A Phrase I’m Ready to Be Done With

meXW5y8Admittedly, when it comes to gender exclusive language, I’m a bit, ah, sensitive.

As I’ve said before, I’m ready for our culture (and our church) to progress when it comes to the words we use with regard to gender. You know what I’m talking about, the gender exclusive terms that unfortunately litter our rhetorical arsenals. Perhaps the most common example would be using words like “man” or  “mankind” instead of “people” or “humans.” Words matter, and, in the case of gender exclusive language, they can too often cause damage.

Of all the gender exclusive words, terms and phrases that we use, there’s one that’s really starting to bug me:

“You’re the man.”

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I’ve been hearing this little gem a lot lately. Like when I’m watching a tournament and a golfer tees off to the sound of someone in the crowd yelling, “you’re the man!” Or when someone posts a picture on facebook of their son doing something good and some commenter chimes in with a, “he’s the man.” Or when the pastor preaches a whale of a sermon and the overheard comment on the patio afterward goes something like “wow, pastor was the man this morning.”

It sucks. And here’s why:

It equates success, victory, achievement and accomplishment with being male.

And that’s a problem for women. Because what it says is that if you have the wrong chromosomes, then you’re out of luck. In the “you’re the man” framework, women are sequestered to the realm of the inferior. They are the contrast, the other. And it’s a one way street. After all, no one’s saying “You’re the woman!” when an LPGA golfer stripes it down the middle.

But it’s also a problem for men. Because there’s a dark side to male privilege. Continually having to embody the gold standard of human accomplishment can be exhausting. It can be stressful. Because it’s unrealistic, and it’s painful when you don’t measure up.

So…what to do? Allow me to propose a couple of alternatives:

First, if you insist on using the term “You’re the man!” to affirm the good works of the men in your life, balance the ledger by using “You’re the woman!” as well. Will it be awkward? No doubt. Maybe it would help to make it a campaign? We could hashtag it at #yourethewomanisjustaslegitasyouretheman

Or, better, what if we all just staring using a hearty “well done” or “good job” when someone does something good?

Regardless of gender. 

5 responses to “A Phrase I’m Ready to Be Done With”

  1. jesteram says :

    I’m with you here. It’s disheartening to see how early the “male = good” mentality starts. When I was applying some makeup for part of a costume recently, my oldest daughter taunted me by saying, “You’re a girl!” When I said, “Thanks! Girls are awesome!” she looked stunned and confused. “They are?” she asked. Which broke my heart, because I try to get that message out so much at home, but whatever happens at school, etc. is apparently overwhelming it.

  2. Caroline Reid says :

    Some random push-back, Rob!
    “rhetorical arsenal” hmmm now that’s quite an aggressive (male?) image right out the chute!
    “you’re the man” has a female equivalent: I am woman, hear me roar!

    I don’t have a problem with “you’re the man” nor with “mankind”….though I’m a bit balky about “man” to mean human/people of both genders. There’s a danger of making weird and unnecessary changes to our language, unless we really think clearly about context and meaning. As an extreme example of this, I remember hearing a young man some 25 years ago talk about “personning the phones” and seeing my bemusement explained that “manning the phones” was sexist language. It’s NOT because “manning” in this case comes from the French root for “hand” as in “maneuver”.

    So I guess my point is that singling out specific words/phrases for special attention is like throwing the baby out with the bath water; it won’t fix the problem and it prevents the usage of language which needs context to create meaning. It’s easy enough to list words/phrases which appear sexist, it requires more work on our part as both language producers and language receivers to take context into consideration and make a finer judgement.

    Having said that, Rob, I appreciate your intent here! There IS language that IS deeply sexist…..but the sexism lies NOT in the words per se, but in the speaker/writer’s intent. Personally I’d like to ban the use of anatomical terms for anything but those….er….parts. 😉

  3. Jim Stochl says :

    Rob- I also appreciate your intentions, but this may be an overstep. See the sixth post of this chat. http://www.wordwizard.com/phpbb3/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=20783

    BTW, still joyless? 😀

  4. rdixon1365 says :

    Thanks Caroline and Jim. And, yes, Jim, I’m ever joyless. I’ll think more about this, but I’m not sure that the benign origins of a term or phrase render it untouchable later on. I’m thinking about the current debate over the “Redskins” team name. I’m guessing that term was far less offensive when it was first applied. But things are different now in the culture. Thoughts?

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