean a woman by saying she’s acting outside of her proper place as a woman. i.e., “Just keep the food coming, woman, and leave the soldiering to us.” It’s used to talk down to a woman who is either trying to muck around in “men’s work,” or not doing “women’s work” satisfactorily. Calling someone “woman” in conversation is definitely sexist and demeaning, at least most of the time.

  52. wanker says

    7 Greg Laden

    They come from ERV. I will not use any of the words that come to mind when I think that.

    Other than Becca, perhaps. She’s just a …. oh, never mind.

    Haha! Way to discretely and non-blameably insult a woman, Laden.

    Let me guess: cunt? Uppity bitch? Gal with ideas above her station?

    Do tell, Laden.

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