Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Carto takes on gender, #1

I guess I'll be writing more than one of these.

Let me start with two common words that describe parenthood. Namely, mother and father. Both are gendered. Sure, they can be queered, but I wonder how many other people get that, without, at the same time, ungendering the subject that utters the word.

I prefer mother. I don't think this is surprising at all to anyone who knows the least bit about me - I really intensely truly dislike anything masculine pushed upon me, and given the choice I tend to opt for the feminine end of the spectrum. Not always, but very very often. I am cisgender - I don't feel uneasiness with being a feminine woman: it suits me.

However, I also intensely dislike pushing things upon others. I don't think it's a good idea to attribute motives, or prescriptive roles to other people. Calling someone a "mother" (or a "woman") can be precisely that kind of attribution. I find there are at least two ways of using words; you can use them to prescribe, to say what ought, in your opinion, to be, or you can use them descriptively, to say what, in your opinion, is. But the wording is mostly similar, and the usages are very often concurrent and inseparable.

Trouble is, I approve of descriptions. I think they're useful. I think descriptions help us people connect with each other. And I do try to avoid prescribing, but end up nevertheless, because if I want words to have intersubjective meanings, they have to be limited in those meanings. A word can't mean just anything whatsoever if it's to retain meaning - if a word can mean anything it will mean nothing.

So. WRT common, gendered words, I try to limit my usage to more or less common usages. I use words like woman, and man, and I try to use them descriptively - if someone looks, acts and gives an impression of being a woman I describe her as a woman. It's a phenomenological approach. I supplement this phenomenological approach with an additional caveat - if a subject declares herself as a woman, I take her word for it as a starting point. This does mean I describe self-identified women as women even if they don't look like women are conventionally thought to look like, and it means the word "woman" is open to reinterpretation - but it also means I make judgments on what the word "woman" can mean, what it can meaningfully point to. I can, of course, be criticised for my judgments, and indeed I welcome such criticism because, obviously, I can be in the wrong. And, mutatis mutandis, I try to follow this approach for all other words, too.

This means I also prescribe some meanings: I accept that responsibility. I don't think that can be avoided, so my choice is to accept it and try to be a mensch and not fuck up too badly.

So much for words pertaining to sex and gender.

(There's three of these: this is part one, here's part 2, and here's part 3)

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