Sunday, November 13, 2011

Should a woman be one of the "guys?"

It’s been one of my pet peeves for years, even in my prefeminist days, so when a  Facebook friend began her post with, “I need a little help, guys” it set me off.

The term "guys" is often applied to mixed companies of men and women.
“I’m not a guy,” I responded to the use of the all-to-common address used in mixed company.

“Guys is all-inclusive,” she said, “Which is obviously proven by Sloth in 'Goonies.'"

Say what?

Well, I admit I’ve never seen “Goonies,” but I would hesitate to cite a single movie from 1985 as obvious proof  that the term “guys,” as it applies to a group of men and women, is acceptable as all-inclusive.

What I would cite are are academic sources for proof that such language is indeed sex- and gender-biased and not inclusive at all.

I would start with The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  A section devoted to gender-sensitive language, explains it this way:

“Another common gendered expression, particularly in informal speech and writing, is 'you guys.' This expression is used to refer to groups of men, groups of women, and groups that include both men and women. Although most people mean to be inclusive when they use 'you guys,' this phrase wouldn't make sense if it didn't subsume women under the category 'guys.' To see why 'you guys' is gendered male, consider that 'a guy' (singular) is definitely a man, not a woman, and that most men would not feel included in the expression 'you gals' or 'you girls.'”

Language is important because its influence is so subtle.  Every time we speak we have an opportunity to either advance sexism or stop it in its tracks.  But, we first have to acknowledge that language is often overlooked as a factor in the perpetuation of sexism.

Feminist scholars agree.

A paper titled, "Seeing the Unseen:  Attention to Daily Encounters With Sexism as Way to Reduce Sexist Beliefs" published in the June 2011 issue of Psychology of Women Quarterly, concludes that both men and women tend to overlook – and perhaps even deem acceptable – more subtle forms of sexism they encounter on a daily basis, such as the use of sex- and gender-biased language.

According to its publisher, SAGE Journals, Psychology of Women Quarterly is "a feminist, scientific, peer-reviewed journal that publishes empirical research, critical reviews and theoretical articles that advance a field of inquiry, brief reports on timely topics, teaching briefs, and invited book reviews related to the psychology of women and gender."

Commenting on the paper, Science Daily makes the point that  "Nearly everyone can recognize the stereotypical scene of construction workers catcalling women as being sexist, but both men and women tend to overlook the more subtle daily acts of sexism they encounter ... Things such as calling women 'girls' but not calling men 'boys' or referring to a collective group as 'guys' are forms of subtle sexism that creep into daily interactions."

Science Daily goes on to quote the paper's authors, psychologists Janet Swim of Pennsylvania State University and Julia Becker of Philipps University Marburg, Germany, as saying "Women endorse sexist beliefs, at least in part, because they do not attend to subtle, aggregate forms of sexism in their personal lives."

And further, "Many men not only lack attention to such incidents but also are less likely to perceive sexist incidents as being discriminatory and potentially harmful for women."
What's more, says Science Daily, "The study goes on to differentiate the way men and women's beliefs change once they become aware of subtle sexism. Women need to 'see the unseen,' the authors note, to make corrections, whereas men need not only to be aware of the sexist behavior or comments, but also to feel empathy for the women targeted. These results are consistent with other studies which found that empathy is an effective method for reducing racial and ethnic prejudice."

So, do we correct the use of sex and gender-biased language when we hear it -- and thereby make "the unseen" obvious?  I say, yes.  Although, be prepared for repercussions such as being labeled an oversensitive, nasty, annoying feminist and being dropped as a Facebook friend.

Another question would be, "What -- if anything -- should we say instead?"

I found an online exchange from the women's studies email forum at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County where a participant endorsed my personal favorite expression, "y'all," for a couple of reasons:

"I nominate "y'all" as a perfect feminist solution to two problems: the English language's lack of a plural "you," and the related issue of trying to create a plural "you" using gender-specific words like "you guys." Or worse, "gals" and "girls."

Or Goonies. 

"Friends" appears courtesy of NBC.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Best of the Blog: Celebrating two years online

Everybody does it.  From TV shows to rock bands, the concept of a "Best of ..." show, album or book is a popular way to commemorate career or lifetime milestones.

For me and "this little blog o'mine," that milestone is two years online.

But, what determines "the best?" For most artists, actors or authors, popularity is the criterion based on input from a fan base or sales.

For this particular "best of" feature, I've decided to showcase my most popular posts based on page views alongside what I personally consider to be some of my best-written and most important posts.  It's a great opportunity for exploration and examination.  Links are there for your convenience.  Thanks for reading.  Enjoy!

"I Advocate Feminism ... a mini-blogzine's top five blog posts:

1.  A different view of the Willendorf Project

2.  Of Frankenstein and Feminism

3.  Jennifer Granholm talks about gender politics

4.  Ancient people revered the sacred feminine 

5.  Equitable equine enthusiasm

Cherie's top Five Blog Posts:

1.  Sexism is at the root of girl-on-girl crime 

Defined as,"the ugly way women treat each other in social, business and political situations that result in a sabotage of success," I see girl-on-girl crime as as the number one reason women cannot achieve more in social, business and political arenas -- and even within feminist circles.  A great piece for self examination.

Possibly the best piece I've written in this venue.  My husband Chris paid me a high compliment when he said, "This should be in a magazine."

3.  An economy based on feminized labor?

Eye-opening information from the book, "Feminism Seduced."  Comment from the author is still a high point in blog history.

4.  Sexual Politics of Meat set to music
Nothing makes the connection between the oppression of animals and women or builds the case for a feminist/vegetarian connection better than Carol J. Adams' own voice.

5.  Pro-choice and Pro-abortion are not the same thing

At a time when reproductive rights are being aggressively challenged, the title of this post, combined with the common sense feminism of bell hooks, conveys a very important message that needs to be heard and understood.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

IMHO: Young feminists must comply with school dress codes

But -- fair enforcement free of discrimination is a must.
Take my poll!

Let's talk about pants.  Let's talk about yoga pants.  They're a hot topic among high school students.  At issue is whether students should be allowed to wear them to school and whether they violate school dress codes.

Here's a clip from Battlefield High School in Va.:

A similar situation recently took place in Loveland, Ohio.

Note that neither school's dress codes or rule book cite "yoga pants" as a specific violation, more generally naming tight or suggestive clothing.  But what is apparent, at least from these two videos, is that school administrators could be unfairly targeting female students for dress code violations and, in the process, disrupting their personal learning experiences.

In her blog, fitness expert Lisa Johnson writes,  "I drive by the high school regularly and have seen plenty of girls in outfits that make me cringe.  But never once did I do a double-take over yoga pants. Super-tight, low-cut jeans and tank tops that barely cover are always present, but what actually drives me the most crazy are pajama bottoms worn in public; that’s not sexy at all, just sloppy.

"I think having a general rule of conduct for both sexes that bans clothes that are too short or too tight is appropriate, but why are the girls being singled out here?  Is it a concern over the sexualization of female teenagers?  Lots of boys of high school age wear nothing but skinny jeans which can be nearly as form-fitting as yoga pants, but there’s no uproar or concern over that fashion choice."

Johnson goes on to explain that yoga pants are popular, "Because they’re ridiculously comfortable, very functional, and flattering! I can smoothly go from a Pilates session to the grocery store to school pick-up to coffee with a friend. I’m sure high school girls appreciate the same flexibility as they go from classes to gym to after-school activities to study dates with friends."

Locally, my young feminist friends, who are facing similar issues at their high school, tell me the same thing.  They want to be comfortable and they don't want to be unfairly hassled over their fashion choices.
But, negotiating school rules and dress codes is sticky.  It is true that public schools function "in loco parentis," meaning "in place of the parents" and can set certain standards and rules for students. 

The civil law firm of Modrall-Sperling, located in Albuquerque, N.M., has a some very comprehensive, generally applicable information on its website.  Modrall-Sperling confirms both the legality and constitutionality of dress codes:

"Dress and grooming codes are generally legally permissible. The wearing of a particular type or style of clothing usually is not seen as expressive conduct protected under the Constitution. Various school dress codes have been upheld including a prohibition against sagging pants, earrings, and clothing containing advertisements or objectionable statements."

The firm further explains:

"Public schools are delegated with the responsibility of educating students and maintaining an effective and orderly environment conducive to learning.

"An educational institution may prescribe reasonable dress codes. Recent court decisions have noted that an educational institution must demonstrate that the dress code is reasonable and rationally related to a legitimate pedagogical purpose.

"Many public school administrators maintain that dress codes reflect community values and create a positive educational environment. According to educators, dress codes promote student self-respect, maintain classroom discipline, discourage peer pressure to buy extravagant clothing, and make classrooms safe. Moreover, some educators have reported that dress codes have reduced the number of fights in schools and improved scholastic achievements and student attendance."

Still, fair enforcement remains an issue.

I found an opinion piece titled "High school dress codes shirt around fairness issue" written in 2009 Lilly Joynes, who was a sophomore at Mechanicsburg Area High School in Pennsylvania when her editorial was published by  She hit the proverbial nail on the head when she wrote:

"Unfortunately, there isn't a mutual agreement when it comes to dress code enforcement and what is or isn't appropriate for a learning environment.  Every school's dress code is different and, therefore, different rules are enforced.

"Clear rules need to be stated in every school's student handbook so a particular person or gender is not being wrongfully punished for their clothing choices. These rules need to be enforced fairly for both sexes."

And, her parting shot is still applicable:

"All students ask is that principals and teachers treat them fairly. So as a school authority, consider how many dress code violations your school has handed out this year. Were a majority of those to females? If so, it might be time to think more carefully when dishing out discipline to inappropriately dressed students, males included." 

It also jibes with Modrall-Sperling's recommendation to, "Apply dress codes impartially, consistently, fairly, and in equal manner."

I would also admonish parents to become part of the process.  Parents should talk sons and daughters about modes of dress that are appropriate and comfortable in the learning environment and watch to see that what they are wearing does not contribute to sexualization or objectification in or out of school.

Related links:
Yoga Pant Selections from Athleta
Yoga Pant Selections from Title 9
"Are High School Dress Codes Sexist?" -- a different view from Yahoo! Associated Content

What do you think?  Take my poll.  Leave comments below: