Request for books/articles on gender words

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Feb 8 16:05:45 UTC 2010

My gratuitous advice would be that "sexism" and similar words be
scrupulously defined. "Sexism" can cover a lot and has a bunch of
meanings. The fact that women may  sometimes be called "chicks" and men
"rams" is describable as "sexist," but what difference, if any, it makes in
society is not obvious. That kind of "sexism," if that's what it is, is
different from other kinds. "Sexism" may be something abstract, inadvertent,
and virtually unnoticed till emphasized and denounced (as in the pronoun
wars); something insidiously subscribed to from habit and convenience (e.g.,
paying women less); something physically threatening though not necessarily
"thought out" (date rape and machismo); something fully worked out and
authoritatively applied (e.g., women's special sinfulness or exclusion from
Paradise); and various lethal forms of the latter ("honor killings").

The above list should not be construed to imply that "sexism" can only be
practiced against women, or that women cannot be "sexist."  Yet that seems
to be a popular assumption among the general public. (Is it "sexist" that
women everywhere have enthusiastically sent men off to war? I don't know,
frankly, and I doubt that labeling it so would mean much, but it's the kind
of theoretical question that rarely is raised because "sexism" has been
popularized as a masculine invention. (Back to "sexist" pronouns: did men or
women invent them? Says who? Were women complicitous? What's *that* mean
anyway? Etc., etc.)

Quite a range of possibilities, with wildly varying consequences. Are the
Dixie Chicks sexist  for calling themselves the Dixie Chicks? Regardless of
the answer, how much does it matter? To whom? Why? Should something be done?
What? If not, why not?  Etc., etc.

One reason the entire subject of "sexism" bugs me so much is that in
addition to serious and valuable research and thought on the subject (mostly
by sociologists and historians), there seems to be a sea of foolishness,
generally accepted and promoted by the news media, that all "sexism" is one
thing, that identifying "sexism" in language is of tremendous importance
and shows how smart the identifier is, that all possible sexism flows in one
direction, and that all "sexism" (including the Chicks and the Rams) by
definition requires "fixing."

I'd just make considerations like these clear to students.

On Mon, Feb 8, 2010 at 10:12 AM, Cohen, Gerald Leonard <gcohen at>wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Cohen, Gerald Leonard" <gcohen at MST.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: Request for books/articles on gender words
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I received the helpful answer below from Amy West, and with her permission
> I now share it with ads-l.
> Gerald Cohen
> >________________________________
> >
> >From: Amy West [mailto:medievalist at]
> >Sent: Sat 2/6/2010 8:35 PM
> >To: Cohen, Gerald Leonard
> >Subject: Request for books/articles on gender words
> >
> >
> >I'm going to be having my students read "From the Dixie Chicks to the
> >St. Louis Rams: What Animal-Based Metaphors Reveal about Sexism" by
> >Alleen Pace Nilsen in a couple of weeks. It's reprinted in Language
> >Awareness, 10th ed. A footnote points to a paper "Of Ladybugs and
> >Billy Goats: What Animal Species Names Tell about Human Perceptions
> >of Gender," in _Metaphor and Symbolic Activity_, 11, no. 4 (1996):
> >257-271. This may not be exactly on target, but might serve as a
> >model/parallel of such analysis.
> >
> >There are probably other related readings in _Language Awareness_ and
> >_What's Language Got to Do with It?_, but I haven't got my copies
> >here at home with me. Another one in LA that might be relevant is "On
> >Language: You Guys" by Audrey Bilger.
> >
> >Deborah Tannen is a sociolinguist who writes about gender stuff: look
> >for stuff by her. That's my other suggestion.
> >
> >I'm interested to see what other folks who are more knowledgeable suggest.
> >
> >---Amy West
> >
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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