“The boys”: infantilizing men

The recent situation where some Essendon football players have been suspended due to the use of banned substances has me reflecting on language use.

Some fans and commentators are claiming that, even though these players knew about the substances they were taking, they are not fully responsible for their behaviour. These same supporters are referring to these adult male footballer as “the boys”.

How does this language also subtly act to infantilize these men and support the idea that they weren’t entirely responsible for taking banned substances?

The masculine norm

Have you ever noticed yourself assuming the protagonist of a novel, a composer, or an artist is a male?

Does being told they are female just highlight this assumed masculine?

For example, Australian ABC Classic FM radio is making a laudable effort to feature more female composers and musicians. Announcers indicate that the composer or musician is female. As in, “And now a piece by the female composer…”

However, by highlighting when it is a female just reinforces the unconscious assumption that the norm is male. Composers, artists etc are male unless it’s indicated otherwise.

You may have noticed yourself assuming a doctor or CEO is male. I’m sure you can think of many other examples.

Returning to ABC Classic FM, does this mean it would be preferable to not indicate when the composer is female? I think so. There are more subtle ways of indicating gender. Many given names have an obvious gender, or female pronouns can be used.

Being subtle rather than highlighting gender will normalise female composers and musicians.

ABC Classic are doing an excellent job of ensuring more air time for females so if they continue then gradually the assumption of gender will change. Hopefully other organisations and people will make similar efforts.