Posted tagged ‘gender in languages’

Vive la (Petite?) Difference!

May 4, 2012

May is here already—a colorful and busy month—saturated with flowers, celebrations, sunshine, and hope. A month pregnant with many desires—for love, for freedom, for new adventure, new challenges, new dreams…. Cupids are flying among the birds and sharpening their arrows. So I decided to write something “sexy” this time.

In one of the latest THE WEEK magazines (April 27, 2012) I stumbled on the article: “Sweden: Purging gender from the language”

It just so happens that quite a few years ago (1986), as an op-ed columnist for Cape Cod Times, I wrote a piece titled “Our language reflects our values.” I questioned the use of the title “selectman” for that position in Falmouth given that for eight long years Falmouth had had a woman as a selectman. Here it is what I wrote:

“Let’s say the title of selectman were to change to selectwoman, as logic would call for in the Falmouth situation. What would happen? Would the male candidates have to run for selectwoman? Here is the core of the issue. I am sure that men would object. But why? If a woman runs for selectman, why can’t a man run for selectwoman?”

“All of it starts early in childhood. When a little girl becomes a tomboy, it is cute; it is all right. When a boy is sensitive, open, and expresses his feelings with tears, he is called ‘sissy’; he is being ‘a girl.’ We as a society have yet to value masculinity and femininity as equal.”

You can see why I got intrigued about the Swedish society purging gender from its language.

First of all — to purge gender from some languages is simply not possible. In my native Polish for instance, every noun has a gender – it is always she, he or it. The adjectives and verbs are modified according to the noun gender, so Polish and other Slavic languages are heavily gender coded. They would have to be reconstructed totally from scratch!

On top of everything else the likable Swedes went very far in their political correctness.

Quoting from THE WEEK: “State-run preschools have been instructed to avoid referring to children as girls or boys, and many of them have hired ‘gender pedagogues’ who ‘help staff identify language and behavior that risk reinforcing stereotypes.’”

To not be addressed by your gender at all? It is one thing to try to be fair and to give both sexes the same chance to be treated as equally as possible, but is it necessary to go to such an extreme? What do you think about it?

Small gender differences (except anatomical of course!) in the appearance of very young children are not that small in their behavior, moods, and interests according to the What to Expect on line journal from which I copied this photo.

Let’s face it, we are different from the very start – genetically. Denying gender differences seems to be absurd to me. I will repeat what I wrote years ago: Recognition of sex is not sexism: the putting down of one sex by another is. We do not have to be the same to be equal.

Vive la petite difference, and not so petite after all!

This familiar Yin Yang symbol represents Taoism’s way of understanding opposites like light and darkness, masculine and feminine. There is equality there and interpreted as two sides of the same coin where one could not exist without the other. They in fact complement each other. There is an idea of balance. Growing acceptance in our culture for a wider variety of sexual orientation caused by nature or due to personal choice is comforting. It does not upset (in my opinion) any balance of nature, just like dawn and dusk do not upset the balance between day and night.

Many of you may be familiar with this book by John Grey. I purchased this 1992 edition a couple of years later and still have a mixed feeling about it, but can’t deny that the author’s goal was to improve communication between men and women. Here is a quote from his introduction:

“[The book] reveals new strategies for reducing tension in relationship and creating love by first recognizing in great detail how men and women are different…. Relationships do not have to be such a struggle. Only when we do not understand one another is there tension, resentment, or conflict.”

So here we have it – women and men, or men and women, how really different are we? There have been a huge number of researches, opinions, laws, and actions addressing this question. Frankly, it can be overwhelming, so today I propose that we just laugh a bit about our petite difference.

Please click on the photo (or this YouTube link) for a few minutes of humor and laughter. Enjoy it!

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Text copyright © 2012 by Alicja Mann. Photo of laughing people by Yuri Arcurs (purchased from BigStockPhoto.com). Yin Yang symbol by Petr Kratochvil (public domain).

Super Moonstruck

March 22, 2011

Did you ever get struck by the moon? I did — this weekend! I never thought such a strange thing could happen to me, but it did! It was incredible. Actually I got struck on Friday, March 18 — just one night before the full Supermoon — and I was totally unaware of the Supermoon phenomenon. The effect lasted the entire weekend.

That Friday was really a good and productive day for me. It ended with seeing the documentary “Winston Churchill: Walking With Destiny.” The movie was a bit boring for me — too much of a tribute and no controversy — nothing really to discuss. So I was sure that after coming home I would be ready to sleep. That was not the case! For some reason I was very unquiet and sensed some strange energy around me and inside me. Instead of fighting it, I went to another room, sat in my favorite, cozy red chair and wrote notes in my journal for quite a while. My mind was racing in hundreds of different directions and my pen could hardly keep up with it. Writing in my journal in long hand usually calms me down. But not that night! I still felt strangely unsettled.

Looking out the window, I noticed that the light outside was unusually bright even though all the lights on the patio were off. They shut off automatically around 1:30 AM. So I stepped outside and there it was — an incredible moon! It was huge, bright, and somehow different than at other times. Our patio looked great, but alien in that moonlight — as if covered with silver dust.

The moon also seemed to be much closer than usual, and I felt as if it were communicating with me. So I looked at the moon’s face with greater interest, examining all the spots on it and wondered, “What is the gender of the moon?” In my native Polish — ksiezyc is male, in Russian luna is female, in German der mond is male and in Spanish la luna is female. But how about English? There is no gender for nouns in English, although a car or ship is definitely a male for me, while I know that they are females for most men. And how about the moon? In most Native American stories it is referred as Mother Moon, so I decided to go with that. I am not sure why — I guess I was in need of a good female friend at that moment. So I looked at her face again with intensity and asked, “What are you trying to tell me?” She was silent, but her face had changed and I could read it — her answer was a question, “Where is your joy?”

Joy?! I was struck by that question and went back inside the house closing the door gingerly as if afraid to upset her. Now I was even more perturbed and energetic. I knew I was struck by that moon and in great need of writing the answer to her question.

After nine pages of my thoughts and a couple of beers I was finally ready to sleep. The moon disappeared behind the trees on the west side of the patio. The next day — Saturday, March 19 — I learned from the news about the occurrence of a Supermoon every 18 years and knew I would spend another sleepless night with that moon. (One interesting place to read more about the Supermoon is on Arizona astrologer Richard Nolle’s website.)

Supermoon image from ESA/NASAAstronaut Paolo Nespoli

ESA/NASAAstronaut Paolo Nespoli took this image of the moon aboard the International Space Station on March 20, 2011, and wrote, "Supermoon was spectacular from here!"

That night, the true night of the Supermoon, was clear calm and very pleasant. I was not worrying about the tsunami tragedy in Japan, or what would happen in Libya, or how to plan my new writing project, or how to market my books, or how my sons were doing, or what gift to choose for my friend’s new baby, or about my travel plans to Louisiana. NO! I watched that moon and listened to music. It was a fabulous night! I was thinking about all kinds of things that make me happy and that give me joy, like listening to good jazz, dancing, gardening, and traveling. Here is an image that represents how I felt that night.

Oh, I know I do not look like that, but I feel like that once in a while and would like to feel that way more often. I received that card from my son (Leo) on one of those days when I did not feel my best and was in need of something to smile about. That card did make me smile and kept it on my bookshelf. Soon I noticed that my logo, which I designed for myself, has the dancing ‘A’ letter and that those two images could dance together. So, I placed the logo next to Leo’s card. The night of the Supermoon I put them in a frame and hung it on the wall. It will be a good reminder for me not to forget about joy in my life. Thank you Leo, thank you Supermoon, and thank you all for reading this. Have a joyful Spring!


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Card design © 2006 by Masha D’yanas (www.masha.com). Logo design © 2009 by Alicja Mann (www.alicjamann.com). Text copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann


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