Friday, June 22, 2012

When man is one, and woman is two

I have challenged some ideas supported by various feminist groups on this blog before, but reading feminist literature has made me a bit more sensitive to one of their concerns. That is a general societal tendency to treat men as the primary, default, normal sex, and women as a secondary, alternative sex. 

I see a strange incarnation of that in the social research databases I am digging through these days. To aid computer analysis, categories like nationality, occupation or sex are given number codes. These numbers are arbitrary, make no difference to the analysis, and readers of the final research will never see them. Yet I see them, and again and again what I see is this:

1 = 'male'
2 = 'female'

I don't know why this convention exists or how old it is. Perhaps other databases are coded differently but all of those I have seen are coded this way. It has no effect on wider society, but I am a little abashed to see this every day: man as one, woman as two.


  1. Well we do say male and female, not female and male. Men and women, boys and girls, brothers and sisters, husband and wife, King and Queen, Prince and Princess etc. But then I suppose we do have Mums and Dads, Laides and Gentlemen, aunts and uncles.

    Anyway, as you said the numbers are arbitrary so you could take it to mean that women are of greater value, twice as much ;-)

  2. Hehe - well I AM reminded of a great song by The Pixies which features the wonderful statement:

    "If man is five...
    Then the devil is six...
    And if the devil is six
    Then GOD is seven!"

    "If man is woman,
    Then woman is two" :P


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