cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (murder hurts more)
Cimorene ([personal profile] cimorene) wrote2012-12-17 03:57 pm

Gender essentialism in Finnish class, in a language without gendered pronouns

(I didn't get around to posting about this extremely irritating day until yesterday, when I posted it spontaneously on Tumblr in response to a post about gender-neutral toy marketing in Sweden, where someone mistakenly stated that Swedish doesn't have gendered pronouns and my wife corrected them. I thought I'd repost it for posterity and because it relates to the ongoing narrative of my Finnish class adventures.)

[personal profile] waxjism: It's Finnish that doesn't have gendered pronouns (all people are hän). Swedish has "han" and "hon".1

That said, that magical language quirk has not stopped gender essentialism from hanging around like a bad smell. Sweden is working much harder on that shit.

Finnish doesn't have gendered pronouns but it has exercises like this one I had to participate in last Thursday meant to practice the approximately 1002 different forms of the plural partitive (one of several types of objective) case: 'What are women like, and what are men like?' (The point is to make a list of adjectives in plural partitive form.)

CLASSMATE: Women are beautiful! Men are handsome!3

CLASSMATE: Women are short!

OTHER CLASSMATE: No they're not!

ME: Women are adult people.

CLASSMATE: Oh, you mean 'adulter'! Women are adulter than men!

ME: No, I don't mean that. That is not true. Men are also adult people.

CLASSMATE: Right, not all, just most women. Men are more childish!

ME: No, I don't mean that. That is not true. But! Women ARE paid less money for the same work.

TEACHER: That's true! The 'women's euro' - 80 cents. [...] Right then, what are men like?

CLASSMATES: Strong! Tall! Funny? Handsome.

ME: They're more violent, especially towards their own wives, than women are, and also in Finland, they're more violent towards their wives than in many other European countries.

CLASSMATE: I don't think so!

ME: Yes, they are.

TEACHER: Is that true, did you read it somewhere?

ME: Yes, in a sociology course at the university, 'Gender and Sexuality in the Nordic Countries.'

TEACHER: Oh I see! Actually, that makes sense: I remember that there was a lot of domestic violence in Finland when I was a child.

CLASSMATE: Probably the explanation for what you read was that nowadays Finland has many immigrants from different countries, like Africa, but the police statistics can't say which group is which.

ME: No, that's not true. They can say. It's Finnish men.

TEACHER: Yeah, it wouldn't be new immigrants; it's Finnish culture. Because I remember it was already the case a long time ago, when I was young.

ME: Finns are more depressed too.

So basically I'm the one that's always killing the mood with angry feminist opinions.


TEACHER: What doesn't a little girl need?


ME: Over 100 pink toys.

1. There was a recent article in the nationally distributed Hufvudstadsbladet, Helsinki-based Swedish-language print newspaper, about a resurging attempt in mainland Sweden to introduce a gender-neutral pronoun, "hen", which was apparently invented in the 60s. It was used in a children's book or something and has met with strident opposition there as well.

2. That's an exaggeration, but plural partitive is a case where only a tiny minority of nouns and adjectives are declined easily and predictably. There are 7 possible word endings, according to my notes, but the words fall into about 23ish categories which are not-exactly-systematically sorted into those endings, and there are also a lot of completely irregular words.

Basically we hates it, precious. And we are without pride currently the best in the class at remembering it, but still making quite a few speech errors at it per day.

3. Just like English, Finnish has a pair of words which are synonymous when applied to the intended gender - the beautiful woman and the handsome man - but usually insulting when applied to the reverse. Later that day: "He called me handsome! But a handsome woman is a woman who is tall or big, and very muscled, or fat!" "Hahahaha!" Meanwhile, there's me, lurking with the fuming thundercloud brow of attempting to phrase my angry feminist rant in my limited Finnish. In this group it's not even possible to fall back on English, because not one of my classmates has advanced enough English skills to follow it. Which means that during classtime I can safely make snarky English asides with the confidence that only the teacher gets them... but it's a bit frustrating at the bus stop and coffee break.

[personal profile] eight_demands 2012-12-17 03:09 pm (UTC)(link)
You know there's someone in your class who blogs every day about the mean girl who depresses the shit out of everyone, right?
rhiannonhero: (Default)

[personal profile] rhiannonhero 2012-12-17 03:19 pm (UTC)(link)
Loved this post. Not much more to say than that, but it was really interesting.
vass: A sepia-toned line-drawing of a man in naval uniform dancing a hornpipe, his crotch prominent (Default)

[personal profile] vass 2012-12-17 05:25 pm (UTC)(link)
I think I like your teacher.
torachan: (Default)

[personal profile] torachan 2012-12-18 04:42 am (UTC)(link)
I always enjoy your posts about your classes. (Also it's really interesting to see the mix of immigrants, because it's so different to what it would be for say an ESL class here in LA.)

And yeah, whether or not a language has gendered pronouns says nothing about how "equal" they treat men and women. I mean, Japanese barely uses gendered pronouns, and while they do exist, they were introduced fairly recently (Meiji era, I believe), and yet Japan has had very gendered speech for much longer than those pronouns existed.