November 12th, 2012, 04:36 PM #16
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 by KatG; November 12th, 2012 at 04:42 PM.
November 12th, 2012, 10:39 PM #17
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'.
Last edited by MrBF1V3; November 12th, 2012 at 10:43 PM.
November 13th, 2012, 03:37 AM #18
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:
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.
Last edited by JunkMonkey; November 13th, 2012 at 03:40 AM.
November 13th, 2012, 11:00 AM #19
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November 13th, 2012, 11:53 AM #20
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.
November 13th, 2012, 12:49 PM #21
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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?
November 13th, 2012, 04:19 PM #22
November 15th, 2012, 07:53 AM #23
The issue wasn't a racial one, if the comparison to a 'racial slur' confused anyone.
November 15th, 2012, 11:10 AM #24
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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%20sex
November 15th, 2012, 06:50 PM #25
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'.
November 17th, 2012, 01:05 AM #26
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November 17th, 2012, 08:20 PM #27
a. the fair (also gentle, soft, weak, etc.) sex : the female sex, women. Similarly †the devout sex , †the woman sex , the second sex .
In more recent use often ironical or humorous (as also in senses Phrases 1b and Phrases 1c).
1536 P. Melancthon Confessyon of Fayth of Germaynes f. 24, This happenyd also..in Monasteries of women..not withstonding that the weake sexe or kynde ought more to haue ben spared.
[1583 P. Stubbes Anat. Abuses sig. Eviiv, The magnificency & liberalitie of that gentle sex.]
1652 R. Brome Joviall Crew iii. sig. H4, I am bound by a strong vow to kisse all of the woman sex I meet this morning.
c1660 J. Evelyn Diary anno 1644 (1955) II. 246 The Pillar..at which the devout sex are always rubbing their Chaplets.
1688–9 J. Evelyn Mem. (1857) III. 294 Lovers and courters of the fair sex.
1694 N. H. Ladies Dict. Ded. sig. A2, To the Ladies, Gentlewomen, and Others, of the Fair-Sex, the Author Humbly Dedicates this following Work.
1702 C. Beaumont J. Beaumont's Psyche (new ed.) xiv. l. 213 The softer sex, attending Him And His still-growing woes with tenderer eyes.
1716 Pope tr. Homer Iliad II. v. 435 The King insults the Goddess as she flies..Go, let thy own soft Sex employ thy Care.
1732 G. Berkeley Alciphron I. ii. xxiv. 142 The fair Sex have now nothing to do but dress and paint.
1801 Port Folio (Philadelphia) 23 May 166/3, I prefer the favours of the fair sex to the company of the soakers, and so there is an end to all drinking.
1821 Byron Don Juan: Canto IV cviii. 125 Benign ceruleans of the second sex! Who advertise new poems by your looks.
1836 W. Irving Widow's Ordeal in Magnolia for 1837 257 It is somewhat remarkable that..the gentler sex should have been most frequently the subjects of these rude trials.
1838 E. Bulwer-Lytton Alice II. iv. vi. 14 In addition to those qualities which please the softer sex, Legard was a good whist-player.
1896 J. K. Bangs House-boat on Styx vii. 86 But go along and have your ladies' day here, and never mind my reasons for preferring my own society to that of the fair sex.
1928 D. K. Parker tr. Schopenhauer: Selections 443 Women..form the sexus sequior—the second sex.
1953 H. M. Parshley tr. S. de Beauvoir (title) The second sex.
1974 J. Mitchell Psychoanal. & Feminism ii. ii. 306 Woman is the archetype of the oppressed consciousness: the second sex.
1996 L. Lowndes How to make Anyone fall in Love with You xxxvi. 217 Another gentle habit of the gentle sex that, unfortunately, drives men stark raving berserk.
2008 N.Y. Rev. Bks. 26 June 44/3 The translation is sometimes old-fashioned (who now describes women as ‘the fair sex’?).b. With comparative adjectives: the fairer (also gentler, softer, weaker, etc.) sex .
1578 T. Churchyard Disc. Queenes Entertainm. sig. F. iij, The weaker sexe, in beautie doth excell.
1618 R. Brathwait Good Wife sig. B6, in P. Hannay Happy Husband (1619) , He should dispence with lighter faults, not vex Himselfe for trifles, shee's the weaker sex.
1665 R. Boyle Occas. Refl. v. ix. sig. Ll8v, Persons of the fairer Sex.
1702 C. Beaumont J. Beaumont's Psyche (new ed.) xiv. l. 213 The softer sex, attending Him And his still-growing woes.
1753 W. Hogarth Anal. Beauty x. 65 An elegant degree of plumpness peculiar to the skin of the softer sex.
1786 Adventures George Maitland II. v. 116 Her voice was shrill, but melodious, she spoke with a readiness and facility upon most subjects, and possessed an understanding not very common in the softer sex.
1860 ‘G. Eliot’ Mill on Floss I. i. vi. 76 It was rather hard on Maggie that Tom always absconded,..but the weaker sex are acknowledged to be serious impedimenta in cases of flight.
1894 C. D. Tyler in Geogr. Jrnl. 3 479 They are beardless, and usually wear a shock of unkempt hair, which is somewhat finer in the gentler sex.
1961 ‘F. O'Brien’ Hard Life v. 42 Decent people should look after women—isn't that right? The weaker sex.
1997 Daily Express 19 Feb. 23/1 Far from being the gentler sex, they [sc. women as bosses] are more likely to behave like dictators.
2005 Good Weekend (Austral.) 8 Jan. 8/2 A distinctive Japanese style of manga cartoon for the fairer sex.
c. the sterner (also†better, †rougher, stronger) sex : the male sex, men. Now rare.
1608 Bp. J. King Serm. St. Maries Oxf. 27 Nature hath more enabled the stronger sexe to vndergoe this burthen.
1665 T. Herbert Some Years Trav. (new ed.) 22 Whiles the better sex seek prey abroad, the women (therein like themselves) keep home and spin.
1702 G. Miège New State Eng. (ed. 4) ii. 82 A Queen, whose incomparable Wisdom will ever be admired by future Ages, as..a Pattern to Princes of the better Sex.
1724 Love upon Tick 18 Whatever Influence, Age, or Infirmities, may have on one, and that the rougher sex, yet the Impressions made on the other are so deep [etc.].
1782 W. Cowper Conversation in Poems 254 Divest the rougher sex of female airs.
1819 J. Foster Contrib. Eclectic Rev. (1844) I. 508 It was not..thought too much for persons of the stronger sex, to go and return many miles on foot.
1822 Scott Fortunes of Nigel I. Introd. Ep. p. ix, I abide by the general opinion, that he is of the rougher sex.
1849 C. Brontë Shirley III. xiv. 312 ‘Mama’ is rather a misanthropist, is she not? Not the best opinion of the sterner sex?
1861 Southern Literary Messenger May 397/2 It is perhaps from utter despair..that so many of the better sex have..perpetrated of late years so many extravagancies in that region [sc. the north].
1915 New Fun 12 June 11/2 Now, through not taking a man's part, we have turned them into a weaker sex, and it is we girl-boys who are the stronger sex.
1927 Bright Ideas for Entertaining (rev. ed.) 233 If women are to do men's work in the world, the occupations of the sterner sex must change also and become those formerly handled by women.
1997 Harper's Mag. June 29/2 If women are to do men's work in the world, the occupations of the sterner sex must change also and become those formerly handled by women.
2005 Statesman (India) (Nexis) 5 Sept., King Parikshit and maybe King Janaka restore our faith in the sterner sex somewhat, but..the draw of the novel lies in the strength of its women.
November 17th, 2012, 10:10 PM #28
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.