Non-men: Or women as “Other”

Edited (16/04/16 19:00) I’ve added to this a bit, because I realised some points weren’t as clear as I’d have liked them.

I’ve been on a bit of a feminist reading kick lately, trying to read as many classic feminist books as possible. There’s so many I want to read, but right now the one I’m engrossed in is The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir.

So when I finish reading these paragraphs

Humanity is male, and man defines woman, not in herself, but in relation to himself; she is not considered an autonomous being.

The relation of the two sexes is not that of two electrical poles: the man represents both the positive and the neuter to such an extent that in French hommes designates human beings.

And then log on to find this message by the Green Party Women being shared

Posted on the Green Party Women facebook page

It was kind of depressing.

If you’ve missed it, this post was their response to complaints about this tweet.

Green Party tweet,

While the newest message from the Green Party has said “women and non-men”, the original message quite clearly describes the “Young Green Women” twitter account as being for “non-men”. Not “women and non-men”, just “non-men”. Women have been absorbed into that grouping. And the latest Green Party message is saying that they support that tweet.

I expect it from anti-feminists and misogynists to think a word that sets men up as the default is a good word, but a group that supposedly cares for women’s rights?

I get what they are trying to do, in that they think this is inclusive and intersectional, but it misses the mark in a spectacularly offensive manner.

Historically women have been regarded as Other, or as de Beauvoir puts it, The Second Sex. We have been defined by our relationship to men.

It still continues to this day too.

Graphic of back of woman's head with test saying,

This image is a great example of how we are encouraged to have sympathy for women who have suffered from misogynistic actions (eg. domestic violence, rape) not by regarding them as a person in their own right, but in relation to others. Significantly these kinds of messages are normally aimed at men with the phrasing of “imagine how you’d feel if she was your sister/mother/daughter/wife?”. We are shown that women’s worth is dependant on her relation to men.

It’s clear in how it is accepted that for the majority of women their surname will be, initially, that of her father. And then, after marriage, that of her husband. While some marriages are bucking that trend, it is still the default position that a woman’s surname is always in relation to men.

In the news it is often the case that women, successful women in their own right, will be described as “the wife of” in a way that men are rarely described as “the husband of”.

Tweet from Associated Press,

It even comes into play when it comes to medical science, many medications and treatments are tested only on men, not taking into account the different biology of women.

Man as default can, and does, have a real impact on the lives of women.

We are people in our own right, we are not just “not men”.

Throughout history women have been described as

  • “Deformed males”, “incomplete male” (Aristotle)
  • “Deficient and unintentionally caused”, “just another accident, such as that of other monsters [= a dog with two heads, a calf with five legs, etc.]” (St Thomas)

Even in modern times you are likely to hear phrases like “a woman is incomplete without a man”. But a lot less likely to hear the reverse.

Man is default in our society to such an extent that even the most mundane of our language supports it.

All humans, male and female, are part of “mankind“. I’ve had it pointed out that “Mankind” is supposed to be a gender neutral term, as “man” once had two meanings, one to refer to all humanity, and one to refer to just male members of humanity. So the theory goes that mankind is derived from the gender neutral one, not the gender specific one. This misses the point though, the fact that the gender specific term is the same as the gender neutral term shows that man is set up in our language as default, while woman is “Other”.

Our titles are Mr, Miss and Mrs. The male title does not change, no matter whether a woman is his partner. The female title takes it’s cue, not from the woman herself, but from the man in her life.

Language is so important, it colours out view of the world, even little things add up.

I expect better from a group specifically set up to push women’s rights further, especially a supposedly progressive political party.

If we are to be treated as equals then we need to use language that doesn’t place us in relation to what we aren’t.

“Non-men” as a term has deeper meanings when taken in a societal and historical context. It is not exactly the same as saying women at “not men”, the term “non” has very different connotations.

Words are one of the most powerful tools we own. The way we use words can have such major impact on the world referring to women as non-men is placing women as secondary to men, as only human in relation to men, and is far too similar to the language used to justify historical oppression of women. Women are not non-men.

And while inclusivity is obviously a great goal, you don’t achieve it by using language which is offensive to another oppressed group.

Oh. And while I’m here, if you are a man saying, “I don’t see why non-man is offensive” then, yes, of course you wouldn’t. But thank you for thinking your experience trumps that of women.

6 thoughts on “Non-men: Or women as “Other”

  1. Sur = Sir – so asking for someone’s surname is asking for their identity in relation to man.

    We rarely hear people talking about their Christian name, in favour of using the term -“first name” – surely the same should be done for Surname, and it be replaced by “last name”? xx

  2. I hate the concept of women as ‘non men’. You’re right, we’re not other, in fact we make up the majority of mankind.

    Of course mankind is a troubled word now that the word which initially meant a person of either gender – man – has come to mean only a male person. We worry that words that mean man or men are used to mean people, when actually they initially meant people but men have used them to mean men. Why? Because they didn’t see women as people.

    It’s a long journey with many steps, but every step takes us further.

    Loving your work.


    1. That’s a really lovely idea about your name!

      You are right that women never used to be seen as people (still aren’t by some) so it would never have even occurred that there needed to be a general term for people that referred to both sexes.

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