1

Imagine I write statement (paraphrased) "Women like to wear different clothes to differentiate themselves from each other."

Is it more common for English speaking people to read it like

  • "Women [usually] like to wear different clothes ..."

or rather like

  • "[All] women like to wear different clothes ..."
  • resp. "Women [always] like to wear different clothes ..."?

An additional question, could I assume in advance females may find it offensive, gender related as in below? As there can be differences between languages in perception of sentences.

My point is

  • "Women like different clothes." is not generalism, but rather kind of a rule with implied exceptions. But it may be implied/perceived as generalism.
  • "All women like different clothes" is generalism.

I do agree I should have used explicit formulations like "Many women usually like wearing/often wear ..", but the damage has been already done.


The question context is that I, as a non-native EN speaker, once got into troubles with such a sentence in discussion with a female who assumed I stick to not acceptable gender stereotypes, as not all women are like that. I used the above sentence in a wider context of making human life analogy to a scientific scenario. I provided it as an example with intention to illustrate that people usually like to differ in various things, with women/clothes as one such particular option.

In lighter mood, I am curious if the statement "Women are polite/intelligent." would be objected too, as some are not polite a/o intelligent. If I wrote "Men like watching football.", it would not cause raising eye brows. "Everybody knows they do, except those who do not." Rules have their exceptions.

6
  • I don't think this has anything to do with English. In any language you can make universal statements, and they can be seen as stereotypes. Even saying "women are more likely to..." could be seen as a stereotype - you shouldn't generalise about people because of their gender (or race, sexuality, age, etc). As to the question, if you say "cows are mammals", that's normally taken as a statement about all cows, although "cows have four legs" obviously would exclude a small number of cows - it depends on pragmatics, on the specific situation.
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 10:21
  • @StuartF But, there still can be differences between languages in perceptions of sentences. The point is "Women like different clothes" is not generalism. It may be implied/perceived generalism. "All women like different clothes" is generalism. // I do agree I should have used explicit formulations like "Many women usually like wearing/often wear .."
    – Poutnik
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 10:33
  • Just a note here: "to distinguish from each other" doesn't really make sense here. Perhaps you mean "to differentiate themselves from each other".
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 10:36
  • @BillyKerr Ah, I see, thanks. It was initially under my proper EN recognition threshold. Another woman may distinguish them from distance as they have differentiated themselves from each other. Or not, if not. Correct?
    – Poutnik
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 10:43
  • No that doesn't really work either. Sorry.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 10:46

1 Answer 1

1

These days, when generalizing about groups of people (and yes, all your example statements are generalizing because you don't qualify which "women"), it's much more common to soften the language with hedges like "most", "usually", "often", "tend to" etc. rather than use strong statements like "all" or "always".

Merely beginning a sentence with "All women..." or "Women always..." is likely to offend a significant portion of the audience after only saying those two words.

Even relatively benign statements like "Women are polite/intelligent" or "Men like watching football" that do not include absolutist words like "all" or "always" are understood to be generalizations about the entire group, rather than observations about typical behaviour of men and women, and are therefore often considered offensive.

This is a product of the current times in the Western world, rather than an inherent property of the English language. As recently as the 1950s, statements like "Women are polite/intelligent" and "Men like watching football" were understood as normal descriptions of typical behaviour, rather than blanket statements, and they would have offended nobody.

1
  • Very nice answer, I will tend to be more explicit in my communication. I am a kind of person acting like "everything is pure for the pure" and then I often wonder how it could be ever interpreted in a bad way.
    – Poutnik
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 13:19

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .