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Author Topic:   The word Man is inherently confusing/sexist? Oh the huMANity!
Silent H
Member (Idle past 3931 days)
Posts: 7405
From: satellite of love
Joined: 12-11-2002


Message 1 of 90 (343517)
08-26-2006 5:31 AM


In another thread Crashfrog objected to my use of the term "man", when refering to all humans collectively. He appeared to imply it has never actually been used that way, and that its usage was confusing. I wasn't quite sure, but it appeared that Schrafinator might have agreed. In any case, the issue was raised and I'd love to see it settled once and for all by the brilliant people here at EvC.

Mangy Tiger weighed in with an entry from dictionary.com:

man

a member of the species Homo sapiens or all the members of this species collectively, without regard to sex: prehistoric man.
the human individual as representing the species, without reference to sex; the human race; humankind: Man hopes for peace, but prepares for war.
a human being; person: to give a man a chance; When the audience smelled the smoke, it was every man for himself.
From the same entry:
-Usage Note The use of man to mean “human being,” both alone and in compounds such as MANKIND, has met with objection in recent years, and the use is declining.

I have gone to another dictionary ( merriam-webster ) and found essentially the same thing. There I found something else of interest...

Etymology: Middle English, from Old English man, mon human being, male human; akin to Old High German man human being, Sanskrit manu

If the etymology is from "human being", I'm sort of left wondering why I should consider it not capable of meaning humanity or human beings?

In fact, I ambled over to Wiki and found a page on the etymology. Its short and an interesting read. Here's a highlight explaining how man as "human" shifted to man as both "human or male":

In Old English the words wer and wīf (also wǣpmann and wīfmann) were used to refer to "a man" and "a woman" respectively, while mann was gender neutral. In Middle English man displaced wer as term for "male human," whilst wyfman (which eventually evolved into woman) was retained for "female human". Man does continue to carry its original sense of "human" however, resulting in an asymmetry sometimes criticized as sexist.

And I'll be danged but that sure does seem sexist to me! So females have a cool identifier for who they are, but males are just treated like anybody? They can be lumped in whatever you please?

Okay, take notice, from now on the real problem is not using man to mean human beings in general, but NOT referring to males specifically as wer or were-men. Frankly I even like the sound of that... were-man. Yeah. And not doing so is treating me as some indistinguishable piece of genderless meat and so sexist.

Huzzah!

P.S.- Do people with hangups regarding "man" have equal confusion when they see were-wolf movies where females change into animal form? Being as they would have to be wyf-wolves, unless they are changing gender too?

Oh what tangled webs we weave
when first we practice feminist semantic deconstruction.

Edited by holmes, : corrected some html error


holmes {in temp decloak from lurker mode}
"What a fool believes he sees, no wise man has the power to reason away." (D.Bros)
Replies to this message:
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Modulous
Member (Idle past 216 days)
Posts: 7789
From: Manchester, UK
Joined: 05-01-2005


Message 2 of 90 (343524)
08-26-2006 6:58 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Silent H
08-26-2006 5:31 AM


Indeed - man originally meant 'person'. Females were called 'wife persons' and men were called 'weapon persons' or 'wifman' and 'wepman'. Source. Looking around I find few references to 'weapon person', and I originally heard the etymology on the BBC program Balderdash & Piffle.
This message is a reply to:
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Archer Opteryx
Member (Idle past 1709 days)
Posts: 1811
From: East Asia
Joined: 08-16-2006


Message 3 of 90 (343526)
08-26-2006 7:33 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Silent H
08-26-2006 5:31 AM


a small step for man
Usage is in the process of changing. Since the 1970s man has come to refer more and more exclusively to the male gender, with the inclusive terms being humanity, humankind and the like. The word mankind still means everybody, but lately it sounds a bit archaic.

The big drawback in any change of usage is that it alters how we understand the earlier way of talking. Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man was for both sexes. His audiences understood this; it was the most gender-inclusive language they had. For Neil Armstrong, 'man' and 'mankind' were likewise gender-inclusive terms. Modern usage makes people hear these statements in a gender-restricted way that Copland, Armstrong and their audiences did not.

One has to know when usage has changed and make adjustments--if we would truly understand, and be understood.


Archer
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crashfrog
Inactive Member


Message 4 of 90 (343529)
08-26-2006 8:21 AM
Reply to: Message 2 by Modulous
08-26-2006 6:58 AM


Indeed - man originally meant 'person'. Females were called 'wife persons' and men were called 'weapon persons' or 'wifman' and 'wepman'.

Indeed, and that's why the usage is sexist. It's male-normative, clearly implying that a generic person is male, and that a female is nothing more than a special case of being a person. Male is normal, Female is "other." We find the exact same philosophy made explicit in ancient Greece, for instance.

Also I think that perhaps my meaning was not entirely clear, and certainly Holmes' distortions of my position don't help.

Obviously, men in that time period - the 50's, let's say - thought that they were referring to both men and women when they said "Man." The reason that they thought they were doing so was because of a sexist view of history, where men were views as the primary historic actors and women were viewed as adjunct to men, secondary actors who went along with what the men did because it was their role and purpose to do so.

I dunno. Maybe you guys don't have much experience with feminism and feminist criticism, and so the terms and constructs I'm referring to are unfamiliar. When I say "male normative", do you understand what that means? Because it should be impossible to look at the usage of "Man" to refer to all humanity and not see the very sexist assumptions about humanity and the role of women that are loaded into that usage.

Edited by crashfrog, : No reason given.


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Modulous
Member (Idle past 216 days)
Posts: 7789
From: Manchester, UK
Joined: 05-01-2005


Message 5 of 90 (343536)
08-26-2006 8:48 AM
Reply to: Message 4 by crashfrog
08-26-2006 8:21 AM


Indeed, and that's why the usage is sexist

I think Holmes agrees that calling male people 'man' is sexist, but calling people 'man' is not.

When I say "male normative", do you understand what that means?

I know what male means and know what what normative means, so unless either word is being used peculiarly...

Because it should be impossible to look at the usage of "Man" to refer to all humanity and not see the very sexist assumptions about humanity and the role of women that are loaded into that usage.

I appreciate that it is sexist that the word for person became the name for males. It isn't sexist to call all 'humanity' man, but perhaps it is other way round. What solution do you propose? Perhaps we should start calling people wepman and wifman for specifics and 'man' for 'person'? Or should we keep man as male and stick with person for 'human'?


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nwr
Member
Posts: 5585
From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005


Message 6 of 90 (343547)
08-26-2006 9:41 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Silent H
08-26-2006 5:31 AM


This discussion reminds me of the time when somebody on campus started a fuss about the POLISCI class "Statesmen", and wanted the name changed to something less sexist. I remember making the counter-proposal, that if we were really bothered by names we should merge the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Gynecology into a single department, which could be named the Department of Homology.

After a while, people decided that Margaret Thatcher was a pretty good statesman, with the implication that "statesman" is not sexist after all.


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Archer Opteryx
Member (Idle past 1709 days)
Posts: 1811
From: East Asia
Joined: 08-16-2006


Message 7 of 90 (343548)
08-26-2006 9:58 AM
Reply to: Message 4 by crashfrog
08-26-2006 8:21 AM


words and music
My background is the humanities. I know all about the gender-normative terms and constructs, the 'other' etc.

All that is good to keep in mind when choosing your own words. I am glad you are sensitive to such issues, Crash, and I'm sure your writing is better for it.

When listening to the words of another, I find it's best to focus on what they are saying rather than whether they observe the latest trends in saying it. It's unrealistic to demand that everyone in your environment talk like you. They won't.

Most people can recognize problems and tensions in the traditional English usage. If the language had been perfect no momentum would have accrued to change it. But remember that plenty of women as well as men use the more traditional terms and feel none the worse for it. Included among these are thinkers and innovators who have plenty of ideas worth listening to. It would be a shame to miss what they say in a legalistic preoccupation with pronouns.

Do not allow your feminism to become a fundamentalist religion. No one is going to go to hell for saying the word mankind, so why react like a Calvinist? What doth it profit a person if s/he overcometh stigmatizing some people as The Other only to stigmatize other people as The Other? Be something more.

Your feminism is based on the idea of making everyone feel included. Good. Why not stay on that high road? Don't you believe it is good to respect choices, even if they are not those you would make? Wouldn't this apply to word choices as well?

Please go slow in labeling another person as sexist or racist--and please, never to do it based solely on what is, or was until recently, standard English vocabulary.

In matters of love and hate, fear and acceptance, listen to the music first. The music always tells you more than the words.


Archer
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crashfrog
Inactive Member


Message 8 of 90 (343556)
08-26-2006 11:13 AM
Reply to: Message 7 by Archer Opteryx
08-26-2006 9:58 AM


Re: words and music
When listening to the words of another, I find it's best to focus on what they are saying rather than whether they observe the latest trends in saying it.

Well, yes, of course. What Holmes seems to be ignoring is that the whole discussion arose in a situation where he upbraided the rest of us for using the term "global warming" instead of "climate change", because the former has, apparently, "apocalyptic" overtones or something. He made a big ostentatious deal out of asserting his new language was somehow more correct, in the very post where he used "man" to refer to all humankind.

The point is that it became pretty clear that his quibbles about language were not about accuracy, but about his ridiculous need to appear intellectually superior in every encounter. I understand that people used "man" to refer to humanity with no intent of referring to women as second-class persons. Just as I hope others understand that, even at that time, some people percieved exactly that meaning, and were excluded.

stay on that high road? Don't you believe it is good to respect choices, even if they are not those you would make?

Not particularly, no.


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Silent H
Member (Idle past 3931 days)
Posts: 7405
From: satellite of love
Joined: 12-11-2002


Message 9 of 90 (343576)
08-26-2006 12:04 PM
Reply to: Message 4 by crashfrog
08-26-2006 8:21 AM


and that's why the usage is sexist. It's male-normative, clearly implying that a generic person is male, and that a female is nothing more than a special case of being a person. Male is normal, Female is "other."

You seem to have missed the point. Your claim regarding its roots and how it was used has been refuted. Man really does mean person or human being, that is BOTH males AND females. Historically that is where it came from. And it was commonly used that way, even after people commonly stopped referring to males by the longer term to identify them by gender.

There is no inherent meaning to that shift at all, and I was riffing on the feminist point of view, by showing that it can equally be viewed that other way. Females are Man and Woman, while males are relegated to man alone. We have lost any distinctive classification. One could even say we have been semantically emasculated!

certainly Holmes' distortions of my position don't help.

Yeah, why don't you clarify it.

The reason that they thought they were doing so was because of a sexist view of history, where men were views as the primary historic actors and women were viewed as adjunct to men, secondary actors who went along with what the men did because it was their role and purpose to do so.

That's an amazing bit of feminist demogoguery. Do you mind showing the evidence for what people were thinking when they dropped wer- or wep-. In addition I'd like you to give evidence for what people were more recently thinking when they used it.

Heck, for that matter why don't you show how you know what I was thinking when I used it, since your original complaint surfaced against me. I will tell you this, I learned in school when I was growing up that (as you saw in the dictionary) the word "man" can be used to refer to all human beings of both genders. I never learned that men were primary historic actors nor that women were adjuncts of men, nor that that is why we use "man" for a collective term. I was taught that "man" had TWO SEPARATE MEANINGS which an intelligent person could identify based on context.

You know kind of like any other word that has two separate meanings?

But I guess you know better, so please set out your evidence.

Maybe you guys don't have much experience with feminism and feminist criticism

I have more than enough experience with feminist theories (there is more than flavor) and major authors. Some of feminism is fantastic. Much of it is the worthless semantic deconstruction such as you have provided with no respect for actual history, sociology, or evidence regarding language or the people that used it.

it should be impossible to look at the usage of "Man" to refer to all humanity and not see the very sexist assumptions about humanity and the role of women that are loaded into that usage.

I can see how a person could view it that way. It simply has no connection to reality. Its the same bizarre wordplay as people that ask me to notice that god is dog spelled backward, or live is evil spelled backward, and that I should recognize what THAT means.

If YOU grew up being told that the word man has two separate meanings, and that there was no implication involved in that, that is exactly how you would use it... with no implication.

Apparently in the space of 25 years a person's language can go from being modern to "archaic". That ain't my problem. Neither is it my problem that feminists have decided to create their version of newspeak, and a lot of people have decided to buy into their argument.

But now that you bring it up, if we are going to have to change language, I want my Were-man!

Aside to Modulous: From what I understand there was both wep and wer, wep was weapon but wer was specifically male gender. Wyf may be thought of as "wife", but that too has its own etymology which is simply the word for female genitals. I think even your own source mentioned that the "weapon" had sexual overtones. Thus they all boil down to genital refs in some way or another, and not really social roles. But I've always liked etymology and am open to more info.


holmes {in temp decloak from lurker mode}
"What a fool believes he sees, no wise man has the power to reason away." (D.Bros)
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Archer Opteryx
Member (Idle past 1709 days)
Posts: 1811
From: East Asia
Joined: 08-16-2006


Message 10 of 90 (343579)
08-26-2006 12:08 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by crashfrog
08-26-2006 11:13 AM


Re: words and music
Thanks for the context, Crashfrog. I missed the original exchange, of course, and kept this in mind when I responded.

I understand that people used "man" to refer to humanity with no intent of referring to women as second-class persons. Just as I hope others understand that, even at that time, some people percieved exactly that meaning, and were excluded.

Sounds reasonable to me.

At the time I posted I couldn't be sure about that first bit, based only on the comments I'd read. Not everyone allows for that. It's good to know.

;)


Archer
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Silent H
Member (Idle past 3931 days)
Posts: 7405
From: satellite of love
Joined: 12-11-2002


Message 11 of 90 (343581)
08-26-2006 12:17 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by crashfrog
08-26-2006 11:13 AM


Re: words and music
What Holmes seems to be ignoring is that the whole discussion arose in a situation where he upbraided the rest of us for using the term "global warming" instead of "climate change",

Uh, all I said was that I was going to use CC because I felt it was more accurate. I didn't say anyone else had to use anything else.

Then schraf upbraided me. That's when I responded with a defense of why I was using it. And if you didn't follow that subthread I went on to show I am not the only person who thinks so. Within the scientific community, and well before Luntz was advising George Jr, scientists and members of the international community had been using it.

Yes, I do not like that some environmentalists prefer to use GW because of its scary overtones, and I criticize them for that... but it was not me who started that argument. In fact you accepted my change to CC with no problem before shraf entered her complaint.

The irony here is that the choice to use GW by them is FOR a reason which has political and other value overtones. My use of man had none.

The point is that it became pretty clear that his quibbles about language were not about accuracy

Schraf started an argument, I explained my position, you tried to extend the argument. Thus your finger of "quibbling" comes right back at you.

What I find funny is that you still can't admit you are wrong. You made very specific statements of what it meant, and how it could never have been used properly the way I had used it. The evidence is in, you are wrong.

That doesn't make me an intellectual trying to appear superior to anyone. What it makes me is a guy (both regarding CC and Man) put upon by two semantic bullies, trying to explain why the language I use is accurate and appropriate and devoid of some greater political meaning.

Edited by holmes, : made a point more clear


holmes {in temp decloak from lurker mode}
"What a fool believes he sees, no wise man has the power to reason away." (D.Bros)
This message is a reply to:
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Silent H
Member (Idle past 3931 days)
Posts: 7405
From: satellite of love
Joined: 12-11-2002


Message 12 of 90 (343585)
08-26-2006 12:28 PM
Reply to: Message 10 by Archer Opteryx
08-26-2006 12:08 PM


Re: words and music
Thanks for the context, Crashfrog. I missed the original exchange,

He's lying. I'm not kidding. Whenever he discusses me its usually a good idea to take it with a large dose of skepticism.

All I did was explain to him that instead of GW I was going to use CC, because I felt it was more accurate and less hyperbolic. Having come from a paleoclimatology background as well as enviro background, I ran into terms like that rather than GW, which would be a subset of CC and is not a very accurate term at that. I did not tell him he could not use GW if he wanted to. There was no "upbraiding". Indeed his next post included an acceptance of my change to CC.

However, at that point schraf challenged my use of CC on political grounds (a republican spin doctor popularized it at Bush Jr's campaign). When I went to defend my position and explain it in greater detail, crash jumped in with some tangential criticism that I used man to refer to humanity. Hilarity ensued.

Crash seems put out to try and paint me as some guy with evil motives who went seeking an argument, rather than someone challenged twice by others regarding the language I used (based on political/historical points) which I then successfully debunked.


holmes {in temp decloak from lurker mode}
"What a fool believes he sees, no wise man has the power to reason away." (D.Bros)
This message is a reply to:
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Heathen
Member
Posts: 1044
From: Brizzle
Joined: 09-20-2005


Message 13 of 90 (343588)
08-26-2006 12:37 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by crashfrog
08-26-2006 11:13 AM


Re: words and music
Crashfrog writes:

but about his ridiculous need to appear intellectually superior in every encounter


yeah, Holmes and about 97% of all other posters on here.
(wep-posters and wif-posters)
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Silent H
Member (Idle past 3931 days)
Posts: 7405
From: satellite of love
Joined: 12-11-2002


Message 14 of 90 (343589)
08-26-2006 12:48 PM


reason and language use
Crash said something about the use of the word man, which on its face sounds reasonable...

Just as I hope others understand that, even at that time, some people percieved exactly that meaning, and were excluded.

Unfortunately that does not make much sense in practice. That is it is not a principle that should be applied in some wholesale fashion to any person or group that is offended by any particular word or action.

I get that people who grew up with the word "nigger" having no negative connotation, might want to keep in mind many do view it with a personal negative connotation, once they learn that fact. It is offensive to those who were hurt specifically by people using that word in a negative and condescending way.

In the case of feminists, while they may accurately suggest that women had had their rights trampled on for some time, there really is no evidence to suggest that "man" was used against them in some way. Certain authors made that theory up and created an hysteria regarding its usage to the point "manhole cover" becomes thought of as sexist?

To accord that kind of correctness is not reasonable. And I find this an intriguing argument anyway, as doesn't this mean that people (and I am looking at you crash) should not say things about others that make them feel excluded? Like say negative things about Xians?

There is currently a campaign where I live (amsterdam) to get people to stop saying Jesus Christ when they swear because it offends Xians. Should I stop saying it so as not to offend them? Would you?

In fact, many feminists feel that the use of porn itself makes them feel excluded. Does that mean men should stop using it (do you use it Crash), because of how they feel?

In this particular case, we are dealing with a basically innocuous term, with an etymology and people that use it according to its true roots. It does not seem to make sense to "give in" to a group whose gripe stems from a highly speculative, one might say wholly fabricated point of view of what that term means and what people think when they use it.

In fact it seems downright Orwellian. I can only think of this as leading to a Newspeak pogrom of language, or perhaps a Farenheit 451 situation where language is removed altogether in order to make everyone feel equal and not excluded.

There is a difference between sensibility for the feelings of others, and simple capitulation to the whimsical fantasy of building a better world through perfected language.


holmes {in temp decloak from lurker mode}
"What a fool believes he sees, no wise man has the power to reason away." (D.Bros)
    
crashfrog
Inactive Member


Message 15 of 90 (343748)
08-26-2006 7:34 PM
Reply to: Message 9 by Silent H
08-26-2006 12:04 PM


You seem to have missed the point. Your claim regarding its roots and how it was used has been refuted.

It's truly amazing how you always manage to completely misinterpret me. Either on purpose or by an amazing lack of perspicacity I simply don't know.

I wasn't making claim about roots, or about etymology, or about dictionary definitions. I was making a claim about how using "man" to refer to "collective humanity" cannot be anything but sexist in a context where the predominant view of "collective humanity" was that it was something men did, while women came along for the ride.

Your dictionary game doesn't even begin to speak to that.

There is no inherent meaning to that shift at all, and I was riffing on the feminist point of view, by showing that it can equally be viewed that other way

Except that it never was. I'm glad that sexism didn't exist in your alternate universe, but can we stick with discussing this one? Thanks.

Females are Man and Woman, while males are relegated to man alone. We have lost any distinctive classification. One could even say we have been semantically emasculated!

That doesn't make a lick of sense.

If YOU grew up being told that the word man has two separate meanings, and that there was no implication involved in that, that is exactly how you would use it... with no implication.

If I was a man. Did you ask any women, at the time, if they felt that language was inclusive?


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