Our gendered world

by Eszter Hargittai on August 20, 2004

A propos this very interesting discussion about gendered pronouns, and à propos all the babies being born in my social circles, I thought I’d post a note about the salience of gender the moment we are born. I became an aunt last week and so the following has come up a lot in the past few days. The first thing everybody wants to know about the baby is its (their?:) gender. At first I was not hiding this bit of information on purpose, but by now I consciously phrase announcements about the event in gender-neutral terms to see how long it takes for the other party to ask whether it is a boy or a girl. As you can imagine, it doesn’t take long. One may argue that this is because, grammatically speaking, people are unable to ask questions about the baby without knowing its gender. But I think it is more than that. Our world is so gender-based that it is hard for people to think about a person without knowing the person’s gender. But what is it exactly about a baby that makes it necessary for us to know its gender? In what ways is it going to be important? Is it so we can say whether the baby is beautiful versus handsome? Is it so we know what types of presents to get for it? If yes then we are off on the path of gendered socialization the moment the little person takes its first breath. All this shows the pressure parents must be under to choose between girl and boy when a child is born sex unknown.

UPDATE: I thought I should add a bit to this post drawing on some work by sociologists who actually study this stuff. Some people in the comments – and elsewhere as well, I am sure – argue that if you look at the behavior of girls and boys already at an early stage you will observe their different preferences for certain colors and activities. We should not forget, however, that it is not possible to raise children in an isolated manner and their social environments – as evidenced by the anecdote in this post – start differentiating them by gender from the start. So the fact that a girl may opt for a “girlie” toy or pink may simply be a reflection of what she has already picked up from her surroundings. It is interesting to note, however, that historically pink and blue were assigned to girls and boys in the exact reverse of today’s conventions. I quote from Padavic and Reskin, Women and Men at Work (p.4.):

Clothing for babies illustrates the creation of sex differences in appearance that have no natural basis. Disposable-diaper manufacturers, for example, market different designs for girls and boys. Until the beginning of the twentieth century, however, male and female infants were dressed alike—usually in white dresses. When Americans began to color code babies’ clothing, they dressed boys in pink and girls in blue. Not until amost 1950 did the convention reverse, with blue becoming defined as masculine and pink as feminine (Kidwell and Steele 1989:24-27). Such shifts demonstrate that what is critical for maintaining and justifying unequal treatment between the sexes is not how cultures set the sexes apart but the fact that they do it at all.

Also, for a very good look at children in their early years, read Barry Thorne’s book on Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School.

Volokh on McClellan

by Ted on August 20, 2004

Eugene Volokh has more on Scott McClellan’s call for an end to “all of this unregulated soft money activity.” Says Eugene:

You can call it “soft money,” but it’s speech, of the sort that political movements such as the antislavery movement, the temperance movement, the civil rights movement, and many other movements (good and bad) have engaged in. Without such speech, who gets to speak effectively, in the large traditional media? The media itself; the parties; and the politicians who have the infrastructure to raise hard money in $2000 chunks; and a few super-rich people (unless they’re shut up, too). People who care deeply about a subject, enough to pool even tens of thousands of their dollars with others who care equally strongly, would be shut out.

UPDATE: Aaron Schwartz emails a link to Bush himself on Larry King Live. McClellan wasn’t off the reservation; Bush is saying (a) I want to get rid of unregulated, independent soft-money political speech, and (b) I didn’t understand the law I signed.

G. BUSH: Well, I say they ought to get rid of all those 527s, independent expenditures that have flooded the airwaves.

There have been millions of dollars spent up until this point in time. I signed a law that I thought would get rid of those, and I called on the senator to — let’s just get anybody who feels like they got to run to not do so.

KING: Do you condemn the statements made about his…

G. BUSH: Well, I haven’t seen the ad, but what I do condemn is these unregulated, soft-money expenditures by very wealthy people, and they’ve said some bad things about me. I guess they’re saying bad things about him. And what I think we ought to do is not have them on the air. I think there ought to be full disclosure. The campaign funding law I signed I thought was going to get rid of that. But evidently the Federal Election Commission had a different view.

UPDATE: Julia has more.

Comedy is not pretty

by Ted on August 20, 2004

The New York Times has looked into the claims of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

There were a lot of folks on the right who knew better than to lie down with these dogs. They knew that they were promoting a huge pile of horseshit, but they were desperate to believe that there was a pony in there somewhere. What they found is a charge that Kerry misreported being in Cambodia, thirty-six years ago, by as many as five whole weeks. Devastating.

They wanted mainstream media attention for this campaign. I do hope that they enjoy it.

(UPDATE: OK, sometimes comedy is pretty.)

A few highlights below.

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Year zero

by John Quiggin on August 20, 2004

Now that Brian has started the hare running on gender-neutral pronouns, I thought I’d weigh in on the old chestnut “When did the 21st century start?” (I saw this raised in a recent comments thread, but can’t locate it now). The commonsense view is that it began on 1 January 2000, and I think the commonsense view is right. Against this we get a bunch of pedants arguing, that, since there was no year zero, the 1st century (of the current era) began in 1CE, and therefore included 100CE. Granting this, the 21st century began on 1 January 2001.

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A Man After His Own Heart

by Kieran Healy on August 20, 2004

Draft review of “A Man After His Own Heart”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1565847709/kieranhealysw-20/ref=nosim/, by Charles Siebert. (Final version to appear in “The Drawing Board”:http://www.econ.usyd.edu.au/drawingboard/.)

The language of the heart is all-pervasive. Art and everyday life are full of emotions expressed through talk about the heart, be it given or joined, singing or broken, closed or kind. The Ancient Greek view that the liver is the seat of the soul can seem plausible on a good Friday night, and Descartes’ case that it’s our head that matters may be felt with some force the following morning. For sheer range of metaphor, though, the heart has no serious competitors. But what about the thing itself? The cheerful curve of a Valentine’s heart does not convey what a real heart looks like. A heart ache is not a heart attack. We all know that the heart is a pump that moves blood around the body, but very few of us could give an accurate account of how it happens. The dynamic interplay of all those chambers, arteries and valves is difficult to picture, hard to explain, and took a very long time to discover.

Yet, at the same time, we are more familiar than ever with the risks of cardiac arrest and the danger of heart disease. Coronary bypasses are routine and a heart transplant these days is a standard (if difficult) option rather than an exotic experiment. So there are two ways of talking about the heart: as a metaphor for ourselves and our innermost feelings, and as a key bit of internal plumbing, in need of maintenance and regular upkeep. Advances in medicine over the past century or so, and especially in the last thirty years, have made it difficult to keep the two separate. The real heart intrudes more and more on its imagined counterpart.

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Roll 10 or better on 2 D8s to make the Obvious Joke

by Kieran Healy on August 20, 2004

“BoingBoing”:http://www.boingboing.net/2004/08/19/happy_birthday_dd.html reports that “Dungeons and Dragons”:http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/welcome is “30 years old”:http://pc.gamespy.com/articles/538/538848p1.html. And it’s _still_ a virgin.

Gender-Neutral Pronouns

by Brian on August 20, 2004

I had always thought there was a dialect of English where _he_ could be used as a gender-neutral pronoun. That is, I always thought there was a dialect of English where one could say (1) without presupposing that the person we hire next will be male.

(1) The person we hire next will be able to teach whatever courses he wants.

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