Tuesday, 8 October 2013

For feminine (or feminist!) generics

Ever wondered why men have nipples? Are they just another part of the human blueprint from which the female deviates? Only, instead of lacking a central component, in this, she has gone all-out the other way? As a form of (over)compensation, tit for tat, so to speak?

In fact, there is a much less retaliating and much more surprising explanation. As John Launer states in the Postgraduate Medical Journal: “[m]en have nipples because embryos are always female in their early stages, and males only differentiate from the female prototype after a few weeks” (79).

So, wait a minute, it’s not women who deviate from the male (bodily) norm but men who differ from the female ground plan? That puts masculine generics, such as ‘he’, ‘man’ and ‘mankind’, onto shaky ground, to say the least, and further, makes a solid case for the suggestions of feminist linguist Luise F. Pusch – especially for those who believe that biology is destiny.

Pusch argues in “Totale Feminisierung: Überlegungen zum umfassenden Feminimum” for the feminisation of language to give women better linguistic and conceptual visibility. For the English language, this would mean using ‘she’ instead of ‘he’, ‘woman’ instead of ‘man’, and ‘womankind’ instead of ‘mankind’. And judging from the biological evidence above, there can be little in way of counter-argument.

Also, ‘he’ and ‘man’ are still visibly present in ‘she’ and ‘woman’, so no-one needs to feel excluded – only, instead of ‘man’ as norm we rightfully pass the generic-crown on to ‘woman’. After centuries of being subsumed under a false universal, she deserves a bit of linguistic reign after all.

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Launer, John. “Why do men have nipples?” Postgrad Med J 87 (2011): 79-80. BMJ. Web. 16 Sep. 2013.

Pusch, Luise F. “Totale Feminisierung: Überlegungen zum umfassenden Feminimum.” Women in German Yearbook 4.1 (1988): 1-14. JSTOR. Web. 23 Jan. 2013.

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