Monika’s Musings

miscellaneous tidbits on marketing, advertising, and life in general

Culture does not justify sexism


My friend Petya keeps a wonderful feminist blog where she discusses many issues women still face today, despite the fact that theoretically societies have evolved a lot. As a woman I am very interested in these topics, though it never occurred to me to write about them since a) Petya already does more than a wonderful job and b) the intention of this blog was totally different.

However, one thing really annoyed me recently and I cannot help but share it. We started talking with my officemate Peter about how he is really impressed that most of the upper management in my company in Bulgaria are women. The conversation evolved into the topic of how women are treated in different companies/cultures.

Turns out that in Hungary (as a general rule, with the exception of some truly international companies) there is an intriguing particularity about how people address each other. Hungarian, unlike English has a formal and informal way of addressing people (much like the ти and вие in Bulgarian, the du and Sie in German, the tu and vous in French … you get the drift). The formal one is usually used to address people who are higher in the hierarchy than you, older, people you don’t know or people of a generally higher status than yourself. Bottom line: the formal way of addressing someone invokes respect.

The funny thing here is that men (regardless of their age or position at the company) can address other men (again regardless of position or age) with the informal tu-form. Women can address other women with the same form as well. But get this: women should address men of a higher position with the formal vous-form. Men, of course, can address all women using the informal form.

Later on, I had lunch with another colleague, an elder woman. I still could not believe this, so I asked her if it were true (I though I might have misunderstood). She exclaimed But of course! I pointed out that this sounds quite sexist and she replied it was politeness, not sexism.

Wait a second! So if men address other men in the tu-form, it is not considered impolite, but suddenly it becomes an issue of politeness if women should address men in the same form? I asked. She raised her shoulders and said I guess you simply don’t understand it. It is cultural. It has always been like that.

Aaaaah, my favorite argument: we’ve always done it. Since when did we loose our critical thinking ability? How is it possible to evolve if we do things like they have always been done? And cultural? Really? I’m sorry, No! Culture does not justify sexism.

Since the formal way of addressing someone invokes respect for that person, this habit basically means that women owe more respect to men than men to women. And that, if you ask me, is sexism.

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posted under Budapest, General stuff

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