Good Thinking

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Don't Call Her Chairwoman?

Renaming females in power reaffirms the belief that all things feminine are inferior, weak, and worthy of scorn—and that all things masculine are superior, strong, and worthy of respect. Read More

Female Leaders

Thanks Dr. Cummins. I'd also like to see more female leaders. I also believe that they can bring about great change to organizations and the world with the kind of femininity innate to them. I'd love to read more about women finding success and leading organizations with "mercy, compassion, feeling, [and] fairness."

your comment

Glad you liked the article!

Complicated world

Loved your article.
It just made dying a bit easier for me.
The 20th Century is just too complicated for me. Chairman, chairwoman, chairperson, chair - it's such an eeny-meeny-mynee-mo world. I can't keep up.
So, yes, death holds some reward for me. No more politically correct struggles and never again having to look up yet once more, the meaning of hermeneutics.
I am homo nec sapiens (or is it homa nec sapiens)

your comment

Mike, suicide is no laughing matter. If you are you are indeed having suicidal thoughts (and not just joking around), please contact a counselor immediately. The Psychology Today site has a link that will help you locate one in your area.

Your obvious concern

Hello Dr Cummins
I was surprised to receive email notification of your reply to my post.
Thank you for your obvious concern and I guess you responded 'ex abundante cautela' - from an abundance of caution.
I'm happy to say that suicide is very very far from my mind. I am an active, engaged, mobilised and connected professional person, happily married with a lovely family and a vibrant professional practice.
But I am 67 years old and I fall ever further behind when it comes to politically correct speak and I have to say that the nuances of the twists and turns of English in order to accommodate gender-neutral language is way beyond me and all I can do is laugh at the exigencies of newspeak.
My original response was lighthearted, beginning as it did with the repetitive LOL and my delight at your article.
I'd hoped that by talking of my struggles of coping with the 20th Century (I do believe we might actually already be in the 21st Century) would give the game away but I guess I understand that your reading of some person experiencing being locked in the 20th Century might have indicated psychosis, which, together with talk of dying, must have alarmed you.
I apologise for my clumsy humour.
At 67, I approach death with some realism - I will, God willing, try for 3 score and ten (at least) and thereafter will consider myself blessed with extra time. Death does have some benefits for me though. Never having to look up the word 'hermeneutics' again will be a blessed relief - I just can't understand what it means. And never having to juggle with the nuanced thinking of politically correct speak is another relief for me. I live in daily fear of committing some microaggression by using a term which has just been superseded by yet another term, more nuancedly correct than its predecessor, and am consoled by the fact that in heaven or hell (wherever I shall wind up) neither God nor Satan will care whether I say chairman, chairwoman, chairperson, chair. They will be too busy debating how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.
Again, thank you for your concern about my well being. Far from suicidal, I love being alive.

your comment

I am glad to hear all is well.

I think the point is that

I think the point is that traits like compassion, empathy, mercy, strength, rationality etc. are human traits, not male and female ones. The notion of an innate 'femininity' or 'masculinity' is precisely what these women are railing against, and rightly so. It's not downgrading to women to demand we be respected for our role, not our sex. It's raising women up to be seen as equal human beings with a full range of human traits and attributes that have nothing to do with our sex.

Your comment

I don't see that we are in disagreement. I recommend you re-read this paragraph:

"The irony is that traits traditionally ascribed to women are precisely those that make us human rather than monsters—mercy, compassion, feeling, fairness. By this metric, we are to admire the man who leads a hostile takeover in order to raid a company's pension account, and scorn the man who takes a cut in his CEO compensation package to help the company weather a poor economy. The former is "thinking rationally like a man" while the latter is "letting his heart rule his head like a woman."

Notice that I said "traits traditionally ascribed to women", not traits that only women supposedly have. Also notice that I say these are traits that make us all human, not traits that make women better than men. Finally, notice that the example I give describes two men, one who shows his humanity by exercising those traits and one who eschews those traits in order to be a stereotypically "rational male".

The point of the blog is that we have decided to eschew and scorn all things traditionally female in order to prove that we are worthy of respect and capable of wielding power. But by doing so, we agree that things traditionally female are worthless things that must be rejected, and all things traditionally male are worthy things--the good stuff--that we must wholeheartedly and unquestioningly embrace.

So if we object to being called "ma'am" instead of "sir", if we want to "gender neutralize" terms such as "chairman" to "chair", we are saying that we don't want anyone to notice that we are women, that the only way to command respect is to force people to not notice we are women.

That, I think, is where we do disagree. I would like people to notice that the person holding such a powerful office is indeed a woman.

Here is a powerful quote to consider: "There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

The Power of Language

Thank you for this article. I always felt that the power of words in shaping our position in society is an interesting topic.
Although I would really be interested to know if there are comparative studies on the way today's societies deal with male/female terms. In the German language e.g. the discussion is quite different to the English tendency to use male terms (if you want to show respect). In German almost all terms show if the person you talk about is male or female. And there has been a great shift in the way we speak and write to some 30 years ago. German women today insist to be called by the female term. Women feel very much insulted if anyone calls them by the male term. (e.g. no one would call Angela Merkel Kanzler, she is the Kanzlerin, same goes for Ministerin (f) and Minister (m) etc.).
Yet, I guess the number of powerful women in the German society is not greater than in English speaking countries. And the economically and politically powerful women in Germany follow the "male" rules of success just in the same way as they do it when English is spoken. It has more to do with the historical struggle to be recognized as existing. If people only talk about Kanzler and Minister then how should one know that it includes women in the position?
So, does that mean language does not have as much influence on shaping reality as we always thought it would? As I said above, I would be interested to know if there are studies that look more closely into this question.

your comment

Thank you for sharing your experience as a German speaker and your insights on this issue.

With respect to gender titles, the research generally shows that that workers with feminine job titles are considered less intelligent and less worthy of respect than workers with masculine job titles:

This article from the Daily Mail summarizes such research rather well:

The question is how to respond to this type of discrimination. Yellen's response is viewed by some as giving in to the stereotyping and coax people into ignoring the fact that she is female. Others think she is simply being realistic--she wants to be taken seriously, so she needs to "gender neutralize" her job title.

Others (and I and persuaded by this view) hold that the best way to respond to such discrimination is for women in positions of power and authority to draw attention to the fact that they are, in fact, women. By doing so, they constitute living counterexamples to the prejudiced belief that women cannot do such jobs, or can only do such jobs well if they adopt wholesale a traditional male approach to the job.

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Denise Dellarosa Cummins, Ph.D., is the author Good Thinking, The Historical Foundations of Cognitive Science, and Evolution of Mind.


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