Friday, May 12, 2006

Gender in language: assumptions

Something I've noticed... and actually, I think it first came to my attention thanks to an episode of The Simpson (the one where Bart works for an elderly woman doing odious chores for her)... English-speaking women, at least in a North American context, can and do speak of their "girlfriends" without there being any sexual implication whatsoever. However, no man can speak of his "boyfriends" and expect the listener to grant the same assumption of a platonic relationship (nor can a woman, for that matter). The terms "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" are charged with either an implication of sexual intimacy or at least pending or potential intimacy when spoken by a man.

Why this strange disparity of language?

5 comments:

Polt said...

This is crazy man! I was thinking just exactly the same thing yesterday. One woman I work with was telling a story about somethings she did with her "girlfriends". Then, one of the guys was talking about hanging with his "buds", and anther talked of "the guys", but never did they mention the "boyfriends".

Strange! :)

James said...

My guess? Because straight males are far more threatened by any hit of male homosexuality than they are of female homosexuality.

After all, "gay panic" has been used as a defence for murder.

Masnick96 said...

I've often wondred that myself. Also, why is it as a gay man when I say my "girlfriend" this or my "girlfriend" that people automatically assume I'm straight unless I correct them.

katherine said...

All of the comments here are valild and I've often wondered the same. However, I'm wondering why we don't just refer to our friends by name instead of their gender?

L-girl said...

I've thought about this too. When I started to have romantic relationships with women, I stopped referring to my female friends as girlfriends, reserving that word for the woman I was dating. I didn't do this consciously, I just noticed it started to happen! So there was a distinction between "girlfriends" and "female friends". Kind of crazy!

Also, there's that thing where grown women can be referred to as "girls" - but grown men as "boys"? Never! (Unless you were a white man in Alabama in 1940, referring to a black man...) Women can be girls, but men are "guys".

And why am I commenting on a post that's more than a month old?! Because it showed up in my statcounter! :)