Being offended by the term 'fair'

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

  1. N. E. White

    N. E. White Moderator Staff Member

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    I don't think that is KatG's intention at all. She is trying to make you all understand why someone (okay, how about half of the population) would be offended.

    Sometimes, we don't realize we hold sexist views until someone points out how that sexist culture is embedded in the very language we use.

    Does anyone here have a daughter? How would you want your neighbors to view your daughter?
     
  2. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    Yes, we will. But this wasn't about something in a piece of writing. It was glutton talking about a piece of writing. It was about a joke that seemed perfectly fine to glutton, but hurt somebody else because it's language so engrained in our society to define and restrict women that glutton didn't even think of it that way, that it could hurt someone. (Although we still haven't had confirmation about whether it was gender or race issues in this case.) It is an easy and largely privileged position to be offended that someone was offended by how you seemed to define them or an entire group, to dismiss what that person said, to think only of yourself and your reputation and your feelings of unease. It is an easy reaction to say that listening to someone about pain and anger they feel, as a person dealing with these issues in society (and who may, unlike yourself, have no recourse to escape those issues in their daily lives,) means that you are losing and they are winning and so screw that. No one has to completely change their writing from a reaction, but listening to a reaction without deriding it doesn't hurt anyone, including yourself. And it is actually something to think about outside your own viewpoint of the world. Which as writers, is usually a useful skill.
     
  3. glutton

    glutton Author of Iron Bloom

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    The issue wasn't a racial one, if the comparison to a 'racial slur' confused anyone.
     
  4. andrewscott

    andrewscott Registered User

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    Has anyone pulled out the Oxford English Dictionary and looked at the etymology of "fair" in this sense? Fair does have a use meaning 'lighter-skinned' so that's probably where the racial issue came in. Otherwise it seems to denote attractiveness and not necessarily in women alone. This does not mean that it is free from sexism though. I found this definition of "fairer sex" which explicitly calls it sexist. http://www.definition-of.com/fairer sex
     
  5. JunkMonkey

    JunkMonkey Registered User

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    Right. There's a challenge. My copy of the OED (1971 edition) has four pages of definitions and examples. From what I can pick out of it the word 'fair' originally derives from Gothic / Germanic and means 'beautiful'.
     
  6. Michael B

    Michael B Doomfarer

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    I can not recall which story it was in but I remember a Viking leader being called Something the Fair because of his looks. On the opposite end of the scales in that culture to call Ragnar the Ugly would undoubtedly get four feet of cold steel run through you.
     
  7. NicoleDreadful

    NicoleDreadful learning as fast as I can

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    I did, in fact, look to the OED (yay public library database access!) and they have quotations for "fair sex," "fairer sex," and "sterner sex.' Note the (also ...) for each, as it shows the objectionable baggage carried by the terms.

    And on the other side, OED also has quotations for option c.

     
  8. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    Yeah, that would about do it. The "fairer sex" is also a term that has gone by the wayside mostly, though not as much as the "sterner sex," which I doubt was used much past early 20th century. Fairer sex had a strong poetical association and got used longer. After all, you have to remind women that they are soft, gentle and nice, or else.

    Glutton was using "fairer sex" in its more modern context -- ironically. Either the person who objected didn't pick up on the fact that Glutton was using the term ironically, or did, but because it was paired with the idea of the hardcore female warrior, which has become another female stereotype over the past fifty years, didn't feel that glutton was really getting away from the sexist connotations of the language. (But again, I don't know exactly what was said.) Fairer sex works very well for characters to use in particular contexts. But it's one of those loaded phrases that is probably a good idea to avoid in describing your work. Even if it was meant humorously, it's the kind of thing that can easily miss.