Being offended by the term 'fair'

Discussion in 'Writing' started by glutton, Nov 10, 2012.

  1. glutton

    glutton Author of Iron Bloom

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    Are there many readers out there who are offended by the use of this term with regard to women? I just ran across this for the first time and I was pretty surprised, especially in the context... I used the term in a summary of my writing style, which described how I favor 'hardcore warriors of the fairer gender' ie. girls who defeat dozens of large armored men at once and survive/keep fighting with multiple wounds that would each kill a normal man, and I was using 'fair' for 1) irony 2) to create an archaic feel that calls to mind the heroes and legends of old and 3) just to sound more interesting than saying 'hardcore female warriors'. What do you think, is the term 'fair' that offensive, basically to the point of being a racial slur, or have I just encountered overly PC zealotry as I'm inclined to believe?
     
  2. Randy M.

    Randy M. Registered User

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    1) I'm too far away from the time period to know if "the fairer sex" was originally intended to be derogatory, but in context it sure looks patronizing now. I expect you ran into posters who recognized that but did not recognize your intent.

    2) Irony (and humor in general) doesn't always come across in forum postings. Sometimes that is because the other people don't know you that well and so don't recognize your humor at work; sometimes it's because one runs into posters who are touchy about a given subject; sometimes it's because the humor/irony was awkwardly put and came across as a serious statement. I've occasionally been the victim of my sense of humor misfiring and have found it best to apologize, explain briefly, tuck tail and back away with whatever dignity I can muster. If your other, later postings appear otherwise rational, reasonable and good-natured, this instance will fade away.


    Randy M.
     
  3. Icarus

    Icarus Registered User

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    I think if whoever finds that offensive should really take a look at their sensitivities. Someone being offended is not a sign of something being offensive.
     
  4. End Of Disc One

    End Of Disc One Registered User

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    This (I have to have at least 10 characters to post?)
     
  5. molybdenum

    molybdenum Analyze That

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    Actually, by definition, if someone is offended by something that makes that something offensive by necessity. But yeah, sensitivity has run a little too rampant lately and probably needs to pipe down a little for conversations to remain rational.
     
  6. JunkMonkey

    JunkMonkey Registered User

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    I would like to know how the hell can it be a 'racial slur'?
     
  7. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    It's not entirely clear whether you're talking about an objection to using the term fairer sex with regards to women or with regards to race (fair being white.) The term "fairer sex" is usually meant to refer to women being pretty, gentler and weaker. It's a term that was used paternalistically, a compliment that was more of a social restriction. You were using it to mean pretty, gentle and weaker when you used it in order to use it ironically with another more modern stereotype of women -- the hardcore female warrior. I.e. these women of the fairer sex aren't really weak and gentle since they are hardcore warriors.

    But first off, women seldom just get called warriors, firefighters, athletes. Instead, we're the female warriors, female firefighters, female athletes, because otherwise people may assume you're talking about men because those are men's roles and so men are the default sex unless noted otherwise. And second, hardcore is the further paternalistic distinction that the women are super tough -- like men. The sexy, kick-ass female fighter is a paternalistic stereotype -- it's another way to oogle women as the fairer sex in heterosexual male fantasies.

    So if it was a gender complaint, it wasn't necessarily that your use of irony wasn't noted. It's just that the entire phrase was paternalistic and may have annoyed someone, possibly a female, who gets tired of how language is used at women regularly and cluelessly because guys very seldom have to think outside of their own heads in our societies. And when they run into someone who is annoyed or upset about that, it doesn't mean that you necessarily have to agree with the view, but dismissing it as PC zealotry is again being paternalistic -- father knows best what language about women should and should not annoy you, especially you women. I think it's great that you're thinking about it, but just try considering it as a person who was upset because women get called versions of fairer sex, little lady and it's so cool that you're tough like a man all the time. So maybe it wasn't very ironic after all.

    If the person was getting upset over racial aspects as in seeing fair as meaning white skinned and ignoring non-Anglo women? Then that might have been a misinterpretation of what you said. Or if your "hardcore female warrior" is not white, referring to that character as the "fairer sex" might have been annoying in that context. It's hard to know because we really don't know the discussion between you.

    The best response when you encounter a reaction that surprises you is to say "Thank you for showing me a different way to understand it. I will think about what you have said." And then see if it is helpful or not to you personally. It doesn't require a war between world views. It requires accepting that you unintentionally upset someone and not making it be about you getting rid of unease and guilt by calling them hysterical.
     
  8. N. E. White

    N. E. White tmso Staff Member

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    This!

    Don't have much else to add, but the whole 10 character thing...
     
  9. Wilson Geiger

    Wilson Geiger Greymane

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    I'm not sure where you got that last part, because that's not true at all, as far as I'm aware.

    As a matter of fact, we aren't really sure where this phrase came from, although it's attributed to mean different things to many different people: attractiveness, fair sense of character, or fair-skinned. But I've never seen anyone really refer to the term as meaning 'weakness'.

    Anyway, not to argue, but I don't really see the problem here, although like Kat said, it's tough to know without knowing how this was used and in what ways they considered it offensive. I have no problem, but that may be because I'm just an ugly man. :)
     
  10. Andrew Leon Hudson

    Andrew Leon Hudson sf-icionado / horror-ator

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    I've never known the term to explicitly include "weaker", although the implication is obviously there. I take it as a prioritising of (the ascribed) positive feminine characteristics - beauty, delicacy, caring, etc.* - over (the ascribed) negatives, such as the lack of we manly men's physical strength, etc. and blah. Clearly patronising, but "positively" patronising rather than dismissive.

    * which all you lovely ladies have, of course, now run along.

    That...

    ...but not this. There are things which are considered offensive by social consensus and things which are only subjectively offensive, and which other (perhaps even a majority of) people would not consider problematic at all. For example, the episode of P&T's Bullsh!t on Breast Hysteria included a New York mother of two who found the notion of public breast-feeding aggressively offensive, an act almost literally bordering on assault to potential bystanders; that just seems crazy to me, but there you have it.

    It would be fai- let me start again. It would be reasonable for you to say "If someone is offended by something that makes that something offensive to them by necessity", but that would also be an obvious tautology. Just because I think it offensive doesn't make it so beyond the boundaries of my skull.
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2012
  11. G.L. Lathian

    G.L. Lathian G.L. Lathian

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    This is what I've always assumed "fair" meant. I would never consider the term to be patronizing, especially when writing in an old-world context. I wouldn't use the word to describe anyone in a modern story, that's for sure. Well, maybe if it was to do with the English royal family...
     
  12. Andrew Leon Hudson

    Andrew Leon Hudson sf-icionado / horror-ator

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    But, surely it is because referring to women as the fairer sex WAS patronising that the phrase is rarely used now.
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2012
  13. G.L. Lathian

    G.L. Lathian G.L. Lathian

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    We have thousands of archaic words we don't use very often. I'm certain it wasn't derogatory, almost the opposite. I can't see how being called more caring, beautiful and just - when compared to men - as a bad thing. I'd say it's more patronizing to men of the time, because it was them blatantly admitting that they were not as 'fair' as women.
     
  14. Wilson Geiger

    Wilson Geiger Greymane

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    Exactly. Sounds more to me like some people trying to change the definition so that it sounds worse than it was intended.
     
  15. Andrew Leon Hudson

    Andrew Leon Hudson sf-icionado / horror-ator

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    I know what you're saying (and in this case Wulfen's point may well be right), but I think it could be considered patronising in the sense that it credits women with only those qualities that were considered good in a woman. Fair might not have umbrella'd "feminine" negatives like weakness, but it would never have included a positive characteristic like bravery - something considered inherently masculine.
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2012
  16. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    Okay, let's try this again. Fairer sex means women. Women were the fairer sex because they were supposed to be (should be) pretty, nicer and gentler than men -- weaker, to be protected, etc. This was not a compliment. It was meant in past society to denote the woman's social role and to constrict her behavior. As in, "women are the fairer sex. They aren't cut out to be doctors." It was a paternalistic designation of women as different from men -- nicer, daintier, delicate and fragile (weaker,) beautiful for men to look at and care for -- unable to do things men could do, child-like. Fair in this context meant "not rough or coarse" as in fair fabric, because women were assumed to be automatically more genteel (i.e. softer, kinder, less inclined to protest,) than men. And if a woman wasn't polite, nice, fragile, dedicated only to childrearing, etc., then she wasn't being a proper member of the fairer sex, she was being coarse and man-like, not being a lady and obeying all the positive pretty attributes of womenhood attached to her role as the "fairer sex." Like say, demanding the right to vote or a living wage. The description of women as super terrific, beautiful, morally superior and to be worshiped on a pedestal may sound positive but that's not how it was used in past (and many current) societies. It was used to try to keep women in a social role that was secondary to males and used along with many other ways of talking about women to deny her rights and opportunities in the society. It's part of paternalistic speech with a historical context, such as calling women little lady, missy, etc.

    So if you have an old timey character in a historical context saying "the fairer sex" it isn't a particular issue. They did use it, it was thought to be poetic. (Also paternalistic.) But glutton was in the modern day and talking about a work of fiction, not using fairer sex in a work of fiction. And glutton was using it ironically -- a hardcore female warrior is not refined, gentle, nice, delicate, beautiful, etc., but instead rough, coarse and violent -- attributes traditionally associated with being male. So the irony of the use was that the warriors were the opposite of the meaning of the fairer sex, being manlike and coarse, but as women were called the fairer sex as if they had those qualities, since it is a term meaning women. It was supposed to be funny. But because the stereotype of the sexy kick-ass female fighter is also a paternalistic, women cooler for being like men but with boobs, worshiping for men to look at fantasy, putting it in contrast to fairer sex was not necessarily that ironic or funny for some. If a female fighter character referred to herself ironically as the fairer sex, that would be funny, as she would be turning the woman's role designated for her as a woman, to which she does not fit, back on itself. But glutton's use just may have been seen as clueless on historical context and reinforcing stereotypes of women that are paternalistic. Paternalism isn't always about saying negative things to women, but in setting up structures, including language, meant to constrict and control women's behavior and roles in society to secondary, child-like status, and make those the norm, not to be challenged.

    Another use of the word "fair" is of course pale skin. But "fairer sex" refers to all women, not just white women. So if the criticism glutton encountered was along racial lines, there may have been some confusion or other context of which we are not aware.
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2012
  17. MrBF1V3

    MrBF1V3 aka. Stephen B5 Jones

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    I think you can't win. It's not about what words you use, it's about your subject matter. Someone, or a number of someones, will always object if you imagine women in non-traditional roles, and then object that there is such a thing as traditional roles.

    Maybe you should keep your head down and write about 'hardcore warrior persons'.

    B5
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2012
  18. JunkMonkey

    JunkMonkey Registered User

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    You're right, MrBF1V3, you can never win. No matter how hard you try someone will contrive a way to be 'offended' by whatever you say.

    And though I have some sympathy with KatG's earlier point:

    It has to be said there are an awful lot of idiots out there who are just plain wrong - and we shouldn't be afraid to tell them so. Women (in Western society) would be stuck with the 'wife and mother' role if people (mostly women) hadn't been afraid to do just that.
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2012
  19. Randy M.

    Randy M. Registered User

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    I'm not sure anyone could sum up the objections to the term more directly and concisely than this.


    Randy M.
     
  20. Wilson Geiger

    Wilson Geiger Greymane

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    Other than to say that it's not a completely accurate definition of the term, I give. Make of the word what you will, I suppose.

    Is the word 'woman' next on the chopping block? I mean, it means wife, which can be inferred to mean many things by those that hear it and don't like it.

    We are all writers here, we will ALL offend someone at some point or other. We can either take it into consideration, ignore it, or change what we say to make it acceptable to everyone that reads it. Good luck with the latter.