Speaking of Which | Gender Defender

08 Mar,2013

By Vidya Heble


The number of people who write or edit for a living and have not used the term “fair sex” is likely to be rather small. I’m pretty sure I’ve done it myself in my unenlightened days, though I can’t recall any precise instance. It’s one of those phrases which rolls lightly off the tips of our fingers and takes its place amidst the crowds of jostling words that vie for public attention every day. And we think no more of them, once written and saved.


But it is important to pay attention to these and other phrases, which typify a kind of thinking that should have been swept out of the door long ago. Why call women the “fair sex”? Why look for some cutesy set of words to describe, plain and simple, women? Because we are uncomfortable using that word, and I kid you not. We’d rather say “ladies” or “sisters” or, yuckily, “females”. (You did know, didn’t you, that women “perspire” whereas ladies “glow”?)


Secondly, why are we even implying that women are fair and men are not? It’s an ancient, faux-servile-complimentary mode of referring to the supposedly dainty breed called “ladies”, which really has no place in the world of women who drive trains, build skyscrapers and deliver their children in the fields in the middle of a day’s work. Instead of pretending, why don’t we just do it, and actually respect and protect women? The most infuriating thing is to hear drivel such as “fair sex” on the one hand and on the other, read about members of this dainty brigade gagged, bound, brutalized, killed or left to die on the street.


Moreover, it is but a step from saying “fair sex” to saying “weaker sex” when you are next groping for a pretty phrase and don’t want to repeat yourself. This one only perpetuates the stereotype that women are less capable. Yes, they are for the most part physically less strong than men, but as countless men will tell you, they are made of steel otherwise! There is nothing weak about the women who make the wheels of the world go round, be it a CEO or your domestic helper.


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