From Girl To Mistress: Why You Can't Address A Woman Neutrally

A life 2023

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From Girl To Mistress: Why You Can't Address A Woman Neutrally
From Girl To Mistress: Why You Can't Address A Woman Neutrally
Video: From Girl To Mistress: Why You Can't Address A Woman Neutrally
Video: Learn how to address a lady according to her status? 2023, February

In one of the first episodes of the HBO series "Girls" the heroines are discussing the self-help book “Listen Ladies: A Tough Love Approach to the Tough Game of Love”, the author of which addresses the readers “ladies”, that is, “ladies”. "My question is - who are the 'ladies'?" Hannah says. “Of course, the lady is us,” Shoshanna tells her. “I'm not a lady,” Jessa retorts sharply. "You can't make me be a lady." The series aired back in 2012, but little has changed since then - it seems that there is still no single appeal to women that would suit everyone in many languages. Most of the words that seem neutral to us, upon closer inspection, carry a train of sexist associations - at least because they are never used in relation to men or because their "masculine" counterparts are overgrown with other meanings.




One of the most famous hypotheses of linguistics is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: to simplify, it assumes that language affects how its speakers perceive the world. This point of view is not shared by everyone, but it is impossible to completely deny the connection between language and consciousness. In particular, if inequality is alive, it can be reproduced in language as well.

Those who speak Russian come across this on a regular basis - just remember that there is not a single generally accepted neutral way to address a woman in the language. Historically, this was a difficult question - for example, there were “madam” / “sir” and “mistress” / “master”, but it is difficult to call them truly universal - they meant a person of a certain status and position. In Soviet times, a common word "comrade" appeared for everyone, but for obvious reasons, after the collapse of the USSR, it died out. Since then, native speakers have been trying to find its neutral counterpart, but it seems that so far it has not succeeded.

"Woman", "girl", "young lady", "mistress", "citizen", "grandmother" - all these words are endowed with additional meanings. Even if they look neutral on paper, in speech they can acquire a completely non-neutral meaning - from “young lady”, implying “effeminacy,” to “citizen”, who gives out the speaker's rude intonation. Philologist Maria Tikhonova considers the word “woman” to be the most stylistically and evaluatively neutral. In resolving the issue, she suggests focusing on the explanatory dictionary of the Russian language, where the word is fixed, without labels like "colloquial" or "derogatory", which would indicate to us additional meanings. “If you are approached by a 'woman' in line, from the point of view of language and style, this is absolutely normal, - says Tikhonova. - Another thing is that any word, even with the most positive connotation, can be pronounced in such a way that it will be unpleasant for a person (and by the way, it does not matter whether it is a man or a woman). Therefore, you should always be aware that it is important not only what you say, but also how you say it."

Lakoff sees the word "lady" as a manifestation of sexism: at first glance, it seems to be a simple politeness, but upon closer examination it creates the image of a defenseless woman.

But the use of the word "woman" has its bugs. For example, it is often used in the hierarchy with the word "girl", distinguishing between "women" and "girls" by age, and the latter are, as it were, singled out from the category of women proper. In a culture focused on the fact that a woman is obliged to look younger than her age, the reference "woman" begins to sound at least offensive - it implies a transition to "another category." Calling an older woman a girl, you can achieve exactly the opposite effect - instead of respect, it will sound ironic or derisive.

In English, researchers began asking similar questions back in the seventies, at the height of the second wave of feminism.Researcher Robin Lakoff, in Language and Woman’s Place, discusses how gender inequality manifests itself in speech - including the language used to speak about women. “A man who has emerged from adolescence is unlikely to be called 'boy', except in expressions like 'going out with boys', which imply an atmosphere of a certain frivolity and irresponsibility. But women of all ages remain "girls," writes Lakoff. "This use of the word 'girl' can be a euphemism, just as 'lady' is a euphemism: by emphasizing the idea of ​​youth, it removes the sexual connotations associated with 'woman'." According to Lakoff, “girl” can be pleasant for women, as it emphasizes young age, but this is a deceptive feeling: “By emphasizing youth, frivolity and immaturity,“girl”evokes associations with irresponsibility. "Girl" will not be sent to do the task for "woman" (and for "boy", for that matter, too)."

In the word “lady”, which is often synonymous with “woman,” Lakoff sees a manifestation of benevolent sexism: at first glance, it seems simple politeness, but upon closer examination it creates the image of a defenseless woman who cannot stand up for herself and make decisions on her own. Of course, today they are trying to rethink these words, depriving them of negative connotations, but they are far from final changes. No wonder the phrase "Morning, girls!", Addressed by the journalist to women members of parliament, sounded inappropriate and familiar.

This is far from the only contentious issue in how the language describes women. In many languages, in addition to the words that actually call a woman ("femme", "woman" and so on), there are separate polite addresses, which may differ depending on whether a man or a woman is being discussed. Even if we leave the question of the binarity of such a model outside the brackets, it is still difficult to call it ideal: unlike “woman” / “girl” and their analogs in other languages, it simply replaces the age criterion with marital status - and often only for women. For example, in English there are "miss" for unmarried women and "Mrs" for those who are married, as well as "mister" for any man, regardless of whether he is married or not. Today the neutral "Ms" is also used for situations where the woman's marital status is unknown. True, this system concerns primarily official documents and situations.


According to Anton Somin, a researcher at the Laboratory of Sociolinguistics of the Russian State University for the Humanities and the Laboratory of Linguistic Conflictology and Modern Communicative Practices at the Higher School of Economics, the idea of ​​a woman's age is partly included in appeals due to her marital status - for example, in a situation where the interlocutor's marital status is unknown, an older woman is more likely to would have addressed "Madame", and to a younger - "Mademoiselle." “In Italy, the former division of“signora”and“signorina”by marital status has already turned into age. The word "signora" has become just an age-neutral polite address (although in the third person it is still used only to refer to older women). Signorina is used differently in different regions: in some of the northern provinces it has almost completely disappeared, in other regions it is used only for girls or, less often and usually in the speech of older people, for young girls,”the expert notes.

Of course, speech is not a frozen structure. In some Western languages, today they completely refuse appeals related to marital status - this happened, for example, in France, where since 2012 only "madam" is used in official documents (and in Switzerland, similar changes took place even earlier, in the seventies). “In everyday speech, the word“mademoiselle”is still used, but much less than before, and now it is mostly used as an appeal to a very young girl - or if the woman herself asks to call herself that.Marital status does not play a role at all, - says Anton Somin. - A similar story happened in the 1970s with the words "Frau" / "Fraulein" in German. In Spain, where the initial situation was approximately the same as in Italy, “senorita” practically fell out of use, since there was no similar “age” treatment for young men - and as a result, because of this inequality, there was no neutral treatment for everyday speech. left".

In addition to cases where society is ready to abandon one of the appeals because it seems outdated and sexist, there are other situations. “For example, in Polish there is no address“to you”, instead of it the words“Pan”and“Pani”are used in the third person: instead of“Are you leaving?”It will literally be“Does pani come out?”And the same word -“pani”- is used as a neutral address to a girl regardless of age or status,”explains Somin.

In ideal situations of treatment

not tied to any age, nor to marital status - but if you need to choose between "age"

and "family", the first is better than the second

In Japanese, there is a common neutral-polite suffix "-san" to refer to anyone, regardless of gender. At the same time, there are other suffixes in the language that allow you to convey a variety of shades of meaning - they can be associated with age, status and relationships between people, say, at work or in school. The Korean language also has a complex system of addresses - they depend both on the gender of the interlocutor and on the relationship that has developed between them. Nevertheless, gender-neutral polite suffixes "-ssi" and "-nim" (the first is less formal than the second) can be used for appeals, which, in turn, can be attached to the name of the interlocutor or, for example, the same position. All this works when the name or position of a person is known in advance - otherwise, if it is necessary to contact the interlocutor directly, they use words marked by gender and age, as well as a conditional position relative to the speaker. They can be equated with Western variants like "Mr" or "Ms", only they have a lot more variety due to how different factors combine.

Sometimes new variants are invented in the language that are more in line with modern realities. In Belarusian in the nineties, instead of the disappeared "comrade", new words "spadar" and "spadarynya" were invented as abbreviations from "gaspadar" / "gaspadarynya" (now the latter means "owner" / "mistress", but earlier it meant "master" / " madam "). “This word has surprisingly stuck (quite a rare case), but this is probably due to the fact that very few people use the literary Belarusian language in everyday life, and in a small group the new word has much more chances to survive,” explains Anton Somin …

According to the expert, in ideal situations, there are appeals in the language that are not tied either to age or to marital status - but if it is necessary to choose between “age” and “family”, the former is better than the latter. “The latter is a much more personal sphere, especially in modern society, where the official registration of marriage is no longer perceived as something that goes without saying for people in relationships. Age is still more or less obvious outwardly, although, of course, there is no escape from the constant solution of the dilemma, who is already strange to be called a girl, and who will be offended if she is called a woman."

Of course, examples from other languages, even the most successful ones, cannot be simply taken and transferred into Russian - for this, at least, it is necessary that the people who speak it see the significance of a particular word and want to use this particular variant. On the other hand, the processes taking place in Russian and in other languages ​​help us to notice the inequality - after all, if they cannot even speak to a woman in a neutral way, it means that in what they are trying to tell her, there may be a lack of partnership.

PHOTOS: PatchYaLater, Etsy


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