Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Gender Neutered

In a prior post I offered a very positive view of Maggie Arana and Julienne Davis’s book: Stop Calling Him Honey and Start Having Sex: How Changing Your Everyday Habits Will Make You Hot for Each Other All Over Again. Link here.

The book is addressed to married or committed couples and makes the radical suggestion that they can improve their sex lives by changing the way they address each other.

Arana and Davis advise us that our sex lives will improve if we stop using neutered terms of endearment and to start calling each other by our proper names.

It may not be intuitively obvious-- it may even fly in the face of logic-- but Arana and Davis are saying that Jack and Jill will have better sex than Pookie and Honey.

It is not self-evident, but you can try it at home. It costs nothing, and, whatever it does for your libido, at the very least your husband or wife will appreciate the new sign of respect.

This makes it feel like a win/win proposition.

One reason that sex is better between Jack and Jill is that the proper names are gender specific. Calling your spouse by his or her name seems to make him or her feel more like a man or a woman, thus, more like what he or she really is.

Can you imagine two neutered beings, filled with as much affection as you can muster, attempting to have sex? To do so you would need to have a very rich fantasy life, indeed.

Being recognized for who you are seems to have a salutary effect on your sexual desire. Being treated as neutered seems to drain the desire out of your marriage. And the latter works its black magic whether you know it or not.

We should not be too surprised to learn that increased self-respect leads to greater libidinous urges. Studies of depression have consistently shown that people who feel demoralized or disrespected feel diminished sexual desire.

Given that I am interested in the Arana/Davis book, I was happy to watch Dr. Helen Smith’s fascinating PJTV interview with the authors yesterday. Link here.

As I was watching I was struck by a simple fact, one that pointed me toward the next place their idea might next lead us to.

I could not help but notice that Arana kept describing the person she is currently involved with in terms that were gender neutral. After asserting that proper names mattered because they were gender specific, Arana began describing a person as her significant other or her partner. When it came time to use a pronoun, Arana referred to this person as “they.”

If language affects the way we feel about other people and the way we behave toward them, how do you think that this man felt about not being named, about not having the nature of his relationship revealed, and about being linguistically neutered?

There was no way, given Arana‘s language, to know the gender of her significant other or the nature of their relationship. We were informed that it was a good one of whatever it was.

We know that Arana earned a degree in English literature, so we know where she learned to use neutered terms for boyfriends and husbands.

I promise you, if you do not learn to neuter your generic pronouns, you are never going to receive a degree in English literature or any other subject in the Humanities at an American university. If you write for most publishers or publications you will find that when it comes to pronouns, political correctness reigns unopposed.

While male generic pronouns are strictly forbidden female generic pronouns are becoming de rigueur for the politically correct crowd.

You cannot say: the engineer and his compass.

You may say: the engineer and their compass.

If you have advanced to the point where you know the difference between singular and plural, you may also say: the engineer and her compass.

If we agree that Jack and Jill are going to have more and better sex than Tootsie and Big Top, is it also true to say that he and she are going to have more and better sex than they and they?

Over the past three decades culture warriors have fanned out across our nation, in schools and the media, to enforce these new ways of using language. Without the least bit of legislation or court decision, they have changed the way most people use language.

They did it because they wanted to change the way people behaved. Most especially, they wanted to change the way men and women related to each other. If they were right to think that the way we use language effects the way we relate, then we can also say that they have succeeded.

That means that the cultural revolutionaries should feel responsible for how men and women do or do not relate to one another.

This might not have been the change they had in mind, but, as the old saying goes: they broke it; they own it.

Banning generic pronouns was a blow against the empire and the patriarchy. Terms like man and woman were outlawed in favor of the more neutered person. Mankind was replaced by humankind. Fireman was replaced by fire fighter; policeman by police officer; postman by postal carrier.

At the same time, everyone was encouraged to overcome terms like husband and boyfriend, wife and girlfriend and to replace them with more gender neutered terms like significant other and partner.

What difference does it make? For one, husband and wife involve a higher, contractual commitment. Significant others and partners do not. Even boyfriend and girlfriend assert and affirm a level of commitment, and, as with husband and wife, one that is gender specific.

Or, ask yourself this: what matters more, how you define your relationship or how you feel about each other? Keep in mind that only the first involves commitment.

Is there a difference between marriage and a long term meaningful personal relationship? Of course, there is. And what about hooking up and friends with benefits? Is it an accident that dating has pretty much gone out of style in our brave new politically correct universities?

If terms of endearment diminish sexual desire, what happens when relationships are redefined into connections of endearment. Is the lack of gender specificity, the kind that would be involved with boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives also going to cause a lower level of animal lust?

Would it be fair to say that college students, having been brainwashed and terrorized into using aberrant grammatical forms, are less likely to date, to become boyfriend and girlfriend, and to see themselves married with families?

I’m sure you are thinking that that the young hookup generation is having plenty of sex. Wouldn‘t this prove that the new way of speaking of relationships is not having a negative effect on their libido?

The problem here is: not all sex is created equal.

Sex is going to express itself one way or another. As Shakespeare put it: “the world must be peopled.”

When you create cultural institutions or ways of speaking that militate against the normal expression of sexuality perhaps that merely causes people to find other, less normal ways to express their sexual desires.

If you become numbed to subtle sexual stimuli, you are likely going to seek out more bizarre or outrageous stimuli. Or you are likely to create strange, theatrical situations which will be the only ones in which you really enjoy sex.

These all fall within the category of fetishism. As many members of the young generation find themselves linguistically exiled from the worlds of dating and marriage, they find themselves drawn to slightly bizarre, even aberrant, situations like hookups where they can function sexually on the condition that no commitment is required, and, in many cases, neither partner knows the other‘s name.

Fetishism is the natural outgrowth of this abuse of language. Maybe we do not have to keep blaming it all on internet porn and the social media.


David Foster said...

Reading stuff from the early 19th Century and earlier, I've often noticed women referring to their husbands by their *last* names.

Sometimes they even referred to them by their *titles*, as in the diary of the wife of a British general (I think it was Marlborough) who wrote:

"His Lordship pleasured me 3 times before removing his boots"

(The terminology suggests that the use of the formal title did not interfere overmuch with her enjoyment..)

sestamibi said...

The exclusive use of female pronouns is not universal, but is applied only in reference to positions of authority, leadership, and expertise. When referring to criminals, degenerates, and other miscreants, it is still obligatory to use male pronouns exclusively.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Do we know how these women addressed their husbands when they spoke with them directly?

And thank you, also, sestamibi for the qualification. None of us should be surprised that people are allowed to say: the serial killer and his family.

David Foster said...

Yeah, good point that we can't assume the way the referred to their husbands in writing was necessarily what they called them in private. Hard to gather evidence on the latter...the time machine is down for maintenance right now, and even if it were working, probably can't assume the words they would use with a guest present are the same as the ones they'd use with just the two of them.

Contemporary plays and novels might be the most revealing sources.