whoever you want to be…

Are you a people person?

For me, words are a form of action, capable of influencing change. Their articulation represents a complete, lived experience  – Ingrid Bengis

Words.  Dontcha just love ‘em?  But sometimes the 140 characters of twitter are just too short to record things that happen to our kids because of their gender.  Here’s a slightly longer story that happened at the weekend that really sums up why we keep a diary about these things.

We were visiting the playground of an aeroplane museum with the children’s cousins. Five kids, aged 5-2. Two girls, three boys.

Things that were said by their Grandmother included:

  • About a remote controlled aeroplane, “Look at the aeroplane doing stunts, he’s obviously having a wonderful time.  Look at him go.  He’s really enjoying himself.”
  • To oldest boy child, by name, specifically “Can you see the engines in there, behind the propellers?  That’s what makes the plane fly.  Can you see all the parts inside?”
  • To everyone, about the volunteers who run the museum “Men love this stuff don’t they? They have such a good time here.”
  • Later at home our daughter tells her cousin she wants a remote control aeroplane for Christmas.  He tells her that girls can’t have them and only dolls and Barbies are for girls.  Also, he tells her, he hates dolls and Barbies.

D’ya see a patten here at all.  Well do ya? How confusing the world must have been for these kids at the end of the day, when their parents tried to explain to them why *all* toys are for *everyone*!

Yes, the language we use shapes the way children understand the world.  Language, among other things, tells kids what roles people of their gender will fulfil when they are older.  They can try to kick against it, but there’s often someone there to tell them they’re wrong about wanting to break those boundaries.

Lets look at that first example of language where someone uses ‘he’ to describe the gender of someone (or something, an aeroplane in this case) even though they don’t know the gender of that person/thing. In Brian D Earp’s recent article from the Journal of Communication and Culture on so-called he/man generics, he explains why it’s damaging:

“This has the effect of minimizing women‘s importance and diverting attention away from their very existence. The result is a sort of invisibility – in the language itself, in the individual‘s mind‘s eye, and in the broader social consciousness.” 

As always @Genderdiary, is here to bring you good news.  Earp’s research shows that use of the masculine generic pronoun in English has fallen dramatically in recent years, while nonsexist alternatives have gradually taken their place.

Earp recorded a marked decline in the use of the term “mankind”, while “Humankind,” on the other hand, saw a 1,890-percent increase (from 63 articles in 1970-1971 to 1,192 articles in 1999-2000). “He or she,” (rather than just using “he”) for its part, saw a 1,194-percent increase. It’s gratifying that this is already happening.  But you can help it along too…

You won’t be surprised that we’d encourage you to use gender-neutral language with kids when you can.  In our house, we are not remotely militant about it, but, boy, girl, man, woman, him, her etc are less likely to be heard than kids, children, people, person, them and they.

Those who want to accuse us of terrible political correctness are very welcome to do it, but they’lll find that they’re fighting against a trend in language that is happening anyway.  By releasing as many parts of language as possible from the limits of gender, you allow children to choose for themselves whether something is relevant to them.  The conversations that were had on that outing sent our children clear messages that gender was relevant to what we were seeing.  Boys and men like aeroplanes, is the message they got. The message we got is that by using more neutral language we’re helping to keep options open for our kids, and our daughter will be getting a remote control aeroplane for Christmas.

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About babygenderdiary

A mother and father, blogging and tweeting about our 4 year old girl and our 1 year old boy and how people treat them differently. Now with extra added positive ideas on how to change the world in small ways.

9 comments on “Are you a people person?

  1. Cath
    November 14, 2012

    I agree totally. In our house we try to use ‘he or she’ rather than ‘he’, and I also admit to editing when I’m reading aloud so that animals etc in books (which always seem to be ‘he’ unless there’s a specific reason to be female, i.e. it’s someone’s mother) alternate in gender.

    One of my proudest moments came a few months ago when my eldest son came home from school and showed me a piece of writing he’d done about cricket which included ‘the bowler starts his or her run-up …’

  2. I find the term ‘he or she’ really irritating. It’s still putting the man first. I would use ‘they’ or possibly ‘s/he’.

    • Keris
      November 14, 2012

      That’s a good point. I’m going to start using s/he in writing. In speech, I tend to use ‘she’ (when I remember) since I figure it balances out the male default from everywhere else.

  3. Alexandra Roumbas Goldstein
    November 14, 2012

    I noticed we were thoughtlessly calling all of Ramona’s stuffed toys ‘he’. So I started saying it / they or just asking her if it was a he or she (though even that felt a bit prescriptive – it’s a damned rabbit, why does it have to be either?). I still have to remind myself all the time though!

    • Keris
      November 15, 2012

      I really struggle with it. I find myself calling the guinea pigs ‘he’ even though I know they’re both female. 😦

  4. Jess
    November 15, 2012

    The event that turned me into a bit of zealot on this issue was when I noticed that ALL the animals in ‘Dear Zoo’ are male. (The zoo breeding programme must be in real trouble.) And what was most shocking to me was that I’d read it about a zillion times before I even noticed. You just get used to the absence of females. Since then I’ve always read it alternating the genders. We talk about whether cuddly toys are male or female – I always try and check with the children so I get the right pronoun, and remind them that male is not the default. My daughter’s are ALL female and my son’s ALL male. After that, they noticed about the ‘traveller in the dark’ being male in the third verse of ‘Twinkle Twinkle’, which we sing every night. I used to alternate, but they used to squabble so hard about ‘whose turn’ it was I changed it to a plural!

    • Keris
      November 15, 2012

      Gah. I hadn’t noticed in Dear Zoo either. I didn’t pick up on this myself – read about it in Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine (which is brilliant).

  5. Mei
    November 16, 2012

    Have you read The Odd Egg? All the birds laid eggs. All the birds are shown as male. Now, I can see that female birds are often brown and harder differentiate but why have male birds laying eggs? And the pictures are so beautifully drawn, I’m certain the artist could have the female birds equally beautiful. It’s gendered language AND bad science. I’ve hidden the book.
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Odd-Egg-Emily-Gravett/dp/0230531350

    • Keris
      November 16, 2012

      That’s DREADFUL!

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This entry was posted on November 14, 2012 by in Bea Family, Bea Feminist and tagged , , , , , , , .
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