With just those two words you assume there is a boy in this scene, right? ‘Buddy’ is such a good word. It’s a way for adults to greet (or meet) a boy – a way that indicates respect, mild affection, inclusion – recognition that they are ‘in the game.’ A quick fist bump and the ritual is complete.
Same scene again, except this time it is a girl, same age, same school, etc. But we don’t say “Hey, Buddy!” do we? What words do we use to greet? What words would you use?
From my experience I think the answer might sound something like using her name, or perhaps, Sweetie? Honey?
CLOSER TO HOME?
Let’s look at it another way. “Hey, son. It’s time to clean up for dinner.” It seems we have another norm when it comes to how we address our own children. “Son” is used throughout a son’s life. Eighty-year-old parents address their 60-year-old sons as “Son.” As a girl growing up I always noticed the implications of the term. It almost sounded like “Sir” or “Sun” – someone great, beloved.
Repeat the scene, only instead of a son, the parent is addressing a daughter. But we don’t say, “Hey, Daughter, it’s time to clean up for dinner.” What words do we use? What words would you use?
From my experience I think the answer might include using her name or, perhaps, Sweetie? Honey?
WHY THE DIFFERENCE?
It’s culture having its way. As Marshall McLuhan said, “Fish did not discover water. In fact, because they are completely immersed in it, they live unaware of its existence.” Every culture utilizes every avenue available to it to reinforce its expectations. Everywhere we turn – our stories, our rituals, our images – our language – teach us about what is important.
WHAT DOES THIS GENDER LANGUAGE TELL US ABOUT WHAT OUR CULTURE FEELS IS IMPORTANT?
One more scene. You bump into some friends walking with their child. You aren’t exactly sure if this child is a boy or a girl. Perhaps we feel a moment of discomfort because we want to respectfully address this young person. What words do we use? What words would you use?
As our awareness evolves, cultures intentionally drag their feet. Straying too far from accepted norms can feel a bit like losing our way. Thank goodness, though, insights and new learning can bubble up and make their way into the vernacular. The term ‘Ms.,” first launched in the 70’s to address some gender inequities, initially faced pushback, ridicule and scorn. Little by little and many conversations later, we now have new and accepted language. Some may still feel uncomfortable with it, but the culture has embraced it and moved on.
Perhaps we are facing another language gap in our culture? What can we do to make these conversations more comfortable for people – reduce the threat or judgment?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Cheers.