Gender and references to partners

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Gender and references to partners

Post by Sonic# » Tue Aug 16, 11:10 2016

The short question: how do you think about references to people's partners? How do we refer to our own partners? How big of an issue is the repeated reference to gender or sexuality in our words for partner?

1. The Olympics are currently on. Is it just me, or does Olympics coverage tend to bring more issues about reporting on women to the forefront? I've noticed it in the description of swimmers by NBC commentators: female swimmers being called "beautiful" and "graceful" where male swimmers 15 minutes before had been called "strong" and "powerful." Katinka Hosszu had only just won when an announcer congratulated her husband for "turning [her] into a whole different swimmer." Corey Cogdell-Unrein's gold was reported as a victory by the wife of a Chicago Bears player. References to Olympic women's partners seem more important than references to men's partners.

2. The school year starts next week, and I've been getting to know new colleagues, which means a slew of introductions to people. My partner asked me why it was feminist for my boss to refer to her husband as "my partner." That then raised the point that I often refer to her as my partner, in addition to sometimes saying "my wife" or "my spouse." I tried to answer: I think it's helpful to encourage other people to think about her relation to me without thinking about her gender, because the tight association between spouse/gender forces anyone who doesn't fit the common paradigm to "out" themselves. So saying "partner" allows me to focus on that relationship in a way that doesn't lead to excluding other people in mixed settings. Also, I perhaps break a heterosexist pattern in my own thinking while not invoking that pattern in others' thinking.

There's still privilege in that usage: my using "partner" is less remarkable, especially when my partner is right next to me. Is there anything better or that I'm not considering?

(Note to self: still thinking about this blog post which I just ran across and read. It's on the usage of "wife" in particular and its own patriarchal history.)

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Re: Gender and references to partners

Post by rowan » Tue Aug 16, 13:15 2016

I use partner, because we are in fact partners in this & for reasons you bring up. But recently I wondered if that's not appropriating from glbtqia culture in an oppressive way, I haven't had a chance to ask people about whether or not using it in a cis/strait/monogamous context erases glbtqia experience
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Re: Gender and references to partners

Post by Nerd1987 » Tue Aug 16, 21:51 2016

I don't know what to say besides partner. My SO and I are not married and girlfriend sounds juvenile or almost sexual to me. Idk it sounds less serious.

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Re: Gender and references to partners

Post by octarineoboe » Wed Aug 17, 8:02 2016

That was a really interesting blog post, thanks for sharing, Sonic!

I use "partner" a lot for the same reason as Nerd1987 - we're not married, but "partner" implies a longer-term stability than "boyfriend." It's not deliberately to obscure gender, but I do sort of like that it takes gender out of the language.

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Re: Gender and references to partners

Post by Taurwen » Wed Aug 17, 8:52 2016

I use "Partner" because I feel it's the most accurate (Though I've also been known to use Fiance when speaking english or other language where the sound of the word doesn't imply gender). It's also important to me because it feels like one of the ways my queerness isn't erased. I'm not with my partner because he has a penis, he just happens to have one, but the fact remains that we're a heterosexual couple.

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Re: Gender and references to partners

Post by Enigma » Wed Aug 17, 16:00 2016

Yeah I think the Olympic coverage really draws our attention to it because for once in the media everyone appears kind of gender neutral. It's really jarring.

I say husband. Politically I prefer partner but I just really like the word husband? It's not logical.
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Re: Gender and references to partners

Post by Nech » Thu Aug 18, 14:34 2016

Enigma wrote:I say husband. Politically I prefer partner but I just really like the word husband? It's not logical.
I'm the same way actually, I've tried partner before but I think for me it just feels weird and doesn't roll off the tongue. Maybe because it lacks a certain clarity, so I use wife/girlfriend all the time. Maybe that's partially a poly thing though, since it lets me share stories while clarifying which partner I'm talking about.

I sometimes wonder though if the reason partner doesn't feel right is ingrained ideals. Like how much of it is personal preference and how much is unwillingness to challenge ingrained issues/norms.
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Re: Gender and references to partners

Post by melsbells » Thu Aug 18, 15:18 2016

rowan wrote:I wondered if that's not appropriating from glbtqia culture in an oppressive way
I've been called out for using "partner" for that very reason. It's my preferred choice, above all because I feel that it doesn't erase my identity the way other options do. I've stopped using the term for my pesonal relationship and taken to using "spouse" most often as a compromise.

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Re: Gender and references to partners

Post by Chococat » Sat Aug 20, 7:36 2016

I use partner for my gentleman companion. Despite being in a long-term relationship, we're not married, and don't intend to be. Partner better confirms what he means to me than "boyfriend," which I don't like. I also like that partner is gender-neutral; it feels like I'm neither actively concealing my identity nor contributing to linguistic privileging of heterosexuality.

I think that everyone should use partner! It's a pretty simple solution to the pretty common problem of "what do I call this person??"
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Re: Gender and references to partners

Post by Charli! » Sat Aug 20, 14:10 2016

I use 'Partner', mostly as we're not married, and it feels more long term than 'boyfriend'. I also use 'Other Half' quite frequently.

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Re: Gender and references to partners

Post by Sonic# » Mon Aug 22, 13:31 2016

Thanks for the responses.

It strikes me that "partner" has at least three distinct uses that pertain to a break from traditional ideas of heterosexuality and long-term relationships, where any serious LTR is a marriage between a woman and a man. In one, "partner" has the benefit of being a serious long-term option for people who aren't married. In another, "partner" is a long-term option to members of LGBTQIA communities for whom marriage and its conventional collection of terms either aren't an option or aren't a desirable option. Finally, and sometimes overlapping with the first two, "partner" is applied by people who find it meaningful to not specify the gender of their partner.

At the same time, as some of you are indicating, it's easy to have an attachment to other terms. And (to the question rowan first asked and melsbells elaborated on) I still don't know when "partner" is appropriative in an oppressive way when a heterosexual person uses it. I don't know enough about its use or perceptions of its use to say, and I'm curious if anyone else has answers to that. Is it because heterosexual people can use the term in relative safety?

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Re: Gender and references to partners

Post by Nachos » Tue Aug 23, 5:57 2016

My cousin uses the term life-partner for her partner, to distinguish him from her work partner and her activism partners.
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Re: Gender and references to partners

Post by Eina » Thu Sep 1, 7:49 2016

I use partner as my partner and I are civilly partnered. When the term partner first became popular it was a good indication that the person using it was LGBTQ+ and meant that there was no need for the constant coming out or ambiguity. Now that it has become a term used by everyone the ambiguity has returned and the awkward conversations such as "I was out with my partner last night", "Oh, what does HE do" is more likely to happen again and then having to say "she" and deal with the awkward "oh, I'm sorry". My partner does not like the term wife as she was once a wife in a heterosexual relationship and doesn't see herself that way now. I don't feel comfortable using the term wife either. It has no meaning in our relationship. I haven't read the blog yet but will when I get a chance.

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Re: Gender and references to partners

Post by melsbells » Mon Sep 5, 15:12 2016

Sonic# wrote:I still don't know when "partner" is appropriative in an oppressive way when a heterosexual person uses it. I don't know enough about its use or perceptions of its use to say, and I'm curious if anyone else has answers to that. Is it because heterosexual people can use the term in relative safety?
What I got out of the past conversation I alluded to is that (for the people I was talking to) heterosexual couples using the term "partner" diluted the meaning of the term. The complaint was that "partner" had initially been adopted to indicated a relationship on par with the seriousness of marriage in a society where marriage was banned. So when people who have the option of getting married start to use the term "partner" to indicated some perceived level of adulthood or seriousness in a relationship, it bolsters the idea that marriage is somehow more serious and more adult, and yet it's banned. It then reinforces the stereotype of people who are gay being permiscuous and not serious.

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Re: Gender and references to partners

Post by rowan » Mon Sep 5, 16:29 2016

There's also what Eina mentions as well, about the constant having to come out thing, makes it easier (there are other terms that are more ambiguous, e.g. "other half" etc). So idk. I've kind of stopped using it, though also I don't tend to meet a lot of new people.
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