Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What's Wrong With Mr. and Ms.? by Peg Tittle

Hopping by from the Thanks For the Books Blog Hop? See the giveaway post here.

I'm in this world, okay, and the people identify each other by sex. All the time. It's like 'Female Person Smith' and 'Male Person Brown' or 'Person-with-Uterus Smith' and 'Person-with-Penis Brown' – I don't know the exact translation. But sex-identity is a mandatory prefix. They distinguish males from females. Before they do everything else. Before they do anything else.

It bothers me. It irritates me. It pisses me off. I mean, what's so damned special about my sex that it has to be part of my name? Surely my values, my interests, my abilities, my character – these aspects define my self more than my sex does.

And anyway shouldn't I be the one to decide what parts of my self are important enough to be part of my name? Maybe I want to be identified by my ovaries, but maybe I want to be identified by my occupation. Hell, maybe I want to identified by my blood type.

The thing is, they consider it polite. Polite! To draw such relentless attention to details of my anatomy! In fact, they think that to call someone just by their name, without the penis/uterus prefix, is rude. So it's really hard to say anything. And it's even harder to do anything. I mean, I tried just saying "Dave" one time and everybody turned and stared at me. No kidding. I tried to hold my ground, but I heard myself say "Sorry, I mean, 'Mr. Brown'." And everybody smiled with relief.

I even tried variations once. I thought if I loosened up the custom a bit, it'd be easier to get rid of it altogether. Sort of like food that's dried onto dishes you haven't washed in a week.

Anyway, next time I put on my best smile and said "Dickhead Brown". Everybody turned and stared. Worse than last time. Again, I found myself saying "Sorry, I meant 'Penis Person, Male Person, Mr. Brown'."

Surely this can't be good, this obsessive marking of sex, this insistent separating of human beings into male and female. Talk about paving the superhighway to sex discrimination. I wanted to shout "Look, it's not like it has to be this way!" Why not just call people by their names, 'Dave' or 'Mary'? Too familiar for the formality-prone. Then how about using their surname, 'Brown' or 'Smith'? Too rude for the etiquette-addicted. How about an all-purpose sex-neutral prefix like 'Doctor' but without the professional implications; how about just 'Person' – 'Person Brown' and 'Person Smith'? As for the pronoun problem, they already have a sex-neutral pronoun: 'it'. But, stupidly, it's reserved for animals. Go figure. In this world, animals are accorded the respect of a sex-free identity, but people aren't.

(Thanks to Martine Rothblatt – The Apartheid of Sex, NY: Crown Publishers, 1995 – for the title.)

Peg Tittle
author of Shit that Pisses Me Off

Challenging thoughts about everyday things: casual day at the office, calling people Ms. and Mr., parenting without a license, flying a national flag, women’s fiction, drugs and sports, profit and loss, marriage, the weather report, hockey brawls, jury duty…

For every belief, attitude, and behaviour Tittle investigates (in a way that only a trained philosopher can), she exposes the often unflattering implications of endorsing that belief, attitude, or behaviour (not the least of which is that there is no reasoned argument one can give in support of, no acceptable, sufficient, defensible rationale for, the belief, attitude, or behaviour in question) and, furthermore, presents a great many counterarguments to those who would nevertheless persist – leaving the reader with way more to think about than the word count would suggest.

Philosophy with an attitude. Because the unexamined life is dangerous.

available in various ebook formats at Smashwords for $2.99
available soon at Amazon, BarnesandNoble, Chapters, and other online stores

Erin O'Riordan's review of Shit That Pisses Me Off: I liked this book of 25 essays, though it did get my feminist panties in a twist at the sexism that is still rampant, if you stop to think about it. Peg raises provocative questions: should people need some kind of license to have children? Should the court system use professional jurors? Many of her essays address the imbalance of power between men and women; also some tackle business, sports, war and the weather. She even explains why you're not likely to see Peg Tittle at Canada's version of an Occupy Wall Street demonstration. It's all thought-provoking, and whether or not you'll end up agreeing with her conclusions, her essays make for fascinating reading.


Sheila Deeth said...

Fascinating post. Makes me smile. Makes me think. Makes me think I'd like the book too.

Erin O'Riordan said...

I think you would, Sheila. It can be read over a cup of tea or two, but you'll be thinking about it long afterward.