A friend of mine wrote to the creator of the site "Matlab for Men" and asked him why he chose this name. She told him she feels the name discourages cooperation among engineers of all genders and reflects poorly on the international image of Sharif University.
A student of the creator (who my friend cc'd) replied in earnest trying to defend the name's creativity, and she forwarded that response asking us what we thought. Here are my responses.
Date: Sat, 5 May 2007 11:08:21 -0700 (PDT)
If it were an American writing this email to you, I would feel comfortable assuming that "Matlab for Men" means "matlab only to be used by real men" in the fully chauvinistic sense. I would spam them everyday and get my friends to do it until they could come up with something actually creative (bc I don't think it is creative, if this is the true original meaning).
However, I really don't know how this translates. Perhaps they really did mean "Matlab for Humans" when they wrote it-- implying that they are giving useful working advice to real people for how to use matlab.
He seems genuine in wanting to make you feel like it's not offensive, but I find it amusing bc in English there are gender neutral/incuding terms for a few of the examples he's offering, like cowgirls, businesswomen or businesspeople. From my experience you would never call a cowgirl a cowboy, for example. Not because it's offensive but because it's inaccurate. (And besides, the Dallas Cowboys are all men.) This is opposed to words like mankind and human which have the word "man" inside but have always been defined to mean all people. Again-- all of this is solely from the English language perspective. I think you could suggest to him that he changes the name to "Matlab for Mankind"--which sounds great and is actually creative.
I have always understood how people think that some women are being picky when they ask for a change of vocabulary in order to be technically more equal, when in reality the word is mostly used equally for both genders anyway. This guy's example of "freshman" is a good one-- if we all started getting riled up and saying you have to start saying "freshpeople", it would be silly.
However, I do think that if all people were somehow magically able to let go of the issues attached, then clearly the best choice would be a gender neutral or gender including vocabulary. Then men who run the front podium at a restaurant would not be called "hostess" or men who help you on the airplane would not be "stewardess"...the "ess" ending implying female.
There is nothing wrong with wanting it to stay the old way that everyone is used to, but there is also nothing wrong with wanting the neutral case. And once something is changed, it soon becomes "the old way that everyone is used to" anyway.
Date: Tue, 8 May 2007 09:38:48 -0700 (PDT)
I just wanted to let you know that I had one further thought this morning about this email. It irritates me to no end that he said twice that you should not "segregate yourself" and not use the website because of the name. This is one of the most detrimental things that someone in a position of power can do-- preemptively blame the victim for the disadvantages they will face.
In fact, for every one woman who says they refuse to use the website because of the name, there are ten women who feel discouraged and ashamed to use that website. The segregation is happening because of HIS choice, not because of yours.