When ‘guys’ means ‘gals’

Even video games I love by companies that know how to do gender right can disappoint me, it seems. I’ve been playing Star Wars: The Old Republic lately, and while BioWare is one of the few companies that understands things like privilege and that girls do indeed play video games, there’s still the occasional moment that reminds me that as a female, I’m considered ‘other’. I don’t really blame the game companies for this, since for the most part the game does handle gender well. The moments that do appear tend to be things that are so ingrained into our culture and language that they’re easy to miss.

The moment that grabbed my attention most recently was a line talking about ‘you Havoc Squad guys’. Unfortunately, the response I wanted was not given to me, that being to look down and ask what ‘guys’ he was referring to. I’ve also had an ongoing gripe about the use of male pronouns as gender-neutral–I constantly get referred to as ‘sir’, and all Sith get the ‘Lord’ title, regardless of gender. Unfortunately, English doesn’t have a lot of good gender-neutral pronouns, and living in a culture where ‘male’ is considered the default in most situations means that when trying to pick a word that can refer to either gender, the male term usually gets used. (Though at least English doesn’t give a gender to all nouns, like French or German. I’ve never understood what makes a table feminine)

One of the frustrating things about the fight for gender equality has been the persistent idea that ‘masculine’ is better than ‘feminine’. As a result, a lot of effort has been spent on bringing women ‘up’ to the point of men. One of the effects of this has been the dropping of female terminology, and using male terms for both genders when a gender-neutral one isn’t available. Ironically, this expression of equality is making women invisible again.

Ridding ourselves of gendered terms is not going to be easy. But equality isn’t just about allowing women to be more masculine, it’s about breaking down gender norms entirely.

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